The rag tag end of my cough was finally gone and I needed some air, some sunshine. I knew what natural sunlight I got over the next few weeks would likely have to hold me all winter and I wanted to soak up what I could. I wrapped Leena in her blanket and climbed out of the sink. I didn’t have to have help doing it anymore and I glad to not be tied down to someone else helping me all the time.
As I finally reached the top of the stairs I saw that Abel was chopping wood; he swore we wouldn’t run short this year like we had last and he never let a spare moment go by that he didn’t at least add a stick or two to our supply of fuel. Daniel, who had been growing so fast you could almost see it the few times you could catch him standing still, was bringing in another basket of forage to sort and dry or can as we needed.
I told him, “Hand me some of those and I’ll help.”
“Nuh uh … you handle Leena. This is my job.”
“What? You think I’ve forgotten how?”
He looked at me and grinned mischievously and said, “Maybe.”
I stuck my tongue out at him and said, “Razzle frats on you.”
Daniel laughed but didn’t bring me any of the forage. It was a good thing because Leena picked that moment to start squeaking. I picked her up and slid her under the poncho I wore a lot because it was just too hard to constantly run and change my shirt so she could get fed.
It’s a strange thing. When Leena is eating I feel like I go off to Lala Land. I mean it is one of those things I imagine if you could bottle people would pay a lot of money for – assuming people still use money some place in the world – but it is kind of freaky as well.
Leena and I were all comfy on the blanket when the forest got quiet. I was about to sit up to see what had caused it when Daniel rushed over and covered us with a couple of branches and then hid behind it. “Stay quiet as a mouse Dacey. Two people are coming I … wait, that’s not a people that’s Josef.”
I could tell he was about to jump up. “No!” I whispered. “Not until Abel gives the all clear Daniel.”
A little chagrined he said, “Oh. Yeah. Good thinking Dacey.”
My back had been to the direction the men had come from and I couldn’t move without unhooking Leena and if I did that she wouldn’t be real happy. She wasn’t big and she really wasn’t all that loud but she could let her feelings be known that’s for sure.
Daniel went to stand up. “Daniel?”
“It’s OK Dacey, Abel told me to come over. But you stay put ‘til I check it out.”
Oh my Daniel, I wish Dad and Mom could see him. Despite all of his issues he’s more mature now as a young teenager than many of my older friends were before they were forced to grow up due to Heart Rot.
In no time Abel ran back over and carefully moved the branch off of me and then helped me to sit up. It was Josef all right but I didn’t recognize the guy with him.
Abel walked up and said, “Dacey, this is Louis. I met him on the trip. He is a good man.”
I nodded but continued to hold back. I was looking at Josef who was looking at me. He tried to hide his shock but I could see it behind his stoney face.
“I know what I look like Josef. Pretty pathetic huh?”
He knelt down and said, “I came over not knowing what to expect. Frankly I’m surprised we found you so quickly. I just went by the little bit that Daniel had said about you living near your parents’ house and took the same trail I saw you take each time.”
I looked in consternation at Abel who had a carefully blank look. “You didn’t.”
“Querida, there were a few times … I needed someone that would come to care for you and Daniel.”
I was outraged and very upset and then suddenly dizzy. “Dacey!”
I wanted to be mad at him but just was too busy trying to keep my brain from spinning. The man named Louis said, “I swore a blood oath Missus Montoya. Wouldn’t ever break one o’ those … more than my soul is worth.”
I looked at him and realized he talked kinda funny. He spoke good English but there was something strange about it. “Got me a Granny what Abel here promised to look after should something happen to me.” He wasn’t Amish either ‘cause he said he’d sworn an oath and that was something they didn’t do.
Then I realized why he sounded so different yet familiar. “You’re from West Virginia.”
He looked surprised but somehow pleased. “Sure am Missus.”
I wanted to ask what he was doing here but Josef was trying to take Leena from me and I wasn’t having any of it. “Dacey, let me check the baby out.”
“Her. Her name is Leena and don’t you dare take her blanket off, she’ll catch a chill and she’s too little to drink tea.”
I realized as soon as I said it that it sounded strange and the concerned look on everyone’s faces made me realize it sounded worse than that, it sounded crazy. I was getting upset and that only made the odd feelings I was having worse. Abel bent down and picked me up and then turned to Josef and Louis, “You swear by all you hold dear that no one else is with you or followed you?”
Josef looked offended but Louis stuck out his hand and said, “Made sure to lose the couple of young rascals that wanted to follow us and then came up behind ‘em and put a scare into ‘em. They left off after that. Nosey peckerwoods but no real harm in ‘em but the both of them learned the hard way not to push me too far.”
I could feel Abel nod and then turn to Daniel who he told, “Run ahead and clear the way.” This must have been a secret between the two of them because when we finally entered the cave the pocket door at the end of the hall that led to all of the various storage are was slid closed and a book case stood in front of it.
