Thursday, March 17, 2011

Chapter 5

Chapter 5: Transition

Mark and I both must have just frozen in shock because Micah yelled, “What are you guys doing?! Dad says come on right now! We’ve got things to do!!”

Mark wouldn’t let Micah ride in the bed of his truck because of the condition of the road so he stuffed himself in the cab between the two of us. It wasn’t comfortable – we’d thrown some things in the back and floor board from the barn since it was likely that Rudy would have newer or better versions – and that only made the drive back to the cabin tenser.

I asked, “Micah, did they say when it happened?”

“Dad seems to think it was sometime around 9 pm last night our time which would put it at 4:30 am in Iran, or right around first morning prayer time for practicing Islamics. Iran is eight and a half hours ahead of us … I think. The way Dad did the math makes it sound about right with the reports they are letting out.”

Mark was busy concentrating on driving but when I looked over it wasn’t hard to see how pale he was. Even his farmer’s tan seemed to have faded several shades.

Daddy met us on the porch. “Go ahead and start bringing that stuff inside. I’ve got the radio by the window so we’ll be able to hear it. Dee, would you and Cici also help please?”

Daddy always treated Dee with respect and she no longer jumped every time he talked to her, like a little dog waiting for a kick it knew it couldn’t escape, but she still wasn’t much of a proactive thinker so we had to be specific when we asked her to do stuff. For example, Dee really did do the cooking but I was the one that prepped all the ingredients and directions the night before. It just saved all of us time if we could avoid her dithering or getting rattled. Sometimes you just have to accept people how they are and care about them for who they are and not how much or how little work they create.

As we formed a fireman’s line to get the bushel baskets and bags into the house so that they could be taken down to the root cellar (until I could process their contents) Mark asked Daddy to tell us what was going on.

“There is a lot of speculation right now. Can’t even get too close to the blast area but they are getting some infrared satellite images … a lot of dust in the air so pictures aren’t one hundred percent reliable. They are gauging the size of the bomb on recent intelligence rumors and on the damage zone from the satellite images. “

Dad grimaced when he was passed one of the bushel baskets and Mark grabbed one of the plastic chairs and put it up on the porch. When Daddy got an affronted look on his face Mark was quick to say, “If you want the truth sir I’d ruther you be the brains of the operation and tell us what we need to do and let us be the mules.”

Daddy’s indignation turned into a snort of laughter, but not one full of good humor and he continued speaking after taking a sip of the one of the medicines that the pharmacist had made up for him that he kept in a hip flask. “What I suspect is that the designers of the bomb wanted something big and flashy but wanted to minimize fall out, especially when we can pretty much say for certain that Israel was its target. They wanted total destruction and victory with not too many consequences attached to it. So they used the design of the Tsar Bomb the Russians detonated back in 1961. For all of its size … it was 50 megaton … it was the cleanest bomb of its type detonated.”

Mark was trying to not be impatient with the history lesson and be respectful but I could tell he wanted Daddy to get going. “But what does that mean for us?”

“I’m getting there, son. It isn’t just cut and dried. See, designing a bomb is a whole different issue than being able to deliver the payload. The Tsar Bomb was so heavy that they had to modify the plane to carry it and there were all sorts of controls put in place as far as only letting it go off in the exact kind of weather and still they nearly underestimated being able to get the plane and the observation plane out of the area safely.”

I said, “That might not have mattered to the Iranians. How many suicide bombers do they have available at last count?”

“Honey, delivering one of those big nuclear payloads is different than what a suicide bomber does. The small dirty bomb that could be carried around in a large suitcase isn’t what we are talking about here. We’re talking about a bomb casing that is big enough that you’d have to fly it on a modified plane, especially if you were trying to avoid detection. And to do that you need to be highly trained and that usually means someone with a good head on their shoulders, common sense, and a free thinker. They might find a patriotic crew to deliver the payload but getting them to turn suicide while doing it is another matter. What I think happened, and this is just speculation, is that they underestimated the weight issues of the bomb itself, only doctored the plane just enough to technically be able to get away with what they were trying to do, may have been forced to use a young-and-dumb pilot that they could manipulate, and then some minor technical problem may have overwhelmed their too small allowance for error and the plane came down not too far from where it took off from.”

Mark said, “Or … maybe some other country got wind of it and took it out through sabotage.”

Nodding Daddy replied, “That’s always a possibility but if that were the case you’d think the sabotage would have occurred before takeoff to prevent any detonation at all and not afterwards. OK, now that the food’s in the house let’s get the cisterns filled and then plug the caps and cover them with tarps.”

While Micah ran to get the camouflage tarps we had Daddy asked Mark to get on the roof and make sure the spark suppressor and chimney caps were in place and in working order. He had to raise his voice a little to be heard but while we worked he kept talking. “Whatever happened, however it happened will come out in the end most likely but right now we need to be concerned about what could be coming next and to do that we need to see what damage has already taken place. It was definitely an above ground explosion, which could give credence to sabotage being involved, or it could just mean that someone goofed. The fireball was reported as being visible for up to 600 miles from the center. Lots of people blinded and wandering around getting hurt. The medical health facilities over there have already collapsed, even the military bases.”

He took another sip of the chalk like liquid and continued. “The bomb fell outside of Tehran so the whole of the Caspian Sea could see it. We’ve got troops on the border with Iraq so some of this may be coming from them. How bad off they are isn’t being communicated in any way, nor is info on the locals. Pretty much to be expected as most of the reporting is military or government run in whatever area; all regular media reporters are either MIA or have been shut down and shut up. Not even Al Jazeera seems to be reporting regularly as most of their equipment is toast. There are reports that the mushroom cloud was about 40 miles high and about 25 miles wide at its base. Even though the explosion was technically an airburst it still measured a 5 on the Richter Scale. From what they are reporting, which ties in with the Tsar bomb, everything within 40 to 60 miles of the blast has been completely destroyed. And a lot of stuff outside of that zone is badly damaged.”

“Daddy, what about fall out? Are we going to see anything?” I asked. You used to hear so many crazy things and I never knew what was the truth and what was speculation?

