Thursday, January 21, 2010

Chapter Twenty-Three

Chapter 23

May 28th – So much for biking to see the Crenshaws. I woke up to rain and it has been raining off and on all day long. There isn’t much I can do in the rain … maybe should say there isn’t much I should do in the rain. I don’t want to get sick after all. So I stayed inside. I was going a little nutty and thinking about breaking the schedule that I had set myself when I realized I could use the extra down time to look through some more of Momma and Daddy’s books. I would still be “resting” from hard labor but using my time wisely … I even read an old Sunday School lesson that Daddy had stuck in his notes on stewardship that gave me a lot to think about.

I noticed yesterday that the blackberry canes were really starting to fill out. A couple of more days … maybe … and I’ll be back to canning like a lunatic. The question is again though what to can and how much of it? Blackberry juice for sure and that is made the same way as the blueberry juice I canned up. And I also want to make up some Blackberry Vinegar because that is what Momma always let me drink when I had a fever that wouldn’t go away. One of the good things about the vinegar I realized after reading the recipe is that it is made with honey and not white sugar. This will be a recipe that saves me sugar.

The other stuff that is on the list of options for canning include: blackberry syrup, pickled blackberries, blackberry shrub, blackberry jam, blackberry-honey jam, blackberry catsup, spiced blackberry jelly, whole blackberries, and just for the heck of it since so far it looks like I’m going to be drowning in blackberries I want to try and make blackberry chutney. I don’t know what I’ll get to eat it with but it might be a nice gift … for friends and stuff I mean like the Crenshaws or Major Sawyer or even Pastor Ken.

The blackberry-honey jam uses honey instead of sugar as the sweetener and preservative. I’m going to make a batch of each and see which one I like the best. I’m still hunting for great grandmother’s non-alcoholic blackberry cordial recipe. At Christmas time, even all of us younger kids were allowed a little sip of this and then we poured the rest of it over the homemade yellow cake we always had for dessert.

I also took some time to fill in more of my big calendar. After the blackberries and boysenberries ripen the beginning of June I should start seeing plums by the middle of the month, but Momma’s notes say that not all of the trees should ripen at the same time. That will be cool if it happens, there are a few different plum trees out there and I’m not sure I could keep up with them if they all ripen at once. I’ve got the trees all labeled now and it looks like all of the trees have baby fruit on them but some are falling off too. I think that is supposed to happen … a natural thinning process that lets the fruit that doesn’t fall off get bigger and stay healthy. But birds will knock fruit off too and so will rain and storms. This is crazy, it’s a wonder there is any fruit left for people to eat with all that goes on.

Before the end of the month I have to pull out Momma’s tree nets and put them over some of the trees. Like the pie cherry tree that is supposed to start making at the end of June. The middle of July I should be able to eat apples, assuming I have time to eat because right after the apples Momma’s wrote I should start looking for the nectarines and something called rabbit-eye blueberries … which I have no clue what she is talking about. I thought blueberries were blueberries and if she planted some someplace else I have to find out where. Figs should also start appearing the middle of July but I haven’t a clue whether I like them or not. I like fig newton cookies but … what else do you use figs for?

Pears and peaches will come the beginning of August. Crabapples are the beginning of September and the grapes are supposed to be ready then too. October is more apples with persimmons the beginning of November. It doesn’t look like I’m going to slow down until December which is OK but I’m going to need something besides fruit to eat. I’m trying to figure out when the seeds I got from Momma O fit into the calendar of things to expect and do. I would really like stuff besides that to eat but where do I get the seeds? I wonder if Momma O has more and if she would be willing to trade some fresh fruit for the seeds.

I also need to find out when the pecans are supposed to be ready. Momma said that some of the pecan trees start dropping nuts as early as the beginning of October but that sometimes you won’t get any pecans at all either because the trees don’t make or because the squirrels get them all before you can get any. I think that I’ve found the chestnut trees that we planted. Momma’s notes say they should start dropping in September but when I haven’t a clue. Usually Momma wrote early, mid, or late but not for this one which must mean she didn’t know exactly when or that the tree has a mind of its own and drops when it wants to.

According to Momma’s notes I missed the Mayhaw season. They ripen the end of April or the beginning of May. I guess I just missed it or the birds got them all or something. Then there are other things I’m running across. Why couldn’t she put everything in one place? I keep finding answers to some of my questions only to wind up with more questions and no idea where to look for the answers.

