March 9th – Today I have kept quietly busy. There has also been a quiet between Rand and I; it hasn’t been comfortable but it hasn’t been uncomfortable either. It’s more like a … a … a necessary bit of quiet; not before the storm but what comes after it. I think we are both trying to find a balance between us, find our own personal balance. I sure don’t want to rock the boat right now; things just feel too delicate, like one wrong move and the whole thing will shatter beyond repair.
I wonder if Daddy and Momma ever had problems like this? Probably not. Momma was the epitome of the good wife; fantastic cook, great housekeeper, organized (well, most of the time), loads of patience, wise, great mother, grew and preserved a lot of our food even living in the suburbs like we did. I could go on and on. Sometimes I wonder what she would make of me if she was still around. I remember hearing that Daddy was a little wild when they first got married and that Momma finally told him to start coming home earlier or to not bother coming home at all. Supposedly this happened when she was pregnant with me. Maybe it is just that by the time I was old enough to notice they had gotten their act together and worked out their differences. Huh, that’s something I never thought about before. To me Momma and Daddy were near about perfect. Maybe Rand and I do still stand a chance.
What I do know after thinking about it all day is the same thing I eventually learned despite the years of therapy that tried to burn it out of me; I have got to be me, warts and all. I’m not saying that I don’t have room to learn and change – to grow into a better person – but I still have to be true to my core beliefs and personality. The core beliefs part isn’t a problem because Rand and I are pretty evenly yoked in that respect. No, it’s the personality part that I’m afraid is the real issue.
I can only fake stuff for so long … well, really not long at all if I’m honest with myself. It doesn’t take much for me to get flaky around the edges. People drive me nuts because I don’t feel I can be myself around them and I don't trust them much because they never really seem to know what they are going to do when the rubber hits the road. I’m more afraid of hurting their feelings than them hurting mine and constantly having to tiptoe around people’s sensitivities gets old real fast. One of the guidance counselors at school said I was like a bull in a china shop; rather than walking carefully around all the glass cases of delicate objects I tend to plow right in and then plow right back out. I’ve just never been overly impressed with sacred cows. I don’t set out to do it on purpose, I’ve tried no few times to be easier on people, but somehow I always wind up losing patience with whole process of “appropriate social interaction” if required to do it for more than a few hours at a time. I don’t think that Rand minds that part so much but maybe that is part of it. I don’t know. I know we need to talk but I’m kind of afraid of what gets said.
All of this has been running through my head all day long and the only way I’ve been able to stand it is because my hands have stayed as busy as my brain. No hard labor; I haven’t felt up to it and Rand and Austin pretty much made sure that it wasn’t going to happen anyway. Today was supposed to be cleaning day but I just couldn’t abide being closed up inside the house any more. I opted to spend most of the day out of doors, we even ate on the lanai since the day was so nice. I think that has helped clear some of the cobwebs from my brain.
First thing I cooked some beans in the ground. Austin had asked me about that when Rand had been telling him stories of how we met. I hadn’t done it in quite some time and it seemed kind of appropriate to do it again. It was just pinto beans but they turned out really good.
After that I needed to start some new seed trays. Problem … I’ve used up most of my pots and I don’t really have that many sheets of newspaper left to make paper pots with. I’ve even used up the bottoms that I cut off of the two-liter soda bottles. But I’m trying to get ahead and use seed as economically as possible by not direct sewing and then having to thin the seedlings out by hand. That’s when I had a goofy thought.
Rand still has piles (and piles and piles) of salvage materials stacked around. The animals escaping the fire kept running into the piles which is what woke Austin (whose bedroom is toward the front of the house) in the first place. One of the particularly noisy piles is a stack aluminum rain gutters. I took short sections that were already messed up for some reason and used a hammer and awl to poke holes in the bottom of the gutter; the holes were for drainage. Then I filled the gutter with well decayed compost. They weren’t the prettiest planters I’ve ever seen, and some have a tendency to want to lay on their side (fixed that with pieces of wood), but they do the job.