“We may but nothing that should affect us too much if any if we use commonsense. By the time the leading edge of the fall out pattern gets to us most of the half life of the fall out will be used up and it will be so dispersed the density of radioactive particles should make our risk even smaller.”

Dee asked in a frightened voice, “Are you sure?”

“About as sure as I can be with what I know. But there isn’t anything wrong with being careful and that’s what we are doing right now. I figure we have about a week to prepare, maybe a few days more, before we see the leading edge of any fall out.” And prepare is exactly what we did.

Rudy showed up that night at the farm with his four kids plus Ali, Aunt Lilah, Aunt Esther, and the woman named Cheryl that would assist with child care and the garden. The next morning early he came up with his oldest kid who at sixteen turned out to be great friend material for Micah. Sam had a good head on his shoulders and asked questions that showed more commonsense than most sixteen year old boys tended to have. When Micah took Sam outside so he could see where the cisterns were buried (with Cici in tow), Rudy asked the brutal questions.

“How many you figure have already died?”

“Millions. Bunch more are gonna die before too long and not just from fall out. It ain’t the dead that are going to be the problem, it’s the injured and the scared spitless that don’t know what they are doing and the just plain stupid. Refugees are already running in all directions, even those who would be better served staying put and hunkering down. People are actually looting the already radioactive areas. It’s gonna destabilize the whole region and that’s going to send shock waves all over the world, especially over oil. Russia and China are already making a lot of noise about going in to try and get ‘what they need for their people’s survival.’ Then there is the other environmental stuff like all those burning oil fields and fall out patterns and they’ll affect already fragile ecosystems. With the internet down … or being shut down since so many Executive Orders have come out I can’t keep track of them all … I can only guess at the fallout pattern but if I remember right it moves to the east in a narrow oval pattern because of the earth’s rotation and not straight out in all directions like most people seem to think.”

“To the east? That means trouble for Asia.”

Dad humphed, “Yeah, but only parts. I still say greater damage is going to be done from infrastructure overload caused by refugees than fallout or EMP.”

“About that EMP thing … how come we aren’t hearing more about it?”

“Didn’t detonate high enough for the waves to disburse very far and short out a very large area.”

Rudy nodded like he was beginning to understand what Daddy was explaining. "But it did do some damage, or so the radio said. Think someone will throw something our way? We’ve got the basement but I have a whole lotta people and livestock to think of. Don’t want either to die a slow, painful death.”

“Rudy if I had the answer to that I could set my kids and their descendants up for life and I’d be sleeping easier from here on out. It is just too hard to tell. The world’s a no-fly zone right now except for closely monitored active duty personnel. The military has basically told Homeland Security to shut up and get out of the way so they can do their job. Every country in the world that has a military is doing the same thing; guarding not only their borders but making sure their neighbors aren’t pulling anything hinky. Several someone’s in the Pentagon have gone on a tear if you read between the lines and a lot of the civilian administration has been kicked to the curb. Things are happening so quickly you have to wonder if someone hasn’t been planning this for quite some time. Both our northern and southern borders are now militarized and the coastal areas are about the same. All the stops have been pulled out. Sounds like local militias have also been allowed to come online and help out. I don’t know, at some point they may stand down and they may not.”

“Evacuations? Of potential strike zones and of our people overseas?”

“You’ve heard the same thing I have. On hold until they can screen everything in-bound. Stateside it looks like you’ve got a few that are picking up and going to visit Granny out in the sticks – look what I did with my two – but most people seem to be standing in a wait-and-see pattern. The interstates are being monitored but they ain’t really clogged up right now, mostly the opposite as people sit by their radio and tv waiting to see what is going to happen next. Some US cities are seeing rioting but it’s mostly the places that use any excuse to riot … like the fools ain’t got nothing better to do right now.” Daddy shook his head at the perfidy of the human race.

“So, you think I’m over reacting?”

“I’m not saying anything one way or the other Rudy. Everyone is going to have to make their own choices. We’ve got a lot of work to do here at the cabin to keep us busy. Part of it will cover our tail feathers one way or the other and part of it is just basic survival. I guess I’m watching and waiting myself. And so is everyone else.” Daddy stopped to take another sip; stress makes his stomach upset even in the best of times and this was far from the best. “The warnings being put out are pretty stiff. Anything that even looks like it is big enough to give us problems will be shot down or sunk regardless of who it belongs to. Did you hear they shot down that private jet that belonged to … what’s his name … I keep forgetting … the actor that was in that big action flick from last summer.”

Rudy snorted and said, “I sure did. Lord you would have thought they had shot down Ali’s beloved or something the way she carried on. I have a feeling me and that girl are in for a show down here right soon. Hey, guess what I heard at the hospital?”

At Daddy’s raised eyebrow Rudy said, “The woman in billing, well her daughter is being recalled stateside from Germany and her son is coming back in from Thule, Greenland. They are both battle trained medical staff. She said that they told her that it was going to be a fight to get home because a lot of the countries that couldn’t wait to see the last of our troops are now squawking that we are deserting them by bringing our boys and girls home and are trying to blockade the bases.”

“Logic and consistency is not part of most people’s vocabulary,” I told them as I brought Daddy another battery to hook up to the radio.

“Nope,” Rudy agreed. “And it ain’t just the foreigners. I stopped by the feed store on the way out to here and the place had been ransacked; nothing left worth my time and effort to dig out of the mess. Not much left at any store. Even that junky little Dollar Store over on Main had been turned inside out. At the grocery store two women were fighting over the last can of pork n’ beans, and not Van Camp’s either but the cheap ones that taste like …”

“Rudy! Want some more tea?” I asked to keep him from forcing Daddy to remind him there were females around.

“Wha …? Oh sure Dellie, and I wouldn’t say no to one of them funny biscuits you offered Sam either.”

I smiled to myself. Sam had inhaled his after watching Micah and Cici wolf down theirs. Rudy had originally turned one down I suspect because they looked “funny.” Actually they weren’t biscuits per se but very small loaves of sprouted bread. It is called Essene Bread and I found when looking for food that was both affordable and easier on Daddy’s stomach, I just doctor my version up with honey and sometimes a little dried fruit or finely ground nuts. I liked it also because it maximized the nutritional content which was something Daddy struggled with since his appetite had taken to leaving him for days on end.

