Barefoot, Dorthea padded across the linoleum kitchen floor carrying a bowl, coffee cup, and spoon to the table next to the window. Then she walked to the cupboard where the boxes of breakfast cereal were kept. After considering her options, she pulled the box of Trix off the shelf and closed the cupboard. She walked to the refrigerator and retrieved a gallon jug of milk then carried it and the cereal to the table. She settled onto one of the pair of chairs placed at opposite ends of the table. She poured cereal into her bowl and added milk. Then she filled her coffee cup from the pot that had been set on the table earlier and left to brew, an electrical outlet under the window making it convenient to plug in the pot. She shifted in the chair then lifted a spoonful of Trix to her mouth.
The sound of movement caught her attention and she looked toward the kitchen door. “You're up early,” she said when a disheveled Kimberly shuffled into view still wearing her nightgown.
Kimberly moved into the kitchen. “Couldn't sleep.” She lifted a coffee cup off the rack on the counter and carried it to the table where she sat on the chair opposite Dorthea. “Please,” she said sliding the cup across the table.
Dorthea willingly filled the cup with steaming coffee. “How was dinner?”
Kimberly took a sip before answering. “Awkward.”
“How so?” Dorthea asked as she stood. She walked to the cupboard and retrieved a second bowl then opened the silverware drawer and picked a spoon from it. “You want something else?” she asked pulling open the cupboard door to reveal the various boxes of cereal.
“Trix are fine.”
Dorthea placed the bowl and spoon in front of Kimberly. “Dinner?”
“He said I needed to give him an answer,” Kimberly said as she pulled the box of cereal across the table.
“You do,” Dorthea said as she returned to her chair and breakfast.
Kimberly filled her bowl with cereal and added milk. “I did.”
“I said no.”
Dorthea waited, sipping from her coffee cup.
Kimberly took a mouthful of cereal and chewed. “He kept asking why,” she added after swallowing.
“What did you tell him?”
Kimberly sighed as she dipped her spoon into her bowl. “It just didn't feel right.”
“Of course,” Dorthea murmured.
Kimberly raised her eyes and looked across the table at her best friend. “Of course,” she whispered.
Several minutes passed quietly as the women ate their breakfast and pondered their own thoughts.
“Thomas said you got home late yourself last night,” Kimberly finally broke the silence. Dorthea nodded. “Work late?”
“Went to the library. I decided that if Aunt Faye won't respond to my questions, I'll find the answers another way. I looked up the issues of the Herald from the time of the tornado.”
“And Jo found some mentions of the tornado in a copy of books.”
“Yes. Unfortunately, the information in the Herald was rather sketchy. Mostly information on how many houses were destroyed or damaged; and estimated number of victims.”
“Seems record keeping back then wasn't too good. And the survivors were taken to hospitals all over that part of the state. Many were treated and released with little information being taken from them. The hospitals were too overwhelmed to worry about it.”
“But I did find a reference to a list of survivors posted in the Kalona paper.”
“Anyone named Sanborn?”
“I don't know. It just said there was a list, it didn't give the list.”
“Damn. So now what?”
Dorthea refilled their coffee cups. “I want to go to Kalona.”
“The library didn't have any of the Kalona newspaper in its archives. I want to go and see if I can find the issue with the survivor list.”
“Are you sure? I mean… well…”
“I know this must sound stupid to you, but I have to know. I just have to know if I'm that little girl.”
“It doesn't sound stupid.”
Kimberly smiled. “Just a little.” Dorthea shrugged then the hint of a smile appeared on her lips. “I think I understand what you're feeling. When do you plan to go? And how? Kalona is a couple hundred miles from here.”
“By bus, I guess. And as soon as I can arrange some time off. I'm going to talk to my supervisor first thing Monday. I've got vacation time coming but they're in a big push to get caught up on Christmas orders so I'm not sure if they'll let me go right now.”
“You load an assembly line. How hard can it be to find somebody to fill in for a few days?”
Dorthea dropped her eyes to her empty bowl. “It's a good job, Kim.”
“I didn't mean—”
“I know what you meant,” Dorthea said dejectedly. “It's not important like your job.”
“It's true. I load an assembly line. Something they could train a monkey to do.”