Let’s see, there is something called a Pignut Hickory I am supposed to have several of in the tree line in the widest section of the main road but I don’t have any pictures of what the leaves look like so how am I supposed to know what is a hickory and what isn’t? Momma said there are two mockernut trees someplace as well. What the heck is a mockernut?! The other trees that are someplace on the property are American Beech, elm, holly, white cedar, red cedar, blackjack, camphor, chinkapin, and I don’t know what all since I haven’t finished reading that part of Momma’s notes.

Daddy’s stuff is practical the same as Momma’s, just about different stuff. His notes are on attracting and hunting wild game like deer, turkey, quail and gator. But he also had in there how to do things like catch armadillos and boars (that’s a feral pig I think). The best way to skin a snake and eat it pretty much grossed me out but I guess if you are hungry it’s better than eating air. He’s got notes for taking care of livestock but a lot of that includes things I don’t know if I could do like trimming the cow’s toenails or how to not irritate a llama so it won’t spit at you. I had no idea my dad even cared enough about llamas to find out how to keep one from spitting on him.

Some of my parents’ notes just seem so out there. Maybe they were just gathering every bit of information they came across and would have at some future point gone through it to see what they really could use and what they couldn’t. Like I can understand why Daddy would have notes for building a smoke house or how to build the solar stuff even but I don’t get why he would want to know how to pan fry grasshoppers. With Momma around I just don’t see having to go that far.

Only I guess Momma isn’t around and neither is Daddy. I hope things never get so bad that I have to eat bugs. Maybe that’s why they saved information like that … for just in case. But man, I hope that type of thing never comes around for me. The very idea of eating that stuff makes me want to gag.

May 29th – It was nice to not do any real hard work yesterday but it sure made picking up wood today hard. The wood being wet didn’t help either. And there has got to be a better way of chopping that stuff up that doesn’t make you feel like your arms are going to fall off at the end of the day. Matter of fact, I think I’m just going to go to sleep. I’ve added ten more wheelbarrows full of small wood to my piles … and laid it out neater too … and I sawed a bunch of bigger logs off of the fallen tree. Those I had to saw into chunks no longer than half the length of my leg or I couldn’t lift them up into the wheelbarrow to bring back to the house.

I know those pieces are too big for the fireplace but I couldn’t cut them with the ax. I managed to cut a couple of the logs in half lengthwise with the saw but they wouldn’t stand still so that I could cut the halves in half. I know it isn’t supposed to be this hard. I’ve got to be doing something wrong. If I see Uncle George or maybe Rand at the end of the month ration book thing I’ll ask them, and just hope they don’t laugh at me.

May 30th – I have a new friend. He’s a little fond of his own voice but I think I can live with it. Fraidy isn’t too sure she likes him but on the other hand she licks her lips every time she comes near. It’s a rooster. A little one too. I don’t mean young I mean little. I think he is what is called a Banty rooster. He sure seems full of himself.

I can’t believe how easy it was to catch him. I just put a bowl of blueberries in an old dog cage that Daddy built near the barn … it was supposed to be a dog run but we never got any dogs to put in it.

That bird thinks he is hot snot and is crowing like crazy. I hope he doesn’t draw the bad kind of attention from something that might try and catch him. I mean he’s a funny little thing but not exactly an indoor pet. I helped Daddy build the dog run … rooster run now … so I know nothing can dig up under and get to Pretty Boy. That’s what I named him, “Pretty Boy.” Daddy set the big cyclone fence posts down in concrete footers that wrap around the whole run. They go down two feet if I remember. Daddy said he didn’t want dogs he put in there being able to dig their way out or something to dig their way in. I think he was thinking about breeding hunting dogs like my grandfather used to. Granddaddy always kept his best hunting dog Queenie away from the boy dogs when she was in heat or when she was having puppies. I liked Queenie, she was a bird dog and just about as sweet a dog as I’ve ever been around but some of her puppies were nasty little boogers; they were always biting my ankles when I went out to help Granddaddy feed them.