After Rudy and Sam left we got back to taking care of business. Our primary concern was water. The cave beneath the basement area was a dry one, not even a little mineral seep in it. Way, way back there used to be a little snow melt stream that ran near the cabin that had fish in it but that had dried up back when the TVA did some project or other and change the landscape. My great grandfather, brother to the Aunts, had installed the first cistern. My grandfather and his brothers had drilled the well we used for the cabin, one of the deepest in the county and a real feat of engineering back in the day. There used to be an old hand pump in the kitchen that drew water from the cistern but my grandmother made Granddaddy put in “modern” plumbing when they lived in the cabin and the old hand pump sat on the front porch decorating a barrel that Momma had grown herbs in.

Daddy is the one that added the two extra in-ground cisterns. I remember the vacation we did it; everyone thought it was a waste of money. All three cisterns were filled and kept that way by turning on the float switch down inside them. When the float dropped to a certain level the pump that drew from the well would be activated. That was an extra drain on our solar system than we didn’t normally had and we had to be even more careful not to over discharge the battery bank.

Daddy fussed at himself a good deal for not following his plan of doubling the number of batteries the preceding year but cash had been short after paying doctor bills and because Micah hadn’t been able to find a little job to help out at all.

“Relax Daddy, you increased them by three-quarters; we just ran out of time to catch up,” I told him, concerned the stress wasn’t helping his health.

“Seems like I’m running out of time for a lot of things,” he replied more matter of factly than I could bear.

He didn’t often allude to the cancer and when he did I wasn’t sure how I was supposed to act. I tried to be as honest about it as he was but it always felt like I was being stabbed with a dull butter knife.

Mark split his time between the cabin and the farm since technically he was still employed by Aunt Lilah. He brought us news of what they had and how they were setting up but was careful not to share the extent of what we had, not that anybody was interested. He said that they didn’t seem to think we had anything and Daddy said, “That suits me just fine son. Let ‘em go on thinking that.”

I was truthfully glad of a little break from Mark. I enjoyed working with him and I missed him when he wasn’t around but at the same time I needed a breather from all the heavy emotions and confusion being with him would sometimes cause me. And it isn’t like I didn’t have work to keep me busy … and I was doing most of it by myself because Dee had taken to going down and helping with Aunt Lilah and Aunt Esther and Cici went down to spend time with Rudy’s two younger girls.

They were fed lunch down there which meant savings to me and kept me from having to entertain them and worry about Cici getting into trouble. I canned all of the produce we had hauled up from the farm and inventoried and reorganized all of our food. We had eighteen months of food for six. I was counting Cici and Jessie as one person, and trying hard not to wonder if Daddy would still be with us to worry about.

If I used the feed to piece out what we had then it could easily be stretched much farther. I reminded myself that was assuming mice didn’t get into it and other things didn’t spoil. When I wasn’t canning or drying stuff I was out in the woods trying to find the wild foods I’d been raised on and hoping that this wasn’t the last chance to take advantage of them.

The forty acres that the cabin sat on was practically virgin. Wood was harvested from the acres but it had never been cut over. In fact we had some trees large enough to get them on the forestry register but Daddy told us to keep that to ourselves as we didn’t need any more governmental interference in our lives than we already had. I would put Jessie in a sling on my back and then I would go our foraging while Daddy took a nap or was involved in some project or other with Micah and “no females were necessary.”

I marked the maples, birch, and boxelders we had used in years past to get sap from that was then boiled down into syrup. We didn’t do it every year but we did it often enough that I knew both the work and the rewards of the process.

In just a couple of days I picked gallons of blackberries in the fence row that ran along the back road of our plot; sometimes Micah and Daddy would come too with Micah pushing the wheelbarrow so that we didn’t have to carry the buckets all the way back.

Found the old raspberry hedge that was a left over from my grandmother’s time and managed to get a couple of gallons of them as well though it was obvious that the old canes needed to be cut out pretty badly if I ever wanted a decent harvest in the future. If a chicken got out of the coop I could pretty much guarantee they were back into the briars having at the lowest hanging fruit and bugs that like to suck on the overripe berries.

I mixed wild greens in with the ones that came from the farm to stretch the domesticated ones farther. Bee balm, chickweed, dandelion, plantain and lamb’s quarter were what I saw most but there was plenty of other wild greens to be had.

I marked patches of amaranth hoping that I could get to the seed heads once they dried before the birds did. The black cherry trees were out doing themselves and I managed to have enough to put some fresh on the table and to set some aside for preserving. The wild blueberries weren’t as plentiful as I had seen them but they weren’t too bad either. Down a couple of the old trails where the ground was too wasted for much of anything else I thinned out nearly a half-bushel of burdock. It was too late to use the leaves that were really only palatable in the spring, but the roots made a nice addition to the jars down in the cellar.

I found a patch of chicory that I had planted several years previously at Aunt Bel’s suggestion. I’m just not partial to plain coffee and Aunt Bel showed me how the people of Louisiana would mix their coffee with the roasted and ground roots of chicory and then brew that up. I developed a real fondness for it but it was price prohibitive to buy, and that’s when you could find it. I figured if we were going to be living like the pioneers for a while I should at least get some advantage from it. I used to have a pretty good sideline going drying the roots and selling them on ebay before all the new tax rules destroyed the market.

I found a little patch of wild chives and brought back enough to have two whole trays on my drier of just that. Since I had used kitchen shears to cut them off the chives could produce another two or three cuttings for me so then there would be enough to use fresh.

The daylilies that my mother had planted had gone native. All through the forest and up and down the roads and paths you could find the remains of where they had bloomed. I thought, “You just wait until next spring. I’ll come get some buds and blooms and then we’ll see how hard Daddy laughs when Mark gets a load of that on his plate.”

As the days passed I was having a lot of fun trying to get Mark’s goat and see if he would eat the wild food that I brought in. It was almost too easy to forget how serious this business really was although things here and there would remind me. For instance, Daddy insisted we keep all of our electronics, when not in use, down in the basement inside a couple of galvanized trash cans.

“Dad …,” Micah complained.

