Thursday, January 28, 2010

Chapter Seventy-Five

Chapter 75

I was going to walk but Rand wouldn’t hear of it. “No. End of discussion. Ken says you are to stay off your feet for a while. Don’t wriggle or I’ll find a wheelbarrow and dump you in it.”

I suppose I would normally have gotten hacked off at that kind of bossiness but I was beginning to feel even more detached from reality than I already was. And I was confused about whether he was trying to tease me about the time I’d put him in a wheelbarrow or if he was finally all out of patience with me and a wheelbarrow would just have been convenient. He wouldn’t let anyone else touch me which I suppose should have told me something since I know it must have hurt him after the fight. He did let Brendon help him to put me in the back of the wagon but nothing beyond that.

“I want you to lay here. Don’t … just don’t Kiri.”

“Don’t what?” I wondered in my head as he covered me with a blanket that someone passed up to him. I heard him talking to Ken, something about him following us back to the house. It was at that point that things got fuzzy around the edges.

Next time I can recall opening my eyes I was tucked up in our bed. The stove was lit and it had been lit at least long enough to chase all the damp from the room. I lifted my head and then nearly jumped out of my skin when Rand leaned forward from the chair he’d been sitting in.

“Hi, you awake now?”

“Yeah, I guess. What … that drink. Rand, I think somebody doped my drink!”

“Easy. It was a mild sedative, that’s all. It actually wasn’t supposed to make you fall asleep, just keep you quiet and comfortable until we could get you home.”

“What?! You told them they could … And I suppose I’m not supposed to be upset about that, right?” But then I just ran out of energy to fight and decided it just wasn’t worth it. “Yeah. Ok. So I guess I was a mess. But what’s going on? Why … ? I don’t … something’s not … still not right.”

I was so disoriented. I’m still a little confused, just for real now and not from a drug. It’s helped to try and make sense of things by writing them out. I sort of understand why they did it but couldn’t they have just explained it to me first? Surely I wasn’t that far gone that I wouldn’t have understood.

“Rand? Something’s wrong. I know you said no but, I’m in a lot of trouble aren’t I?”

“No. No, it wasn’t near as bad as … well as I was worried it was going to be. The Gilkins brothers have lost a lot of friends and made at least twice that many enemies the last couple of months. And a lot of people saw what happened. But Babe … I … “

Tired of being confused and on the edge of getting angry I said, “Rand, I’d rather you just say it instead of leaving me to guess it.”

“Why? Why did you come over and get involved? How could you not think … “

“Think? About what?”

“About what?! You’re carrying my baby! I …” He shook his head and then said, “No. Ken said you need to have calm for a while. That … that this is all … it’s like a sum total of … all the stuff you’ve been through and … “

Still feeling snarky I said, “You mean he thinks I’m three-quarters crazy and that’s what he’s telling other people. And that’s what is keeping me out of trouble, not because anyone really believes that what I did was self defense.”

“Babe … it’s not like that … it’s … “

“Rand, I don’t need to be pacified!" I shocked myself with how loud my voice got. "I … I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have shouted. Look, I admit it’s been a long time since I have felt that angry. I … I don’t have an excuse and I’m not going to try and make one up. When I saw … what I saw … there were four of them Rand … four against one. I could have lost … alone … all alone Rand. I couldn’t stand it. I just couldn’t ….”

And I broke down all over again. I was shaking and it took what little bit I had left not to wail and rock back and forth like I really was crazy. “Kiri I don’t understand what you mean … Wait. Alone? Were you … you thought … That’s why … ? Mrs. Withrow was trying to tell me something but … that was what this was all about? It wasn’t about you thinking I couldn’t take care of myself, that you needed to help me? You thought that … Kiri, Babe, look at me.”

