Thursday, August 19, 2010

Chapter Ninety-Four

Chapter 94

May 23rd – Blueberries, blueberries, blueberries …. Actually I’m having a blast and probably shouldn’t be. The last two days Alicia and Brendon have been over here and I’ve had so much fun. Brendon was grinning like a fool when he came in and found us both acting silly. Last night when we went to bed I asked what was up with Brendon acting so … so … like it was such a surprise. Rand said that Alicia has been real slow to come back from her brother’s death. It has brought up a lot of unresolved stuff from her childhood.

I get that. All of my “unresolved issues” started after my family was killed and I still run smack dab into it every so often, even now. Thank goodness Rand understands and gives me room to get my head on straight when I’m having a bad day. Looks like Brendon is taking a page out of his playbook and doing the same. I’m just glad Alicia is coming around. If I could have picked a sister she is pretty close to what I would have picked. We don’t get in each other’s business but we are certainly more than friends; a weird feeling for me considering that isn’t something that I ever thought I wanted.

She and I traipsed all over the place while Brendon watched the baby. Well we traipsed as far as all of the parcels of land that immediately surround ours – finding wild blueberry patches and sparkleberry patches to piece out the domesticated blueberries in the orchard. We did that early in the morning and then in the afternoon we preserved them. We had to walk since I can’t ride the mules but we did have one of the burros with us to haul the berry buckets and all the water we had to carry. We were totally drenched in sweat by the time we got back to the house both times. First day I was fine but today I had to rest before I could start lunch and then start on the berries. No berry picking tomorrow though which as much fun as it has been I’m ready to let go of doing.

I think between the last two days we have gotten about all the blueberries we are going to get. The dry weather hasn’t done us any favors. Neither have the moochers. Well, I know that might sound a little mean but it sure does seem that people are just doing stuff because they can rather than because it is the right thing or not. On the other hand it is hard to justify being mad at someone for picking berries when it isn’t on your land. I’ve heard that some folks have set watches on patches of berries that they’ve staked out. I’ve even heard of berry rustling of all things. Getting in gun fights over a few pints of berries just seems pretty extreme but more than one feud seems to have started over it.

With the weather people aren’t much better off than they were this time last year. What they are however is wiser in the ways of surviving and being self-sufficient. At least most of the people from around here are; some of the immigrants still not so much since they’ve been surviving on handouts at the government camps. Surviving means getting out there and finding it yourself which in turn means to support your family you have to cover a pretty large area. So far no one has actually come onto our land – maybe my reputation does some good after all – but Rand worries that it is only a matter of time. Desperate people will act desperately.

May 24th – Isn’t it strange? I talk about desperate people and how Rand was worrying and sure enough doesn’t someone have to go and act stupid. Maybe I shouldn’t write anything like that down. Too many times I’ve caught myself wondering about something in this journal only to have it come true a little bit down the road. Makes me wonder if there really isn’t something to the concept of jinxes.

I overdid it yesterday for sure and was all used up by the time I finished writing in my journal. My problem was that I wasn’t just done over by the heat but all that bending up and down had caused my back to ache. Every time I tried to lie down something would start pulling. I knew from experience that when my back was drawing that bad I might as well get up and just sit on the sofa until the muscles relaxed enough for me to go back to bed.

So there I am sitting in what amounts to my all together, swollen ankles all splayed out and wearing the thinnest and shortest sundress I’ve got and nothing underneath if you catch my drift. I had just finished putting a fresh sheet on the sofa, sat down, and leaned my head back when Woofer pads up to me and makes that weird noise he makes when he needs water or to go out to hit the bushes. I had just gotten semi-comfortable and wasn’t happy about having to get back up.

I eventually leavered myself up – no small chore – and stumbled to the kitchen because by then a cool drink of water was sounding good to me as well. The pump is by the side door and I heard a bang. Woofer immediately goes into guard mode, pushing against my legs like he is trying to back me out of the room. All I’m thinking is that I’m going to have me a Coon Skin Jacket next winter if they’ve gotten into my flower pots again. Only, upon closer listening I realized that raccoons don’t curse … at least not in a thick Boston accent.

First voice asked angrily, “Plan on waking the dead Phil?”

“Hey, isn’t my fault these hillbillies don’t pick up theyar yad. I thought you sod that the wada would be easy to lift,” another man hissed.