“Don’t want to hear it Micah. I don’t care what Cici does or Dee or Rudy or anyone else. In this house it is still my rules. Here,” he said handing Micah a book with a place marked in it. “It’s called a Faraday cage and supposedly it helps to protect your electronic gear in case of an EMP.”

Micah shut up after that; I don’t know if it was the reminder of why we were doing it or the fact that he knew Daddy would quiz him to make sure that he had read whatever it was Daddy assigned him.

For me, once it became obvious that the internet was pretty much gone, it was fairly easy to let go of all the trappings of the 21st century. I liked not having to have the cell phone tied to me like a leash. It was a relief to not have to follow everyone else’s schedule, juggling all of my jobs, to keep food on the table. If I wanted food on the table all I had to do was go out the back door and out into the woods or down into our own cellar.

But with that I knew that I couldn’t support our newly enlarged family on forage alone but it didn’t hurt either so I kept at it. I went so far as to ask Daddy if he minded if I went down to the farm and asked if I could pick the elderberry bushes. “If you must,” was his reply. That was Daddy’s way of saying, “Fine but you better do something in return so we aren’t beholden.” That’s the day I met Cheryl.

Cheryl Cosgrove, a couple of years older than Ali if I had to guess though I never asked. Nice woman but the kind that always seems to look road hard and hung up wet no matter her mood or her dress. From what I’ve learned since it wasn’t by her choice but because her childhood was pretty bad. She was raised by a single mother and as the oldest she was left to raise her three younger brothers when her mother abandoned them in the care of their aunt who resented them except for the money the state gave her for their care. Cheryl pointed me in the direction of the barn when I came down to ask Rudy’s permission.

“Looking for Mark?” he asked pointedly.

“No,” I said more crossly than I had intended. I was embarrassed that he’d noticed the fondness I was developing. “Actually I came to ask permission to pick the elderberries out of the hedge by the orchard.”

“Dellie, you don’t need my permission to do something like that.” He’d said it in such a way that I got the idea I’d hurt his feelings.

“I’d rather have it than assume anything Rudy. Last thing we need to do is to go getting irritated at each other when things are like they are.”

“Hmm. ‘Spose you’re right. Leastways I know it’s you. I had to run two women out of the garden last night. Thought it was you at first when I heard ‘em.”

“What?!”

“Yeah. I knew ‘em of course. They live on the other side of the Montgomery place. They said that they hadn’t realized we had moved in and they just wanted to get things before they rotted and were wasted.”

Not knowing the women in question I said, “Did you ask why they felt the need to do it in the dark of the night like a couple of thieves?”

“You lack of faith in your fellow man is showing Dellie girl,” Rudy laughed.

Mark chose that moment to walk in. He didn’t look happy to see me and turned to leave. “Oh relax son, she isn’t here to check up on you. Crazy thing asked me if it was all right if she did some picking out in the hedge row. Walk her out there will you and make sure no one’s hiding or spying?”

I wanted to kick Rudy in the shins. “I swear he makes me so cross sometimes. I do not need a babysitter,” I grumbled.

“Where’s Jessie?” Mark demanded.

“With Cici and Dee. If you look to your right you can see them trying to get your attention up on the porch with Aunt Lilah.”

Mark looked where I had suggested and then said, “Wait here.”

I didn’t appreciate his foulness at the time but it was a good thing that I did as he asked. When he jogged back I told him, “It’s too hot to be doing that. Want something to drink before we get into the thicket?”

“Got a bottle back at the barn.”

“And I’ve got one in this basket,” I persisted.

I handed him an aluminum drinking bottle to him and he nearly shot the first sip out of his nose. I was having a hard time not laughing.

“You know, you could have warned me. I was expecting warm water and suddenly got a mouth of cold ginger ale. You’re just plain mean. My sinuses are burning now.”

“Oh cry me a river. Next time don’t act so cranky just because we run into each other. I … What on earth?!!”

I had stopped with my mouth hanging open because about half the orchard looked like it had had a rototiller run through it.”

I no sooner had I shut my mouth than an awful snorting came out of the tall grass of the hedge and out charged a good size boar. I had time to scream but that was about it. Mark knocked me to the side and then fired as the beast went passed us. The stinking thing was so big, the skull was that thick, that it took two shots to bring it down. Mark was kneeling down at my side when Rudy and Sam came running into the orchard.

“Any more where that one came from?” Sam asked, eyes scanning the tall grass on all sides of us.

The three of them checked things out while I nursed a very bruised foot; the boar had stepped on me with his hind leg as I danced out of his way. Sam asked, “You OK Del? Is it broke?”

“It better not be,” I grumped. “I’ve got too much to do and the last thing we need is another doctor bill. Help me up please and let me see if I can put some weight on it.”

His “help” nearly had me flying. Micah was the same; boys always seem to forget just how strong they are when they first start growing into their height. I shooed them all away and told them they better not let all of that pork go to waste.

Rudy looked at Mark and real friendly said, “Bossy ain’t she?”

Mark snickered and I turned to go after the elderberries like I had planned. Stumbling a bit in the clods of dirt that had been rooted up. My foot did hurt but I would have been boiled in oil before I let them know it. As I headed to the far side of the hedge row I heard Rudy tell Sam, “Go let ‘em know what’s happened and then call Del’s father and brother and see if they want to come down and help us with this hog. Looks to be one of Montgomery’s from the size and ear notch. Then send your sisters out here to pick this fruit off the ground. Tell ‘em to put the rotten stuff in a bucket to throw to our pigs and take the ripe into the house for Cheryl to do something with. And while you’re at it tell Cheryl you Aunt Ali ain’t too sick to work.”

While I was in the hedge I pulled some wild garlic and some huckleberries too. Not a combination I would ever mix but both were put to good separate purposes as time went by.

I had filled the containers I had brought and was telling Rudy that if it was all right with him I’d be back the next day. He nodded his head and then said to Daddy who had arrived post haste to take advantage of the unexpected blessing of the hog, “Please tell your daughter not to be so hardheaded. She’s the only one I know what still does things the way the Aunts did them. And tell her to take what fruit out of the trees she wants too. It’s just going to fall and rot and draw more animals and I ain’t got time to waste running them out.”