Abel noticed me noticing and kissed the top of my head and I relaxed some. He might have told some, might have had a good reason for it, but he didn’t tell all and didn’t intend on telling all either from the looks of it.
I tried to think about what the rest of the place must look like and remembered that the kitchen was bare of everything except the forage that Daniel had been so faithful in gathering and if I had to guess the pantry door was being covered by the stand that held Mom’s cookbooks and such. Abel gently laid me on the bed and then took the squeaking Leena from my resisting arms.
“Let go Querida. She won’t go far, just right here on the bed … beside you, si?”
I started having trouble breathing again and Josef took charge. “Dacey, look at me. You’ve known me for years. You know I never hurt Daniel and I never would. There’s no need to panic here. Just try breathing slow and steady.”
He was right, I had known him a long time and he’d always been good with Daniel. Dad and had liked and trusted him. I tried not to think about the fact that Dad had liked and trusted the men that had come that day he and Mom had been killed but it was a tough battle barely won. Finally I said, “Right here where I can see what you are doing.”
Daniel and Dog picked that moment to stick their head in the door and asked, “Abel, you want me to bring in some water?”
Since I knew for a fact we never had to bring water in it must have been some simple signal and Abel’s answer of, “No Daniel, the barrel is full” must have been the answering one because Daniel grinned so big that it didn’t make sense. Abel led Louie out and must have been taking him to the kitchen but I saw by the shadow on the wall that Daniel and Dog had parked themselves outside the door.
Josef noticed too. “He’s different.”
Since it was obvious who he was talking about I said, “He’s growing up. It’s to be expected. Abel counts on him a lot and so do I.” I made sure it was loud enough for Daniel to hear. I wanted him to know I was proud of him.
Josef nodded and then looked around. “These work?”
“The solar lights? Yeah, we just keep them turned down low to save battery.”
“Makes sense. That’s how they do it at the farm too. We’ve been blessed that a lot of the people were already set with solar … one of the few things the Amish had over the Townies. Now let’s take a look here.”
He unwrapped Leena who did not like it at all. He looked at me and asked, “You keep her swaddled all the time?”
“She doesn’t seem to like it any other way. She gets all fussy if I don’t.”
He nodded and I couldn’t tell if that was a good thing or bad thing. Beginning to get anxious at his silence I burst out with, “She might be small but she’s a good baby.”
He looked at me and said, “It’s all right Dacey. I’m just measuring her and checking her reflexes.”
“Fine. But what is that telling you.”
He wrapped Leena back up but rather than give her to me he said, “Your turn.”
“No … way.”
“Dacey, why do you think Abel took Louis off.”
Daniel stuck his head in the door and asked, “Dacey you want me to hold your hand like Momma used to hold mine? It might help.”
I sighed, knowing I was beaten. “No Daniel, it’s all right. Just don’t you peek you hear me?”
“I didn’t peek when Abel was taking care of you did I?”
“No, so don’t go doing it now.”
Josef sighed and shook his head but that’s the only sign he made that he thought I was over reacting. He really didn’t do all that much but he asked questions that I really resented having to answer.
“You know, I don’t know that it is any of your business,” I told him after a particularly embarrassing question about me and Abel.
“You are about the most hardheaded girl I’ve ever met.”
“Thank you, it’s a gift I’m pretty proud of.” I heard Daniel snicker.
Josef snorted but it seemed he was at the end of his questioning anyway. “Dacey, you’ve had a close call. You still aren’t completely come back from the birth. From what you’ve told me you’re lucky you didn’t develop a fever, infection, or worse. And given it was you telling me and not Abel that means you probably aren’t even telling me the whole of it and I’ll be asking him a few questions too. Now you’re obviously anemic and some of that is affecting the baby.”
That stopped me. I whispered, “I’m … I’m hurting Leena.”
“No, not hurting her. If anything its probably the other way around. A woman’s body naturally puts the best in her milk before the mother gets it. Leena is probably syphoning off a lot of the nutrients you need for yourself.”
Relieved I said, “I don’t care. All I care about is her growing up.”
He nodded, “Which is what I figured which is why Abel is going to need to watch and make sure that you get what you need.”
Not being the idiot he must’ve took me for I said, “Don’t even think about telling me I need to eat liver. If I eat more liver I’m gonna turn into one. Chicken liver. Pork liver. Venison liver.” Sighing remembering the sight of Abel and Daniel with my mother’s books out and making a list I added, “Egg yolks, leafy greens, fish, chickweed, catnip, burdock … and I have to have blackstrap molasses in my tea instead of honey.” That was a real grievance for me. I liked molasses but I preferred honey when it came to my tea.
Josef looked surprised and then said, “Oh … your mother would have taught you.”
