Thursday, January 28, 2010

Chapter Sixty-Four

Chapter 64

December 6th – Rand had a setback yesterday. He scared me a little bit. OK, he scared me a lot. But more than anything I’m mad at myself over what happened.

I was very tired from trying to do everything for days on end in addition to the sleep I hadn’t been getting. I was a little testy I’ll admit. All I wanted was a warm bath to help with my legs that were really feeling the extra work and the cold. It wasn’t like this in Tampa, the cold never lasted this long or at least I never had to be out in it like I have been. The rain and damp weather hasn’t been helping either. And I guess I was running into that stuff where Momma and the other grown up women used to say things like, “Men are so gosh darn pig headed sometimes.”

Well, Rand had been trying to get out of bed but it was mostly because his fever was making him kind of discombobulated and he wasn’t thinking straight. But after the fever went away he stopped trying to get out of bed but once I had come inside and started writing in my journal it seemed he kept calling me for something every few minutes. I made the mistake of giving him a bell just in case I didn’t hear him call. Well, he went from calling me to ringing that bell. I was real tempted by dinner time to take the clapper out of that bell and then I thought about just melting the stupid thing down all together. I finally wound up staying up later than I had meant to trying to finish my journal entry and even then he would wake up and start talking to me.

So yesterday morning I woke up late and had to get started in a rush and Rand fussed at me a little for leaving the cow so long un-milked. I know he was just cranky from not feeling well and I tried to take it as constructive criticism because goodness knows he was right. Thing is I just wasn’t in the frame of mind to really absorb it like I should have. His criticism just felt like one more thing I wasn’t doing right. Hatchet and the filly didn’t want to mind me. Billy and Taz were both being ornery. The chickens pecked the heck out of me when I checked their nests and one of the cows tried to kick me; guess my hands were a little cold. It was just a hard day for me. I suppose you are bound to have days like that ever so often but it just seemed like I was getting a month of my ever so oftens all at once.

On top of that I burned the cornbread and somehow put salt in the sugar bowl which ruined the batch of tea that I had made … only it wasn’t me that figured that out because I hadn’t taken the time to taste it before it left the kitchen. Rand took a big swig and starting coughing right away which spit the tea all over his food, the covers, and him. It was just a mess. After I got him and the bed cleaned up I went back outside and did as many outside chores as I could … stalls needed mucking, fresh hay needed to be forked in, I had to pull the Big Max pumpkins that were ready except for the one that Rand has been growing for fun to see how big he could get it, and eleventy dozen other things. And to be honest I was staying outside to avoid the dat gum bell too.

By late yesterday all I wanted was to soak in that bath … only when I went to get the hot water out of the reservoir it was all gone and I knew for a fact that I’d filled it up that morning. I looked and looked for a leak and tried to figure out what I had done wrong. I spent nearly forty-five minutes looking for the problem. Then I hear that bell going off and I run that direction thinking something was wrong.

When I got back to the bedroom instead of finding Rand in some serious trouble he snaps, “What is taking you so long? I want to go to bed.”

“Then go to bed. I’m not stopping you.”

“Yes you are. You’re up banging around. I thought you said you were going to clean up and come to bed. I haven’t seen you all day.”

“Yes you did. You’re just not feeling good. Go on to sleep. I’ll be back in a bit.”

“I want to go to bed now.”

“So go.”

“I said … “

“Rand, I’m trying to figure out what is wrong with the reservoir on the princess. OK? I filled it full of water this morning and now there isn’t a drop of water in there. I …”

“Of course not. I took a spit bath after you got tea all over me.”

“After I got … After I … You used … You used the water and didn’t fill it back … Do you know …. ARGH!!!“ I just snapped. I threw the bucket down, grabbed my coat, and went outside. And if I’m lying I’m dying, he started ringing that bell like he was calling the cows home. I just kept walking and wound up on the little bench out in the orchard that I go to sometimes when things get the better of me. The sound of the stupid bell followed me all the way out there.

Eventually the bell stopped and I had a good temper tantrum that left off with a few tears. Then I got myself under control and I started to feel bad for how I’d acted. Rand has put up with a lot from me and has taken care of me when I’ve been sick and he didn’t complain once, was always good natured when if I’d been him I’d probably dumped me in a ditch someplace until I learned a little appreciation.

I got up and was going back in to face the music; Lord knows I deserved it after the way I had acted. I wasn’t paying too much attention but then I looked up and saw Rand holding on to one of the posts of the patio beside the summer kitchen. No coat, no hat, and he was barely in his boots.

