Monday, February 22, 2010

Chapter Eighty-Five

Chapter 85

March 13th – I felt better today than I have in a long time with absolutely no reason for that to be true. Go figure. On the other hand I’ve gotten quite a bit accomplished or at least started and that offsets the news we heard on the radio.

When I said yesterday that Atlanta was burning I meant that literally. Some type of major explosion occurred downtown and then spread outwards from there, igniting all that hadn’t already burned before in the previous riots. The Nation of Islam headquarters is rumored to have been the original target and was destroyed in the initial explosion and who knows how many lives have been lost over the last couple of days. They say evidence of the fire can be seen for miles in all directions but since we are five hours away from Atlanta’s location … or should I say where Atlanta used to be … there is no way we are going to see it go up.

Unlike us, Georgia has been dry as a bone and even a small spark floating on the breeze will ignite another fire if it lands on fertile ground, and most ground is ripe for a fire in Georgia right now, the cold, dry winter only dried things out even more than the drought had.

Mr. Henderson and Ram think that the fire may slow the migration out of the north for a while but after that it may actually increase the numbers heading this direction since there will be even less salvageable goods along the main I75 corridor. Ram also expects some retaliation by some militant groups and it looks like the local troops are preparing for the possibility. There have been all types of conjecture on what caused the explosion but due to its size nothing quite sounds right yet. The best one yet was one that I heard Bill and Ram formulate standing by the wagon. They think that a previously planted terrorist bomb was accidentally activated … either through tampering or through some other type of accident.

The men … and a few of the women … could have talked that subject to death for the rest of the day but we all had to head home. We had to listen to it all through lunch and clean up and then I had to listen to Rand’s wonderings off and on through the rest of the day. He listened to the radio late into the night; I had intended on staying up with him but I fell asleep in spite of myself.

We woke to find that Austin and Woofer had snuck into our room during the night and had slept at the foot of the bed. I was worried that he was sick but he said he’d had a dream the house was on fire and then couldn’t go back to sleep. I looked at Rand who nodded his head and he eased up on the talk today. Austin still asked if he could camp out in our room and since it has been storming pretty bad for several hours now we told him one more night then it was back to a real bed so he could get some rest. He’s down there now. We could make him more comfortable but Rand is worried that if we do that we will only give him more reason to want to sleep in our room instead of his. He said that Mick had gone through a stage like that and it had taken him and Brendon forever to get him to go back to his own bed because they kept making it so easy on him to sleep in their room.

This morning I decided it was time to shake off whatever has been holding me down. Rand and I are working on seeing what the other needs and not just assuming we know and while that gets a little silly on occasion we are doing better. That’s a relief and then some. I even managed to make Rand get a little … um, touchy feely … out in the barn when I brought him some cold mint tea as he stacked the wood that he and Austin had been chopping.

After a bit of his silliness – Austin had gone inside to grab some oatmeal cookies from the jar I try to keep filled with snacks and such – Rand said, “You look like you are feeling better.”

“I do feel better.”

“Really?”

“Yes really so stop worrying so much. What do you have planned for the rest of the day?”

“I’m going to have Austin muck the stables and clean out the chicken run while I run the cultivator. I want to get our stuff squared away for a couple of more days and then I have about six people who want to barter for work. I almost hate to do it because it means taking time away from our own projects but …”

“I know, it means getting stuff in trade that we won’t have to grow ourselves. How are the grain fields looking?”

“Better than expected all things considered. We’ve lost some places here and there but now that I know where the low spots are I can avoid putting seed down in those areas. Say a month, give or take a few days, and we should be able to harvest and then turn around and get ready to plant several fields in sorghum. We just need to get some dry weather.”

Austin came out and we all set out to do the work we had set for ourselves this day. Rand and Austin wanted to bring in one more load of wood … I can go through some wood when the canners are going … and I headed into the house to make Hoppin’ John Soup for lunch.

Fix some rice, the thicker you want the soup the more rice you add. Brown up a little sausage, about a quarter pound, and I made that from fresh squirrel sausage that I had mixed up yesterday and put into the cooler. To the drained sausage I added half cup of chopped onion, a half pound of peeled and chopped turnips, two peeled and chopped carrots, a half teaspoon of salt and a half teaspoon of ground pepper. Brown all of this over medium and then turn it down and simmer it for about seven minutes. Next add three pints of chicken broth, one pint of canned black eyed peas, and a pint of chopped mustard greens. Simmer another ten minutes and add a half teaspoon of dried red pepper flakes right before serving. The soup and a pan of cornbread more than held the three of us over until dinner at which time I planned to have a nice surprise; but first it was on to getting things ready for the swap meet this Saturday where I planned to barter with or without Rand’s help.

Today’s activity was making rice mixes. They are really easy and I think they’ll make me some good points to use at the Shack. Here are the recipes that I use:

Onion Rice Mix:
4 cups uncooked rice
1 envelope onion soup mix
1/4 cup dried minced onion
1 tablespoon parsley
1/2 teaspoon salt

Lemon-Dill Rice Mix:
4 cups uncooked rice
1/4 cup grated lemon peel
1/4 cup powdered chicken soup base
2 tablespoons dill
1 tablespoon chives
1/2 teaspoon salt

Vegetable Rice Mix:
4 cups uncooked rice
1 envelope vegetable soup mix
2 tablespoons dried minced onion
2 tablespoons dried minced celery
2 tablespoons dried minced bell pepper
1 tablespoon parsley
1 teaspoon salt

Spanish Rice Mix:
4 cups uncooked rice
1/2 cup Mexican seasoning mix
1/2 cup dried corn
2 tablespoons parsley
1 tablespoon basil

Herb Rice:
4 cups uncooked rice
1/2 cup instant nonfat dry milk
1/4 cup dried minced celery
2 tablespoons parsley
2 tablespoons thyme
1 tablespoon marjoram

Combine ingredients specified for each different mix. Store mixes in an airtight container on the shelf for up to 4 months. I bagged the mixes two cups of rice at a time and we have plenty of rice so it isn’t hurting us to barter it.

While I was doing this I fixed a whole wheat soy pizza crust. We’ve got a lot of soy beans thanks to Missy though she told me yesterday when she brought me by a big bag of lace scraps that she’s been trading a whole lot more of them after she hung the directions for making soy milk on the bulletin board. I guess I could give her this recipe too.

You dissolve one tablespoon of yeast in one cup of warm water and let it sit until it starts to get foamy. Then you add one quarter cup of soy flour and one and one quarter cup of whole wheat flour and mix it until well combined. Then you stir in one teaspoon of salt (I used sea salt). I covered the bowl with cheesecloth and let it rise in a warm place for forty-five minutes.

Then you lightly oil a twelve-inch pizza pan and then press your dough out to the edges of the pan. You bake it for fifteen minutes or until the edges are brown and crisp and then take it out and top it with the ingredients you want, put it back in the oven until your toppings are finished and there you have it … whole grain pizza. Next time I may just have to make two the way Rand and Austin inhaled the pizzas. I was queen for the rest of the night and now I’m off to bed, Rand has promised me a foot massage and a few other things besides.


March 14th – Busy, busy, busy. And too sore and tired to write much. I planted another three rows of bush beans. I’ve been planted a few more rows every week. When the seed pods dry we’ll winnow them and bag the beans up. I can’t help but think that eventually this will be a really good food supply for us personally and to barter … maybe even export if we can get enough growing to make it worth our while. Also had to hoe the other rows if things that are coming up. The mulch I have laid down this time is helping considerably but I notice there is more weeding to be done than there was when I was planting more sustainably using the square-foot method. Each method has its pros and cons but it will be harvest that will really determine which method I use in the planting seasons to come.


March 15th – I don’t know how and I don’t know when but Fraidy surprised us by becoming a Momma last night. I had been going under the assumption that she was fixed but apparently not. I haven’t seen any other cat though several months back I know I heard one. Rand found her nest up in the loft first thing this morning. She’s extremely protective but Rand was able to take her some food scraps without her fritzing out too much and in the end she practically inhaled what he left for her. She has seven kittens in her nest and I’m not sure what we are going to do with them all. I’d like to keep one but we’ll have to see.

Today’s mixture to take to the swap meet was instant chai tea. Another one so easy I can’t believe how anyone would think of wanting to trade for it but Missy asked if I had any tea recipes since most people were running out of coffee. In a bowl combine one cup nonfat dry milk powder, one cup powdered non-dairy creamer, one cup French vanilla flavored powdered non-dairy creamer, two and one-half cups granulated sugar, one and one-half cups unsweetened instant tea, two teaspoons ground ginger, two teaspoons ground cinnamon, one teaspoon ground cloves, and one teaspoon ground cardamom. Next I put it in my hand-powered blender and basically pureed the stuff until it was the consistency of a fine powder. That took a while and next time I might cheat again and plug the old blender into the inverter.