They were taking care of the boar and it was a hot and bloody job. It wasn’t cool enough to do it properly and there wasn’t power enough to run a cooler to store it so they were butchering it and throwing it straight on Rudy’s big cooker.

I turned to a woman that I’d only been briefly introduced to and said, “Here Ms. Cosgrove, take some of this wild garlic and if you can get them to get out of your way, bury some of the bulbs down in that roast before they throw it on the smoker.”

Rudy looked up and said, “See, I told you she was bossy Cheryl. Better watch out.”

I could feel my face heat up as the blush came on strong. It had come out sounding bossier than I meant it. Cheryl turned out to be a lot happier than her physical appearance would lead you to believe. “Don’t listen him Del I think it’s a good idea … I can call you Del? Good and I wish you would call me Cheryl. I’m partial to good manners but not to ceremony if you get my drift.” Looking up and over my shoulder she said, “Looks like your Aunt is calling you to come over.”

I turned around and headed to the porch where Aunt Lilah sat with a shawl across her lap despite the heat. “I know you won’t stop til you have to child but you take care of that foot with a good soak tonight. As soon as you get that boot off it’s probably going to blow up like a balloon.”

“Yes ma’am,” I answered while looking her over. “Aunt Lilah …”

“I’m all right Del, just … just tired.”

“I’m … really sorry about Aunt Sheba and Aunt Bel.”

“Don’t be Sugar. My sisters had good long lives and now … now they are resting in the arms of our Savior. And when it is my turn to get there I’ll ask why I had to watch so many of my loved ones go be … be … fore ….”

Dee came over and said, “There now Miz Porter. You know what the doctor said. Del, maybe you better take Jessie and go on home. Your aunt needs to go lie down for a bit I think.”

I felt bad enough for Aunt Lilah and only felt worse when a spurt of resentment rose up in me over no one asking me how I was supposed to carry everything in my arms back up to the cabin, along with Jessie, and on a sore foot. I didn’t blame Aunt Lilah but it was the first time that I had really gotten irritated with Dee over the fact that she could have asked Cici to help me back to the house or to look after Jessie instead of just sitting there in the shade of the porch drinking a warm soda.

I got back to the house by myself, after all what choice did I have unless I wanted to sit down in the dirt and throw a tantrum, but I was in a foul mood. I sat Jessie down in his highchair just long enough to take the berries and stuff down into the cool of the basement and decided that since I was in for a penny might as well go for a pound. I should have soaked my foot but instead I asked Jessie, “Want to go for a walk champ?”

I got a huge grin and his arms stretched up and then, “Dewwie!”

“Did you just …? Well, don’t that just make me feel all kinds of better. Come on Sweetheart, let’s fill your cup with water and then we’ll go see what else we can get into.”

With the sling so that Jessie road on my back I picked some mint to make tea with and picked a bucketful of mulberries staining my fingers purple in the process. I saw mushrooms of all shapes and sizes but I’d never been picking except with one of the Aunts so as much as I would have liked to sit and nibble on one I gave them a wide berth. I made note of a patch of mustard so that I’d be able to come back for the seeds after the flowers had dried and also spotted some wild onions but I already had a fifty pound bag of onions down in the cellar that I needed to do something with.

The pork was wonderful that night at dinner. Of course Cici had to make some comment about wishing she could live someplace so she could eat like that all the time. I kicked Micah under the table before he could comment and start yet another argument with her and then ignored her whining when she was told that it was time to do the dishes. I took the leftover pork to the outdoor kitchen and started canning it in pint jars. I turned to get a case of clean jars and found Mark leaning on the porch railing.

“Do you ever get tired?”

“Is that supposed to be funny?” I asked, honestly not knowing.

He looked at me and sighed. “No, just an observation. I know that has to be done tonight I just wish there was some way … I don’t know … you’ve been going since before the sun came up.”

“So have you,” I pointed out.

“I know, that’s how I know how tired you have to be. I have to be back at the farm first thing or … or I’d …”

I realized he was feeling bad about not being able to help me. “Don’t worry about it Mark. I don’t need much sleep, never have. Four or five hours and I’m good to go. Was Micah able to get Daddy to get in his chair and relax?”

“I think so, your dad is pretty beat. The heat today was fierce and then add the fire under the boiler and the one in the cooker … I felt like I was roasting. Look, I know you’re busy but you got a sec?”

“Yeah. Can I keep filling these jars?”

“Sure. I was just going to ask you something.”

At my nod he asked, “Has … has Dee or Cici said anything to you about Cici’s dad coming out to the farm?”

“No,” I replied. “Has he?”

“Yeah. I found out from Sam that he’s come up to the gate a couple of times when I was off out of sight. It worries me that neither one of them has said anything to me about it. Usually … well usually Cici doesn’t shut up about her father after she has seen him. It … it … would you … would you try and see if they are holding back on something?”

Slowly I said, “Sure … I guess.”

Before I could ask why he said, “They’ve pulled something like this before, right before Dee’s ex went and married that girl he is married to now. Dee got her hopes all up about a reconciliation and … and then got destroyed when she found out he was just stringing her along. Something is just … fishy … and I don’t like it. And … and thanks … for keeping an eye on Jessie.”

“Now that I like,” I said smiling at the memory of the afternoon.

“What?”

“He said my name. Well, he said ‘Dewwie’ but I think he meant it to be my name.”

Mark smiled, “Don’t let Dee hear about it, he still won’t call her anything. He’ll lift his arms to her but the only thing he does when she asks him to say her name is blow raspberries.” He chuckled like it was funny but I could imagine how hurtful that must have been for Dee.

I went back to preserving the pork and the other stuff that I had picked that day and Mark went off to the trailer followed shortly by Dee and Cici. Micah came out to tell me goodnight and said Daddy was still in his recliner listening to the radio. I went up to the window and knocked.

Daddy lifted the window a little higher and I asked, “Any more news?”

“About like it’s been for a week now,” he answered letting me hear how tired he was.

“Is that good or bad?”

“Any extra time we have to prepare is good. Any more time people have to stop and think before the crazies get out of hand is good. I just hope people are really using this time wisely but …,” leaving the sentence to drift away.