Rand laughed when he saw my scrap yard planters and then stopped, worried that he had hurt my feelings. See, this is what I’m afraid of. That we can’t get back to where we were so comfortable with one another and are unable to laugh out of fear of causing a problem. I didn’t hide my feelings quick enough and Rand saw. He apologized for hurting my feelings and then I had to go through the long drawn out you didn’t, are you sure, I’m positive explanation that I’d been upset by the fact that he thought he couldn’t even laugh with me anymore and not at being laughed at. Then he got worried that he seemed over sensitive and had started a problem that way. It would be nice if we could just make up quick like we used to.
After lunch, a mac-n-cheese kind of casserole thing that I threw together with the help of some LTS pasta from a #10 can, I got a little sleepy. I’m still not up to full steam but I didn’t want to waste the daylight hours sleeping. My next project came from something that Austin’s Peepaw used to do.
Daddy and Momma had gone all out as they furnished the house. They knew they needed to do it while Daddy was still working or it wasn’t likely to happen so on the windows they put these really nice horizontal blinds made of thick PVC. They were dual purpose, kept heat and UV rays out and kept light in. Those blinds combined with the blackout curtains and the shutters on the outside of the house provided a great deal of security and privacy. But from the salvage houses we had a lot of those less expensive horizontal window blinds, the kind with the skinny plastic shade slats on them. Well Austin’s grandfather would take the skinny slats, cut them in lengths averaging about eight inches and turn them into plant markers. I cut one end into a point and then used a permanent marker to write the name and variety of veggie or herb that I had planted. One blind provided more plant markers than I will probably ever need.
The pinto beans and rice made for an easy dinner and clean up which was something I appreciated good times or bad. After dinner I puttered around while Rand and Austin put the animals away. When they came in we had a quiet evening. It’s now so warm we don’t have to have a fire.
Austin went to bed a few minutes ago and Rand has that look on his face, the one that says he wants to talk. Oh brother, here we go.
March 10th – Despite the beautiful sky it’s been a nasty day. If Rand and I hadn’t done a lot of talking and making up last night this day would have been even worse. I stumbled through part of the day for sure as I was just so tired but it was a tired worth getting.
Things are … healing I guess you would call it. We’re working on making things better. I’m trying to understand his driving need to be a protector and understand that it is his way of securing his future, our future, and all of those man dreams guys seem to have. I’m trying to remember that he’s doing this out of love and not just to be controlling. He’s trying to understand and remember that while his intent might be pure, and that I don’t begrudge him “authority” in my life, and I appreciate all of his hard work, how he goes about being protective makes it appear that he has no confidence in me and doesn’t trust me in the big things. He also … and this part really was hard for me to talk to him about … well, when he showed off with SueLinda it hurt me. I didn’t want to admit it but it felt good to fess up to it and tell him how the spectacle made me feel. It hasn’t made me necessarily trust him any less – I don’t really expect he would have taken it all the way just to spite me – but at the same time now it is harder to trust him emotionally with the big stuff.
Oh gosh, writing it out sounds so stupid but … it’s just I’ve never had the chance to be vain about my looks. I never got asked out on a regular date, or to a school dance, or had the chance to wear a really pretty dress and heels, or typical superficial stuff like that. I know I don’t look bad precisely but I never will call myself pretty or cute. My eyes have a funny slant to them, my nose is small, and my mouth and teeth are big; don’t even get me started on all my scars. Sure, my eyes are green most of the time but sometimes they are just plain brown like my hair. I’m short and top heavy and the two don’t make for such a great combination when you are trying to find clothes that fit. About the only thing I don’t have any complaint about is my ears though I guess those can be pretty important since they stick on either side of your head for the whole world to see. But nice looking ears don’t mean much when my ADP is acting up.
I thought I was over worrying that Rand would get turned off by how I look but now, I don’t know. SueLinda is one of those classic beauties. Even the rough life she has chosen doesn’t seem to have changed her looks that much. Her hair is a honey blonde that doesn’t come out of a bottle. She’s got great skin, perfectly straight white teeth and these incredible blue eyes. And she’s tall. Why did she have to be tall? Tall and willowy with just enough on both ends so that she looks like a woman ought to look.