I didn’t know what to put in Pretty Boys new home but he’s a bird and I figured he might like a branch or something. Once he got over his indignation at me dragging a big log in there so he’d have something interesting to look at he really took to it. He’s so funny; he looks like an oversized canary when he hops up in the branches and starts crowing. I put some cut grass near the log but I’m not sure if roosters nest the same as hens do. I’m also not sure what roosters eat. I know they can free range like a cow ... well, that’s what Daddy’s notes say anyway … but I don’t know what they actually eat. Bugs maybe? Pretty Boy liked the blueberries well enough but I don’t think he could live on them. He certainly has had fun scratching around in all the leaves at the bottom of the dog run but I’m not sure if that’s a good thing either. And the big dog watering contraption I found in Daddy’s junk room seemed to suit him as well. It was one of those things you fill up and then turn upside down and as the dog licks the water up it refills itself until the jug is all gone.

I also built a compost bin after I practiced shooting. It’s kind of lame looking compared to the ones in Momma’s books but I think it will get the job done. My materials came from the second house. I think the pallets out in back of their patio used to hold sod as there were a couple of squares of dried up grass sitting on one. There were three of them. I looked around for something that would make a gate or door for the fourth side and didn’t find anything. Some of the examples of compost bins only have three sides so I guess that is OK.

It was a pain trying to get all three sides to stand up so I finally had get the post hole digger and take two pieces of scrap rebar and bury them standing upright on each end of the “U” the wooden pallets made once I had wired them together at the corners. I tried nailing them together but I kept spitting the wood.

After I got the bin to stand up I put a layer of dry crunched up leaves on the bottom. Next came some green grass cuttings. They were kind of long when I cut them with the swing blade so I tried to chop them up with a hoe into smaller pieces, not sure it worked too well but it didn’t work bad either. On top of this is supposed to go green kitchen waste, unfortunately I don’t have any yet. If I had built the compost bin sooner I would have put the leftovers from where I made blueberry juice and stuff but at least now I know what to do with the leftovers from all of my other canning that is going to be coming down the road. I tried to make up for the lack of kitchen green stuff by pulling weeds around the acreage. There was a bunch of dollar weed by the gully and I went up there to pull it. There was also a bunch of weeds in the ditches beside my front gate so I went up there too. I needed to check on things anyway.

When I was up there I hid in the bushes when I heard a wagon coming. “You can come out of the bushes girl, I already saw ya.”

Mr. Henderson was grinning so I didn’t figure it couldn’t be too bad. He got nosey and wanted to know how I’d been doing and if I was keeping busy. I told him I was fine and busy enough. He laughed and called me full of sass when I asked how he’d been doing and what he’d been up to. He said he couldn’t keep his cattle standing but that if I wanted to get in on the ration book exchange tomorrow I’d better get there early in the morning … before first light if I could manage it … because he heard a lot of people were going to try and come up and get whatever it was they could. I asked him if he was going to be there and he said “nope” and left it at that. He also told me that they were making people check all of their weapons before entering the distribution area so I had to be prepared for that and he also warned me to make sure I got back what I checked in, including the same number and type of bullets.

He left after telling me to mind my p’s and q’s because his granddaughter shared that Julia Winston still wasn’t too happy I’d gotten away with talking to her that way at the market. I wasn’t surprised; I hadn’t meant to be gentle but to make a point. I just wondered how far out of her way she was going to trash what little reputation I might have claim to. I was also wondering if she had decided that the pasture was greener with Rand and if so, what she planned to do about the mistake she had made … and what Rand would think of it all.

So, that is why I’m going to bed so early tonight. If there is going to be a big crowd like there was at the market and at work day I’m going to have to start walking at four in the morning. I’d ride the bike but at some point on the trip I must have picked up a bunch of sandspurs; the front tired is completely flat and the back tire is half way there. I found that out tonight when I was taking it out of the barn. Wouldn’t you know it? Just when I remembered to use it, it isn’t useable.

And, though it was a hard decision to make I’m going to take some of that change out of Daddy’s collection jars. Something just doesn’t set right with me about getting something for nothing. It’s like before I knew those four houses fell under the heading of abandoned property. I felt guilty. I might only be able to get one or two things but it will be one or two things on my own terms. I worry about losing my independence; like all those strings that Aunt Wilma and Uncle Charlie tried to tie on me because they were the ones that stepped up and took me in. And when people give you something for nothing they eventually want something in return at some point. I’d rather pay the price up front that I can afford than have a debt like that hanging over my head for who knows how long.

I made extra pan biscuits with dinner so I’ll have them for breakfast. I’ve already made a nosebag of granola and dried fruit and also put a miniature block of summer sausage and small block of cheese from the Swiss Colony supplies. I’ve got a canteen of water but I’m not going to bother flavoring it this time. My nerves have my stomach tumbling and I don’t need any more reason to get an acid upset stomach.