I ran over and he just about fell down as I got there. He was shaking like a leaf. I opened my mouth – don’t know what I was going to say – but before anything could come out Rand says, “Ssss … ssss … sssoooorrry. Sorry.” I could barely understand him his teeth were chattering so hard.

I got him back in the house and back to our bedroom but it wasn’t easy. We were both freezing cold by the time I did and I boosted him into the bed and added wood to the stove to try and get things warmed back up. Woofer and Fraidy have been sleeping in the barn … Fraidy takes care of the mice and Woofer acts as a guard dog. They’ll probably come back inside but I just couldn’t keep up with them and Rand and everything else. Right then I was just glad I didn’t have to trip all over them too.

I pulled off Rand’s boots and got him tucked back in the covers and he kept saying he was sorry. He needed to help more. I don’t know what all but it was basically he was sorry for being “unappreciative and having a bad attitude.” He was sorry he was being a burden.

I felt bad for making him feel bad and for making him think I thought he was a burden. It was a long time before he warmed up. I finally told him to just stop it. It wasn’t his fault that I was tired and out of sorts and if anyone had the bad attitude it was me. He wouldn't hear that. It was that silly back and forth stuff when you’re trying to make up and neither of you wants the other to take any of the blame 'cause you already feel bad enough.

He finally settled down and I set to trying to get him comfortable again which included checking and redressing all of his wounds. The invaders didn’t leave too much of him untouched. His face was barely recognizable when I first found him. I still remember feeling that that couldn’t be Rand, it just couldn’t be. But it was. Both eyes were swollen shut. His face was cut up pretty well because the jerk that knocked him around a lot had this big ring he wore. He took a lot of body blows and they’d strung him between two posts and lashed him with a belt pretty good too because he wouldn’t tell them what they wanted to know. Problem is Rand doesn’t speak Spanish. He couldn’t understand what they were asking. They burnt him with home-rolled cigarettes in the soft places and used a heated spoon in a couple of places too. And they kicked him in his, you know, man parts a couple of times just to be really mean. They didn't even spare the bottom of his feet. They're still bruised and swollen where they hit them with a big stick.

If we hadn’t shown up when we did I suppose they would have gotten around to breaking things fairly soon. I went to school with some Columbian and Honduran kids and they used to talk about the bad gangs in Central and South America and some of the reasons that their families would come to the US. It wasn’t all about economics. Sometimes all they wanted was to get away from the cartels and the violence, mostly though they just brought that way of life with them.

It had been a week since it had happened and Rand was healing pretty good, especially after the shot that Ram had given him but he was restless in his sleep. I hadn’t known what to do for him. I guess that was part of my testiness too. Who wants to really accept that there are some things that you just can’t make better no matter how much you want to? I could say that the men that did this to him are all down and dead the hard way but I’m not sure that is exactly the kind of thing that would bring a guy like Rand any comfort. I told him how proud I was of him just for surviving, but that sounds kind of like one of those “faint praise” scenarios since surviving was the only thing he’d been given the chance to do. What really made me feel bad was when he started talking about it. It made me feel worse when I realized he hadn’t talked about it before then because he’d been worried about making me feel bad.

“I’m sorry I left you to face this alone.”

“Rand … “

“I should have done like you asked and made Ram stay an extra day. We wouldn’t have been caught like we were.”

“No, you don’t know that. It could have wound up even worse.”

“I’m sorry. I just … I just wanted to go see my friend Dell.”

“Rand, there isn’t anything wrong with that.”

“Yeah. Yeah there is … was. I wasn’t going after work like I told you. I was … I wanted …”

“Rand whatever it was … “

“No. Dell’s folks … they had a Christmas tree farm. I was going over to try and … I wanted it to be a surprise. For a stupid tree I left you alone. God almighty what was I thinking?!”

“Rand! That’s enough. It all worked out. Now stop it. You’ve got to stop this.”

We went on like that for a while. That’s when he started talking about what they’d done to him. A couple of times … well, even grown men need to shed a few tears to bleed off the bad stuff. He finally talked himself out and fell into an exhausted sleep. Helped along by the chamomile tea I’d fixed for him to try and get him warmed up on the inside … and by the sleeping pill I told him was an aspirin for his ouches. I don’t think he has figured that out yet.

When I was sure he wouldn’t wake up if I moved I got off the bed and barely made it to the bathroom and shut the door as quiet as I could before I was puking and crying at the porcelain throne. I was so mad and there wasn’t anything I could do. I wanted to go back, go back and do worse things to those men. I know we are supposed to forgive our transgressors. I know we aren’t really given a choice in the matter if we want to be forgiven for our own transgressions … but it has been so hard not to dwell on it; not to go back and stroke the memory over and over, building up poison in my psyche.