Spent a good deal of time sewing and mending, especially socks. I got so irritated that I threw a pair of balled up socks at Rand and demanded that he trim his toenails because I wasn’t going to spend the rest of my life trying to darn the same pair of socks over and over again only to have his shovel sharp nails undo the work or make a new hole after the first wear. Austin wears his out in the heel and I think it is because the socks he has are short and he is constantly pulling them up. I ought to know, I’ve got the same bad habit.

I also finished all of the preorders that Missy gave me last time. If it remains at a dozen orders each time then I’ll be able to keep up, any more than that and I’ll be in trouble, especially as soon as the garden really starts taking off which shouldn’t be too much longer from now. I’ve been planting enough stuff that if we go hungry any time in the near future it won’t be because we didn’t put enough work into it.


March 16th – Harvested English peas, cauliflower, and collard greens today in quantity so while I cleaned the house I canned up what I didn’t put in the dehydrator. It used to be that I would dry what I didn’t can but now it is the other way around. The more drying I can do the better. I haven’t broken any jars yet, knock on wood, and my rings are still good but I will eventually run out of lids … not this year, maybe not even next year if I start rationing them, but eventually all things like that will run out unless they start manufacturing them again.

Rand and Austin laughed at me until they both nearly shot milk out of their noses. I don’t care. Fraidy is way up in the loft taking care of seven kittens all on her own. How is she supposed to feed them and stay healthy herself? So I made her a kitty salad. I know it sounds stupid but Ms. Belle had this ancient cat that she would bring to work every once in a while and hide in her office … because of the health department you know. Anyway she swore that the reason her “Tum tum” was still healthy and frisky at nineteen was because she prepared all of his food from scratch and one of the things he really enjoyed was Grass Salad.

You start with a small carrot that you peel and grate, then add one-half cup of chopped fresh sprouts, two teaspoons of freshly chopped parsley, one-half teaspoon fresh chopped catnip, mix that all together just like you would a human salad. Then you sprinkle two tablespoons of vegetable broth over it and toss again. Of course a normal cat won’t eat all of that in one sitting so you give them a little and refrigerate the rest. Rand wasn’t laughing after he saw how eager Fraidy was for it after she figured out what it was.

Poor Woofer just looks up at the loft some times and whines because he knows his friend is up there and doesn’t understand why she won’t come down and go hunting with him. I have a feeling it is going to be interesting to see whether Fraidy tolerates Woofer around the kittens and whether Woofer really understands what the kittens are. We’ll have to be careful. Rand says we have about two months before they are totally weaned but in about a month we should see Fraidy out and about more as she starts the weaning process.

Thinking about Fraidy has made me think about Laurabeth and Stevie. I need to pray for her more. She’s going through something that would surely break me I think. I’ve lived through a lot but I view Rand and this baby as some type of reward for surviving. I really don’t think I could handle them being taken from me. Maybe I shouldn’t think that way. Maybe that makes me weak. I don’t know, and frankly I’m not sure I care. I just don’t want it to happen.

Rand got a couple of braces of quail today with some birdshot. I haven’t had that much to do with cooking quail but Rand said that it can be done basically like chicken only with less cooking time because it is smaller. Well, I have been dying for BBQ chicken. I mean it woke me up in the middle of the night and I basically had to wipe my mouth because it was watering so much. Having cravings is so strange.

But then when it came right down to it every time I tried to clean those birds I couldn’t, my stomach kept heaving. I was getting so mad and do you know what? Austin came to my rescue. I tell you that boy has a cast iron stomach just like Rand; nothing bothers him it seems. He cleaned them and then I split them into halves and grilled them, painting them with some homemade BBQ that I had canned last tomato season. I pan fried some whole kernel corn with plenty of butter, baked some white beans Boston style, and made biscuits. Oh my gosh! We all made pigs of ourselves and it was so good. I know that is bragging on my own cooking but I don’t care. Rand and Austin even helped me clean the dishes up afterward and that just topped it off like a good dessert.


March 17th – Happy St. Patty’s Day. Yeah, I know it’s a little silly but it sure was fun freaking Rand and Austin out at the breakfast table with green scrambled eggs, green biscuits, and green cream for the coffee. I wish I could have gotten a picture of their faces; it was worth using up one of my bottles of green food coloring to do it.

Today is baking day and while my normal bread items were baking or rising I went through more of Momma’s recipe files. It seems that no matter how much time I spend doing this I’m always finding something new and interesting that I want to try.

Actually what I was looking for today was a sourdough starter that you can make out of whole wheat flour. I’m running pretty low on store-bought flour; it is amazing how quickly it goes when you make everything from scratch. That leaves the whole wheat flour that is made from the bags of grain we have in storage. The recipe I finally found even used honey instead of processed sugar.

You take one-half teaspoon of honey, one-half cup of whole wheat flour, and one-half cup of non-chlorinated water. The well isn’t chlorinated so there isn’t any problem there but I did leave it to sit in the window to bring it up to room temperature before using it to mix with. You mix all of that together in a glass jar using a wooden spoon; you can’t use any metal with this recipe. You want a good lid on the jar and then sit it in a warm place where you will stir it twice a day for five days. On the sixth day mix in another half-cup of water and a half-cup of whole wheat flour and mix together well, cover it and let it sit in a warm place for one day to ferment. When it gets lots of bubbles and foam on top the yeast is ready to use.

The sourdough starter will separate when it sits; you just need to mix it back together before using. Momma recommended covering it with waxed paper secured with a rubber band and putting it in the frig where you only need to feed it weekly. You take half of the starter out to use in you baking and then add half a cup of water and half a cup of flour to keep it going. Sounds simple, let’s see if it actually works.

I hope tomorrow is a good day. I haven’t had too much luck at the swap meets as far as them being good days for me. Some of that is my fault, I won’t hide from the truth. But on the other hand not all of it has been my fault. I would like to prove to myself that the swap meets aren’t a bad place for me to go, that I can function normally in such a crowded setting. Yes, I do much better in small groups but I have to be able to be at least semi-normal around large groups of people.

It is raining again tonight, not as badly was the other night but enough that it will be muddy in the morning. We’ve got a bad place forming up at the gully for the higher than average rainfall. Rand has already laid the rock on the slope so it isn’t from erosion. It’s like the water is trying to bubble up through the road. The water isn’t that high in the gully though it is higher than normal. I think, from looking at it, that it might actually be from the other side. The people on that side used to go mud bogging right there and it caused deep ruts and pits in the ground that nothing wants to grow in. The ground might be compacted and not letting the water perk down, especially if there is clay under the sand. You walk over there and it is like walking on a sponge, the water just squishes up out of the ground.

Rand has tried digging a ditch on the side of the road opposite side from the gully but it just fills with water and doesn’t really do much to help. We’ve dumped some more lime rock on it that Rand hauled in from the old concrete plant but it is still like pudding in a couple of places.

The last thing we’ve done seems to have helped the most but make cause the most grief in the long haul. There were some small pines that he took out recently when opening up the new orchard area. He was going to chop it up for fat wood and fire starters but instead he cut the top and bottom off of them and laid them down across the road right there. It is kind of like a corduroy road but at least it keeps the wagon from sinking every time it is driven over that bad place.

Hopefully it will last long enough that we can get things a little better dried out so we don’t have the pudding effect anymore. I walked up there with Rand and we were getting close to the bad spot when Rand suddenly went down to his knee in mud … that’s the pudding effect. Actually it is the consistency of a thick cake batter but pudding sounds better when you are describing it to other people. We aren’t the only ones having ground problems. Uncle George had to go pull a cow out of the mud a couple of days ago and Mr. Henderson had a section of wall cave in where water undercut the fence and the weight of the fence section pulled it over. Good thing no one was on the palisade there at the time.

In the past you could just pick up a phone and place an order for some gravel or lime rock to be hauled in, not anymore. It was an all day job when Rand went to the concrete plant that time to get a wagon load for us. He said there were people there with burlap bags strapped to donkeys and mules hauling it back to where ever they were from. Even met a couple of farmers from Gilchrist and Columbia counties. Gilchrist has lots of flooding. Columbia not so much but they’ve got problems with transients coming out of the south. Looks like we are going to be seeing people from both directions. I just hope they have their good manners on and that they’ll leave us alone.

Chapter Eighty-Four

Chapter 84

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.

Chapter Eighty-Three

Chapter 83

March 8th – It’s been a retched few days. A mole hill that turned into a mountain and yet more of our fears realized. It started out innocently enough though, wish it could have continued that way.

You know, there are days that just make me wonder. It can only be my luck that the one day I decide to wear a skirt would just happen to be one of the windiest days we’ve seen in a long time. It wasn’t constant; it was more one of those tricky winds. You’d have everything battened down and laid out and then WHOOSH! And let me tell you, I did not look like that old poster of Marilyn Monroe. I’m not sure what I looked like but I felt really silly … and irritated … and embarrassed.