May 31st – I woke up bright and early this morning. Well, early … not so bright. My guess is that three-thirty in the morning doesn’t look pretty on anybody. It was too early for breakfast so I stuck the biscuits in one of the big pockets on what I’m calling my traveling vest (the hunting vest I wore at the farmer’s market) and my lunch foods in the other one in case I had to be out long.

The mist was heavy so I wasn’t too worried about my seeds; besides, it was too dark to go tripping around with a watering can. Even Pretty Boy and Fraidy were still asleep when I put my feet to the road. It was so quiet it was spooky. This is how it had been when I was escaping from Tampa. The closer I got to US90 the more noise I could hear. People were already plodding down the road to get in line. Not a lot but enough. With people around it was even spookier, we were like ghosts all traveling in the same direction.

I guess we were all lucky that there were no clouds and the moon was bright. Everybody was moving slow so it wasn’t like I was going to be run over but I kept looking around every few minutes just to make sure. No one was talking and from what I could see of people’s faces, no one was in the mood to talk so I kept to myself and out of the way as much as possible.

I came up to a girl, a little older than me, that was carrying a little kid. Her shoe was untied and she was trying to balance the toddler and bend down at the same time. I taped her on the shoulder and made motions that I would tie it. When we kept walking it was side by side. We still didn’t say anything, not even when we got in line to enter the distribution area.

The line hadn’t started moving yet when the little kid shook a sippy cup that was tied to a string and said, “Thirsy Momma, so thirsy.” The girl looked like she was about to cry. I didn’t see any canteen or anything. I took the cup, figured out how to get the lid off and poured water to fill it up. The kid almost couldn’t wait for me to make sure the lid was back on before he started sucking on it frantically. The girl looked ashamed but I didn’t know what to say so I just shrugged. When I offered her the canteen she jumped and shook her head like I was offering her poison or something.

Finally the line started moving and the poor little kid laid his head down and went back to sleep. It wasn’t until we got inside the gate that the girl looked at me and said thank you but I only knew it because the sky had finally started to lighten and I could read lips. She turned and left in a hurry before I could say, “Your welcome.” She disappeared into the crowd while I was still signing in my rifle.

Once I was passed the check in point I was at a loss what to do and then I saw his big ol’ flat top off over to the side. A young man in a khaki-colored t-shirt got the Major’s attention when he nodded my direction. “Well, hello their Shorty. Missy was wondering if you’d show up today or not.”

It was awful hard to ignore the Shorty remark but I guess he does that to a lot of people considering he is well over six foot. I asked him if I could ask him something and he said sure and we stepped off to the side. I told him I wanted to do things the right way and try and pay for my share. He gave me one of those condescending, “isn’t she cute” kind of looks some guys can give. Well, he did until I showed him the change I had stuck in a Ziploc bag. I told him I had forty dollars in change and I wanted to pay my own way.

He looked at the change a little more closely than I thought was necessary then he shoved the bag back into my vest and walked me over to a portable building and took me inside. He nodded to some guy in there working on a radio and then had me sit down in his office. I thought he was going to exchange it for sand dollars but instead asked me where the money had come from. I told him, I trust the Major but he doesn’t have to know that there is more where that came from.

What he said surprised me though, “Girl, that’s more than change you have in your pocket. That’s silver in those old coins. And that could get you in lots of big, big trouble.”

I didn’t understand and he told me that the federal government had been confiscating privately owned precious metals for about two months, including old coins and something he called blanks. I tried to tell him it was just coins I took out of my father’s collection jar. He said, “Be that as it may, you put that stuff back where ever you found it and then lose it for a while … a long while. If people find out that I’ve seen it and not confiscated it I could get in trouble too.”

I don’t want the Major to get in trouble so it was easy enough to do what he asked me to do. I got up to leave when he said, “Where are you going?”

I told him home since I didn’t have any money to spend. That’s when we went round and around about the stupid ration book. I tried to explain to him that I didn’t want to take something for nothing and why but I don’t think he got it because he kept scratching his head and finally said, “Lord, preserve me from innocents and idealists.”

I don’t think Major Sawyer has a high opinion of too many people. The next thing he said to me kind of confirmed that. “Look here girl … Kiri ... a lot of those people out there waiting their turn to suck up what is left over from the monthly rations aren’t thinking twice about what that means. Most of them keep expecting to get this kind of help week after week, month after month, until things get back to normal. They don’t care. They feel entitled. You know what that means?”