When I finally got up my courage to say something to him – he is awful persistent when he sets his mind to talking things out – and told him she made me feel like a gnome, and not necessarily the cute garden variety, he blew a gasket. Of all the things to get mad about this had to be the strangest in my opinion. He wasn’t mad at me, he was mad at himself. I won’t write about what came next – that’s between Rand and I – all I will say is that he made me feel better. I still feel like a fat heffalump but it really kinda seems that Rand is partial to fat heffalumps so there it is.
As far as the rest of it goes, some of what Rand is feeling is fear. He’s more scared about me being pregnant than he has let on and that was hard for him to fess up. He didn’t like admitting it because he feels like he is somehow letting me down, somehow being weaker than he should be. And the stuff that happened to Laurabeth, well that just has him in knots. He knows good and well what the risks are and he knows if something happens to him I’m going to be in a bad way and he just doesn’t know how to make it better. That stuff does bother me but kind of in a distant way. There isn’t much I can do about it so I just throw it in a mental closet, shut the door, and stick to dealing with what I can do something about. I think part of the problem is that there’s no one around to tell him that it is going to be OK and that if something does go wrong there will be a hospital and doctors and nurses that will help fix things.
I’m not sure what we can do to make the scary parts better but I told him that I’d rather do something concrete like make lists and gather supplies for the birth and the baby than to have him trying to do something about me and for me all the time. More letting me participate in the doing and less gilded bars. Sometimes it feels like my spirit is suffocating and that isn’t good for either of us though I hadn’t admitted that even to myself. And I have a feeling that keeps wiggling around like a maggot in my brain so that I can’t ignore it that Rand and I are going to need each other more than ever, that he is going to have to let me help whether he likes it or not.
We thought that our problems had gotten just as bad as they could get and that we were turning the corner so that we could start improving our lot. The swap meets, the businesses that are springing up, the garden, all of the work he is being contracted to do; and even Austin coming to live with us are all improvements over the way things have been. But it looks like we are about to experience more hard times; or maybe that is dangerous times.
With the thawing of the north, a lot of refugees have come to find that the food programs that some politicians had promised them are never going to materialize. They are hungry, cold, malnourished, sick … you name it it’s out there. Just like when massive numbers of people left the big cities when the rumors of imminent nuclear war occurred, stripping the land like locusts of anything they could get their hands on, there is now another exodus occurring. This exodus has nothing to do with cities and has to do with weather and natural resources. Many thousands of survivors of the pandemic have died over the winter from the cold; just as many have died of disease and the lack of advanced medical interventions. Starvation took no small number as well.
The retched refugees of winter are heading south in some mistaken belief that places like Florida have some magical formula that will cure their ills, that the resources are somehow just laying around waiting to be salvaged. To the contrary, we are having enough trouble feeding ourselves and storing enough for later, how are we supposed to take care of anyone else, especially the large numbers that are expected to arrive on our doorstep? The federal government has already taken over most of the commercial citrus groves here in Florida for the benefit of the active duty personnel. Out west, commercial grain fields are being managed by the feds. Commercial dairies and livestock have met the same fate. We’ve heard via the radio that some farmers do their best to hide their livestock so that it can’t be requisitioned by the feds in their redistribution of resources mandates.
Rand worries a little about the fields of veggies and grains we are trying to grow because if the feds start using satellite imaging or airplanes to find crops then we are in big trouble. That sounds so totally sci-fi to me and not more than a little paranoid. I’m not sure what to say about it, how to respond when he brings it up. I suppose it is possible but still, if they are basically laying off the military would they really still be capable of pulling that kind of stunt on what amounts to your basic subsistence farmer? It’s really a weird thought for me to wrap my head around.