“Yes and her books are still around and Abel has gone over every single one of them. He’s got this long list of what I’m allowed to eat and what I’m not and what I’m allowed to do and what I’m not.”
I was running out of steam and trying not to show it. Daniel must have noticed because he came over and said, “It’s all right Dacey. Why don’t you take a nap. I’ll take Josef over to the kitchen.”
“No. I’m getting up. If we have company …”
In the end my stubbornness only took me so far. I walked as far as the kitchen but all I was allowed to do was sit in the rocker and “decorate the room” as Dad used to call sitting around doing nothing.
Abel had gotten pretty efficient in the kitchen but he was wily too. We had intended to start culling more of the flock before it turned too cold so he just did one of them early. It was a gimpy ol’ hen that wasn’t laying anymore and was starting to get picked on so it was really putting her out of her misery sooner rather than later. I told Daniel which herbs to use to season the hen and then they roasted it while we all sat and talked. Or rather they talked, I went to sleep after I fed Leena.
I woke up realizing she wasn’t in my arms and jumped. Abel got up and it was only a few steps before he was beside me. I wasn’t awake all the way and after he let me know Leena was in her little box beside me and then he put an afghan over me I started to sleep back into sleep but not before I heard Josef ask, “How often is she like this?”
“She is much better than she was.”
“This is better?”
There was a pause and then Abel said quietly, “This is much better. For a long time … I thought I would lose one or the other of them, perhaps both. I … I thought about … but Dacey would have never forgiven me and I could not have forgiven myself. So, I helped Dacey to … to care for Catalina. It … it slows her getting better. Yes?”
Josef sighed and said, “As you said, I doubt Dacey would have forgiven you if you haven’t tried and there’s no way a baby that size can go on any kind of milk even if there was some. You’ve done good to do what you did. Do you have any of those pre-natal vitamins left?”
“No. I ground them up and put them in the water we were feeding her hoping they would help.”
“Probably more than you knew from what I’ve seen and heard from you both. They’ll both remain delicate through this winter. You’ll have to be very careful even if she gets stubborn. I’m not sure what is causing those spells you say she has, it could be any number of things; lack of a vitamin or mineral her body is craving, the anemia she is experiencing, simple fatigue, maybe a form of stress driven panic, who knows. But Abel, you’re going to have to face facts. You said you had to perform CPR a few times; the spells could be a direct result of the loss of oxygen and may be a permanent fixture from now on. Are you prepared for that?”
“I … I have thought of that. I had a cousin who had asimientos, what you call seizures. They did not stop her from having a life, a family, she simply had to take care once she learned to recognize when they were coming. As for the rest, we have spoken of her need to take care and she has agreed; she does not wish to leave us.” He continued to talk but I was just too tired to listen.
I woke again when I heard the oven door open and smelled the chicken. I wasn’t exactly hungry … not in it was a pleasure to eat kind of hungry; but my body craved the food, sometimes so much it hurt. But I was embarrassed. The first time we had company since my parents were alive and I was barely moving around more than a slug.
Louis noticed and told me matter of factly, as if he had somehow read my mind, “Don’t fret on it Missus. My Granny is the same way but there are just days when God deems her to have a Sitting Day and on them days it’s just best to do it ‘cause that’s what He wants. Reckon He must have something mighty fine planned for that little peanut o’ yours what with all you’ve been going through to keep her and raise her. Reckon there’s a reason for it and for the way you’re feeling. Best let God do as He sees fit and stay outta His way and mind Him.”
I was beginning to understand why Abel had trusted the man. He grows on you in a weird way very quickly. Abel asked him to say our dinner prayer and Louis seemed pleased to be asked. The men tried to take only meager portions but I told them, “Eat. The sooner that carcass is cleaned up the sooner it can be put in the pot to make broth with. And eat your share of the greens, no one wants to eat reheated, wilty greens.”
I didn’t have to tell them twice and soon enough dinner was over with, the dishes were cleared away with all of them helping to clean their own plates – that was another embarrassment and I hated imagining what my mother would have said about it – and then we all went into the living room where Daniel heated up a pot of acorn coffee for the men. The “coffee” was really just roasted acorn meats that were then percolated in an old coffee pot but Abel liked it well enough and Josef and Louis seemed to as well. I stuck to water. I was always thirsty it seemed.
Abel asked after their families and then once the formalities were out of the way he asked what we’d both been wondering, “What of the seeds?”
Both men grinned, “Nearly forty percent germination. And almost all of those produced something; not anything approaching normal but they did produce. The A-Town voted to save everything for seed though we did give each of the children something.”
Abel asked, “And everyone was willing to do that?”
Josef shrugged but Louis said, “Most. Got some real knotheads even in a place like A-Town. But feeding the kids like we do they didn’t have a whole lot of support for what they wanted.”