Of course I know what that means. Just because I’m a teenager doesn’t mean I’m stupid. The look on my face must have been enough to let the Major know that I did because he continued, “You’ve heard of the story of the ant and the grasshopper … tell me they haven’t taken that out of the curriculum too … good. You know the moral of the story. Well, I would say at least three-quarters of those people out there are nothing but grasshoppers. They are only thinking about today, maybe tomorrow, next week at the most. Anything beyond that they are either too scared to think about or are positive that things are going to get better, back to normal.”

He took a deep breath and looked like he was chewing over what he wanted to say. I thought he’d almost given up saying anything at all and then, “Kiddo, things aren’t going to get better next month. Not next year either. Probably not for another five or ten years if then. I mean, things might get better at an individual level, but at a collective level it’s going to be a very long while before the world can get anywhere near back to where we were before this whole mess started, and that’s if things don’t get much worse than they are right now. There are too many people in the world with weapons they have no business being in charge of. Did Rand tell you about China and Russia? Well, things are worse than we knew at first. Our satellites are still working and all over the world there are … “

“Wars and rumors of wars?”

“Hell kid, don’t go all freaky on me.”

“Uh, sorry. Just seemed appropriate.”

“Yeah, more appropriate than I’m comfortable with so don’t worry about it. I’m due to retire in six months. I had thought about staying in, I’m not that old, but now that I’ve met Missy and … well, I’ve put in my twenty and I’m getting out … if they’ll let me out. You don’t say anything about that either. But I’m trying to tell you that you are going to have to take advantage of the ‘right here, right now’ because there might not to be any of it before too much longer. The way things are going there may not even be any of it next month, and that is definitely something you don’t go around talking about, you hear?.”

“Then why are you telling me?”

“A lot of reasons kid but mostly because you remind me of Missy. Now you take that ration book, you stand in line, you take what you can get and then you get home. You hear me? I know some of the kids around here are trying to put together some type of social gathering after the distribution center closes but I think that is a lousy idea. Too many people are running on too tight a string. There is bound to be trouble. You … go … home.”

I told him I hadn’t heard anything about a social gathering and I wasn’t interested in doing things like that anyway. He told me good and then walked me back out and put me in one of the lines that had already gotten a lot longer than they were when I had first walked in.

Unfortunately Julia Winston was in the next line over from me standing with someone that turned out to be her mother. Her mother said something nasty that I was getting preferential treatment since I was “friends” with the Major.

I had to nip it in the bud before the somebody got in trouble and I’m sorry but the lie is what came quickest to my lips. “I forgot to check my bullets … OK?” I said in a kind of whiney voice like I was embarrassed about getting caught and just wanted people to leave me alone about it.

They ate it hook, line, and sinker because it gave them something else to smirk about. It was easy to ignore them after that, especially when the lines eventually took us into separate … well, they were kind of like bathroom stalls. I think they were supposed to look like old fashioned bank teller windows with walls for privacy up on either side but they still looked more like stalls to me.

I handed in my ration book and the guy just looked at it and then took it over to someone else, who then disappeared with it into the back. The guy who I had originally taken the ration book from me came back and asked real casual like, “Haven’t done any shopping this month?”

I told him I hadn’t known what to do with the book until someone explained it and hadn’t had any money to exchange for sand dollars at the last farmer’s market. He made some kind of note on this tally pad he had and when the other guy came back and said whispered something to him he made a couple of checks and then directed me to follow him through this little swinging door and down a ramp to another building.

I’ll admit it; I was getting more than a little nervous. It was like that long walk to the Dean’s office right before they slap some major in-school suspension on you. I walked into another little cubbyhole office to see some guys loading up a table with stuff in plain brown bags and stacks of some cans that had white labels and black lettering on them.

Some woman comes over to me and hands me a clip board and says, “Sign here.”

“Sign here for what?” I ask her.

“Geez kid … I don’t have all day, just sign and stop playing dumb.”

Missy shows up in time and just says, “Sign it Miss Snow and I’ll explain it to you.” She gave the woman a dirty look that had her hopping off in another direction a little faster than she might have otherwise.