I’m not sure what we can do. Rand is talking about some type of perimeter that covers all 120 acres that we now call ours. I just can’t imagine it. Parts of the new eighty acre square are already bordered with large cedar trees that were planted along the fence row. There is also a section of that fencing that it would take a tractor to get through because of all the saw brier and Devil’s Walking Stick all tangled together. Sections of fence along the original forty are like that as well. And we are fairly hidden back in here … but hungry people are desperate people and if someone overhears something or even just stumbles over our location we could be in big trouble.
But I just can’t spend all day worrying about all of that. I know we need to do something and Rand has a couple of ideas, but it isn’t going to happen overnight no matter how badly Rand might want it to. There just aren’t enough hours in the day much less people committed to seeing it gets done.
I wanted to distract Rand from his worries for a little while at least and I was kind of starving by the time it came to prepare dinner so I made a pan of polenta lasagna. It seemed as good a way as any to start transitioning to using more whole grains instead of refined foods. I mean I had already been doing that all along but it’s been hard to give up the habit of using fine white flour for everything.
First you have to make the polenta and you do this by taking four cups of boiling water in a medium sausce pan and slowly adding one and a half cups of yellow cornmeal, stirring constantly with a wire whisk. Then you reduce the head to low and stir in four teaspoons of finely chopped fresh marjoram. Thank goodness my pots of herbs didn’t get destroyed by the freezes we had. You simmer that for fifteen to twenty minutes or until the polenta thickens and pulls away from the sides of the pan. Spread the polenta in a 13 x 9 inch ungreased baking sheet and cover and chill it for one hour while you make the rest of the dish. This firms it up.
You make the rest of the dish by heating oil in a skillet over medium heat. You are going to cook and stir one pound of fresh mushrooms (Mrs. Withrow sent these over as the boy who lives with her had picked way more than they could use), some chopped onion, , and a clove of minced garlic for five minutes or until vegetables are crisp tender. You are supposed to stir in one half cup of mozzarella cheese but I had to use the white farmer’s cheese that I make and it was a reasonable substitute especially after I also added two tablespoons of fresh chopped basil, one tablespoon of fresh chopped oregano, and an eighth of a teaspoon of fresh ground black pepper.
The next part I cheated on a little bit. I took Momma’s old blender and snuck up to the dormer room with it. The blender help two medium red bell peppers, chopped and seeded, fresh from the green house and a quarter cup of water. I plugged the blender into the inverter and ran it just long to get them smooth. I could have done it by hand with that old hand mixer of Mom’s but I was tired.
While your oven is heating to around 350 degrees F spray a 11 x 7 inch baking pan with non-stick spray or grease it, whatever you have to do to keep things from sticking. Cut the cold polenta into twelve squares and arrange six of them in the bottom of the prepared dish. Spread half of the bell pepper puree and then half of the vegetable mixture on top of that; and then sprinkle a little Parmesan cheese if you have it. Place the remaining six polenta squares on top of that layer and then top that with the remaining pepper and vegetable mixtures and sprinkle a little more cheese on top. You bake this mess for about twenty minutes or until the cheese is melted and the exposed pieces of polenta are golden brown. It is filling and very good. The funny thing is that I never had to explain to Rand and Austin that there weren’t any tomatoes in the lasagna, they didn’t even seem to notice; red was red and good was good.
March 11th – Doing laundry isn’t exactly a breeze but it sure is easier with the new set up Rand built, I was done in less than half the time it used to take and that was with the extra laundry that Austin creates. That left me time to work in the garden a bit and to get back to planning which I did while I pressed our clothes for the church service tomorrow. Rand is dreading it something awful. I sympathize with him, I really do, but at the same time there is a part of me that is secretly hoping that if he gets any pinches from anyone it reinforces that messing around to try and get me to react could backfire big time. And now I’ll shut up about that spiteful part of me; I really don’t need to encourage it any.
In the original garden patch things are growing really well, even better than last season. The new garden areas aren’t growing as well but they still aren’t anything to sneeze at. The part of the equation though that I hadn’t taken into account as much as I should is that there is only one of me and that one is getting fatter and slower by the day. Austin is a big help but I feel so foolish sometimes having to tilt this way and that to see what is just at my feet.
