Ten minutes later, warm and dry for the first time all day, we sit down at a table with her; a man who’s probably old enough to be Elsie’s dad leans over Daka’s leg and peels away my makeshift dressing. He silently examines the wound, poking at it until Daka looks like he wants to cry, and finally sits back up.
“I assume one of you tried to clean it up?” he says without looking at either me or Cory.
“I did,” I say. “It’s not a great job.”
He does look at me at that. “You’re right,” he says. “You’re lucky you’re here. This’ll get real ugly real fast if it’s not treated properly.” He points at the puffy flesh. “There’s dirt in the wound.”
My hackles rise. “I’m not a doc,” I say. I don’t even bother to keep the edge from my voice. “I did the best I could, but I’d like to see you clean out a wound with nothing more than the water in a canteen and then magically keep the mud out when it’s raining so hard you’re walking through six inches of water.” I glare at him. “I did the best I could.”
He stares at me. “Well, he’s lucky,” he says, and turns his attention back to Daka’s leg. “In another day or two sepsis would have set in.”
Daka flinches. Cory grips his shoulder.
“Can you fix it now that we’re here?” I demand.
“Yes,” he says, applying some kind of gel to the wound. “If you can keep it clean.”
“Can you, I don’t know, give us something to help him?” I ask. My temper is rapidly fraying.
Elsie probably senses this, because she gently touches my arm and intervenes. “Walter,” she says, “these are the first visitors Portland has seen in decades. It would be a shame to treat them poorly.”
Walter snorts. “Damn fool children.” He finishes wrapping a bandage around the leg and secures it. “I’ll come by to change the wrapping every day until you leave. I’ll show you how to do it and give you the supplies you’ll need to do it yourself.” He pushes himself to his feet and grabs his cane from where it leans against the table. The look he gives me is full of scorn. “But if you’re smart you’ll either stay here or you won’t be so stupid as to get injured without so much as a med kit on you in the future.”
“Gee, thanks, I’ll remember that,” I say at his back as he limps out.
“I’m sorry,” Elsie says, returning from helping Walter down the stairs. “He’s really good with children. I always forget he doesn’t like teenagers.” She sighs. “Most of his bitterness comes from his own stupidity when he was about your age, when he almost lost his foot. It’s why he limps.”
“I don’t suppose when we leave we’ll be able to beg some other med supplies from you to take with us,” I say.
“I’ll see what I can do,” she says. “It’ll depend on what the situation is like at central stores at the moment. Oh.” She pats her pockets and pulls out a small glass jar. “For you,” she says, handing it to Cory. “For — ” She motions to Cory’s face. Cory looks blank for a minute. Then,
“Oh. The scratches.” He turns the jar in his hands. “Thanks.”
“Walter’s not all bad,” Elsie says with a smile. “Shall we eat?”
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