“I don’t have a lot of time Sugar. Rand is out back with his horse and a couple of pack mules. You two are going to have to load this stuff and Daddy’s and then get out of here fast. And I mean fast. What we have left is going to be gone in less than an hour and we have hours worth of people left in line. It’s going to get nasty. I’d get some of my people to help but we are already breaking down what we can so that we can jump and get going, hopefully before most people will understand what is going on. The Supply Depot is already on lock down and when we leave here I might not see you for a while.” She gave me a hug and then one to Rand who stepped in through a door I hadn’t noticed before running back the way she had come.

Rand just said, “Grab something.”

By the time we had finished loading, some of the smaller packages stuffed into my backpack, we could hear that the sounds of the crowd were already restless, bordering on nasty. The medic that I remembered from the work day ran up and handed me my rifle and another gun to Rand, laughed at me and said, “Bullets … I’ll have to tell the Major how you saved his bacon with that one” before running off again.

Rand looked at me with a question and when I opened my mouth to explain he just motioned me to be quiet while we left the distribution area by a back gate and walked the animals through areas that I hadn’t even known existed. I had finally figured out we were paralleling US90 when there was something like a roar of sound behind us.

A voice ahead of us whispered, “Well, that ties it. I gots ta get going Rand if I’m going to get this to your uncle’s place and get hunkered down in mine before things spill out too far.”

Then a figure came running through the bushes. It was the girl with the little boy. She fell down, dropping everything but the baby. She was scared to death but when she saw the other guy she gasped out, “Clyde!”

“Hush Melinda or you’ll have ‘em down on us.”

Long and the short of it, and it wasn’t until later that Rand explained things to me, I was witnessing a little “As the Stomach Turns” soap opera installment. The girl looked like she didn’t have too much more left in her. Clyde jumped down, threw girl Melinda’s stuff in the back of the wagon and then tossed her and her little boy both into the back of the wagon as well while saying, “I don’t want to hear a single word about it Melly, you are coming home with me and to hell with what you, the Harbingers or anyone else has to say about it.”

A salute to Rand and he was gone and Rand was pulling me to keep up with him and the mules. I would have gone down several times if he hadn’t had my arm. My legs were really aching and I was having trouble keeping up because the pack was heavy. Rand didn’t even slow down until we had both gates locked behind us and were standing in my front yard.

“I’m going to put this stuff on the porch, you drag it inside, don’t try and put it away … just get it all inside. Then you start filling up your wood box while I take care of the animals. Where’s that cat? You get her inside too if you can.” I didn’t understand what was going on but I knew it was bad just from the way Rand sounded.

I was still filling the wood box when Rand came in with some bigger wood logs in one arm and Fraidy in the other. “I put your rooster and his water in the barn; he should be OK in there for a while. I’ll check on him later if I’m able. Where’d he come from?”

He was asking me where the rooster came from when he was running around acting like he was?! I had my hands on my hips and my mouth open when Rand’s stomach gave out a giant growl. I thought, “Oh, for Pete’s sake” and gave him one of the biscuits that was still in my vest. He mumbled an embarrassed thank you while I went to get him some fresh water.

He was leaning on the kitchen counter catching his breath when I came back. “Look, I know … I … I invited myself over without even asking first. I guess you probably …

I finally shook my head at his sputtering and just said, “Rand, spit it out already. Just explain what is going on.”

“I saw you get pulled into Sawyer’s office. You didn’t really forget to check your bullets did you?”

He must have been close by to hear me tell Julia that. I told him actually I had but that wasn’t why Major Sawyer had wanted to talk to me. I didn’t have to explain the real reason because Rand assumed it was because the Major was “explaining” some things to me.

“It’s worse around town than even Sawyer and Missy know. Harbinger and his clique are really starting to make noise about having more say in what goes on around here. I can see both sides of the argument, Missy and Sawyer can’t, at least not yet. People around here are pretty … well, they are used to doing things the way they’ve always been done. Problem is the infrastructure is gone. So are a lot of the people that kept things balanced, who never would have let a man like Harbinger get as much power as he’s gotten recently. The man’s got some good points to his argument but he’s going about winning the debate the wrong way.”

I asked him what that had to do with me and why everything is flying apart and why were we sitting in the heat and the dark like mice with a cat stalking around.