But I was close to losing it again. I still don’t know what was wrong with me; if it was left over shock or hormones or left over sedative, or if I really was having a case of the crazies. All I could do was scramble to the bathroom and puke; only there wasn’t anything to puke up so I just heaved and gagged, barely able to breathe and causing little red dots to break out all over my face that are just now disappearing. I hadn’t had anything to eat since breakfast and I had no idea what time it was because Rand had left the shutters closed. It was later, that’s all I know.

It took a while but I finally calmed down enough that Rand could take me back to the bed. I felt cold again. Some of it was being on the tile of the bathroom floor but some of it was cold on the inside, the kind that nothing can warm up. I felt so ashamed of how weak I was. Me. The girl who doesn’t need anyone. The girl who survived the wreck, crawled out of the wheelchair when everyone said I never would, made it through foster care, lived through the worst highschool could throw at me, survived the flu and the warehouse, travelled by myself all the way from Tampa. And here I was crying like a baby, scared of being alone. In the end all of it was too much; I think I shut down again.

The next thing I remember is Rand’s voice and Uncle George’s sitting in chairs over by the stove. “Son, fear is like a wild beast. You used to scare me to death with some of the things you would get up to but it never seemed to phase you at all. I wondered if there was anything you were afraid of. Hanging tobacco for old man Upton in those old barn rafters like you was a monkey, racing cars and playing chicken out on River Road like you wasn’t afraid of dying, all those fights, some with grown men twice your size. It would eat at me sometimes and I know I didn’t always handle you well. After your aunt died I didn’t have anyone to share the burden of those fears with, fears for you or fears for the other children. I was on my own with you children to raise. It was so bad some nights that between the fear and the loneliness I could barely breathe much less sleep. All I could do was read the Bible and pray the sun would rise.”

“I … I didn’t know.”

“I didn’t want you, any of you, to know so I kept it inside. But you are about to be a father and you need to learn how to be the right kind of strong when that is the last thing you think you can be; I wasn’t always the right kind of strong. I didn’t always go about it right and part of that is I couldn’t admit to anyone I was weak, especially not you kids. There were things that needed doing. The farm, paying the bills, keeping you kids fed and clothed … bailing you and Brendon out of trouble but at the same time figuring out when not to bail you out so you’d learn a lesson and not make the same mistakes again. Looking back I don’t know how I did it. People kept telling me to get remarried so I’d have a helpmate, I just couldn’t stomach the idea. You learn to live with things day in and day out you never could have imagined you’d have to face even once. But then, out of the blue suddenly holding all of that in will turn around in slap you in the face so hard you see stars.”

“But I still don’t understand. Kiri … she … “

“Boy, none of us knows exactly how bad her life was. You’ve told me some things tonight, makes me understand her better, but even you don’t know how bad she was hurt. You’ve seen the scars she has on the outside, but do you know all the scars she has on the inside? If I had to guess, I’d say probably not. She was strong on her own for as long as she needed to be or maybe just as long as she had to be. Then you come along and she starts getting comfortable with the idea that she ain’t got to fight by herself no more. She ain’t got to be on her guard quite so much cause someone’s got her back. She probably hadn’t had that since her family died from the sound of it. You found the one chink in her armor. She was lonesome for friendship, real friendship.”

“I didn’t take advantage of her!”

“Good Lord, I didn’t say you did Son. She’s been good for you too. I wasn’t the only one what noticed you two got on from the get go and how you seemed to be different when she was around. Not by a long shot. And you’ve turned into a fine husband if I’m allowed to say so.”

“She’s always been different from the other girls.”

“She is that Son. She is that. And she’s strong, stronger than maybe even you understand. But Boy I’ll tell you for a fact she was shook up after the VRC, and it wasn’t from that big Russian choking her. We was all tore up but Kiri … Boy, I don’t think you realize just how shook she was. Henderson let slip some of the things his men saw. He said the men gave her some space cause it look like she could have dug that Rooskie up and done worse to him than what was already done. She’s hid it well but I don’t think she got over it quite as well as maybe she let on.”

