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Xenolith, Page 5

A. Sparrow

  Chapter 4: Mission Doctor’s Wife

  June, 1991 …

  Frank braced for signs of culture shock in his greenhorn wife, but Liz surprised him. She never broke stride, adapting to every insult, surprise and deprivation with aplomb. When she noticed the tattered window screens letting in every sort of mosquito and fly, she repaired the rips and holes with monofilament fishing line and pieces of clear packing tape.

  But moths and other bizarre and unspeakable creatures of the night attracted to the veranda light still flew in whenever they opened the door. Liz solved that dilemma by creating a second line of defense. She adopted one of Sister Violetta’s kittens that had a talent for stalking and a predilection for snacking on insects.

  Frank would have preferred at least a week to get the clinic up and running, but that didn’t stop patients from showing up on his first day and every day after that. He usually finished sick call by noon, so he had the afternoons to take inventory, order supplies and repair what he could of the outdated equipment. He recruited and trained enough assistants to sustain a robust duty rotation, aiming to mold them into a tight little operation modeled after the health post he ran in Liberia before he met Liz.

  Liz had started a garden out in front of the bungalow. For days she dug and dug, upending turf and battling roots. One day he returned to find fresh topsoil filling each bed and Liz cross-legged on the ground planting seed from a freezer-sized zip-lock full of Burpee packets. He crouched down beside her, noting the packets already emptied and strewn along the walk: basil and tomatoes, sunflowers and cilantro. He peeked over her shoulder as she opened yet another. “Sweet peas?” he muttered, nuzzling her cheek.

  “Yup. You like?”

  “Not my favorite vegetable,” he said.

  “Vegetable? This ain’t the kind you eat, silly,” she said. “And you’d better not, because I think they’re toxic. But the flowers are gorgeous, almost like orchids. And the scent, you know, like my mom’s backyard in Ithaca? She’s grown them all my life. They’re absolutely intoxicating.”

  “Will they even grow here?”

  She pouted her lip. “They don’t have a choice.”