“But?” I asked, hoping he’d finish his thought.

“Del Honey, I think people think we’ve dodged a bullet. Or they are too tied up trying to survive what is going on right now that they aren’t thinking about the possibility of tomorrow being worse. It ain’t just one thing that has happened. Lot’s of places are a mess right now from those terrorist attacks … that we still don’t know who started.”

Concerned I asked, “Daddy, what more can I do to help?”

Daddy looked at me through the dirty window pane and said, “You look like your mother more every day.” Then he shook his head. “Del, I’m … I’m getting worse. I can feel it. I think I’ve got a while yet but only God knows for sure. I’m doing my best for Micah right now but there’s going to come a time when … when I can’t. I need to know, now more than ever, that you’ll be there for him.”

“Of course I will Daddy. Haven’t I always?”

“Yes honey, you’ve been both sister and mother to him but … he’s getting to an age … he’s going to need you now the same as ever only he’s not going to know that. He’s going to be a man soon enough, or have the opportunity to become one and it is going to try your patience. My mother and sisters threatened to send me off more than a few times. Some young men are like that, they just have to sow some wild oats before they can make anything of themselves.”

“Were you like that?”

“For a while when I was about your brother’s age and a little older, then I met your mother and … and it was the best time in my life. She made me want to be the best that I could be. But if not for her I could have made a real hash of things. Del, we’ve already talked about Mark’s niece. You know how I feel. You stay on top of that so that your brother doesn’t find himself in a peck of trouble … and you know what I mean by that.”

Daddy went back to half dozing while listening to the radio as it slowly discharged the power it had built up from the sun during the day and I went back to doing what I could to help my family meet the challenges that seemed to loom over us like the Grim Reaper.

It wasn’t until after I’d put the last jar to cool and everyone else had gone to bed that I dared to take my boot off. My foot had swollen a little in the boot and it was a challenge to get it off without hurting so bad I woke the others up. I knew as soon as I looked at it I was going to pay for my stubborn refusal to soak the foot right away and continuing to work. It didn’t take long for the foot to discolor and swell up even more. I washed up and got into bed after taking one of the milder pain pills that Daddy had been prescribed and which no longer worked for him when things got bad. I lay down, elevated my foot and tried my best to get some rest.

It wasn’t the alarm that woke me up but voices in the kitchen and the feeling of being warm. I turned my head and saw daylight peeping around the shutter.

“Crud!” I thought I had over slept and without thinking I sat up and put my foot on the floor. Bad mistake. I clinched my teeth to keep from shrieking and then breathed through my nose to get the rest of it under control. I got dressed as fast as I could including socks and my tennis shoes – the boots were hopeless – and then tried to walk into the kitchen without lurching like Igor.

My brother said, “Breakfast is in the warming tray Del.”

I opened my mouth to apologize for over sleeping but Daddy didn’t give me a chance. “How’s that foot? And before you come up with some story I saw those pain pills on the dresser and your foot all hiked up on that pillow.”

Taking a deep breath I said, “It’s been better but it certainly isn’t anything that is going to get in the way.”

Daddy looked away and Micah hunched his shoulders like he was waiting for an explosion. Instead Daddy sighed, “If things weren’t like they were I’d bend you over my knee and paddle your behind for lying to me. “ He wasn’t angry, he was sad. “I … I wish it didn’t have to be this way Del but you’re grown enough to know your limits. Micah, walk down with her and carry the buckets. Del, have Sam call up here and tell us when you’re ready to come home, you hear?”

I answered quietly, “Yes sir. Daddy …”

“No more Del. It hurts to know you are hurting and I can’t order you to get off your feet. We both know what has to be done, I just wish I could take it off your shoulders.”

As we walked down Micah asked, “Does it really hurt Del?”

“Between me and you, yeah, but don’t say anything more to Daddy. We all have to do what we have to do.”

“You really think there is going to be a war?” he asked sounded worried and not a little scared.

“Sure seems like someone is trying to start one.”

“Do we have enough food? What about fuel and …”

“Micah, we’ll just have to do the best we can with what we have. I’m working on the food. Daddy has the power pretty well set up. No reason to go to town so the fuel isn’t that big of an issue right now. Just help Daddy get the wood pile built up. I’m using more propane than I had figured on so I want to start using the wood stove to cook on and leave the propane for the canning.”

“Mark has all of those …”

“The Nash family doesn’t go begging Micah. Not ever,” I reminded him sharply. “You act like we’re entitled to that propane.”

“Wait! That’s … that’s not what I meant.”

I said quietly, “Then be careful what you say. I know I’m not the best example but we are both going to have to start being more careful of what we say before we say it.”

That day I filled many a five gallon bucket from the mature, standard-size fruit trees in the orchard. Apricots, apples, cherries, nectarines, and peaches … and I had to fight the dratted birds nearly every step of the way. The reason there were so many of them was because all of their normal feeding places had been flooded out so the few that remained got hit hard. I’d heard on the farm report that the skies were literally black with birds over the crop fields and that farmers were using shot guns to bring down as many as they could with a single blow.

Rudy sent his girls to go out to the orchard and help, and then told Cici, “You can get up off your butt too missy. You put your feet under my table you are going to earn it.”

I heard a quietly mumbled, “Yeah well I won’t be here much longer boss around you bleepity bleep.” That girl had a foul mouth like you wouldn’t believe when she thought no one would hear her.

Alarm bells at her comment went off and while everyone was taking a break for lunch I went to find Mark. But apparently Mark had already heard. His temper was hotter than the broiling mid-day sun.

“Uh, Mark?” I asked tentatively.

“Del I’m no one you want to be around right now.”

“Would this happen to have anything to do with what we talked about last night?”

“Yeah, how do you know?”

“Only family is capable of making us as mad as you are right now. It must be something bad. I overheard Cici muttering something under her breath but maybe you don’t want to hear about it right now.”

He wiped his face on his shirt sleeve and said, “Might as well tell me.”

“She muttered something about not being around here long.”

Mark turned and started moving hay bales again but then finally stopped and said, “You want to know what that sister of mine is planning?”