“She came back from that, she’ll come back from this. She has to. I just don’t understand why … why she’s sleeping like this. And after it happened, it’s like she ... she … Uncle George I’ve never seen her like this. We’ve had a couple of rough spells but nothing like this.”

“Boy, ain’t you listening to me?” He paused like he was at a loss for words then continued. “Son, you want to know why I decided to take myself off the Deacon’s list? It was having to sit with women as their husband’s were dying. Or help them when they were widows, trying not to hear them tell stories about their man and how he used to do this, that, or the other; trying not to hear the loneliness. It called to my own too much. It’s not that the work they asked of me was too hard. The work I could do. It was being around … around … They had holes in ‘em Son, holes so full of sorrow you could just about see it with your regular eyes; deep wells of it. It was seeing them know that their protector and lover was gone and wasn’t coming back. You remember how Mrs. Withrow was and how she was almost content to give up when she got sick not long after her Mister died. I still don’t know what kept her hanging on for as long as she did. And Kiri’s already got sorrow holes in her. I recon she feels like losing you would just be too much and she’d be nothing but sorrow at that point.”

“Kiri isn’t like that. And she’s young. We haven’t even known each other a year. If something did happen to me she could get over it.”

“You think so Boy? For her to be so young she’s already suffered more than most have at twice her age. And what about you? How easy would it be for you to get on if this baby takes Kiri away? You got a potential wife picked out in case she dies in childbirth and you need some help raising the baby? Hmmm?”

“Don’t say that!” I heard Rand snarl in a tone I’ve never heard him use with his uncle.

“Not so easy when the shoe is on the other foot is it Boy? And she does have this baby to think of now. She’s probably scared to death and not even realizing it yet. Probably what happened was everything just hit her. You already told me she had problems dealing with the feelings when she had to kill those other men. Kiri is something else, and I’m not sure what, but a natural born killer ain’t it. She does what she feels necessary but it don’t ride easy on her. All her talk says she doesn’t care about other people and what they thing but her actions say the exact opposite. Look how she is with Momma O and Mrs. Withrow, You see how she is with the boys. Even you, in the beginning; she didn’t have to bring you in and take care of you. The way you looked some would have just run away and let the vultures have you. She’s even made nice with Ron and Julia though she’s got reason enough to stay away from them. But she’s just let it go and I guess that is more for your sake than for theirs. Even if its true and she doesn’t care much about other people for their sake or her own, she’ll care about them for your sake. She can accept the caring if she thinks she is doing it for your sake. That’s how she justifies letting people get closer when she wouldn’t normally allow it for all the tea in China.”

I floated in and out for another hour I guess, long enough to hear Uncle George leave with Brendon. I didn’t really wake up until I felt something cold on my back. “I need to make you a sock for that stethoscope,” I gasped. “You’re going to freeze someone to death with it one of these days if I don’t.”

Pastor Ken gave a surprised chuckle and said, “Well, hello there bright eyes. I know someone that is going to be happy to see you’re awake.”

But first he asked me all sorts of typical questions like how many fingers was he holding up and how did I feel and did I hurt anywhere. He stuck his head out the door and said something I didn’t catch and then Rand rushed into the room and over to the bed.

I was sitting up, leaning against the pillows trying to get a half formed apology passed my lips.

“No more Kiri, all I care about is that you’re OK.”

“I’ve made a mess of things haven’t I?”

Pastor Ken stepped back into the room and said, “Kiri, I’d rather you not get upset, especially by worrying this to death. What happened was unfortunate, but God forgive me, it would have been more unfortunate had it been Rand on that ground instead of Harris. And as many folks as I have talked to today, that is the general consensus of everyone.”

“How? How can they just say it’s OK? It’s … I … “

“Kiri! That’s better, focus on my voice young lady. No one is saying that what happened is OK. But of all the scenarios that were most likely to play out, this was the least destructive for all concerned. Now I really don’t want to give you another sedative seeing how you reacted to the first one, but you need to stay calm. Rand, give me a moment more to talk to Kiri.”