I knew when we got up on Saturday that it was breezy. It wasn’t cold thank goodness but it was cool enough that I made sure everyone had a jacket and I threw three ponchos and a collapsible umbrella in the picnic basket in case it decided to rain. No biggie really. What I hadn’t bargained for is that the trees surrounding the home site protected us from the worst of it; by the time we got to the end of the road we’d had to stop twice. Finally Rand and Austin sat on their hats rather than wear them and I’d had to sit the picnic basket on top of mine to keep it from blowing away. I also laid the picnic blanket across the hay to keep it from blowing in my face.

When we got to the park it was still pretty early and not too many people were out and about. Those that were setting up tables were busy doing that and there wasn’t too many folks just wandering around. Lucky for me. Rand having to help haul me out of the wagon bed while I tried to hold onto my dignity couldn’t have been a pretty sight. I had to give up just jumping out of the wagon a while back. But was I to be spared completely? Of course not.

“Oh Rand! You didn’t hurt your back did you? You should have gotten a couple of other men to help you.”

Not recognizing the voice but feeling that my luck was pretty well holding true to form I turned to find this gorgeous blonde woman standing by Rand, holding his arm, and giving him a concerned yet conspiratorial look. Rand’s face on the other hand had turned to granite.

I sighed and said, “Let me guess, SueLinda Adcock?”

She looked a little surprised but recovered almost too quick for me to have seen it. “Why yes. Rand … mentioned me?” Boy did she do coy well.

“Of course.”

“Surely he didn’t tell you … well … I mean…everything,” and then she opened her eyes real wide.

“Actually I heard about you from other people. By the way, you do that really well.”

“Excuse me?” I’d caught her off guard. Point for me.

“Oh the … what do you call it? The butter-wouldn’t-melt-in-my-mouth look while trying to look guilty for something that you didn’t do,” I told her with a condescending laugh. I perfected the rebuttal technique when I had to have too much to do with certain girls at my highschool.

“Oh, well, you can think what you want if it makes you feel better,” she said with a condescending smile of her own.

I laughed out loud at that like she was just too cute and I was having fun sparing with her and then shot back, “Now really, aren’t you a little old to be playing games like this? Face it, Rand is the one-that-got-away. Why you should care I don’t even know. From the sound of things you’ve already got so many notches in your headboard that it is mostly just a toothpick these days.”

That hit the target but wasn’t anywhere near a bulls eye; still, I had forced her to drop the smile and glare at me with a bit of a snarl. I pressed the little advantage I had and said in my best fake-helpful voice, “I’d watch that if I were you Sweety. You’ll cake your make up in those creases and your wrinkles will show up even more.”

If she could make comments about my weight I figured I was free to make comments about her age. Thing is I hadn’t realized it but we had more of an audience than I had intended and several of the people were trying real hard not to laugh; but not Missy who surprised me by being there. She bellowed out a loud laugh and said, “Score!” Then she turned to SueLinda and I realized that maybe those two had met before. “Hi Suelee. Been hearing lots of … real interesting … hmmm … stuff … from up and down the river. You are making quite a reputation for yourself. But then again you always did seem to enjoying flaunting your … advertising degree. Heard you are doing pretty well selling your … hmmm … puppies. Might not find people quite as gullible around here though. They like to … well, get more for their money if you know what I mean. We don’t need or want your ‘girls and gambling’ flotilla.”

After that Miss Adcock stalked off causing her well padded rear bumper to swish in the tight jeans she was wearing. You could hear them go scritch-scritch-scritch-scritch as she stomped away. Missy had really hit the bulls eye and then some; I hope she doesn’t have any trouble over it. I later found out – bad, bad Kiri for listening to gossip – that Missy hadn’t been exaggerating. I mean I know there are women out there like that but to me that kind of life would create more problems than it would solve, not to mention it seems just plain gross. I had enough trouble getting comfortable with Rand in the beginning; I just can’t imagine trying to deal with what amounts to a whole herd of guys. Why would you even want to? One is enough trouble and responsibility.

Poor Rand; looking back and forth between Missy and me I thought he was going to have a coronary right there. He was breathing hard like one of Uncle George’s bulls right before they charge. I looked at Missy and Missy looked at me and we were both trying so hard not to smile that we wound up laughing. Poor Rand. He popped his cap out of his back pocket tugged it down over his head, crossed his arms and said, “Dang it!” That only made it worse. Looking back if I had known what it would cause I would have kept my mouth shut but as seems to happen from time to time my mouth got way out in front of my brain.

Austin was just standing there, looking back and forth at us, trying to figure out what was going on. Rand wasn’t really angry but he was uncomfortable. I tried really hard to get myself under control; Rand finally gave up and just shook his head. “Missy, please don’t drag Kiri into one of your feuds.”

Missy got this real innocent look on her face and said, “A feud. Who? Me? I just thought I’d help things along a bit although Kiri did sound like she was doing fine on her ownsome.”

“Missy … “ Rand growled warningly.

Missy winked and then went to where Bill was standing there holding the baby. Bill was smiling and kissed the top of Missy’s head before handing the baby over and picking up a laundry basket of odds and ends. I thought no time like the present so I sang out, “Oh Bill, you dropped this one.”

He was looking around trying to figure out what he had dropped when I put the bag with the pre-orders I had made as well as the mixes on top of what he had in his arms. “Hmmm. Dropped this did I? Thanks. I’m sure Missy would have had my head if I’d somehow misplaced this stuff.” Bill just smiled and nodded at Rand who all but groaned in frustration at Missy’s teasing.

With that they went off towards their trailer to unlock it and finish setting up. I went over to Rand who was still grumping. About the second I had opened my mouth to say something a gust of breeze came and flipped my skirt up a bit. It’s not that it flipped the skirt up very high – I didn’t flash anyone – but there was just enough cool in the breeze that it tickled places that weren’t used to being uncovered very often and I squealed just a bit.

Of course that made Rand laugh and put him back in a good mood. “Serves you right. Bill might be able to live with Missy’s brand of crazy but I don’t know how he does it and still keeps his hair.” Then he took a breath and said real serious, “I wish you’d stay away from SueLinda. No, I’m not worried about you believing her … thank you for trusting me … it’s that she can be a real piece of work and right now … you know … the baby and all …”

“I won’t go out of my way to antagonize her if that is what you are worried about despite the way I just acted, but I’m not going to just turn tail every time I see her either. You’re my husband, this is our home, our community, and I’m not going to let her rule it just because she comes to town on occasion. Maybe I could have acted a little more … ummm … gracious. OK, no maybes about it, I could have acted a whole lot less catty; I just got carried away. But I refuse to be pushed into a corner by the likes of her. Period.”

Rand just snorted, “Between you and Missy it isn’t likely that she’ll have the chance to rule around here. Just don’t antagonize her. She can be vengeful.”

“I imagine she can. Girls like her are used to getting their way and don’t like it much when they don’t. Although I would have thought she had outgrown those kind of games at her age. And is Missy serious? SueLinda is a … whatchamacallit … a madam? And she has girls on boats?”

Rand just went “Mmmm” and then nodded at Gator and Junior – two of Mr. Henderson’s men – who were watching our “parking lot” for trouble makers and horse thieves. I grabbed my basket that I had some knitted socks and some seeds in for trade from the back of the wagon and followed Rand and Austin as they headed into the roped off area being used for tables.

Rand slowed down so that we were side by side while Austin walked ahead heading towards where he saw Tommy. He said quietly, “Babe, I know this is going to sound unfair but … look, I know SueLinda can be a pain and I know that it sits bad with you to ignore someone that is intentionally baiting you but I’m asking you to ignore her the best you can. She’s going to try and draw you into a fight with her now that she thinks she can. She’s just that kind of person and good at twisting and turning things to make herself look good. We don’t need any more trouble, not here at the swap meets. So please, just … you know what I’m trying to say, right?”

“Yeah, and you’re right, it isn’t fair.”

“Babe … “

“Let me finish. It isn’t fair and it isn’t what I’d do if I could get away with it. But I’m not stupid and I know we do need the contacts and stuff from these swap meets and that we don’t need any more trouble … at least not outright.”

A little cautiously Rand said, “Then you understand.”

“I understand that you aren’t saying it to hurt my feelings. I don’t agree with letting her get away with being the way she is and doing the things she is doing but like Momma always said, there is more than one way to skin a cat.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It means that little Miss Thang is going to find out that the weather might be warming up but if she tries to pull her stuff around here she is going to be experiencing winter weather year round. Missy and I can’t be the only females around here that don’t want that kind of crud around.”

Rand got the hint. He dropped it and steered clear of the topic after that. That settled I looked around as we walked. You could see right away that there were a lot of non-locals mixed up with the people we knew, but they were a different flavor than we’d had at the last swap meet. These folks were just like us, just wanting to do a little business in peace. There was even an area set aside for adult beverages again but it was roped off and set well away from the main circle of tables and trailers and it was a different crowd from the ones that had been doing it last time. They had tables and benches set up and they were also selling food. Looked more like an abarroteria or a bodega or even a tienda, like a small store that sells food you can eat there and a beer to wash it down with. The smells coming from their cooking area were so good and reminded me of the truck vendors you’d see around Tampa.