“Not the best analogy, more like the wolf’s at the door. Let me try and explain better. Since the farmer’s market where you could see how short food is getting, even food being brought in by the military, people are getting worried. Then some of the people that were already worried started getting angry. Harbinger made a lot of promises that he can’t fulfill now. As bad as Harbinger has been there are some that are worse. First he helped out by using the abandoned property ordinances to get food back into the pipeline. Then he went further and started putting together posses to take care of the gangbangers that were escaping that the military didn’t have time to deal with. There were a lot of both of those in the beginning and he started making friends. Lately he’s been keeping a sort of balance by “encouraging donations” from people that have “too much” so that it can be handed out to people that don’t have anything. Most of us went along with it at first because we thought it was the Christian thing to do and because the food really was getting to the needy.”

He stopped to cough a little and then drink some more water. “But for the last little bit here, the balance has been shifting. The needy aren’t getting their needs met and no one has any spare to just give away for free when they have their own families to be responsible for. The … let’s call them the less desirable elements of the community … that had backed Harbinger’s group only did it because of what he could give them. The less he has to give them … the less he does give them … the less loyalty they are giving him. A lot of those people have been joining ranks with the gangbangers and taking what they want rather than waiting for a hand out. Harbinger still has a lot of friends, but they are the kind of friends that expect things in return.”

“So things are bad, that still doesn’t explain … “

“I’m getting there, give me a chance. This is a lot more complicated than … look there are a lot of people that think they know THE way things should be run. Right now Harbinger is the loudest and has the most support but that doesn’t mean there aren’t others out there too. And then you’ve got the military crowd, agents of the government that people had thought would have everything under control by now. And people are angry that they don’t. It’s just … “

I broke in and said, “You are talking about anarchy. Too many people thinking they are in charge or should be in charge and their rules are the right rules but in reality no one is really in charge and the rules are changing so fast that no one knows what they are.”

Rand quirked up his lips, “You’ve got to be the oldest sixteen year old I’ve ever met. Yeah … yeah, that’s a good, short definition of what is starting to happen. And it is coming to a head. You heard what happened when the food ran out. Too many scared people that waited too long to take action.”

“Why are you here? Why aren’t you with your Uncle George helping to defend … “

He stopped me short, “Do you care if people talk?”

When he changes the subject, he really changes the subject. I had to stop and think for a second and ask, “About what?”

“Do you care if people talk … about me staying here?”

“It’s not like I know a lot of people who would care one way or the other. There’s your family and that’s about it. Besides, what’s to talk about?”

“Well, Julia has started … “ and he blushed.

Oh for pity sake. I told him, “Look. I already know Julia is mad because I yanked her chain hard at the market. Ask me if I care. Her mother isn’t much better from what I’ve heard and witnessed, not that that is a whole lot. What are they saying about me that you think I’m going to be so upset over?”

He chewed his lip and then got serious and said, “About us. Maybe I’ve made a mistake by staying here but … “

I got it and told him that just because people talked didn’t make it so. That as long as his family understood then I didn’t care about what other people said. He looked at me a long time and asked, “You sure?”

After I told him that I was for sure and rolled my eyes he was a little easier. He said that in that case he had invited himself over until he was sure that any major blow up was over. “And look, don’t get all bent out of shape thinking that I think you are too young to look after yourself. I do but you are proving me wrong … but there is no way you are prepared for what might be coming over the next couple of days. And part of what might be coming is my fault. The Winstons and the Harbingers have been friends for years and I guess they’re happy now that Julia is seeing Fred. What they aren’t happy about is how they’ve been portrayed in the community since I tussled with Ron Harbinger and Fred and his cousin Rickie played dirty. That caused them problems they didn’t realize it was going to cause them. It gave some people pause that had been giving Harbinger unconditional loyalty. And Julia … well, she’s starting to say things like you were the reason that she and I broke up and …”

That’s when the water I was swallowing went down the wrong way and it was a few minutes before I could stop coughing and laughing at the same time. Rand didn’t get it so I tried to explain it to him. Julia was the “pretty girl,” and I was the weird chick from out of town and younger on top of that. No one in their right mind that knew Rand would think that he would throw Julia over for me after dating her for nearly five years.

“That’s not funny Kiri.”

“Sure it is. All of this is as bad as being back in highschool. Julia is just trying to make herself look like the injured party. I don’t want to hurt your feelings Rand but she must be be dippy to throw you over for a scuzzball like ol’ Freddie.”

He turned unexpectedly angry, “Has he been bothering you?”