“Well at least now I know who to thank for that blasted trip into the Twilight Zone,” I sniped at Ken at the same time Rand asked, “Why? Is there something I should know?” He can be belligerent when he gets protective.

“Rand, I’ll talk to you in a moment, just let me talk to Kiri first.” Rand left the room but he wasn’t very happy about it.

Getting worried I asked, “Is there something wrong? Did I do something to the baby?”

“I don’t believe so, not this time, but we need to be realistic and I’ve got some orders that I doubt you’ll be pleased with. You are on bed rest for another twenty-four hours until I make sure that your blood pressure is back under control. I didn’t like your readings at all this morning and they’ve been fluctuating all afternoon. After that, you are on modified rest for a week.”

“A week?! I can’t … “

“Kiri you can and you will. Rand will explain it to you and I want you to listen with your brain and not just with your pig headedness. We’ll see how it goes after that.”

“Why? Is it the baby? But you said everything was OK.”

“I said I think everything is OK but I’m going to be frank since you seem to prefer that. You’ve had a series of severe shocks culminating in what I believe is an exaggerated delayed reaction this morning. In each instance you faced you did what you had to do but it still left an imprint on you. In other circumstances there would be no question but that you would be fine physically, but you are pregnant and you are going to have to start taking that into account in all you do. If you had a baby in your arms you would not have done some of the things you have done. From here on out I want you to start thinking like you do have a baby in your arms at all times, which physiologically is very close to your reality. Which brings me to my next point. Rand says that you target practice nearly every day. Is that true?”

“Yes. I used to be pretty bad now … now … I’m … I’m sorry. I … I wasn’t bragging. Honest.“

“I didn’t think you were. There is nothing wrong with increasing your skills at something, especially something useful. And if you hadn’t increased your skill level along the way there are several people that would no longer be walking this earth and I have a suspicion I might be one of them. But as to that I don’t want you to be upset but I’m asking you to put your practicing on hold until after the baby is born.”

“Why?!”

“Well, while there is some debate, it is generally considered good practice if women who are pregnant avoid firing weapons. There are auditory issues for both the mother and the fetus and there is some thought that breathing in the polluted air surrounding active weapons firing … the chemicals in the air like gun powder … is an unnecessary risk due to a pregnant woman’s already burdened lung capacity and that some of the chemicals could cross the placental barrier.”

“What about women in the military? Women who were police officers?”

“That’s part of the debate. So are women who skeet shoot as a hobby on a regular basis or who like to hunt. From my standpoint, given that it isn’t something that you absolutely have to do every day, I would like you to voluntarily refrain from the activity.”

“What does Rand have to say?”

He snorted and asked, “What do you think he has to say? I could say you need to visit a Miami health resort and he’d already have started shutting down the house and piling the wagon to get you there.”

Put in my place a bit I said, “Ok, so bed rest, then modified rest for a week, and no shooting.”

“And … “

“There’s more?! Isn’t all that enough? I can guarantee you that I’m not going to start taking any pills so you can forget that no matter what Rand says.”

“No, no pills, in fact the exact opposite. There are some things I want you to be watchful of and for.” Then he went on to give me a list of signs or symptoms that could indicate something was wrong with the baby or with me. I have to say it all shook me up. It didn’t even phase me when he said he didn’t want me to take anything … not even a Tylenol … without asking him first. And he was consulting with Tia Cia about what types of herbal teas I would be allowed to drink; until he came up with a “safe” list I wasn’t to have any at all. He’d spooked me, making me realize I wasn’t me anymore. I mean I was me, it’s that I wasn’t only me anymore.

When he left the room I heard him tell Rand to sit down and they talked for a few minutes and then Rand walked him out to the porch. When Rand came back in I heard the squeak, squeak, squeak as he rolled down the front door shutter so I knew that it was late enough and that there wouldn’t be any more visitors for the night.