Rand pointed to where Clyde set up his trailer. “Brendon’s here and I see Austin has found Tommy. Do you see Uncle George anywhere?”

I told him I didn’t so we made our way over to the trailer, said hello, and found out that Uncle George was staying home to keep an eye on things. “Dad is tired. I mean really tired. It wasn’t that hard to talk him into staying home so he could whittle some wooden pegs for an extension we are putting onto the hay barn. That’ll keep him sitting in one spot for a while anyway. Alicia and Melly are home watching the kids and Ron is there to keep an eye on things too.”

Rand got a worried look on his face but it cleared up when Clyde said, “We’ve started a neighborhood patrol. It’s nothing like Henderson has … yet … but we are looking at a couple of the younger couples spreading out into the empty houses that are still standing and in good repair. We’re going to start pulling down everything else so there is less for raiders to hide in or take over. More control for us that way too, not just anyone will be able to move in. If you’ve got the time maybe you could help with those big mules of yours.”

“Pulling down the houses?”

“No. We are going to salvage everything we can, even the concrete blocks and chunks of broken concrete for walls. What we need is something or someone to grade the area after we’ve pulled the houses down. You think your team is up to it?”

“I’d have to see each location to tell you for sure but mostly likely yes so long as all of the debris has been picked out and the ground reasonably tamped down.”

“Good deal Lucille … that’s what I wanted to hear. I’ll relay the message and we’ll work out a trade for the work.”

While Rand and Clyde nattered on about some ammo and junk, I asked Brendon how Alicia was doing. For the first time I saw him perk up like life was worth living. Brendon likes being a Daddy, hates changing diapers, and hates to be puked on even worse but wouldn’t trade his wife and son for anything. I’m glad for him. I wanted to ask about Laurabeth but didn’t know how to start and Brendon kept talking around her like he wanted to avoid the subject so I let it go.

Rand is a popular guy, whether it’s for his personality or for the mules depends on who you are talking to, either way it wasn’t long before we weren’t moving at all. I don’t do the little quiet wifey thing well but didn’t want to interrupt or side track the business he was conducting so I just kept moving slowly around the tables making notes of things as I passed them (and trying to keep my skirt from doing a Marilyn Monroe). I didn’t get far before Tommy and Austin came to flank me on either side.

“Let me guess, Rand noticed I slipped my leash.”

Both boys laughed … but they didn’t leave my side until I’d made my first circuit of all the tables. Coming abreast of Rand again I pushed them back in Rand’s direction to tell him that I was fine and staying out of trouble and that I didn’t need a babysitter.

Not five minutes later as I was in the middle of talking to a lady that has turned her hobby of spinning and weaving into a lucrative trade Rand was there beside me. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m sure I deserve a little of it but having him acting like I was going to talk out of both sides of my mouth by telling him I would be careful and behave and then acting the exact opposite was beginning to get on my nerves real fast. He expected me to just trust his word that there was nothing between him and SueLinda but he wasn’t trusting mine that I wasn’t going to cause trouble.

“Forget it. I’m just going to go sit in the wagon.”

“Why? Aren’t you feeling OK? Do I need to find Ken?”

“I’m fine.”

“Then did someone say something to upset you?”

“Rand … ,” Then I stopped. I realized that the middle of the swap meet wasn’t any place to have the conversation. “Never mind. I’m going to go sit in the wagon.”

“Hey. Wait! What’s going on?”

“If I go to the wagon and sit then you can conduct your business.”

“What has my business got to do with anything?” Rand asked as I continued to thread my way through the crowd to get back to swap meet entrance.

“If I’m walking around you can’t do your business. If I’m standing next to you the men don’t feel free to talk so you can’t do your business. Lose-lose. I’m just going back to the wagon assuming of course you think that I can sit there without getting into trouble. Gator and Junior will be there.”

“What the …?” Rand started but several men intercepted him and I just kept walking until I got to the wagon. Getting in was a bit of a trip but I made it and then got as comfortable as my snit would let me. Good thing that I had stuck a pencil and notepad in my basket or I would have been bored out of my skull on top of being angry; never a good combination for me, in fact one to be avoided at all cost. I was working steadily, making plans for what was due to be ready to harvest in the next couple of weeks, when Lucretia Gilkins came to the side of the wagon and got in my face.

For some reason at that very moment I had a memory come back as clear as if I was experiencing it there. I remember my great grandmother warning us kids to be careful what I prayed for or we just might get it. She said, “Virtues are like muscles; to develop them you have to exercise them and train them. When you pray for a particular virtue, don’t be surprised when God sends you into situations where you have to use that virtue you want so bad.”

I had prayed for patience, which I’m sadly lacking. I know I need it for Austin and the baby. My mom seemed to have an endless supply of the stuff and I want to be like that for my kid. And what does God do? He puts me where I have to learn to use patience more than I want to. I guess kind of like practice makes perfect.

“So, he finally wised up to what an embarrassment you are and sent you to the wagon to get you out from under foot,” she said with a nasty sneer.

Boy did I want to unload on her but instead I just ignored her, tuned her out and concentrated on my work. Eventually she left. I don’t know how long it was after that, probably about thirty minutes, Rand comes stomping out to the wagon. “Where in the Sam Hill do you get off telling Lucretia that I sent you to the wagon?! I … “

“Excuse me? I didn’t say a word to that woman and two where do you get off assuming I’d do anything like that in the first place?”

I gave him ice face. I don’t know if I’d ever done that to him before but I know it hadn’t been often if I had ‘cause he pulled back real fast. “Oh. Then why would she be saying … “

“Why would I know why that woman does anything? I’m sitting her minding my own business. She came over and tried to start trouble and I ignored her exactly how I promised you I would. End of story. What she did or said after she left here is beyond my control.”

“You didn’t say anything to her?”

“Isn’t that what I just said? Just go on back in and do your business. I’m fine where I’m at. If you don’t believe that I’ve been behaving go ask Gator and Junior, they’ve been eyeballing me the entire time I’ve been out here.”

“And what is that supposed to mean? That if I don’t believe you?”

“Just what I said.”

“No, it means something else, I can tell.”

“Rand, I’m not fighting about this. I’m not causing a scene. You said you wanted me to behave and I agreed to behave and that is all there is to it.”

“Then why are you out here?”

“Because regardless of what is coming out of your mouth your actions are saying the exact opposite. Just like with Lucretia, you automatically assumed that I was the one at fault for whatever ruckus she is creating. I promised that I wouldn’t cause a scene but you still thought you better dog my heels, first with the boys and then you did it yourself. You said that we need the contacts here at the swap meets, the work that you can generate, and I agree with you. But you can’t do it if you feel you have to dog me all the time so I decided it was just better to go to the wagon. You’ve made your opinion perfectly clear and this is my response. The end … and I’m not discussing it anymore.”

“Kiri … “

“I mean it Rand, I’m not talking about it. I’m done.”

Now he was mad but at the time I didn’t care. “Fine. Be that way. Act like a spoiled brat. Thanks for making my day so much less stressful.”

He left and I stayed exactly where I had been and things finally quieted back down so that I could go back to planning though I felt even less like doing it than before.

“Well at least you aren’t a cry baby. Julia always turned into a sprinkler system to get her way.”

I jumped as I hadn’t heard Missy come up. “Don’t start Missy.”

“Wasn’t going to, sometimes a girl has got to stand her ground. But if you were asking my advice, not that you are, I would let Rand apologize as soon as he figures out what a donkey’s backside he is being.”

“He doesn’t need to apologize. He’s entitled to his opinion just as much as I’m entitled to mine.”

“Wrong. Not about the opinion part but about him not needing to apologize. If you let him start thinking that he doesn’t need to apologize for stuff then pretty soon he won’t think he needs to apologize for stuff.”

More than a little irritated I asked her, “Missy, why do you think this is any of your business?”

She laughed, “You know, one of the reasons I’ve liked you from the start is because there isn’t much back up in you. You look like this sweet and innocent little thing but then you open your mouth. Look, Rand will figure it out. And if he doesn’t you can explain it to him. Don’t let this fester, it’s not worth it and Rand needs to know that he hurt your feelings.”

“And why would you think he hurt my feelings? Did I say he did? Did I say anything to anyone?”

“Let’s put it this way … been there, done that. Not with Bill but with someone else. I tried to be all that guy wanted me to be instead of being what I wanted to be. Compromise is good … giving in all the time isn’t.”

“Missy … “

“Look, I get it. And Rand isn’t stupid he’ll get it too … eventually.”

“Fine. Whatever. Did the pre-orders fit? Did they all get picked up?”

“OK, we’ll change the subject, just remember what I said. Yeah, everything fit and I have another dozen orders. Those soup mixes you make are a hit as well. Everyone keeps asking where the stuff is coming from. Sure you don’t want me to say anything?”

