As far as most people were concerned Constance Sliver had a perfect name. She was nothing if not reliable and dependable, and generously so. She was also a slight little slip of a woman with a wide, tooth-bright smile that stretched ear to ear across the hollows of her cheeks. Her eyes looked like two holes into heaven (pale blue in daytime, dark, empty with glints of stars at night) especially if she were silhouetted against the sky. She also had a voice that sounded like a foundered goose. Which was probably not what would be expected of a sliver slip of a woman, and which, you have to admit, might be very annoying. But the point is Connie Sliver was always there.
If somebody caught the flu or pneumonia or the bubonic plague, Connie Sliver would show up with her concoctions, her quack, her grin, and her gates-to-heaven eyes. And her Bible.
It was part of her dependability, her constancy, her very much noticed reliability.
Everyone thought all this was very sweet. All this generosity, all this constant generosity, all this dependable reliability. It was just what the village of Flog Station, Montana, needed. Someone to tend to the sick and dying. To heal the ill and ease the dying into their reward.
On October 14, Ian Bristfair came down with a mild cold. Sniffles really, nothing more than that. But Connie Sliver heard about it and showed up while he was feeding the sheep.
She stood in the sheep muck, her grin earing to earing, and shouted at him over the sound of the conveyor he was pitching hay into. “Ian,” she squawked, “You shouldn’t be out in this weather. You’ll catch your death.”
“Hi, Connie,” Ian said. He wasn’t too pleased to see her. She would insist that he get right into bed with mustard plasters, and vinegar teas, and cod liver oil. She would go up to his house, start boiling water for tea, take out her vial of cod liver oil, and start mixing mustard plaster, and stay until he got over the damned cold or died. There were only three ways to get Constant Connie to move on: a healing, a dying, or occasionally, a more serious affliction in another part of Last Lost Valley County. “You must be pretty hard up today, Connie,” he said, “Coming after a little cold like this.”
“O, I never leave my boys to founder,” Connie honked. “Doesn’t matter the meekness of their troubles. Connie’s always there.”
The last thing Ian Brisfair needed was to be bed ridden and have to pay somebody to pitch hay to his sheep. The last thing he needed was vinegar teas and cod liver oil. He had already mustard plastered. The last thing he needed was a squawking goose with eyes like holes into the fifth dimension flapping over him in his bed.
“It seems I heard old Danny Frashure was down with the coughing fits,” Ian said. He thought maybe coughing fits was an affliction Connie might deem worth leaving a cold to attend to.
“Been there. Done that,” Connie croaked. “He died.”
“O,” Ian said. He went on shoveling hay to his sheep.
“An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,” Connie said. Which did not make a lot of sense, but that was one endearing thing about Constance Sliver, she could quote the bible without context until Jesus came down from the Cross and resurrected into the Second Coming. She knew the book backward and forward, and had been known to start with the “Amen” in Revelations and head back to “In the beginning, God. . . .” in Genesis, with a smattering of Mormon, Nephi, and Joe Smith patched in for good measure.
Ian didn’t roll his eyeballs, at least not so that Connie could see.
By October 16 Ian was not feeling better. He was herding a fever, slightly above normal and rising. And Connie was doing all she could to get him back on his feet or safely into heaven, whichever “God willing and the creek don’t rise” happened first. Of course she was disappointed with Ian’s lack of cooperation.
The sheep still had to be fed, and Ian coughed himself out of bed every morning, put on his boots and went out to do the chores, this in spite of Constant Splinter’s determined efforts to keep him securely tucked from all but the chore of handling his ill. Being out in the sheep muck shoveling hay was a relief of sorts. Connie’s favorite verses in the bible were becoming a constant lament in the house. “Mind the post in your eye,” she would cackle. “A time to reap, a time to sow,” “One generation passeth. . . .” It seems the ripe joy of the Preacher was her favorite comforter. And so stink of the sheep pens was a welcome change.
On October 19, Ian’s fever was still on the rise and headed into triple digits.
“Maybe, I should see a doctor,” Ian said. He was reluctant to say this, and even more reluctant to execute it. Having opted out of Obama Care, he was in no hurry to take on any medical bills.
Connie, sitting in the chair beside the bed, croaked up, “What’s a doctor know I don’t.”
“O, Pshaw, you got nothing a good dose of cod liver oil and vinegar-licorice tea won’t cure.” Which was another endearing thing about Connie Sliver. She was a bull on cod liver oil. She grinned that ear to ear grin. Ian was reminded, just for an instant–no longer than that–of a pirate flag with its skull and crossbones.
“O,” Ian said. He went out to feed the sheep that morning, but not the next. A neighbor, knowing the situation, came over and took care of chores.
By November 1, Ian was about done in. Connie was reading him to sleep day and night. She healed under the reasonable assumption that if cod liver oil and vinegar tea wasn’t quite enough, sleep was a good aide. And one of her sleep aides was to read the Bible starting with nemA at the end of Revelations and proceed from there. She had finished Deuteronomy and was backing into Numbers by now. But what vinegar tea wasn’t curing, Numbers didn’t seem to be curing either. Ian concluded he either had to get rid of Constance Sliver and her cod liver oil, herbal concoctions, and her incessant reverse Bible or he was a gonner.
“I tell you, Connie,” he croaked, he had taken on many of Connie’s characteristics, including a raven cough voice and a thin skeletal face, “Mervel Watson is nearing St. Peter’s gate. Almost kaput, they say. You should go see him, bring him around.
“He’s not as near as you.” Connie squawked, her grin seeming to shape itself into the beak of a raven with white, perfect teeth. “Not nearly as near as you are.”
Her eyes were black with the infinite emptiness of the cosmos behind them.