I was thirsty and I was sitting up trying to pour water out of the pitcher on the nightstand when Rand walked in our room. “Here, let me get that.”

“Rand … “


“Babe, just let me help. You are shaking and you’re going to dump this all over yourself if you aren’t careful.”

He poured the water and gave me time to take a few sips to make sure it would stay down. “Kiri, we need to talk.”

“I know. Ken’s already laid down the law. I’m so sorry Rand. You’ve got all of your work and now mine too. I’m so …”

“Look at me. Let’s get one thing clear and then have done with it. I’m … not … sorry. Harris meant to kill me. At the very least I would have been knifed in the back and hurt bad putting me down for who knows how long. I don’t know what his damage was, and I’m sorry I couldn’t protect you from … from any of it. But no matter what Kiri, I’m glad I’m still here to talk to you, to hold your hand, to just be with you. God has our last breath figured out for each of us, but when ever that time is for me … if you still need me, I’ll fight to stay with you.”

“Oh Rand. I don’t mean to be so needy. I never was before. I don’t know what is wrong with me!”

“Whoa now, Ken is going to scalp me if you get upset again. Look at me Babe. I don’t think you’re needy … or if you are it’s because I need you to need me. And there isn’t anything wrong with you. You’re you, and that’s what I want … and need … in my life. The rest of it we’ll figure out together.”

“Have I caused you problems? Cassie said … “

“You aren’t causing me problems and what has that dang motor mouth said now?”

“Wait Rand! It wasn’t like that at all. She was being nice. She explained things. About the Gilkins brothers and how what they were saying weren’t the kind of things that could just be let to pass. And … “

“She had no business telling you … “

“She told me because I asked Rand. I can’t process information if I don’t have it in the first place.”

“Still … “

“Still nothing, I’m never going to be the kind of girl that would rather not know things … at least I don’t think I’m that type of girl. Maybe I’d be better off … “

“We aren’t going there Kiri. I’m done with that subject. I like you … no, I love you … just the way you are. But … we are going to have to change the way we do a few things. We both are. You’re right, I can’t keep doing it all myself. I saw Uncle George try that and I’m not going there. Ken had an idea … look Kiri, I don’t know how you’re going to feel about this but it’s the best solution we were able to come up with. There’s a boy, he’s ten years old or says he is. Pastor Ken found him wandering down a lane picking up acorns and eating them right after that first cold snap. He’d been living by himself in an abandoned hay barn behind Hookerman’s creek. He doesn’t talk much but he’s an all right kid; I met him today at the swap meet. He’s been staying with Momma O’s family but they really don’t have the room or the food for an extra mouth, not with Sadie pregnant now too. Maybe after spring harvest things will be better but the boy needs to go to a family that has the extra food right now. And I need the help.”

“You mean Ken wants … you want … us to bring this boy here? To help with chores or … or to be part of the family? Which one?”

“I don’t know Kiri, at least until after the baby is born for sure. I know I need the help. No one knows much about where he came from, he won’t talk about it, but there haven’t been any chores that he’s been set that he hasn’t been able to do. He knows his way around animals and Momma O said he helped set rows out in their garden and knew the difference between a weed and a seedling when he helped Paul hoe some of the rows. He’s not a local but if I had to guess he’s lived on a farm before.”

“I’m not saying no Rand but why us, why not Mr. Henderson or one of the families that work for him? I know there are people that are better off than folks know we are.”

“They have taken in kids at the ranch. In fact they’ve got so many they almost don’t have the adults to give them the attention they need. Other people already have kids and bringing in another one … not everyone is cut out to look after other people’s kids. Uncle George kept thinking about taking in the boy because they already have Mick and Tommy but there’s space problems at their place already and soon there will be two babies under the one roof and another one under the other. Mrs. Withrow mentioned that you were already used to a house full of boys of all ages and Momma O pointed out how well you handled Mick, Tommy, and some of the other boys during church; they never seem to irritate you or make you lose your cool they way they get to some folks.”