Funny thing happened after we finally went to bed last night. I was three-quarters asleep with Rand’s arm draped over me when he sits up, jerks the covers off me, turns the lamp on in my face and almost shouts, “It moved!” Not particularly happy to be ripped out of near sleep I still started laughing at the look on Rand’s face.
“Duh! I told you he’d been moving around for a while.”
“Yeah. Yeah … but …”
“Uh, you going to be sick or something? Your face looks awful funny.”
“Ha … ha … ha. It just startled me is all. Make it do it again.”
“OK one, our baby is not an ‘it’ and two, he moves when he feels like it.”
“How do you know it’s a boy?”
“I guess I don’t but that’s better than calling the baby an ‘it.’”
I lay down and went back to sleep. I don’t know how long Rand stayed up waiting for the baby to move again. Now every time I turn around he’s there putting his hands on my stomach. It’s a little embarrassing but if it makes him happy then whatever. But if he does that in front of anyone else I think I may just have to whack him with a stick or something to knock some sense back into him.
March 12th – I got lots of sympathy at the church service today and Rand got a lot of kidding. Well, most of it was kidding; Momma O and Mrs. Withrow had him flanked and really laid into him for a good fifteen minutes. I didn't intervene, I'm not crazy. Missy was barely speaking to him until I asked her to knock it off. It still took her a while to warm up to him but I think I managed to get everything smoothed out. Well, smoothed out with everyone but Laurabeth and even that seems like it isn’t quite as bad as it used to be.
Laurabeth doesn’t look good. I can’t imagine that is a surprise all things considered but it goes beyond just her physical appearance. I don’t know how to put into words but if there was such a thing as an energy vampire I would say that she’s a victim of one that has a deep hold on her. For long moments of a time I could see the old Laurabeth trying to peak through, trying to come back to life and then something would set her off and it would look like she would lose the will to live; twice when she didn’t think anyone was looking something twisted and sick looked out at the world wearing Laurabeth’s face. Both those times I saw Ron bend down and pick Stevie up from her lap and it startled her back to herself.
Alicia, Missy, and I found a quiet spot and did some talking. The men left us alone because they thought we were talking about birthing and babies. The women left us alone because they thought it was family checking to see if Rand and I had really patched things up. It was family trouble all right, just not about Rand and I. Uncle George and Ron Harbinger are having a … well, calling it a disagreement right now isn’t really what is going on but it is something. They each have their own idea on how to help Laurabeth.
Missy said her dad is going down the same road he took with Janet. He’s being super protective to the point where you can see Laurabeth has no reason to try to get better. He makes all kinds of excuses for her behavior and generally would rather warn people off than deal with Laurabeth’s problems. Ron on the other hand keeps trying to tug her in the other direction, hold her accountable for her actions, force her to participate in constructive things going on around her. He doesn’t abuse her but he does take the baby away from her when she appears to be in certain moods or behaving in a certain way.
Missy wanted to know what I thought. She just flat out said that since I’d been in therapy before I should have some opinion on it. For about two seconds I wanted to hit her but in the end I figure Missy is just blunt to a fault and considering I’m pretty much like that myself I would be a hypocrite for objecting at this point. So I told them.
My honest opinion is that Ron has the better approach than Uncle George. It may seem cruel and maybe he’ll need to watch that he doesn’t go all stick-and-carrot all the time, but letting Laurabeth just get away with things because we pity her is not healthy. She’s grieving and may even be unbalanced, I don’t know, but reinforcing bad behaviors isn’t going to help her.
When I asked them why, if Uncle George was so sure that his way was best, he didn’t kick Ron out of the house they said it was because of Stevie.
Alicia whispered, “Laurabeth needs Stevie and Stevie needs Laurabeth. Uncle George knows it and Ron knows it. There have been other women that offered to wet nurse Stevie but Ron … it’s weird … it’s like he is doing everything he can in spite of how Laurabeth is acting to make sure that Stevie can stay with her.”