Kimberly pushed up from her chair and moved to stand next to Dorthea who sat looking into her empty bowl. She knelt by her friend's chair and placed a hand on her thigh. “Honey, I didn't mean it that way,” she said quietly. “I know you work hard. God knows, I don't think I could have stayed at that factory as long as you have. All I meant was—”
Dorthea turned to look into Kimberly's eyes and was surprised at the level of tenderness reflecting back at her. She attempted a half-hearted smile. “It's okay. I sometimes wonder why I've stuck it out as long as I have.”
“The great perks,” Kimberly offered, trying to lighten the sullen mood in the room.
Dorthea laughed. “Yes, that must be it. Let's see, perks… I get to stand on my feet for eight hours a day loading heavy pieces of metal onto nonstop conveyer belts. It's dirty, noisy, smelly...”
“But you get paid well.”
“If you consider I make half what you do.” Dorthea frowned. “If it wasn't for you I couldn't even afford this apartment. You pay more than half of the rent and the bills.”
“Hush. I've told you it doesn't matter.”
Dorthea scooted around in her chair so she could face Kimberly. “Is that why?”
“Is that why you told Thomas no? And the others?”
“What do you mean?”
“Did you tell them no because you knew if you left, I'd have to give this up? Tell me the truth… Are you doing this just to make sure I'm okay? Because if you are—”
“I'm not,” Kimberly said as she abruptly pushed herself upright but remained standing in front of Dorthea and looked over her head to the courtyard through the window. “It's not you. I mean, yes, I do think about what would happen to you if I got married. But that's not why I told Thomas no. It just… I don't know why but he just isn't right for me.”
Dorthea gently placed a hand on Kimberly's hip and tilted her head upward. “Kim, look at me,” she said quietly then waited until her friend complied. “I'll be fine. I may have to find a new place or, maybe, get a new roommate, but I'll be fine. Please, don't pass up your chance at happiness because you're concerned for me,” she said, letting her hand drop back into her lap.
Kimberly started to speak then stopped. After a moment, she tried again. “I wish I could claim to be that noble,” she said. “But I wouldn't do that. I do worry about you, Dorthea. But, believe me, if the right guy came along, I wouldn't let my concern for you outweigh my happiness.” She laughed nervously. “Oh, that sounds bad.”
“No. It sounds right. Now, finish your breakfast so I can show you what I found at the library.”
“It does seem like a visit to Kalona is the next logical step,” Kimberly said as she gathered up the pages spread over her lap. She had changed into a comfortable pair of light blue shorts and pull-on shirt of matching color. She and Dorthea were sitting on the couch discussing the information uncovered at the library. “And to Cedarwood, since it's not that far from Kalona. Who knows? Maybe someone still lives in the neighborhood and could answer some questions.” She handed the stack of papers back to Dorthea.
“That's what I was thinking,” Dorthea said as she neatly tucked the papers into a folder for safe-keeping. “I checked the bus schedules and, with all the stops it makes, it will take almost ten hours to get to Kalona.”
“Too bad we don't have a car. You could drive it in half that time.”
“I know. As it is, I figure a day to get there, a day in Kalona, a day in Cedarwood, and a day back. That means 3 nights in motels. Good thing, I've got some savings. I'll have to skimp on food but I'll just pack some snacks.”
“You can't go four days without eating.”
“Sure, I can. Besides, it's not like I can't afford to lose a couple of pounds.”
Kimberly settled back against the couch. “When do you think you'll go?”
“I'm going to ask Mr. Hanson for Thursday and Friday off.”
“Think he'll go for that?”
“No. But I think he'll say if I help work through this push to fill orders, he'll let me go in a couple of weeks.”
“Can you wait that long?”
“I really don't have a choice. But, if that happens, I'll have time to put in some overtime.” She grinned. “Then I won't have to starve when I'm gone.”
Kimberly laughed. “I guess that would be a good thing. Hey, you have any plans for today?”
“Not really. The apartment needs vacuuming.”
Never one to worry about housework, Kimberly brushed off the comment. “That can wait. What say we go to the park? It's a nice day and I, for one, could use some fresh air.”
“That does sound good.” Dorthea looked into the kitchen where the wall clock was just visible from where they sat. “If we hurry, we can make the next bus.”