“All right. Fine. But Rand, what does the boy want?”

“Huh?”

“Has anyone bothered to ask the boy what he wanted?”

“Uh, I … I don’t know.”

“Someone better ask him. I saw what happened to boys that were pulled from pillar to post in foster care. If they didn’t feel like they had any control in their life they’d find something else to try and control.”

I gave it some thought but it just felt right for some reason. “I guess if the boy isn’t going to feel like he’s being kidnapped for slave labor … I guess OK. But we don’t make any promises to him we can’t keep. It’s not fair for anyone involved. Him holding us to promises we’ll never be able to fulfill and us expecting him to wait around forever for us to fulfill promises we’re not even sure we should have made in the first place.”

“I can live with that. Ken said he would talk to him tomorrow and if everything works out they’ll bring him by on Monday.”

After a minute Rand asked, “You weren’t just talking about the boy were you. Did anyone ever ask what you wanted? Growing up I mean. Did they ever ask you?”

“No. It’s no big deal now. Then yeah … yeah then it was a huge deal and I resented it like crazy. There’s nothing worse than having absolutely no say over your life when you don’t know whether you can trust the people that are telling you what your life is going to be day in and day out. It’s about like I imagine being in prison would be like. It might have been a gilded cage but it was still a locked cage.”

“I’m sorry Babe.”

“Don’t be, it wasn’t your doing. I’d go through it all again if I could be sure … absolutely positively sure … that I’d still wind up here, with you.”

“Aw Babe.”

“That’s what’s so hard. Having made it through all of that … that mess my life used to be … to get here … and then the idea of losing it. And the worst thing? The worst thing is knowing that no matter what I do … it could happen in a blink of an eye. Because there are no promises in this life made by man that can’t be broken. None. In the end it’s all between us and God and even when we don’t understand it we just have to take it. No matter how bad it is. Because in the end, we aren’t the ones in control.”

“We have choices. God created us with free will.”

“Yeah, all of us. So even if I chose to do all the right things, some goofy kid could decide to have a drink, just a small one but big enough to make him act just a little stupid. And his little stupid leaks over on top of my doing everything right … and soon enough you’re riding along in a car and because of his little bit of stupid your whole life changes and you lose everyone you love, that loves you.“

“Kiri, Babe … “

“I’m all right Rand, I just … sometimes it all seems like too much. I have to be responsible for myself and at the same time I have to accept when other people’s choices impact my life. Sometimes I’d really rather not have anything to do with other human beings.”

“You think I was being irresponsible, getting in a fight with … “

“No! No, that’s not what I meant. I know guys have these ultimate taboo things. Just … just forget it Rand, I’m in a funky mood. You know me … weird, moody, and … “

“Kiri, no more. Look at me. Whatever is going on, we’ll figure it out. Together.”

“Forever right?”

“As forever as I have a choice about.”

I sighed, finally willing to let go of whatever awful mood had swallowed me up. “Then I guess … I guess that will have to be enough.”

It was really late by then and even though I hadn’t eaten since breakfast I couldn’t drink the broth Rand wanted me to; eventually it was just easier for both of us if I went back to sleep. He wasn’t far behind me because I felt him slide between the sheets and eventually we wound up tangled together like we usually do except without the other stuff because Ken had said none of that for a while either.

This morning I felt sluggish, like I was walking through molasses when I got up from the bed to go to the bathroom and clean myself up. I heaved a bit but Rand had toast ready for me when I walked out of the bathroom. It was on a TV tray and there was even a fake flower in a bottle on it. “Sorry, no real flowers. The camellias are blooming but I didn’t notice until I was already bringing the tray.”