“This is the one that is able to irrigate his fields. He can affod to miss a liddle,” responded a third man.

Back to the first one who said, “We not gonna get a thing if you fools don stop with your nonsense. The well must be around heeya someplace.”

I waddled as fast as I could to the bedroom and shook Rand awake while Woofer kept watch. Of course the looby thought it was the baby and I had to yank on his ear pretty good to get him to stop acting like such a guy and actually listen to me.

“Ow! God almighty girl, do you have to do that?!”

“Then will you stop it? I’m not having the baby. And be quiet, I heard someone outside the kitchen door,” I hissed practically inside his ear.

He stopped dead, shook himself, and got down to business. After listening to me whisper what I’d heard he said, “Wake Austin up then I want you to get upstairs.” I opened my mouth to object and got the look that said to not waste time arguing. “Don’t Kiri. I can’t think if I’m worried about you and the baby.” Throwing me a bone he added, “And if you are upstairs you might see something I miss from the ground. Now go.”

I got all right but I wasn’t too happy about it. On the other hand I’m no fool even though I may act like one on occasion. I wanted to keep the baby safe and I didn’t want to take any of Rand’s concentration away so that he and Austin could stay safe. Humph. Still didn’t mean that I had to feel good about not being able to provide Rand with any back up. And I still don’t. I feel more like a liability every day. I’m used to carrying my own weight but as heavy as I am right now … and the why of it … there is no way I’m going to be doing that for a while.

I didn’t see any of the action but I heard the commotion, especially the five live rounds that went off, and it was one of the hardest twenty minutes of my life to wait for Rand to give the all clear. I came down to find Austin and Woofer standing guard over two men while a third had been drug a little ways off, obviously dead from a shotgun blast to the chest.

It was a long night after that. The men trying to plead their case and us doing our best to ignore how pathetic they sounded and looked. Austin was the one that told me only the dead man had fired on their side and he had reaped the reward for it too.

“Momma, he really meant it. I could tell from the look on his face. He was angry. Real angry.”

Austin has got into the habit of calling me “Momma” in times of stress. If he is thinking about it, or there are other boys around, he still calls me Kiri. I didn’t let the men or Rand see but I gave him a hug and thanked him for looking after Rand and Woofer and helping us to defend our home. I swear if he didn’t turn around and give me the same look Woofer does when you find his itchiest spot and scratch it until he is content.

At first light Rand rode out and caught one of Mitch’s patrols going by. It got a little complicated after that. Used to be that we could deal out justice without anyone outside the community getting involved and even though I still have the occasional nightmare from the hanging I’ve come to terms with the necessity of it. But these men were migrants and claimed to be under the protection of the men in charge of the military camp.

From there we had to wait until some MPs could come out and get things cleared up. Those two men would have been better off keeping their mouths shut. I was … well not horrified by their fate or anything like that but I was sure as heck surprised. Seems the three men had gone AWOL after being issued passes to attend the Swap Meet. Word had just come down that austerity measures were in effect. From now on if someone was caught during the commission of a crime AND found to be AWOL they were to be immediately tried, convicted, and put on the nearest boat out to the barrier islands or prison barges, whichever was closest and least crowded. That is all but a death sentence for most folks.

See what happens is that those places are like prisons without walls or wardens. Supplies are shipped in weekly, assuming there are any supplies to ship. Whatever the population was they had to make it last the whole week or use whatever snares, traps, etc. that they’d been able to cobble together to live off of the sea life that surrounded the prison.

The prison barge is worse than a barrier island; some of the populations on the barrier islands are actually making something of themselves, have gardens, and a thriving barter system. The barges are just plain nasty and remind me of that old sci-fi movie called Escape From New York. If you aren’t crazy when you get put on one of those and you live, you’ll be next to crazy when you come off.

The whole situation has taken up most of the day and I wasn’t too happy or comfortable having strangers coming and going from our land. It isn’t that we hide away from people on purpose but I like my privacy and Rand and Austin have come to appreciate it as well. Not even Mr. Henderson or his men come around as much as they used to. Guess they’ve got too many other irons in the fire. Rand says they’ve got problems of their own.