Afraid to say anything at all I kept my mouth shut. Good thing too because he kept going with a head full of steam like a run away locomotive. “She’s moving back in with that … after all I’ve done … after … that young chick left him. I could feel sorry for him if they hadn’t worked it this way. She did him the same way that Kelly did me only she got caught in the flood and they just found her body a few days ago. He’s all broken up. And I do feel bad about those babies she was carrying but I’m just so … so furious right now.”

He picked up a pitchfork and stabbed it into a handy bale. “They were just going to sneak off today when he comes to pick them up. She said, ‘I left you a note.’ Like that is supposed to be good enough, supposed to make things better.”

“Mark, stop. It is too hot, you’re going to make yourself sick,” I begged him.

Then from behind me I heard Rudy, “Let him go Dellie. The man’s got a right to be angry. He’ll burn it off and then be able to sleep tonight which will help some. I saw the spineless wonder just pull up to the gate. Do you want to say anything to him Mark?”

“No. If I start it might turn into something none of us needs right now. Let ‘em go but I’m done. I did what I could, tried to help, and here she is just slapping me in the face like …” I tried to put my hand on his arm but he jerked away. “Don’t. And stop telling me what I should and shouldn’t do. You haven’t got a clue what my life is like with your cute and cuddly family and …”

I could have slapped him but instead I lifted my chin and walked out. Rudy stepped out after me and said, “He’s hurting Del and angry. Give him time to work it off and cool down and …”

“Look who is talking about being bossy. Stop playing Dear Abby,” I told Rudy. “It isn’t necessary and I’ve got work to do myself. And someone is going to have to look after Jessie.”

I walked over to the porch and took Jessie from Dee’s arms. “I wasn’t finished telling him goodbye,” she objected.

“Yes … you were.”

“Isn’t … isn’t Mark going to come tell us good bye?”

“Why should he? You weren’t going to give him that courtesy. You were just going to run off.”

“I left him a note,” she said with her eyes filling with tears.

“So he told me. I still say you are a coward. But a word to the wise Dee … You better make it stick this time. I think you might just have burnt the bridge to the only support you were ever likely to get. And another thing … you go sharing our business with anyone … and I mean anyone … you or Cici … and I can guarantee that your life as you know it is going to get very uncomfortable. You got that?”

I think I managed to scare her. I’m also real glad that Dee never took notice of or really was exposed to how prepared we were. It isn’t so much that I was worried about Dee, she could barely help herself out of bed in the mornings, it was Cici and her father that I didn’t want to have to deal with. Part of me worried that Cici’s ignorance hid some cunning or cleverness. She and Dee both would come to regret their choice but it would be a while before we learned how much.

I asked Sam to call up to the cabin and Micah drove down and helped to load the buckets … and Jessie … and we went back up to the cabin. Before we’d even arrived Mark was on the radio with Daddy explaining things and asking him to say thank you to me for thinking of his son. What was I supposed to do? Just let that poor baby get handed around until Mark got his head straight enough to realize he had more problems than an ungrateful sister and a trashy niece?

I spent the rest of the afternoon prepping and bottling all of the soft fruit and putting the best of the apples that had no bruises or blemishes into cartons for the fruit cellar. The summer apples would last just until the fall apples were ready for harvest and then those could be stored in the cellar and last the whole winter.

Dinner that night wasn’t fancy; twice baked potatoes topped with enough chili and cheese to turn them into a meal. My foot hurt too bad to have an appetite but I forced myself to eat just to make a show of it for Daddy and Micah. Mark came dragging up as I stood washing the dishes and stopped to talk to Daddy on the porch.

I heard, “Mr. Nash …”

“Doesn’t make sense otherwise Mark. Micah has been itching to sleep up in the loft since he was too young to climb the stairs. He’s actually the one that raised this and a right good idea I think it. You move in here, we’ll have tighter security.”

I nearly dropped a dish at what Daddy and Micah were planning and I couldn’t believe they would just invite another male, two if you count Jessie, in here without even discussing it with me first.

“Mr. Nash … I …”

“You gonna tell me that trailer is comfortable? That you don’t worry at how hot it is at night for Jessie? I heard Dee saying that he was up and down all night long and had heat rash.”

“He doesn’t have it now,” Mark said defensively.

“I know it. Del put something on him; cornstarch I think.”

“Oh she …”

“Son, listen to me. Things … what I heard on the radio today … we need to tighten up our plans around here and you are part of them. I invited you into this family; I’m not going to see you turned out just because your circumstances have changed. This isn’t charity, it is finding allies and building stronger walls.”

There was a little more back and forth that I tried not to hear and then some agreement must have been made because all was quiet and then Mark came into the kitchen where I was putting his dinner on the table.

“You didn’t have to do that,” he said quietly.

“No, I chose to. You want salt and pepper?”

“What? No … no this is good. Thanks.” He took several bites while I scalded the counters and then the dish rag. “What do you think of this plan of your dad’s?”

“The only thing I heard is what came in the window just now.”

After he thought about that he startled and said, “Hey … are you telling me that you didn’t know?”

“If Daddy wants it that’s good enough for me so don’t get all bent out of shape,” I said, lying and little more to cover up the fact that I was angry at not having any part of the decision.

I hung up the apron, thought about working on the inventory, and then decided I was just too tired. I washed up and then went to my room to the sounds of Micah’s excited stomping up and down the steep stairs, taking his stuff to the loft, and Mark trying to juggle Jessie and bring his stuff in from the trailer.

“Oh for Pete’s sake,” I grumbled. I got up from where I had been sitting with my foot propped up on a poofy little ottoman and limped out to take Jessie from him. “Use two hands, it’ll go faster. I’ll get him to sleep if you fix his bassinet up.” And I left him there with his mouth hanging open and a suddenly free hand.

They were at it so long that I grew so tired I couldn’t stay in the chair anymore and laid down on the bed with a very sleepy little boy. I must have gone to sleep because suddenly I sensed someone stooping over me. I sleep with my nightstick under my pillow and had it out when whoever it was suddenly all but fell backwards.

“I warned you Dude,” Micah snickered from the door way. “Not even Daddy goes near Del until she is all the way awake.

I was definitely awake at that point and looked daggers at both of them. “What are you two lunatics doing scaring me like that?”