“No, absolutely not. More notoriety I don’t need.”

Just then Bill came up. “Hey beautiful, sorry I kept you waiting. You ready to go let Concha and Marta take a break?”

“Yup … see you later Kiri. And remember what I said.”

The morning passed with me determinedly working on my notes and trying to forget about everything else and then with the sound like a herd of elephants a bunch of boys led by Austin and Tommy ran up to the wagon. Luckily the mules are used to ruckus and the boys were smart enough to avoid getting too close to them.

“Kiri, can I take my lunch and go eat under that tree with Tommy? Please? Leo Jones found a snake and his dad said he could take it home.”

“A snake?!”

“Easy Babe, it’s just an old grass snake. Leo’s dad was with animal control and checked it out first.” Rand wasn’t far behind the boys. In fact a lot of people had started coming out to their wagons to have their own picnics.

Why Austin felt like he had to ask my permission with Rand standing right there is beyond me but they were all waiting for my answer so I said, “As long as Rand doesn’t need you and you promise to eat all of your food then it’s fine with me.”

I gave Austin his BLT wrap that I’d made with some canned bacon, lettuce from the garden, and canned diced tomatoes that I drained. I also put a couple of churros in a napkin for him for dessert. Then I filled his water bottle with the apple juice that was still cold enough to make your teeth hurt since I had put it straight into a big insulated canteen after letting it sit in the cooler for two days. Then all the boys trooped off and I watched them go to the tree and promptly start splitting everything into pieces to share it around.

“He’ll be fine. Leo’s dad was a scout master and eating his lunch just on the other side there. See him?”

“Yeah. Do you want your lunch?”

“Actually … Kiri … I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have jumped to conclusions like that.”

“Did Missy say something to you?” I asked indignantly.

“No. About what?”

“Nothing, never mind. She was over here a little while ago sticking her nose in.”

“Sounds like something she would do. So, will you tell me why I’m catching heck?”

“You aren’t catching anything. I haven’t been around to give you any. I haven’t said anything about …”

“Yeah, I know. Look … just pretend I’m a complete idiot and explain it to me in words of one or two syllables and slow down if you start losing me.”

“That’s not funny. And I’ve already told you that … “

“I know what you said I don’t know why you feel you had to say it.”

I was getting angry again and I didn’t want to be, my stomach was only just getting out of all the knots it had been in. But unless I wanted to act like the spoiled brat that Rand had called me I didn’t see anything else to do.

“Rand, short answer. You asked me to not get into trouble and I promised I wouldn’t. I promised. Then you turn around and act like I’m not to be trusted to keep my word. I cut through all the crap and decided it was just simpler to go to the wagon. I can’t make the concept any simpler than that for you.”

Rand just looked at me. I know he was dying to say something. I could see him all but chewing on the words to keep them in his mouth. He opened his mouth but never got a chance to because a military patrol rode up hard and they had several wounded men with them. “Is Pastor Ken around?! We need a medic or a doctor or something!!”

The boys, who had heard the call for a medic, scattered to hunt up Ken while the men ran over to help the injured. I slithered out of the wagon without much dignity but I did make it to the ground in one piece, bringing the sheet I had covered the hay with. The blood was coming from some place and I figured Ken would need something to tie it up until the military medics arrived.

Ken arrived about the same time I managed to. I went to give him the sheet and Rand grabbed my arm and snatched me backwards. Before I could bark at Rand Ken said, “Thanks Kiri, come around here, your hands are smaller and I need someone to hold this bandage while I tie it.”

I heard the men reporting by radio that they’d been ambushed. They’d killed several of their attackers but some had still escaped.

After it was over with Ken said, “I didn’t know you had first aid training. If I would have know that … “

“You would have what?” I asked with a small smile. “Signed me up to be your nurse? You know good and well you wouldn’t have. Besides, the only instruction I’ve gotten would be called on-the-job training. They always stuck me with the terminal patients at the warehouse and I helped Aunt Wilma patch up the boys when they’d get into fights and stuff. No one seemed to complain too much.”

“Ha! Don’t listen to her Ken.” Ram had been talking with the soldiers. “We didn’t dare say anything. We were too afraid of her. It gives me nightmares just to remember her coming at me with that first aid kit of her aunt’s.”

“Shut up Ram.” Great, all I needed on top of everything else was Ram’s mouth.

“Of course Chica. Anything you say chica.” The act he was putting on got a few laughs from the other men.

Ignoring Ram is easier said than done but I managed it that time. I tried to stand up by myself but found Rand right behind me giving me a boost. I walked away and was trying to get back in the wagon when Rand was right there, “Come back to the swap meet.”

“No. You have business and … “

“Ok. I get it. I shouldn’t have shadowed you like that. Come back into the swap meet.”

“Rand, this goes beyond the swap meet. You just flat out don’t trust me to be reasonable in public. You don’t. I can see it in your face even now. You’re thinking, give into her to stop the fight then just keep an eye on her some other way. So no, I’d rather just stay here.”

“You’re really going to be a hard head about this aren’t you.”

“If that’s what you want to call it then yes. You acted like my promise wasn’t worth the breath it took to make it and treated me like I have no honor.”

“Now you’re exaggerating. I … I … “

I wasn’t bending on this one. He either trusted me or he didn’t and from where I was standing he didn’t. Rather than have that hurt eating at me while he showed me again and again exactly what he was thinking I was going to stay in the wagon.

“Come into the swap meet now. It’s embarrassing me to have people wondering why you are sitting out here. I’m tired of telling people that Lucretia is crazy and that I’m not making you sit out here.”

“Yeah well how do you think it makes me feel to have people seeing you hovering on top of me like my mouth needs to be locked up with a chastity belt? Besides, what do you care what Lucretia or anyone else thinks or says if you are so sure you are right?”

I had put my foot on the wagon tongue to climb up when Rand put an arm around my middle and the other on the side of the wagon. “Don’t do this Kiri, don’t make this into more than I meant it to be.”

“What you meant? I understood exactly what you meant and I’m making it out to be exactly that.”

“What do you want from me? You do get in trouble and you know it.”

“I never get into trouble on purpose. Are you going to hold it against me because … forget it, that’s exactly what you are doing. Perhaps it would have been more comfortable for you if I would have just been some helpless princess type. Fine, you want that, you’ll get it. Anything to just have this over with.” I climbed back off the wagon and stood there.

“Fine. Two can play this game. We’re going back to the swap meet and you are going to stay and help Missy and Bill and you’ll stay there until I pick you up.”

We walked back to the meet and over to the Shack trailer. Rand said for all to hear, “Stay here and don’t leave. I’ll come pick you up when I’m ready to go.”

Missy sighed and said, “There goes my cousin, Idiot Extraordinaire. Bill go say something to him.”

“No. Leave it alone Missy,” I told her. “It isn’t anything.”

“You sure? Because your face and what is coming out of your mouth aren’t in sync.”

I put on my best waitress face and said, “Everything’s just fine. What do you need me to help with?”

I wound up folding incoming items and bagging outgoing items, pretty mindless stuff which was fine by me. I finally registered that Missy kept bringing me stuff instead of me coming to get it from her and really looked up for the first time. I wish I hadn’t. Rand was standing around with what were obviously friends from his past, laughing and carrying on … and SueLinda was there too, all but hanging on him. I just went back to what I was doing.

Missy said, “Kiri … I …”

“Forget it Missy. It is his choice and he’s made it abundantly clear. Is that next pile of stuff ready?”

“You’re just going to let this go?”

“Rand doesn’t trust me not to make a scene. He’s trying to push me into making one so he can prove his point that I’m not capable of controlling myself. I’m not going to give him a scene.”

“That’s my girl. Prove you’re right,” Missy said relieved.

“It doesn’t have anything to do with me being right. In the past I cared enough to make a scene when forced into the situation. I refuse to care about it anymore. I refuse to be forced one way or the other.”

“Kiri! Don’t say that,” Missy begged.

“Missy, Rand cares more about being right than he cares about trusting me. He cares so much more that he is willing to risk everything by taking up with that SueLinda woman just to try and get me to have a snit out here in public after he warned me away from her just this morning. Fine. That’s his choice. And this is mine.”

I kept working until Rand came over and just stood there. SueLinda came over with him and looked at me with a grin, “Oh Kiri, I didn’t see you standing there. You missed some fun.”

“I saw. I had work to do,” I answered her calmly and politely.

“You saw? Really? Oh dear. Rand maybe we shouldn’t have …”

Rand started looking uncomfortable. “Knock it off SueLinda.”

“But Rand, I wouldn’t want anyone to get the wrong idea,” she laughed.

I looked at her and said, “No one got the wrong idea SueLinda. They know Rand and by now they know you. There will be a few to think the worst but there always are. Either way, Rand can do what he wants. I’m not his boss.”

“That’s right … you’re just his what? Oh yeah, just his wife.”