Mr. Henderson isn’t ailing exactly but he isn’t coming back from being hurt the way a younger man would. There is this whole “preparing the heir for his power” kind of thing occurring too. Mitch knows his stuff out in the field for sure but I guess there are still family things going on behind the closed walls of the ranch. And Mr. Henderson getting married so late really shook some folks up even though the relationship was an open secret for years. None of my business really, at least so long as whatever the problems are doesn’t roll down hill to us.

I’m just glad our bit of trouble is over with for now. I’ve only catnapped today and I’m feeling particularly heavy, like everything is starting to shift. Uncle George came by to check on us when word reached the Shack, so did Ram, and Pastor Ken also came by. They all keep looking at me sideways. What? Do they think an alien is going to pop out of my belly at any point? Serve them right if it did. I’m getting ready for this baby to pop out myself.

May 28th -- Had a really nasty storm come through day before yesterday. Just what we needed to top off an already sour time. Seems those immigrant men had families and they were trying to set up some kind of homestead to take them to. It is a bad, sad business. Rand told me one of the boys went AWOL to come hunt us up and was asking over at the Shack. Luckily Ram took the boy aside and held onto him until he calmed down some and could hear the explanation of what had really happened.

The boy is still angry but Ram doesn’t think he’ll get violent. Besides, he made the boy an offer he couldn’t refuse. He offered him a job down in south Florida as a courier of sorts on one of the supply trains that Ram is an investor in. If the kid sticks it out he’ll be able to earn more than his father could have stolen in a much shorter amount of time.

“Ram! A boy?! I thought you told me those supply trains were dangerous.”

“Yeah, and you’re such an old woman,” Ram snorted at me.

Still upset I tried to continue, “But …”

“Kiri, don’t tell me my business and I won’t tell you yours. Giving that boy a job, even if it is a dangerous one, will keep him out of trouble and away from the family. I get tired of having to sleep with one eye open every night.”

“Then don’t get involved in such shady business deals.”

“It puts food on the table Hermanita … for all of us. You like the spices and stuff that I bring you don’t you?”

More than upset I said, “I hope that you aren’t trying to buy me Ram. That’s insulting.”

“No … no Baby Sister, not that. I hope I’m smart enough to know that you are the last person whose affections could be bought. But think on this … I like being able to provide those things to you and the others. And I like the profits to be made even if they are at a slight risk to me.”

I rolled my eyes, “Slight risk?”

Ram just smiled and shook his head all machismo and testosterone. He’s just impossible to reason with. Not having to worry so much about sugar is nice but I could learn to do what was needed with the sorghum if I had to. I like the spices and stuff that he is shipping in from the Caribbean too though I’m not really sure I want to know how he is pulling that off. I don’t like that the last shipment he brought in included several barrels of rum but almost everyone, even Mrs. Withrow, all but told me to stop being such a prude about it. I guess there are always going to be trade offs but seems to me that sooner or later all the little risks are going to catch up and something bad is going to happen.

But for now it is the storm that has taken up most of our time. The little bit of rain we got out of it certainly wasn’t worth all of the wind damage we suffered. And there was a lightening caused fire in Columbia County that got up into the city proper and did no small amount of damage to the buildings, even if they were empty.

Rand and Austin had thinned out some of our woods felling trees for the fire wood that is so necessary for every day life nowadays. Even still, we lost to good sized oak trees when they just laid over from where their roots had died back because of the drought. We also had one snap off at the top and blow down across the main gate. Now that was a mess. The metal gate is mangled and Rand isn’t sure that he can hammer it back into good enough shape to re-hang. That’s a kick in the pants we didn’t need.

The roof was also ripped off the goat shed in several places. Rand said he’ll just have to make it with wooden shakes to replace to the asphalt shingles that had been on the roof. There are a couple of large cedar trees growing in an area that he wants to turn into another field for next year. He’ll saw the trunks into lengths that he’ll then split lengthwise. I asked him if he had ever done it before and he said, “The summer I worked for Bud and Lou. A lot of Mennonites still do everything old school. They aren’t necessarily opposed to using some stuff that is out on the market, they just … “ At that point we got interrupted by Mitch Peters and Hoss coming down the road. And shock of all shocks Cassie was with them.

“Hi!” she sang out just about as cheery as I’ve ever heard her.

Cassie is a lot nicer than I gave her credit for being in the beginning but there still feels like there is a gulf between us. Not what I would call a bad one just, I don’t know if we’ll ever be “best buds” or anything approaching it.

