At mid-day Sarge was shoveling snow off a noticeably sagging flat top roof along with half the Neighborhood Watch roof snow removal crew. The other half of the Watch crew on roof detail was working the buildings on the opposite side of the street. He’d just dropped a shovelful down into the backyard three stories below, when he caught sight of Lily’s coat moving along what was rightly the middle of the street on the next block. Little George came alongside him to make a snow deposit, and stood to catch his breath. “Looks like some doc finally decided to co-op-er-ate.”
“What do you mean, Little George? Where is she going?” Sarge didn’t take his eyes off Lily’s coat as he spoke to the soft-spoken Minnenconjou Lakota man who matched his height and surpassed him in breadth of body frame and weight.
“Down to St. Syms for folks’ meds. Nurse JJ been working the phones since yesterday getting folks calling their docs for giving permission for Lily to come get their meds proxy like.” Little George took note of Sarge shaking his head and frowning to convey he didn’t like the notion of Lily venturing off alone. “Don’t sweat it, Sarge. She got her snowshoes. One thing for sure: Lily knows how to walk on snow. She’s a pro.” Little George punched Sarge playfully on the shoulder. “Let’s clear this tar trap and keep our lead. “
“Yeah, let’s.” Sarge walked backwards on the roof to the hard packed snow covering the last third of the roof, his eyes on the woman moving farther away from him. He glanced at the snow heavy clouds above then back at Lily. Rejoining Little George and the others he set a faster shovelling pace in order to get back to the dump side of the building so he could keep track of the woman until she passed out of his line of sight.
~Nearly two hours later Sarge climbed the stairs to the roof of the three-story house several houses further up the street from Anton and Esther’s residence. Only when he stepped out onto the roof that had been cleared of snow earlier in the day did he put on his long grey wool coat, the knit hat Esther had insisted he wear and his gloves. Still warm from nearly a full day of shovelling snow, the cold wind initially felt refreshing on his bare cheeks. Knowing he’d cool down quickly enough without any labor at hand, he put the brick chimney between himself and the wind. Trying to settle his nerves he pulled one of Lily’s sachets from his pants pocket and inhaled the scents with several deep breaths. By his calculations, Lily ought to have returned from her trek to St. Syms at least a half hour ago. He’d included at least a half hour rest time before she’d have commenced the return hike home. He hadn’t liked watching her venture off alone and he’d liked even less not seeing her return up the street by the time the Watch shovelling crews had called a halt for the day’s labor. Now he was doing something he’d never done before in his life, he was keeping watch for someone to come home. He was waiting for a particular individual, for Lily, to get back into his sight and hearing to reassure himself of her well-being. He was intensely and acutely aware of this unexpected new mental and emotional experience. The awareness wasn’t making it any easier to process or to deal with his increasing concern for Lily’s safety. He moved closer to the chimney and kept his eyes on the furthest point in the distance where she’d first be visible from his current vantage point. Rocking side to side, shifting his weight from foot to foot, Sarge O’Mara settled into keeping watch until Lily returned or urgency pushed him to go in search of her. A few moments later thick heavy snowflakes that defied being flakes at all began lazily falling from the clouds that had parked overhead.
~ Rosa gently laid the small child asleep in her arms onto a sleeping bag then tip toed carefully over her other youngest charges who were already deep into their naps. She joined Ricardo at the large bay window overlooking the street. “Any sign of Lily?”
Ricardo shook his head and whispered, “Not yet. He still on the roof.”
“Over by the chimney for a wind break. See him?”
“Si. I don’t like that she’s not back. It’ll be night soon.”
“Give her time, Rosa. There was a lot to pick up. Radio say St. Syms very busy. JJ called and she got there just fine.”
“Look, Sarge wave.”
“See, it’s okay. Sarge say when he wave like that with two arms that means he sees her for sure.”
“I’ll call JJ. Give her time to get a med crew together.”
Fifteen minutes later Lily stood just inside Esther’s front door watching Nurse JJ passing out bags of medication for her med crew to deliver throughout the neighborhood. Coat open, her face flushed from the long walk uphill from St.Syms hauling a large backpack laden with everything from insulin to Lithium and beyond, she continually shifted her weight from foot to foot letting her body gradually cool down. She regretted telling JJ, Esther and the eager crew waiting for her to drop the pack from her shoulders what little she had about the chaos at St. Syms and her argument with the National Guardsmen who hadn’t wanted to let her return to the Flats, snowshoes or not. Nor had anything else she’d seen and heard on her trek out of the Flats and down to St. Syms given her any reasons to think that things were anywhere near returning to normal any time soon in Falls.
Sarge came through the front door and immediately saw her. “Welcome back. Hungry?”
Lily nodded. “Oh yeah.”
“Good. Soup is on.” Sarge took hold of her snowshoes. “Come on, you’ve had more than your fair share of fun for today, Missy.”
“Aww naww, the party just started. There’s plenty more to come, Sarge.” But instead of insisting on remaining where she was, Lily waved farewell to JJ and the others then opened the door and walked out with Sarge close on her heels. Open coat flapping in the wind, she walked over boards to the other side of the street. When she stepped onto Rosa’s front porch, she turned around and let loose a wild howling that set some dogs on porches further up the block sounding off in kind.
Laughing as he pushed open the heavy front door with his right boot, Sarge watched her prance around the porch still howling. “Hey, are you trying to scare the kids by making like some badass werewolf?” Holding her arms straight out from her sides, Lily threw her head back and let loose her longest, loudest howl so far, then ran past him into the house. “I guess that was a big bad wolf yes.”
After setting her snowshoes back inside the hall closet under the stairs, they turned to find Rosa watching them. Lily went to her and the two women hugged each hard. “Dios mio. You took so long to come back home, Lily.”
“It’s a snow jungle out there, Rosa. The National Guard is on safari. They have no clue what snowshoes can do. Correction: Had no clue. Now they do.”
Rosa considered what a snow jungle would look like, then the rest and laughed. “You got the silly willies, Lily. Get off your feet. Eat something fast!”
“That is exactly what I’m going do. Sarge says the soup is on. So it must be on. This little piggy is gonna go swim in it.”
Sarge opened the apartment door and Rosa gently pushed Lily through it. While Lily pulled off her boots, Rosa turned to Sarge and whispered. “If you run out of things to feed her fast, I got some chili still keeping warm from lunch. Hit the front radiator pipes three times with Old Jack. Ricardo will bring it down quick.” She glanced at Lily now pulling off her sweater. “You can deal?”
“Yeah, I think so.”
“Okay. Need some help, just bring her upstairs.”
“Speak English please. I need practice. More I hear, the better.”
“Same here. In reverse. My Espanol needs a lot of work.”
Rosa raised an eyebrow at him and shook her head. “You a funny man, Sarge.” She blew a kiss at Lily then made her way to the second floor.