“SueLinda that … is … enough.” Rand snapped.

“But darling … “

“Don’t.”

“Don’t what?” she laughed. “See you soon. Don’t forget … you promised.”

Missy said in a dull voice, “Rand, I’ve said it before but I’ve never meant it as much as I do right now; you’re an idiot. Kiri, you want to come home with us? It looks like things are pretty much over anyway.”

“No. I need to get home and piece out this next set of pre-orders. And I’ve got the garden that needs tending to. I’ve also got that shirt that I need to finish for Austin.”

Missy hugged me and whispered in my ear, “I mean it, you need a break from him you come to us first, you hear?”

I just shrugged and followed Rand out to the wagon; we collected Austin along the way and he chattered enough to fill the silence between us. I got into the back of the wagon before there was a question of who was sitting where and we left. The trip home seemed to last forever.

After we made it home we went on about our business the same as always. Or maybe not the same as always, the chores got finished, we went through the motions, I cooked dinner, and we cleaned up from the day. Rand and I were very careful to say nothing but that said everything. I guess we play acted well enough since Austin didn’t seem to notice and went off to bed a little earlier than usual from the excitement from the day. Now came the time I was dreading.

Rand and I just sat and said more nothing but the day caught up with me too and I must have fallen asleep in the chair. I didn’t wake up until Rand came over and said quietly, “Kiri. Kiri. Come on. Let’s go to bed. It’s been … it’s been a long day.”

I stood up only to fall down and hit my knees when it felt like someone shoved a white hot poker into my side. I shook off Rand’s arm when he went to grab me and leaned over and breathed through the pain.

“Kiri? Are you … do you need me to go get Ken?” Rand asked anxiously.

“I’m fine. Same old thing. I just moved the wrong way. It’ll go away. I shouldn’t have fallen asleep in the chair.” Then I walked to the bathroom and shut the door and got ready for bed, came out, climbed in bed and tried to go back to sleep. Amazingly enough I did. I don’t even remember Rand coming to bed.

Next day was the same. All we did was go through the motions. We got up, tended the animals, ate breakfast and I cleaned up; there was no church service so the day was supposed to be fairly quiet. I decided to continue working on my notes out in the orchard where it was quiet and I could try and get outside of the pain I was in; pain not from the scar tissue, though that was there and dull, but from everything else.

Lunch was a large salad of things that needed to be eaten out of the garden and I crumbled up some of the canned bacon. Austin plowed through his and then asked to be excused to go play with Woofer. As soon as he left I gave up pretending to eat and took my plate over to the sideboard and raked it into the slop pail then left to go back to the orchard. I was several yards from the house when I heard something smashed. I kept walking and thinking, “If he expects me to clean up after his temper tantrum he has another think coming.”

Not long after that I heard Rand tell Austin to stay near the house because he was going hunting. Two hours later I still hadn’t heard a single shot. I just thought hunting hadn’t been very good or that “hunting” had just been a story he told to Austin because he needed to get away or go visiting or something (or someone). I went inside and started dinner. It was just a potluck stew but it took all my concentration to mix it and cook it without burning it; all my brains seemed to be leaking out of my ears.

I was putting dinner on the table when Rand came in. Maybe if I had looked at him I would have had some warning of what was to come but I was putting food on Austin’s plate and didn’t look up. After dinner was over with we settled down for the evening. The days are finally getting longer which means more can be done in the evening without the lamps. I had been looking forward to it but at that point all I wanted was for the day to end so that I could slip into oblivion. I didn’t want to think anymore. I didn’t want to feel anymore. I just wanted to stop and get off the merry go round before I puked.

The daylight might have been getting longer but that didn’t mean that we had any more energy. Austin was nodding off and he and Woofer went off to bed without a squeak. I was done. As soon as Austin headed off to bed I went to change and go to bed myself. When I came out of the bedroom Rand was standing right there.

“Come up to the dormer room with me,” he said in a quiet voice.

I really didn’t feel like it but I felt even less like dealing with the ruckus of a scene so I followed him upstairs. It was the beginning of March but it still got cool at night and there wasn’t any heat up there. I shivered in my nightgown and bare feet.

“Here, sit beside me.” That I didn’t want to do either but Rand seemed determined to say something and I was pretty cold by that point.

“Look, this has gotten way out of hand. You aren’t talking to me. You aren’t … “

“Rand, just spit it out. Stop telling me what my faults are, I’m well aware of what they are. Just jump ahead to the part where you tell me what you want.”

Rand put his head in his hands and said, “That’s not what I mean. Look, I went out to hunt but you know what I did? Do you?”

I just looked at him.

He sighed. “I fielded questions from over a dozen people. How were you feeling? Had you accepted my apology? Was I sleeping on the sofa or in the dog house? Had you kicked me out all together?”

“Rand, I’m too tired for jokes. Just spit out what you … “

“You think I’m joking?! I got reamed out by just about every biddy in the Ladies’ Auxiliary. Mrs. Withrow had Uncle George drive her out special. Momma O was out driving with some of her women friends. Henderson said things must be OK because he hadn’t heard any explosions out our way and then the worst one was your blasted brother who threatened to beat the crap out of me if I didn’t fix this. No … no actually the worst was when Missy finally explained to me just how bad I had messed up.”

“Just ignore them.”

“Ignore them? Are you kidding?”

“That’s what I said.”

“Yeah. Like you could ignore all of that.”

“Rand, here’s a clue, I spent years ignoring people’s opinion of me. Years ignoring people telling me what was wrong with me. When that’s all you hear, hearing it once is enough and you just ignore the repetition. Look, I’m tired. I’m going to bed.”

“What? Wait!”

“For what Rand? You told me about what people are saying. I can’t stop them from talking; I can’t do anything at all about it. Trying to do something about it will only cause them to talk more. People always talk. Sometimes it seems like that is all people do … talk, talk, talk. Well, let ‘em. And then you ignore them. What else is there?”

I was struggling to get up off of the low mattress, my fat belly throwing my center of gravity way off. It didn’t take much of a tug for Rand to keep me down.

“Kiri, I’m sorry. I over reacted. I should have given you a chance.”

“To do what? Prove myself to you again? How many times do I have to do that Rand? I don’t have a problem with that exactly but what’s the goal here? I just want to know so I can get on with it. How many tests are there? How many times do I have to pass? How many more tests get added to the list if I fail once? Is the goal to get to a point where I’m not me anymore? I’d appreciate the chance to still be able to stand the person in the mirror; I spent too many years despising her to want to go back to that. So whoever it is you want me to be I still need to be able to tolerate her.”

When he took too long to answer I started to get up and this time I managed it with at least some grace; and he didn’t stop me. I’m not too sure I would have let him stop me at that point. I was tired. I was done. And I was hurting. I got down the stairs and went and crawled in bed. I just shut my eyes and I was out which surprised me.

But I didn’t get to sleep long. Rand jerked away hard enough to wake me up from my own sound sleep. “Dang it Woofer, what the … ? Austin? What’s wrong Buddy?”

“Rand I heard something outside.”

“You sure it wasn’t just the wind?”

“I waited for it to be just the wind. I wanted it to be just the wind. But I don’t think it is. It … it doesn’t sound like people but I don’t know what it is.”

Rand and I were both up and grabbing for our rifles then Rand slung his rifle and picked up his shotgun as well. Woofer was whining and that wasn’t like him. Rand went up to the dormer and then came running down fast and coughing.

“There’s a fire off to the NW. Still on the other side of US90 I think. I don’t know how big it is but it’s a smoky one. Austin, put Woofer on a leash and keep him inside. We can’t let him run off in the dark. Kiri …”

“Just like we talked about. BOBs for each of us, and prepare to load the wagon with what is on the list we made.”

He walked up to me and pulled me in for a hug. “We never got to finish fixing things, no matter what happens I just want you to know I … “

“Don’t Rand. Let’s just get through this.”

“This” took the rest of the night to get through. The noise that woke Austin and Woofer was animals … all of them escaping the big fire, panicked, occasionally running into things in the dark. Lucky for us the fire didn’t come near as close as we had thought, it was just that it smoked so heavily. I wound up breaking into some of the stuff that I had salvaged back at Itchetucknee to get to some paper face masks; the ones that you could wear to keep dust out of your lungs while mowing or cleaning or stuff like that. Even with wearing those masks most of the night I still taste smoke on the back of my throat.

Rand road Hatchet up to the end of the road at first light. He was up there only a moment before Hoss, Bradley, and Mitch came out of the thick smog along with four military guys. He brought them back to our place so that they could fill their canteens and wash their faces, all black except where bandanas had covered their nose and mouths. I kept busy refilling the pitcher used to fill their canteens and making corncakes they smeared with butter or sorghum. Even the military guys ate and acted very appreciative. I hope they don’t get in trouble for accepting something from a civilian. I just figured they worked to help save our community it sure as heck doesn’t bother me to feed them.