Rand met the group on horseback while I waddled around to the kitchen side to make sure there was cold water and some cups in case they were thirsty. The weather was hot enough to steam vegetables still on the vine and everyone was wringing wet from sweat.

I was coming out when Cassie came around the side of the house and took the pitcher from me. At least she left me the tray and cups so that I didn’t feel completely useless. “Here, let me get that. I’m surprised Austin isn’t around to help.”

She didn’t mean it the way it sounded, that was just Cassie’s way. “Rand has him out trying to round up a little bull calf that was born a couple of days ago. He’s worried at how the mother isn’t letting it nurse enough. She’s an ornery thing to begin with but if she keeps this up she may be burger before this winter. We need another bull but we don’t know which of the two that were born that we are going to keep yet.”

Cassie nodded knowledgably. “Poppy is having the same problem. This drought is stressing out the cattle. We’re having to move them between pastures pretty quick so that over grazing doesn’t happen. It isn’t like we can go down to the feed store to pick up new seed.”

“Is your grandfather irrigating the fields?”

“He is considering it but that is a lot more time and work for our people not to mention that much water would need to come from the river. Two of our creeks have dried up and Mitch is worried about stressing the two ag wells we have managed to keep going, we need them for watering the animals.”

We walked up as the men were discussing the damage the storm had done. Even with the goat shed and the tree over the road we got off lightly. Lots of drought-stressed trees have “laid over,” some of them in inconvenient or dangerous locations.

Hoss told us, “A tree came down on the orphan barracks at the refugee camp in the middle the storm completely crushed one end of the building. Destroyed about a half dozen bunk beds before it was through falling. Lucky for the kids though that it was a slow fall and the barrack monitor heard it when it first hit and got everyone out before anyone got hurt. But they have a mess to try and rebuild. Those kids always get the last of everything.”

I noticed Cassie was standing next to Mitch with a really angry look on her face all of a sudden. Before I could open my mouth and ask she burst out, “If they’d just let the folks around here that have offered to take them it have them those kids never would have been in danger to begin with.”

Mitch put his arm around her and drew her close like he was trying to calm her down or comfort her. “Cassie, easy now. Hoss checked and Lola wasn’t hurt. She didn’t even wake up apparently, just go carried out in her sleep.”

Apparently everyone but me knew the story. I elbowed Rand gently and after figuring out what I meant he clued me in. “Oh, yeah, you weren’t there that day. Lola is one of the orphans. What she’s four?”

Cassie said, “Three. Her mother just up and went AWOL with one of the river men and never came back for her.”

“Anyway, Mr. Henderson takes stuff over to the camp when he can and sometimes they bring some of the orphans out to the ranch to play. Lola has an older brother that wants to come work for Mr. Henderson … he’s good with horses and would like to learn to be a Ferrier. Problem is he is only thirteen and the rule is that kids have to be fourteen before the feds will let them sign up for a work program of any kind. He comes to the ranch every chance he gets and he started bringing his little sister.

“You should see her Kiri, she is the most adorable little thing. And smart … she already knows most of her alphabet. She minds better than most of the ranch kids do.” Cassie gushed, a look of adoration on her face.

Even Mitch nodded, “She is a cute kid. Follows Cassie around like a puppy. And it looks like she might have the same talent with horses her brother does. Most little kids don’t realize that even the foals can hurt them. We had a mare that got in a bad fight with a stallion when the dang mule got his dander up and broke into the paddock where we keep the new mothers and foals. We had to pull her out so we could see whether we’d have to put her down or if she could be patched. The foal got scared and then I’ve never seen the like … Lola went up to the fence before anyone even thought to stop her and started talking to that foal and if you believe it the little fella just calmed right down and leaned up against the fence where she was the whole time until we came to fetch him to take him to put in the stall beside his Momma.”

Not that the story wasn’t interesting but I thought seeing Mitch put his arm around Cassie and the way those two were acting even more so. Rand just shrugged his shoulders when I asked him what was up so that means a trip to Momma O’s or some questions for the ladies at church this coming Sunday.

May 29th – Too dang hot to write.

May 30th – Still too much heat to make anything worth doing. Heard from Pastor Ken … that man seems bent on pestering the life out of me … that an old man over off of River Road died of heat exhaustion. No one knows much about him. He was a squatter that moved into what was left of the old Harbinger place. Ron had gone over to check on the place when he found the body. He’d been dead a couple of days and apparently the dogs he’d kept had been at him. How Ken could tell he’d died of heat exhaustion I don’t know, maybe there are signs on the body that don’t disappear in death.