I smiled but it was only skin deep. He kept trying to tease me saying things like if I get crumbs in the bed he’s sleeping on the sofa and that sort of thing. I tried, I really tried but I just couldn’t shake my mood. Too many things were crowding my ears wanting to be heard and I didn’t want to listen to any of it.

I know there was a church service today. I know it sounded like some people came by and stopped out in the yard but Rand didn’t bring any of them inside. He’d come inside to check on me and I’d be dreading him saying someone wanted to see me but then he’d just say so-and-so came by asking how I was. I know it’s perverse but I’d then feel bad because they’d come by just to ask and not to see for themselves.

I was slowly sliding into a vegetative state, trying not to complain about being bored when Rand himself was so busy, when the next time he came in he brought the little portable desk that had come from Mrs. Withrow and my journal and pen set. “Sorry I didn’t think of this sooner. You should have asked. You’re probably going nuts being forced to stay in here all by yourself. I hope the people coming by haven’t bothered you. Some wanted to step in and say hello but you’re still in your nightclothes and I know how you are about that.”

Gosh, I nearly kicked myself for being so stupid. Of course Rand was just trying to protect me and give me the space I normally crave. It got worse when he said, “Just about everyone who has stopped by has brought something. There’s several pans of cornbread and pots of beans and some stews in there when you get hungry. Momma O and Mrs. Withrow organized it. I wished you’d let me go ahead and fix you a plate to eat now, you haven’t really had a full meal since breakfast yesterday.”

People are funny. Here I was scared to death that I had managed to totally wreck all we’ve worked so hard to build, wrecked the future that I had started putting some confidence into again, and it seems like it is the exact opposite. People are still willing to give what little they have to show they care. It gave me something to chew on besides self pity until Pastor Ken arrived.

“Feeling better?”

I nodded. “Getting there. Can I ask you something?”

“Of course.”

“None of these people … I mean the people that dropped the food off … none of them … they’re not hurting because they sent some food here are they?”

He smiled. “I don’t think so. The ladies of the church are very careful not to ask any more from families than what they can give. And as far as I know those that did bring something did so voluntarily and not just because they were asked. There were so many that wanted to come by that Mrs. Withrow had to remind them you’d had a bad shock and were on best rest.”

“You’re not just saying that so I won’t have a melt down or anything are you?”

“No. I wouldn’t lie to you.”

“Well, I didn’t mean lie, just kind of soft coat it.”

He chuckled and said, “No. Not even that. Kiri I’m telling you that people aren’t holding what happened against you. There are a few that don’t know what to make of it being a female who did it but usually when they open their mouths about that there is some woman nearby that is more than willing to enlighten them.” He changed the subject but I let him when he said, “Your blood pressure is much better today. If it is this good when I come by this evening then I’ll say you can get up in the morning but no lifting, no climbing the stairs, no milking or any other chore like that for a few days yet. I want you to sit, keep your feet up and continue to drink plenty of water. Maybe sewing or even folding laundry would be OK, but no washing. No standing at the sink. Nothing that keeps you standing at all or lugging anything heavier that a stack of shirts or towels. We don’t want to undo all the good that has come from your day of rest.”

It was after Ken left that I decided to get my thoughts in order and do more than doodle in my journal. I need a plan or I’m gonna go nuts and get cranky even if I know I’m doing the whole invalid thing for the baby’s sake. And not just plan for that either. Tomorrow Rand and I are going to be foster parents which is a totally weird idea for me and I’m not sure how I feel about that. It can’t be any worse than what I lived with at Aunt Wilma’s but if we are going to do this I want to do it right. The boy is going to need stuff I’m sure and he is going to need a space to call his own which means getting the house rearranged. I’m not having him sleep on the sofa when there are perfectly acceptable beds under all those boxes and bags we have stored on them. And an education. Don’t we owe him some type of education?

Pastor Ken came back by late in the afternoon and my blood pressure is still good so I’m outta bed tomorrow. And the boy will be here starting tomorrow. Rand moved some stuff out of the dormer room and into our closet so we wouldn’t have to go up there for a few days, at least until we decide whether the boy is staying permanently or not.