They left out after saying that it looked like a still set up in a section of planted pines exploded and caused the fire. A survivor of the explosion was found stumbling out of the smoke. The explosion itself was heard by several night patrols – one of them from the Henderson ranch, two from the military, and various neighborhood patrols – and they all converged and cooperated to do what they could. Trees were felled and dragged away and lots of shovels dug a temporary fire break. On one side a back fire was lit to keep the fire from spreading into a populated area.

We were lucky. There were only two deaths and both of them were directly attributable to the original still explosion. Lots of small injuries and some smoke inhalation but nothing major. One horse was lost when it panicked and ran into the fire instead of away from it. There was some property damage but nothing where anyone was currently living. A one lane bridge over a creek on a logging road has burnt down but it wasn’t being used too much and had a wash out on one corner that could have taken it down at any moment anyway. So, while it could have been better there is no doubt that it could have been much worse.

At lunch we were all just exhausted. Austin fell asleep on the rug in the living room with Woofer beside him to keep him warm. I put a cover over him and then went to the kitchen in search of some caffeine. I knew I wasn’t supposed to have it but I was desperate; I was practically walking into walls I was so tired. I found Rand with his head on his arm on the kitchen table. I found a quilt and draped it over his shoulders; he never even moved just started snoring. I washed my face and then went out to the porch and sat in the rocker and tried to stay awake, not all of us could sleep during the day at the same time with the animals out and raiders in the area. I set my rifle next to me and then took my notes and continued to work for about two hours. When I started to nod off I would get up and walk around the house or check on the livestock then I’d come sit back down for a while longer.

I was just coming back from refilling the water trough in the corral when I saw Rand walking towards me fast. “Have you slept?”

“”What? No, of course not. I know we need to have someone … “

He sighed, “I didn’t mean it like that Kiri. I meant you need to rest even more than I do. You shouldn’t have let me sleep.”

“It’s too close to chore time and for me to get dinner started.”

He looked like he wanted to object but instead he said, “OK, then come sit with me on the porch.”

“Rand … “

“What’s it gonna hurt to sit down? Unless it is sitting down with me?”

Now it was my turn to sigh but rather than answer I just went up to the porch with him following close behind. I tried to sit in the rocker but he swung me around and I landed in the two-seater porch swing with him sitting right beside me.

“Kiri, just how badly have I messed things up? Give me some hope that this can be fixed.”

“Rand don’t start, OK? I’m just not able to do … whatever it is you want from me with a straight head.”

“I’m sorry Kiri. I know you aren’t in any shape for this but … I just can’t keep on this way. That stuff … the stuff with SueLinda at the swap meet … I never meant it to go as far as it did. I was just hacked and angry that you wouldn’t see things my way. I wanted to make a point only you didn’t … you wouldn’t … God what a mess this has turned into.”

Suddenly I couldn’t seem to find my righteous indignation, all I knew is that I was tired of what was happening too. “Just forget about it Rand. I was showing my backside too. I just … just … I don’t know Rand. Just let it go.”

“I wish I could Kiri, I really do but something is really messed up. Look at you. I’ve never seen you like this. You’ve always reared right back at anyone, including me, that crossed the line. It’s like you are just going through the motions. Like … like you don’t care anymore.”

“What do you want from me Rand?! I said you could forget about it. I said I was at fault too. Why talk it to death? You want it to go away, that’s the only way I can figure to let it just go away.”

“I don’t want to just sweep it under the rug. I want to fix it.”

“Argh!!! Great big gobs of gopher guts! Rumplestilskin! Aunt Fanny’s fanny! Jumped up Jehosephat!!” I was grinding my teeth and all but yelling.

Rand nearly choked and said, “What are you doing?!”

“I’m trying not to swear OK. That stupid booklet says that the baby can hear things even before it is born. I don’t want the first thing my kid hears is its mother cussing a blue streak no matter if that is what I feel like doing right now.”

Rand raked his fingers through his hair and then he sighed. “I’m going to be bald as a cue ball before I’m thirty. I’m sitting here trying to fix things and you’re … you’re … Argh!”

“Fix what? There is no fixing the fact that I’m never going to be able to be who you want me to be. Get it through your head already. I’ll try but I’ll never be Julia or your mother or whoever it is you are trying to mold me into. You’ll either have to accept what I can do and let that be enough or tell me up front that it isn’t going to be good enough and let’s just get all of this over with. You know it isn’t exactly easy changing myself to be … “

“I don’t want you to change. I never asked you to change. I want you to be you.”

“Bull. Total bull. If you didn’t have a problem with me being me then you would have accepted that I was going to try and stay out of trouble at the swap meet. You would have trusted that I would follow through on my promise. But you don’t and you didn’t. It hurt but I accepted it and I’m not letting it hurt me anymore. You want … I don’t know what to call what you want but I’ll try and be that. I’m tired of fighting too you know. But I keep my promises and no few of them I made when we got married. I promised to honor and obey and stick it out through good times and bad. I’ll do what it takes to keep my promises even if you … if no one … believes I’m capable of it. Because my promises mean something to me, that’s why I don’t make many of them and those I do make I don’t make lightly. I may only be seventeen and an orphan with no family but I was raised right, I was raised that your honor and your word mean more than anything else you might own and that keeping your word is what determines what kind of person you are.”

“I never said … “

“Don’t even Rand … just don’t even. Actions speak louder than words. Your actions have been screaming at me for a long while now, I just didn’t want to hear what they were saying.”

Rand was getting angry again too but we both turned when Austin came around the house and asked, “Is everything OK?”

I felt bad. I told the little guy that Rand and I were going to make things better for him; that he could feel safe here. He’s been through so much and I don’t want him to worry. “Yeah. Don’t worry about it. I’m just tired and cranky. I need to get up and go fix dinner so why don’t you help Rand get the animals taken care of. OK?”

“Sure Kiri! I’m not tired at all!” I was glad someone’s world was still upright.

Dinner and evening chores went off without a hitch and I was finally able to find my quiet space inside myself. I wrapped myself up in it and could at least pretend like I was calm, cool, and collected. It also made it easier not to feel much of what I had been feeling out on the porch.

Despite Austin having said he wasn’t tired he nearly fell asleep in the warm milk that I made for him. I checked after he went to go get ready for bed to find he’d fallen across the mattress still dressed in everything but his boots and belt. Woofer was curled up beside him.

I walked into the living room and said, “Austin is already out. Didn’t even make it into his PJs.”

“Let him sleep.”

“OK, I’m going to …”

“The dormer room with me. We aren’t finished talking.”

I was outraged … or as outraged as my fatigue would let me get. “You’ve got to be kidding me! Rand I’m tired. I’m not in a real good place to talk anymore. I need to go to bed.”

“We both do but not until we work this out.”

“I already told you … “

“I know what you already told me and I didn’t like it.”

“Well that’s just too bad. I’m tired and I’m … going … to … bed.”

Well, that didn’t work. He hefted me up and said, “Don’t fight me. I don’t want to drop you or fall down the stairs.”

“Are you crazy?! Put me down before you hurt your back. I’m the size of an elephant!”

“No you’re not. And don’t think you are going to be able to get away from me either. I’ll flaming tie you down if I have to and hang the consequences. We are talking this out and I mean now!”

I was so tired I nearly cried in frustration but I wasn’t going to let him see that. When he finally put me down I sat in the chair. Or I should I say tried to sit in the chair. My backside had no sooner hit the seat cushion that he picked me up and sat me on the bed and then sat down beside me, put his leg over mine and grabbed my hand. “Don’t run away Kiri.”

“I’m not running away Rand. Have I left the house? Have I gone anywhere? I’m right here despite the fact that I want to be down in the bedroom sleeping.”

“Actually yeah. Yeah you have run away. Your body might be here in body but you aren’t, not really.”

“God Rand … don’t go all philosophical on me. Just spit it out so I can agree to whatever it is you want and then go to bed.”

“See? That’s what I mean. You automatically say that you’ll agree to what I say, no questions asked, just to pacify me. You don’t even want to discuss this.”

“Frankly Rand I don’t. I’m trying to keep the peace. I promised no more scenes, no more arguments. I won’t be an embarrassment. I’m tired of worrying about it. I’m tired of having it thrown in my face that …”

“Kiri stop. Stop. Please just stop.”

“Will you make up your mind?! First you pester the heck out of me to talk and now when I’m talking and telling you that I’m capitulating you want me to shut up. What is it you want?!”

“I want you back!”

“No you don’t. You don’t trust who I was. I was an embarrassment every time we went out in public.”

“I never said that!”

“You didn’t have to. Constantly dogging me. Constantly checking up on me. Making sure I hadn’t started any fights. Making sure I wasn’t acting like a fool. And no … you never said it like that but that’s what it amounts to. I didn’t want to see it though it’s something I’ve been afraid of from the very beginning. It just finally came out at the swap meet. You don’t trust me to act like I ought to. Now it is time for me to deal with it. I don’t like being an embarrassment and a problem for you so I’m going to change. Like I told you, I doubt I’ll ever measure up to … up to …“ I was seeing spots … why was I seeing spots? Then I felt something wet on my upper lip and when I wiped at it I came away with a smear of red. I kept looking at it trying to put two and two together only I’d forgotten how to do basic math.