I told him no but with his warning and with my experience of the guy at the market it didn’t take a genius to pick up on the obvious clues. “Any guy who will do what he did in broad daylight right in front of his girl will do who knows what when she isn’t around. She’s going to be so sorry one of these days and then she’ll come running back to you.”

“Let her run to somebody else. After some of the things she has said to me and about me the last two weeks I don’t want whatever she offers.”

He can say that but I don’t know that I necessarily believe him. That’s a long time to date someone just to turn about and suddenly decide you don’t want to be with them ever again.

We left off talking about his private life after that and stuck to the basics like how had I been and how he was feeling and what each we had been doing since we last saw each other. He stepped outside and since the noise was still off towards town followed me around while I watered my veggie barrels and we saw to the animals in the barn again, already having to scoop some poop that Rand threw onto my compost pile. Pretty Boy was pecking at the feed that the mules and Hatchet dropped and while Rand filled a big container of water for them to drink from and made sure there was nothing in the barn they could get into, I went to fix lunch and dinner. After all, the world can be going crazy but people still have to eat.

I boiled a bunch of water and decided that it was now or never to use that big can of Mountain House chili mac. I cooked that up with enough left over for dinner too. To go with lunch I made fried cornbread and dinner was a bunch of pan biscuits that we had preserves on for dessert. I also used the fire pit to get beans cooking for tomorrow.

Rand didn’t ask where I got the food from. I found out in a roundabout way he thought it was from the house that originally had all the hunting and camping gear in it. I didn’t say yes either way but it still felt a little bit like lying. He helped me to put things away and was fascinated by the “fruit cellar” that Daddy had built. There was nothing in there except stuff that I had already canned and more canning supplies so I didn’t see any sense in hiding it from him. Besides he kept looking at the blueberries and then looking at me like he couldn’t compute something. It was funny.

We talked about my parents and about his. I found out he was the first person from either side of his family to go to college and that he had been a surprise that his parents hadn’t quite known what to do with after they had made up their minds that they weren’t having kids. His memories of his parents were good, just different from mine.

“It was Uncle George that taught me hunting, camping, fishing, and that sort of thing. My dad worked so many hours delivering stuff in Orlando that there wasn’t any time for it. Aunt Rachel and Mom didn’t always get along either. Aunt Rachel was different from Uncle George as night and day. She wasn’t real satisfied with where life had taken her. She was more … something, mellow maybe … after my Mom died and then when she got cancer too but it was still always Uncle George that was the more demonstrative of the two. He’s the one that made me feel like their home was my home too and not just a rest area until the next thing in my life came along.” After that I remembered to ask him about the scene between the girl Melinda and Clyde.

Clyde is Rand’s friend with the reloading equipment. His father and Melinda’s fathers were real close growing up. Clyde got his degree and went to work for the forestry service. When Clyde’s parents retired and moved away to Phoenix, Clyde moved into the garage apartment on Melinda’s parents’ tree farm. “Everything was going fine until Melinda turned up pregnant and claimed the baby was Ron Harbinger’s. Well the stink hit the fan. Melinda was a minor at seventeen and Ron is twenty-seven or twenty-eight now, I forget exactly. Either way, old enough to be arrested for statutory rape back then. But somehow the whole situation got turned back on Melinda. She could be really wild and the Harbingers used that against her and nothing ever came of it. There was a big blow up between Melinda and her parents, she stomped out and her father changed his will leaving everything to Clyde. Clyde, knowing Ron from school, believed Melinda but the damage was done. Melinda’s parents saw the little boy only once before they both died of the flu. Melinda had finally been granted child support payments by the court after Ron had been forced to take a test to see if he was the boy’s father. But I don’t think he ever made a single payment. Clyde has been trying to get her to move back home but Melinda is the most bullheaded … well, maybe the second most bullheaded person … “

I threw a pillow at him and when we were done laughing I told him to tell his friend Clyde to stop trying to get Melinda to move back home because it is the right thing for her to do and tell her to do it for the boy. I told him about how she would let everything go but the baby and wouldn’t even put him down to tie her own shoe. Wouldn’t take any water for herself but let me fill the boy’s sippy cup. “She loves her little boy. That will be the way to get to her.”

Rand went to walk the property line which gave me time to run up to the dormer room and get a few things including this journal. I’ve been writing things out ever since trying to get the day straight in my head but it is getting too dark to write and Rand just stepped onto the porch. Hopefully tomorrow won’t be quite as bad as Rand thinks it might.

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