Mark, still shook up at my snake like reaction said, “I didn’t want to wake you. I was just going to get Jessie.”

“Well you could have been anyone. He was lying here beside me. What if you were some kidnapper or something and …”

For some reason Mark grinned and shook his head. “Lesson learned. You are worse than a mother bear with a sore head. Let me take him though so we can all get some sleep. I’m surprised he didn’t wake you up, he never has slept very well.”

“I don’t know why you say that. He’s never given me any trouble. Dee just needed to let him out of the playpen more to exercise and get some fresh air.” I stopped as I realized what I’d said.

“Yeah,” Mark said. “Look … about … about earlier today …”

“Forget it Mark. Rudy …”

“Rudy can say what he wants and it was how I was feeling but that doesn’t mean that I should have taken it out on you. Just … just thanks for thinking of Jessie … and the dinner … and all that stuff. If … if you’re sure me being in the house …”

“The decision has already been made so let’s just learn how to make it work.” Turning to Micah as I stood up to get my night clothes on I asked, “Where’s Daddy? I don’t hear him.”

“Took one of those big pain pills and went to bed after he was sure that Mark was really going to move in. I think it makes him feel like he can take the pills if he knows there is someone else around with a clear head.” I looked at Mark and it clicked. Daddy was never going to give me a choice about this because he was doing it as a protector, knowing that he was getting sicker and knowing that we would need the help he wasn’t going to be able to give.

“Mark?” I asked. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to say but I changed it to, “Have you got everything you need? The Aunts gave us enough sheets and blankets to build a sail for the Ark.”

He answered like he knew that I’d started to say something else, “We’re fine. I’ll finish moving everything else tomorrow. Rudy’s brother showed up which was why I was later than normal. Another bit of the levy system caved and reflooded the area that had just dried out. He had the last of the cattle and his biodiesel plan and they plan for him to live in the trailer across from the farmhouse. He’s got a wife and two kids and they’ve lost just about everything but what they brought with them. Rudy asked me to understand about them needing time to work things out so I’ll be free to help you all up here for the foreseeable future.”

Micah said, “I’ll be glad too. Dad freaked me out a couple of times today.” Then he said good night and went off to his new “manly” space in the loft.

I looked at Mark and said, “This really bothers you, living here.”

“Huh? No. Not really.” When I just kept looking at him he said, “OK, it … it bothers me but not for the reasons you think. If I could pay my own way …”

“Mark, what if we lived in a world without money?”

Mark gave me a look. “Is this going to be one of your long drawn out debates because I have to say, I’m not up for it.”

“No … and don’t be silly. You just don’t like it when you lose a discussion. I’m trying to draw an illustration here.”

“Uh huh, is that what you’re calling it now?”

“Mark …,” I said warningly. “Cooperate and this will be over with quicker and we’ll both be able to get to sleep.”

“Fine. Whatever. What if we lived in a world without money,” he said, giving in to humor me because we both knew I could be like a dog with a bone when I wanted to make a point.

Getting back on track I said, “Seriously. What if we did? Money is nothing more that bits of paper and metal, the only reason it has value is because we say it does because we accept it in exchange for goods and services. What if, for whatever reason, we could no longer exchange those bits of paper and metal, what if they lost their accepted value?”

“We’d be back to the caveman days I guess.”

“We’d be back to the days of barter Goofus and you don’t have to be a caveman to get that concept and you know it. Stop acting like you don’t understand because I know you are a lot smarter than you like people to think. We graduated from the same highschool remember and you left college to support a wife and a child not because you flunked out,” I griped which brought a faint pink tinge to his face. “Look, Daddy could have all the money in the world and it wouldn’t matter because there isn’t anything for him to spend it on around here. You heard Rudy … stuff is gone, stores are ransacked or empty, the cash economy has gone on holiday. Even if you paid us in hard currency what good would that do? You are bringing more to the table by not paying us in cash than if you were. All of us have needs … you and Jessie, me and my family.”

“I know what you are trying to say Del.”

“Do you? Have you looked at it from the other side? I need help Mark. Daddy is sick and can’t do the physical stuff he used to. Micah has suddenly grown up a lot and is as strong an ox but he’s not … not a thinker … yet. I hope he’ll grow into one but he hasn’t ever had to so he’s got a sharp learning curve ahead of him and I … I can’t wait on him. I need someone that can see the big picture but that can also see all the small stuff that needs doing and be able to prioritize it into an efficient chore list and then go get it done without someone standing over them making sure it gets done right. I doubt the Aunts had to give you much of a daily to do list. I bet you just looked and said this is what needs to be done today and this is the order it needs to be done in. And they paid you decent money to do it too. I can’t afford to pay for those kinds of skills. All I’ve got to offer is a place to stay, food in your belly, and some help with your son. How do you think that makes me feel? If I let it, and sometimes when I don’t, it makes me feel like I’m taking advantage of … of this … this friendship or whatever is between us.”

He was leaning against the door jamb holding a sleeping Jessie and just looking at me. He shook his head and said, “You’ve got the weirdest way of making things make sense. You were the same way when we were kids. I used to irritate you just to make you run off at the mouth.” Then he turned and went across the hall to the room beside Daddy’s and shut the door quietly.

My foot hurt. I was too awake to fall back to sleep and too tired to do much good at anything else. I changed in the dark, the solar lamp I used close to running out of juice, and laid back on the bed. At some point I must have gone to sleep without expecting to because my alarm went off at four like normal startling me more than it normally did.

I walked into the kitchen to find Daddy already there and looking glum. “I was just coming to wake you and the boys. Russia and China had some kind of confrontation, likely over the remaining operational oil wells in the Middle East. They’ve both been eyeing the region like a couple of starving dogs for nearly a decade now and this must have pushed it over the edge.”

“Nuclear?” I asked scared despite my promise to not be.

“No, conventional so far but this ain’t good. Even if no more nuclear bombs are used there are enough conventional, chemical, and biological weapons to bring the world to its knees several times over. And there was another wave of sabotage in this country over night. Cities that thought they were safe and that the trouble was over are paying the price for it. The pots boiling Del and is just about to foam over.”

No comments:

Post a Comment