The next thing I remember hearing is, “If her blood pressure is back to normal then why is she still unconscious and so pale? And I still don’t understand what the bloody nose was about.”

“Pregnant women’s blood volume increases right along with their pregnancy. Hormones increase as well causing changes within the body. Bloody noses are common for many pregnant women. And with the fluctuation in blood pressure a bloody nose is to be expected. However, that is something that needs to be watched to make sure it isn’t a precursor to something more serious. As for the rest of it, you said she kept complaining of being tired and wasn’t acting like herself. I know you two had a disagreement and that could be responsible for … “

“Are you saying that I caused this?”

“No. I am saying however that stress and fatigue are a bad combination, especially for Kiri. She has a … unique way of dealing with her stress. We both know she is action oriented, she also tends to internalize a lot rather than letting people see what she is really thinking. If she is trying to change how she responds to certain stimuli then perhaps it is causing her more stress rather than less. Frankly Rand there aren’t too many women I know that would not have been able to act as unaffected by the displays going on Saturday as she did. And we both know she had to have been dying to … to … God only knows what. Everyone kept expecting a major blow up and thought you were crazy … or cruel … to be egging her on like that. What were you thinking? Especially in her condition.”

“Yeah, I know I messed up. But it was more than that she’s just … shut me out. She hasn’t acted like herself at all. She won’t …”

“Rand, let me tell you something that few people know. You remember my wife?”

“Yeah.”

“You remember how calm and patient she always was?”

“Yeah, she was real soft spoken and …”

“It was all a lie.”

“Huh? I mean what?”

“Tessa was …” and he laughed sadly. “She chose to act like that because that is what she thought I needed for my ministry. She didn’t want to embarrass me. But the truth? When our doors were closed and she could be sure that no one was listening she used to say what she really felt about some people and I mean tell it in graphic detail and technicolor. She had very little tolerance for some of the things that I saw yet she didn’t express that outside of our house because she didn’t want to cause problems. She tried to be supportive of my calling but she had a hard time fitting into the stereotypical role of minister’s wife. And when Kenny got old enough to start repeating things he heard at home she stopped letting herself go except late at night when our bedroom door closed. And after a while not even then.”

“I … I don’t know what to say.”

“There isn’t anything that can be said. I let Tessa make that choice even though I knew it was a bad one because it was easier on me, it was more comfortable. But the truth was that it was taking a toll on Tessa, on me, and on our marriage. It got to be that Tessa didn’t feel like she could be herself about anything and we eventually stopped talking to each other about anything meaningful. Our marriage was floundering and I was at a loss as to what to do about it … I mean I knew, but I was too afraid of what people would say if she really let loose. I felt it was all or nothing and Tessa picked up on that. And because she did still love me, despite our problems, she tried to be what she thought I needed no matter how badly it hurt her. Then the flu came and … and I’ll never get the chance to fix things. I’ll have to go to my grave knowing that I missed out on … on something that could have been better, deeper, more meaningful.”

“I’m not asking Kiri to change!”

“If what you are saying is what is happening then she’s gotten the idea from some place. Maybe no one said it outright but … “

I’d had enough, even if I did feel like crud and wanted to go back to sleep. “I swear you people are too nosy to be believed. I didn’t ask for your help. I didn’t ask for anyone to take up a cause on my behalf. Just … “

Ken came over and started checking my pulse. I wanted to rip my arm out of his grip but I didn’t seem to have the energy. “Hmmm. Better but I want you to stay in bed the rest of the day, sleeping preferably. And no more pushing your body to the limits. You’re growing a baby and your body needs everything it can get for a while longer yet. No skimping on meals either. Eat smaller meals more often if you are having trouble eating a full meal three times a day. Eat the high iron foods we’ve discussed before but keep your diet balanced as well; not too much sugar, watch the fats and to process all the protein you are eating I want you to drink as much water as you can stand and then a little more on top of that.”

“Oh, go away,” I can remember groaning. “Just once it would be nice if you came by and didn’t leave me with a list of do’s and don’ts a yard long.”

“Sorry,” he said in a voice that said even louder that he really wasn’t as he and Rand left the room.

I rolled on my side and then blinked them all the way open when I saw two sets of eyes peering over the mattress edge. Austin and Woofer both looked worried. “I’m fine. If you want I’ll fix pancakes for breakfast in just a minute.”

“It’s way passed breakfast. It’s almost dinner.”

“What?! “ I said as I tried to sit up. That’s when Rand walked back in.

“Ken’s gone and … Whoa! No getting up until tomorrow. Remember?”

Austin said anxiously, “We didn’t wake her up Rand, honest! She just opened her eyes and … “

“I know Buddy. Look, there’s some dinner on the table. Why don’t you take Woofer and grab something to eat. We’ll pop some popcorn in a little while.”

The boy and dog both scrambled to the kitchen leaving Rand and I looking at each other. I sighed and rolled over, still tired.

Rand sat on the bed. “I never wanted you to change Kiri. I just … I just want to keep you - you and the baby - safe. That’s my job.”

“I don’t want to be anyone’s job Rand.”

“I know, I’m not saying this right. Look, maybe I didn’t handle it very well but you took it the wrong way too. I don’t want you to change. I want you to be careful. I didn’t mean to make you feel like I didn’t trust you. I do trust you, it’s everybody else I don’t trust.”

I sighed and said, “Fine.”

“No, it’s not fine. Things really got messed up this time. Too many bad things are happening too often and too fast. They are starting to bleed into how we … I don’t know … work together, work things out, whatever you want to call it.”

“Just let it go Rand. We’re both just tired. And now look at this. I’m stuck in this stupid bed with so much to do. I messed up again.”

“No. Don’t think that. Ken says it is stress related on top of exhaustion. He’s seen some other women doing this too. And he says that you’re young so that only complicates things.”

“What does that have to do with anything for Pete’s sake? There were plenty of pregnant girls in highschool and none of them got laid up on bed rest like this.”

“Really? Highschools down in Tampa must have been … never mind … Ken says that technically you’re still … you’re still growing. Your body is still a kid somewhat and … “

“Bull snot … I’ve been this same height since I was twelve. And I’m about as blossomed out as I’m going to get.”

“Hey, if you think it makes me feel too good for Ken to tell me you’re still basically a growing kid it doesn’t. But I get what he means. Bottom line is you need … I need to help you get … more rest. You can’t keep going the way you’ve been going. You have to stay in the best shape you can from here on out because you are going to need it as the baby gets bigger and you get closer to … to … going into labor and stuff. Most of all though you need me to … “

“Rand, it’s fine just let me … “

“No. It’s not fine. I didn’t mean to make you feel like I didn’t trust you. I have to get you to understand that.”

“You said that all ready. Just let it …”

“I’m not going to just let it go. I need to know Kiri. When did it start going bad? When did you start feeling that you embarrassed me and that I didn’t trust you?”

“Why do you have to be so pig headed about this?!”

“I could say that’s the pot calling the kettle black but I won’t. Listen real careful to what I’m saying. The reason why I won’t let this go is because it means too much to me … you mean too much to me.”

And with that, doggone it, the flood gates opened. They weren’t big noisy tears but they were tears I couldn’t stop and it would have made me mad if I’d had the energy.

“Aw Babe. OK, I won’t bother you about this anymore tonight but this isn’t over. We are going to get this taken care of.”

I think I slept for a little while again. I woke up and everything was real quiet. I looked over to see Rand with the headphones on listening to the radio. He jumped a little bit when he looked over and saw me awake and then two other heads popped up over the end of the bed. The inseparable duo were camped out at Rand’s feet … literally camped out with a sleeping bag, flashlight, the whole nine yards.

“I said they could sleep in here tonight,” Rand said as he raised his eyebrows asking me silently if it was OK.

“So long as they don’t expect me to haul my fat belly to sleep down there too. And no singing Kumbayah or The Bear Went Over the Mountain. And the latrines are thata way. Got it?”

That got a laugh from Austin and the two heads disappeared again. “Anything on the radio?” I asked.

“Same old mess only more of it. You want to listen?”

“Not really. Not tonight. I think … I think I’m just want to write for a while.”

Rand brought over my traveling desk and Austin brought the wind up lamp while I sat up and tried to arrange the pillows. Everyone eventually went back to what they were doing and I’ve been writing ever since. Austin went to sleep fairly quickly and Rand is asleep in the chair with the headphones still on. And there isn’t much ink left in the bottom of the bottle so it looks like I’m going to have to give it up too.

I know things happen so that we can learn things and be better people but I have to say that the last few days are going on my list of days that I would never want to live over, not even in my dreams.