I crawled in bed feeling like I’d lost something but I wasn’t sure what. Surprisingly I slept. I woke up this morning and was out before Rand woke up. I hurried through the morning chores and then came back inside. He was in the kitchen taking the coffee pot off the stove I’d lit before going out.

“Tea’s ready. It looks cold out there.”

“Not as cold as it has been. If you feel up to it, it might do you some good to sit on the porch and get some fresh air. Lord knows Woofer would be overjoyed to get a chance to lick you to pieces. He moves like greased lightning and he almost got in the house and would have woken you up.”

“Let him. If he starts jumping too much I’ll put the leash on him. He’ll mind just to have me take it back off.”

“Mmmm. Let’s see how you feel after breakfast.”

It was almost as if the confession of last night hadn’t happened. I scrambled some eggs and made the biscuits soft since Rand’s mouth is still cut up pretty bad. At least he didn’t lose any teeth and nearly all the loose ones have firmed back in place. One of his molars looks discolored so it might have gotten some nerve damage. Only time will tell.

It was in the 70s today. The weather was better for my legs but the humidity made me feel tired and limp after the brisk cold weather we’ve been having. Uncle George came by today by himself. He was shook to see how bad Rand looked. He’d been gathering up Alicia, LauraBeth, and the boys and trying to get them home and to bed since they were all in pretty rough shape. He’d been convinced that Rand was safe and had been trying to figure out a way to help. He never did get to see the shape Rand was in at the processing plant. Last time Brendon came by he’d mentioned something about his dad seemingly refusing to believe that Rand could have been tortured despite what he’d been told. I guess he decided to see for himself.

A cool breeze had sprung up and Rand started to burrow into the quilt I had wrapped around him. Uncle George finally convinced him to go inside and I served them some lunch and then went outside to make sure none of the animals were getting up to mischief and to turn the pumpkin that I was drying in the dehydrator. I came back to the house to find Uncle George sitting in the rocker barely able to hold his coffee mug without spilling what was inside it.

Until that time I’d never heard Uncle George curse. I’d seen him look like he wanted to but I’d never actually heard those kinds of words come out of his mouth. I’m sure he wouldn’t want me to record his lapse but it sure was something when he let loose a string of them. Then he drew a breath and asked kind of rhetorically, “Did you see what those dirty blankety blanks did to my boy?!”

Well, after I rehinged my jaw I said, “Yes sir. I have been the one taking care of him.”

He looked for a second like his head was gonna explode but then he calmed down some. “You said he was doing better. This …. This?! … this is better?”

“Yes sir. Actually what you see is quite a bit better than what he was at first.”

“Girl sit down. I cain’t talk to you if you look like you're preparing to run off. Just how bad was he?”

“I thought Brendon told you.”

“He did but I guess I thought he was exaggerating. He said that Rand had been … been tortured. That’s not something you want to believe.”

“No. No it isn’t. But that’s what they did. And before you ask, no, I don’t know what for. I wasn’t there and Ram was in another part of the plant and didn’t realize what was happening. He thought Rand had just been incarcerated with some of the other men that had been brought over to help take care of the animals. When we finally found Rand I thought Ram was gonna kill the few invaders that weren't already dead.”

“What about you girl? What did you do when you found him like this?”

“Uncle George, I’d rather not talk about it. I … I don’t know that I can ever talk about it. Most of them were dead by that time. I don’t even think this guy realized that … I was looking in all of the offices trying to find out where a noise was coming from that I kept hearing. Ram was with me. The guy had just started to … you don’t want to know Uncle George. I’ll live with it. Rand was unconscious. He doesn’t have to know and I don’t want you telling him. Do you understand?”

“All right. What you’ve told me is enough. I won't hold it against you girl. And I won’t ask you about it ever again. There’s some things … well, it’s over, just don’t let it fester if it starts to. You come to me and talk it out. We’ll keep it between us. Understand?”

It was a second before I could answer him because the offer and the acceptance had been so unexpected. But I agreed and I suppose maybe one of these days I’ll take him up on it, but not right now. Not when everything is still so fresh and unsettled.

It was about that time that Mitch rode up the road and hollered ahead that he’d brought a couple of visitors. With my hand on my pistol … and Uncle George covering from behind the hedge row I was growing on the trellis … I met them as they rode up.

“Kiri, this is Major Timble and those three are his escorts.”

I nodded as the remaining introductions were made. I asked, “You’ve got business here?”