That was nasty bit of news. Also some bad news came that the river folk are getting restless and moving inland again. I’ve said many times that most of them are decent people but they seem to be easily stirred up by the bad fish amongst them. The Suwannee River is running very low as are several other rivers. Because of the drought crop production is down so even if they could navigate the rivers they wouldn’t have much to transport.

Rand said the heat is making everyone testy if not actually downright nasty. It’s just too hot to ask the mules to pull the heavy thresher long distances and when Rand told a man that had ridden out to get him to bring the thresher the guy just went berserk . It scared Austin who was up at the end of the road with him clearing the fence line so that they could run a new fire break. I’m getting a little tired of how entitled people feel to take advantage of our good fortune. Rand is smart and we hit the ground running when it came to setting our place up. I don’t want to be uncharitable but why should that mean that we simply give away what we’ve worked so hard for? Sharing is one thing but that is a two-sided coin with each party giving and getting. Some people, like that man today, seem to think they have the right to just take what they want and offer whatever they feel like in return, if anything at all.

May 31st – That man from yesterday came back today and this time he brought friends. I’m still shaking. Rand and Austin had gone up to the road early to do some more of the fence line. We let it go too long and it is a horrible mess in some places and they were restringing the barb wire in a couple of sections as well because it had become stretched out or actually broken. I fixed a basket of biscuits and a jug of cold ginger fizz for them (not as good as store bought ginger ale used to be but on a hot day you don’t really care) and I was going to drop it off to them and then head on to Momma O’s to see if she could help me figure out what I was doing wrong on a bodice of this little baby overall I am trying to make.

Rand has a set of stairs for me to get into the pony cart that I hook the most docile burro to. I was thinking about what I could have done wrong … I cut down a larger size pattern but nothing seemed to be working right for some reason … and was going slow because the last thing I wanted to do was have the baby by jiggling him out head first on a rough wooden seat. The burro wasn’t inclined to go fast anyway considering how hot it was.

Actually it was a good thing I was going so slow otherwise I would have turned the corner before I was aware of the trouble I was driving into. The men had Austin by the arms and Rand and some other guy was going at it pretty good. I recognized the guy egging the fighting on as the guy from yesterday. I was in a quandary what to do … sometimes just a female showing up with make the guys knock it off … but when I saw the one guy getting his gun off of his horse I kinda took the Kiri road mentally.

By the time I was down from the pony cart … it isn’t getting down that is the problem so much as getting up into it … I heard a lot of rough laughter and when I peeked around the tree at the corner of the road they’d swung Austin away and to the ground. A guy was getting ready to kick him and I aimed for his head but hit him in the rear bumper instead. Talk about your fancy stepping. He reminded me of the old sound clip where the Disney character named Goofy falls from some great height.

The rest of the idiots made grabs for their guns and I just didn’t even bother to try and figure out exactly how hostile they were. I just emptied the magazine one shot at a time. Only three of them wound up being death shots, but I did enough damage with the rest of them to make them knock off what they were doing. I was in the middle of reloading when Mr. Henderson himself road up with several of his men.

My stomach got real tight and all I could do was sit down on the ground right there … thank goodness not in an ant pile … and try and stick my head between my knees to keep from being sick. I didn’t even realize it but one of Henderson’s men, I don’t know which one, had ridden back to see who’d been shooting. Next thing I know Rand is there, not quite a bloody as I expected, and he was putting me in the back of the pony cart. Between there and home I made him stop so I could sit up and puke, not once but twice.

I’ve been in bed since with Ken hovering around like a doggone vulture. I’m not ready to have this baby so it can’t come out yet. I still have the bed linens to finish, more diapers to try and make, and just everything. I’m just not ready and that is all there is to it. And now, on top of everything else, I’m on bed rest again.

June 2nd – I’m on ultra light duty for the duration. Austin helped me to plant the okra, black eyed peas, and some sweet potatoes that Rand got in trade. I don’t know why we are planting, no rain. And tell me why, even though I haven’t done much I am so tired?! Gosh I’m cranky. I don’t even feel like writing anymore so I’m not.

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