Missy added, “Weird isn’t the word for it. I was worried that he was trying to turn Laurabeth into Julia and flat out asked him about it.”
“Missy!” Alicia gasped, shocked.
I was thinking kudos to Missy for caring enough to do it. She said, “Well, what I was supposed to do? Wait until something bad happened and then make some kind of excuse for why I didn’t? So I asked him. It’s one of the few times lately that I’ve seen him lose that stone marble look off of his face. You know how slow he talks lately, like he’s struggling to get every syllable out. ‘No. No, I wouldn’t do that to her. I messed up with Julia and it cost her her life even if it took the long way around for it to happen. I … I don’t want to hurt Laurabeth but I think … Stevie needs her … my son needs Laurabeth and she needs him. I just want to fix it so my son gets what he needs and since Laurabeth is what he needs then I’m going to do my best for her too so that she can be there for Stevie.’ I have to tell you I never thought I would hear those kinds of words out of the mouth of a Harbinger, much less Ron Harbinger.”
“God moves in mysterious ways,” I muttered after a second.
“Oh Lord girl, don’t go all Amen pew on us!”
I had to laugh at the expression on Missy’s face. “No, not really. It’s just something I can remember one of grandmother’s sisters saying pretty regular. But you have to admit it’s true.”
“True or not I still don’t understand why it had to happen much less why it had to happen to Laurabeth, she was the best of us. She was always the good girl and did everything dad expected her to and then some.”
“Sometimes asking why doesn’t help. There are some things that we just won’t understand here on Earth I think. I had to stop asking why my family had to die, it was making it too hard for me to live. I haven’t forgotten about them or anything like that but I had to accept their deaths and … and … get rid of the chains I had wrapped myself up in. Now I can have the memories of them with me all the time without the pain the chains used to cause.”
Alicia said, “Kiri, I wish there was some way that you could talk to Laurabeth.”
“I’m no one special Alicia. And besides, Laurabeth isn’t ready. She has the right to grieve and no one should try and take that away from her. Eventually she’ll get to the point … “
“Talking about me behind my back? Not very sisterly,” Laurabeth sneered in a dead sounding voice.
Missy and Alicia were actually afraid and that’s probably what gave me the courage to turn around and confront Laurabeth. She had Stevie in her arms.
I told her, “Sorry Laurabeth. It’s hard not to talk about the people you care for when you are worried about them.”
She kept a mulish expression on her face but she looked less like she wanted a fight. “Well don’t. How would you know how I feel anyway? You’ve still got your husband and baby … and I hate you for it. Hate you, hate you, hate you.”
“I expected as much. But since I lost my parents and little brother, my aunt and uncle, and who knows how many other family members since I haven’t heard from them you are being more than a little blind if you really can’t see how I would know how you feel.”
“Oh shut up, it’s not the same at all.”
“It might not be exactly the same but it does give me a point of reference. And all I have to do is imagine what you must be going through and I get all messed up in the head.”
My admission threw her off her stride and she just tucked Stevie into the crook of her arm a little more securely. Ron came up and asked, “If you’re tired I’ll take Stevie for a little while.”
Laurabeth startled. “No! No. I … I’m fine. A little walk did me good and see? Stevie looks like he enjoyed it too.”
Ron just stared at her. “OK. But you didn’t tell your dad where you were going and he got worried. You shouldn’t do that.”
“Oh, I just forgot. I won’t forget again Ron. I won’t.”
“Don’t tell me that, tell him. Come on, I’ll walk back with you. You haven’t eaten any lunch yet and you’re looking pale again.”
After they left Missy turned to me and said, “See what we mean? That can’t be normal. That's not something a casual acquaintance would do and I don't think Laurabeth and Ron ever had anything to do with one another.”
“Maybe not but I don’t think Ron means any harm in it. He does seem to have her best interests at heart even if it is for Stevie’s sake.”
Alicia said, “Uh oh.”
We both looked to see what was up and a bunch of the men were congregated around a radio Mr. Coffey’s son had brought. Atlanta is burning, and it isn't an accident.