“It's not that far. How about we walk?”
“Okay. I'll be ready in five minutes.”
The park was an oasis in the middle of Rapid Falls. Small groves of cedar trees broke up the park's large expanses of grass covered fields. In the center of the park, a lake, large enough for paddle boats and canoes, encircled an island covered in thickets of native grasses. The island, off limits to the town's residents, was home to several pairs nesting ducks. A system of trails weaved about the park providing a variety of paths for a leisurely walk.
“We should have brought some bread for the ducks,” Dorthea said as they sauntered along the path that circled the lake.
Kimberly smiled at a trio of ducks, hoping for a handout, paddling alongside them. “I was just thinking the same thing.”
“I don't know why I didn't think about doing that. Guess it's just been so long since we've come here…”
“It has, hasn't it?”
Dorthea nodded when Kimberly turned away from the ducks.
“Guess that's my fault.”
“You had Thomas. I could have come by myself.”
“Why didn't you?”
“It's not the same,” Dorthea said quietly.
Kimberly sighed. They had been coming to the park for years, starting shortly after they had met in high school. The park was somewhere they could escape the troubles that awaited them at home and, even after they moved out on their own, it was a place they went to rejuvenate bruised spirits after a hard day at work or the breakup of a relationship. “I've missed this,” she said emphatically after several steps.
“This,” Kimberly repeated, sweeping her arms around the park. “Enjoying a nice walk; some good conversation—” A loud quack interrupted her and she laughed. “And you, too,” she told the irritated mallard. “I promise, next time we'll bring bread.”
“Didn't you take walks with Thomas?”
“Yes. Well… Not like this. He was always in a hurry to get to the end. Point A to point B; straight line; no detours; no dawdling.”
“Don't hmm me. He had his good points. Casual walks just weren't one of them.”
“He thought he was too old to be wasting time. Make a plan and get it done. It's surprising he held on to me for as long as he did.”
“What makes you say that?”
“He wanted to get married then start saving as much as we could for retirement. That's why he wanted me to keep working.”
“He said we were too old to start a family. And children cost too much.”
“Well, I guess, you could say he was right on both counts.”
Kimberly stopped and stared down at a stone in the middle of the path. With a quick kick, she sent the pebble flying towards the lake where it plopped into the water ten feet from the shore.
“Ducks aren't going to like you if you keep doing that,” Dorthea said as a half dozen of the birds flapped their wings and squawked in protest.
“It wasn't even close to them,” Kimberly protested before continuing down the path.
“But?” Dorthea prodded.
“Did you ever want children?” Kimberly turned the focus of the questioning to her friend.
“Yes… and no. Yes, because I think all women want to be mothers. And I'll admit that I wanted to know what that felt like. But… To be honest, Aunt Faye wasn't that good of a role model. I would hate to have picked up her mothering skills.”
“You mean, the lack of…”
“Yeah. Anyway, I never wanted a child to go through the childhood I did.” Dorthea pointed up into a nearby tree. “Look,” she whispered, “a hawk.”
Kimberly looked to where her friend was pointing. She smiled. “It's beautiful.”
They watched until the hawk spread its wings and lifted off its perch. With strong wings beating, it rose effortless into the sky and glided across the lake where it disappeared into one of the cedar groves.
“Think it has duck on its mind for dinner?” Kimberly asked.
“Most likely, but I'm not going to think about that.”
“What about you?”
Kimberly shook her head. “No. I'm more a chicken gal.”
Dorthea laughed and playfully swatted her arm. “No, not that, silly. Did you ever want children?”
“Actually, yes,” Kimberly replied, seriously. “I always wanted to give a child what I never had— a happy home to grow up in. But, I guess Thomas was right about that, I'm too old now to start a family.”
Dorthea sighed and thought about their observations. Then she moved closer to Kimberly and slipped an arm around her best friend's. “But, you know what?” she asked brightly. When Kimberly shook her head, she continued. “We may be in our fifties but I still have a lot of life left in me. And I'll be damned if I'm not going to enjoy it. What do you say we go find us a store and bring some bread back for the ducks?”
Kimberly grinned. “You're on.”
Return to the Academy