“Hmm. Sgt. Diaz warned me that you prefer things to be brief and to the point.”

“Yes sir, you could say that,” I responded waiting for him to continue.

“I am investigating the incursion …”

“The invasion.”

I could tell I wasn’t making any friends by the way the Major’s lips thinned out. “As I said, I am investigating the incursion that occurred last week. I have been given to understand that you instigated the rebellion … “

“Whoa. First off, before you think that I’m just some doofus chick that doesn’t have any respect for your rank or understanding of your office I’d like to state that my Daddy was a Sgt in the US Air Force before his death. I have all sorts of respect. On the other hand, Sgt. Diaz is right when he says I don’t have a lot of tolerance for being run roughshod over. I won’t be railroaded. If you have specific questions I’ll give you specific answers but if not I suggest you come back when you’ve got your questions figured out. My husband was tortured by the invaders and he is far from well and needs my attention. His uncle is also here visiting and I’m trying to get news of his daughters and daughter-in-law that are very pregnant and that were also hurt by the invaders. So if you …”

“Ms. … Joiner is it?”

“It’s Mrs. Joiner so you can keep any idea you might have about me being some kind of Rambo bra-burner.”

“Please, let’s not be difficult.”

“Fine by me but I’m not the one … “

“Oh for heaven’s sake girl, I just need to ask you a few questions.”

“Then ask ‘em instead of dancing around about it … but call a spade a spade already. I’m not made of sugar and I won’t melt. You can’t scare me any worse than those people already have.”

By that time Mitch was having to look off in a different direction and bite his lip. Uncle George was tugging at his hat and chewing on the inside of his cheek.

“Fine. What I really need is for you to walk me through exactly what happened. You are our only witness … “

“What happened to Pepper Duncan?”

The major started looking real uncomfortable and I started getting suspicious. “Major, what happened to Pepper?”

Brusquely the Major answered, “Lt. Duncan succumbed to his injuries.”

I wasn’t buying it. “He was fine when he and Ram left for the hospital tents. He was strong as an ox despite … you know … the leg thing. He took me down and the only reason I got loose of him was because he let me. He wasn’t sick at all.”

The major continued to look a little pale and I was starting to get mad when one of the other men said, “Begging your pardon Major but … ma’am, Pepper Duncan was my friend but after his injury he wasn’t … well, he wasn’t himself. That’s how he and Sgt. Diaz had hooked up, they were in a special ward for men … that were having … difficulties. Sgt. Diaz has obviously improved a great deal since I last saw him. Pepper had as well from what everyone was saying. But they were doing a debriefing and … the feds sent a civilian psychologist … the man had never seen combat, never had any training … it’s just … Pepper was fine going into the debriefing but coming out … There is an investigation but that won’t bring Pepper back.”

The Major took back control of the conversation and said, “So you see Mrs. Joiner, not only do we need you to give a deposition as to what you saw from the outside, we’d like you to give testimony as to Lt. Duncan’s frame of mind while you were in his company.”

I was a few moments absorbing what I’d just found out but finally asked, “What do you need me to do?”

“Optimally I would like you to physically walk through that day, your actions, and to recount everything that you can.”

“Now?!”

“Tomorrow morning.”

“But …”

That’s when Uncle George said, “She ain’t going by herself. My boy is too sick right now but I’ll be here. Mitch, I’m going to bring the two young un’s over here first thing in the morning, they’ll handle the chores, but I expect Henderson to see to everything else. You understand?”

Mitch answered, “It’ll be taken care of. You stay here and supervise and someone will go with Kiri.”

“In case y’all have forgotten, I’m sorta standing right here.”

They kept on making plans and this time it was the Major who was biting the inside of his cheek to keep from grinning.

So that’s what I’m doing tomorrow. Rand is fit to be tied but I don’t see any way around it. Uncle George is bringing Mick and Tommy over first thing and Uncle George will keep Rand company … assuming he doesn’t drive him nuts … while the boys do the chores. I made a bunch of extra biscuits and I’ve set dried veggies to soak to make stew with. I’ll put everything on a slow burner before I head out in the morning to try and minimize the mess they make in the kitchen. I have a feeling that tomorrow is going to be a little rough for a couple of different reasons and I’d rather not have to dread wondering what shape the house is going to be in when I get back.

I'm still having trouble understanding how Pepper could have ... it just doesn't seem right. Sure, he was going to be faced with some real challenges but he seemed to be doing better than OK. He was right there, homemade pegleg and crutch, giving orders and ... what on God's green earth could have happened in just the space of a couple of days?

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