“What they wanted?”
Louis snorted, “Wanted to use the seeds like gold, try and trade for more solar or fuel so that we could get some of the big tractors up and running.”
I said, “What’s the sense in having tractors if you don’t have seeds to plant?”
“Good question Missus. They said them soldiers would bring us more in the spring. Bird in the hand is worth two in the bush says I.”
Abel asked, “How is the town set for winter?”
Both men became grim. “We’ll squeak by. We’ve got teams that will watch everyone better this year. We’ll lose a few but not to outright starvation if we can help it. Most everyone that was going to go that route already has, now we just need to care for the weak and less able bodied, the widows, and the orphans. Seeing the crops this year has bolstered those that were weak in spirit as well.”
The men continued to talk and when they wound down I asked Josef, “How’s Monica?”
He gave the barest of smiles, “About like you would expect.” That about covered it and we both knew it. I’d already heard the baby had been a little boy and they’d named him Adam. He’d been born at only six pounds but apparently that was a good weight these days. They had a higher than normal number of stillbirths and miscarriages and it was being put down to poor nutrition and stressful living. Remembering that had me cuddling Leena closely to my chest.
Abel must have noticed because he changed the subject to something less upsetting. There was a little more talk but I was busy caring for Leena and then we all went off to bed. When Abel and I were there together, after making sure our guests were cared for, he asked, “Will you forgive me?”
I wasn’t going to fool around and pretend like I didn’t know what he was talking about. I sighed, “I told you when you first came that this was your home too. I just wish you would have given me some warning or we had talked about it. My parents always talked about the big stuff before they went and did it.”
“Si Querida, but it was a battlefield decision. We were in a bad spot and … and I did not want you to wonder if I never came home. I saw what Jeff’s disappearance made you feel. I could not do that to you.”
Looking at it from his perspective I suppose I might have done the same. “I’m not … not angry Abel. Just … I don’t know … I don’t know if I feel so safe here now.”
“You forget Querida.”
I asked, “Forget what?”
Abel’s voice got still and as hard as I had ever heard it. “I know where they live too.”
The threat was implied and I believed him. That didn’t exactly make me feel any more comfortable with someone knowing but it reminded me as nothing else could exactly where Abel put us in his life. We were the top priority and something in me told me we always would be.
We both were quiet a moment then I asked, “What do you make of the seed germinating?”
I felt him shrug. “It means there is hope, but there was always hope. We just need to go through the fire and trust that we will outlast it. It will be next year that tells whether this year was really important. Will the seeds continue their viability or has the Heart Rot programmed them to self destruct? One year is not enough to see the direction the road is leading.”
“Now, did Josef tell you anything I should know about?”
It was my turn to shrug. “I don’t think he knows any more than we already figured out for ourselves. Did he say anything to you?”
He was quiet for a moment and said, “He said that we should wait a long while and not risk another pregnancy until you are fully recovered from this one. He spoke of a few … suggestions … that might help with that.”
Indignant I told him, “That’s none of his business.”
“I made it his business by asking. And he is right. I understand you do not like … er … speaking of certain things. But soon we must. We are man and woman, not beasts of the field that breed for no reason but instinct.”
The way Abel put things sometimes seemed a little crude, but it was true nonetheless. I shook my head and my hair snapped and crackled from the static electricity in it. “I don’t mind talking about that stuff with you. What I don’t like is someone else making like it is their business and they can tell us what we can and cannot do. Whether we have leventy-dozen kids or only Leena that’s between us and God and isn’t anyone else’s say so.”
He kissed my temple. “Querida.” He kissed me again and then put some distance between us. “I am not a rutting bull. I can do this,” he mumbled to himself in Spanish. I don’t think he thought I understood but I did. I understood something else too.
“You’re not the only one that misses the … er … closeness Abel.”
He stopped and then said, “No?”
“No. But I guess we’ve got to do what we’ve got to do. I’m feeling a little better every day. Maybe some days it doesn’t look like it but I am. I’m determined about it. This past year has been hard … for all of us. I don’t think I ever imagined a time would ever be so hard. But we’re getting through it and some good things have come out of it. We just need to hold onto that part of it. I don’t know what this winter will bring … or even next year; probably good things and bad just like life always seems to bring.”
He scooted back to my side and we spooned up together for warmth and mutual comfort. He sighed in pleasure. “Si. But we can do this yes? Daniel is growing. Leena is growing. And we are growing too. Each of us in our own way. It makes me eager to see what tomorrow will bring.”
I rolled to face him and snuggle up under his chin, “Tomorrow’s good, but let’s not forget about right now. Right now seems pretty good too. We just need to think around the problems that might come up. No reason we can’t get er … creative.”
His voice took on a husky note and in agreement he said, “Si … right now seems pretty good too. May God help us find ways to be creative for the rest of our days.”