After a dinner of cornbread and pinto beans I finally got around to asking Rand about a few things that I’d heard.

“Rand?”

“Mmm?”

“What did Cassie mean when she said that Mr. Henderson was sending the rest of the Gilkins brothers to work off what they owe him?”

“She said that huh? Mitch better talk to that girl.” Then he looked at me like he was measuring what kind of mood I was in. “There’s no law enforcement any more Kiri. There’s really no law period. When people become nuisances in the community they get … talked to. Usually things get worked out or they get … shut out. Shut out of business deals, shut out of social events, that sort of thing. The word goes out on what they did and most people use what amounts to peer pressure on them. If they straighten up and stop causing problems then everything goes back to normal and no one holds it against them. Whatever happened is done and over with, no harm no foul. But it doesn’t always work out that way. A lot of people that get shut out and who don’t want to … “conform to community standards” as Mr. Henderson calls it usually wind up moving, maybe closer to Lake City or even further out in the country where how they want to live their lives doesn’t affect anybody.”

“But that isn’t what Cassie said. She said he was sending those men some place.”

“That’s only happened a couple of times. Henderson had a couple of families that started wanting to change how things were run on the ranch. They wanted a democracy or at least a say in how things were run. Mr. Henderson brought everyone into the ranch letting them know up front it was his way or the highway. They kept at it and it was causing no small amount of problems. One night Henderson and some of his top men went in and moved the families lock stock and barrel to a relocation facility down in Alachua; just dropped ‘em off and left ‘em there. They kept what was theirs to keep and then were given the freedom to make their own way from that point forward.”

“How come I never heard of this?”

“It happened right after that trouble at Itchetucknee. I didn’t hear about it until a couple of weeks later myself.”

“So is that where he’s sending the Gilkins?”

“No. There’s a … a sorta work camp in Steinhatchee, along the river. The military is providing security but the locals run it. Henderson has some connections down there. Supplies are brought up the river and then off loaded on 51 right there at Mayo and can either be brought overland via 51 into Live Oak or can be transported on the Suwannee picking up and trading out supplies the long way around, through all the small communities, and still wind up in Live Oak. Right now the biggest problem is pirates. The Navy covers the Gulf and the Coast Guard has the shoreline but they can’t be everywhere, especially up and down every river, creek, and tributary. That’s being left to local management. There are groups of families operating docks along the rivers and they use as much or as little force as they feel necessary … and they make a decent living keeping the inland river ways clear.”

“And Ram is involved in this how?”

“No clue Babe. I get to watch when you ask him though. He makes some pretty funny noises when you get him backed into a corner. Reminds me of a chicken I once had. And he dances around an answer really pretty too.”

“Oh you. It’s not funny.”

“Wellll, it may not have been funny, but at least I got you to give me a real smile.”

I had started to feel more myself by then, or at least I was in more control of what other people were seeing. I still don’t understand why things have to happen the way they do. Life is so confusing. Why am I only seventeen yet I have more in common with old widow ladies than I do with girls my own age? How do I teach my baby how to protect themself from the world but not teach them to protect themself so well that they miss out on the good things that do occasionally come along?

All I do know for sure is that I’m grateful and blessed that Rand wasn’t killed. I’m not grateful and sure as heck don’t feel blessed though that I had to do the killing. I don’t know how to reconcile it all. How do I stand before God and say I killed a man because I didn’t want him to kill a man. One of these days I’m going to have to get my head around it all but for now I think I’m ready to just … what was it that Mrs. Withrow said the other day … something about sometimes the only thing we can do is leave it at the foot of the Cross and walk away. Yeah, that sounds like exactly what I need, someone to take it off my shoulders, at least for a while. I’m tired of carrying all of these feelings and hurt around. They are getting too heavy and too complicated.

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