Hardwood Flats does not appear on most local maps but is used by locals to describe an unmarked space between Elmore, Wolcott, and Worcester. It is a hardscrabble bog of isolated ponds, marshland, and mixed second-growth hardwoods and occasional stands of young evergreens. Walking in the woods one can always hear running water somewhere. Much of its terrain seems to float on an inland sea. Here and there, a few dirt roads, passable except in mud season, wind through the woods, feeding into corduroyed logging roads and then tapering off into hunting trails and deeryards. Occasional year-round dwellings nestle here and there on the passable roads. Hunters or hikers will occasionally run across abandoned farmhouses mouldering in clearings marked only by their overgrown lilac bushes or unpruned apple trees. Further in, they may encounter a tarpaper deer camp with sun-bleached antler racks over a padlocked door.
Lila and her husband, Theron, lived most of their lives in the Flats, coming out occasionally to the Elmore Store to “trade” for necessities. Lila was 91 and Theron 93. Lila didn’t get “the sugar” early like her girlfriend Flo, who suffers from terrible dropsy. Lila was diagnosed at 87. Except for a few skin cancers and a locked-up shoulder, Theron has kept his health. He grows cut flowers and root vegetables to sell at the Morrisville farmer’s market or to aged hippies who sometimes come to their ramshackled house to buy them right out of Theron’s stone-lined root cellar where they are available year-round.
Rena LeClaire, the Morristown home health nurse, had been troubled for some time over Theron’s steadfast rejection of her services. She took great pride in the home-based care she provided for the town’s senior citizens. Last year, Rena was cited by the County for her “conscientious service” to seniors living at home. It was suggested by some that she contributed to the economic demise of Copley Manor, the town home for dependent seniors.
Much to Rena’s dismay, Theron rejected Rena’s services outright. Theron told her he “din’ wann ’er snoopin’ roun’ his house lookin’ for vi-lations an’ the loik.” Rena was not accustomed to such out and out rejection. Occasionally, she encountered reticence on the part of a senior or family member that she attributed to modesty, Yankee independence, or pride, but she usually prevailed, patiently explaining that she is only there to help out and doing so only to the extent that her charge permitted. Most of the seniors on her route came to look forward to her ministrations and her company. She brought the mail, a clutch of local gossip, and light groceries if called in advance. While there, she changed bed linens, ran a load of wash if there was a machine, discarded old food, bathed those in her care, and with great authority checked their vitals. One of Rena’s charges, who was hard of hearing and kept the hearing aid she brought him in the icebox “so the batt’ries doan run down, would hear “vittles” and insist that he had plenty to eat, then let her check his pulse and blood pressure.
Lila’s sugar progressed very quickly. She is a large woman, but not loosely fat like today’s pale-fleshed girls. She’d always been heavy, but the weight that collected over the years like a retirement plan was evenly muscled by the steady routine of chores and helping Theron with his endless gardens and homemade greenhouses that sprung up here and there on their twelve acres. Last anyone heard, a diabetic stroke had left her incapable of speech and partially paralyzed.
This bit of news heightened considerably Rena’s sense of urgency about Lila. She suspected things were not right in their home and that Theron had his reasons for denying her access to Lila.