Thursday, March 17, 2011

Chapter 3

Chapter 3: Transition

“The fat’s in the fire now,” Mark muttered as he looked at me. “A large whole in that part of the levy system will funnel a lot of flood water right down into the bottom lands.”

Micah interrupted what I hadn’t yet figured out how to say with an impatient, “Come on Del!!”

After a few seconds of confusion, I got Jessie out of the car seat while Mark grabbed the box I had put all the stuff for the Aunts in. We walked up to their porch but Mark wouldn’t come in. “Del … I have to go get Dee up. We need to start filling up water containers in case we lose the ‘lectric.”

“They aren’t here Dear,” Aunt Bel told him as she opened the door urging him to bring the box in and set in on the table. “We saw them drive off about two hours ago. Dee was dressed like she was going to town and Cici looked rather nice as well.”

I could see Mark holding back some choice words in deference to where he was and who he was in front of. “I hope she remembered to leave me a note this time,” he muttered under his breath.

“Dad?” I called.

“In here Del,” he answered and then turned to Mark as we walked into the room the Aunts used to watch television in since it had the most modern wiring. “Mark, good to see you son. Hope you two got your running done because I have a feeling … Del, Micah and I got the well going this morning after you left; the panels weren’t bad, the switch had corroded so if you want to help the Aunts fill some jugs of water up Micah and I are going to run this last load up and finish setting up the radio. I’m not going to take Mark’s trailer, what little bit is on it can be put into the truck.”

“If it fits. Daddy, the truck is pretty well loaded down.”

“We’ll make it fit even if we have to tie it on the camper top.”

Mark was slowly backing towards the door when I caught him. “Mark, hang on a second. Aunt Lilah, I’ll be right back.”

“Of course Dear. We’ll fill the jugs if you’ll move them to the canning table for us.”

“Yes ma’am,” I replied as I took Mark’s arm and steered him towards the outside.

“What …?” he started.

“Mark, I’m going to say something and I don’t want you to bite my head off. If things come down the way Daddy thinks they may … and he really hasn’t told me in words per se … and then you add in what you are concerned about with Uncle Clement’s and Aunt Esther’s family being forced to come here … Look, I’m not sure how we would do it but there is enough cleared land up near the cabin … I said wait and here me out,” I wound up having to put the flat of my hand on his chest to keep him from just taking Jessie and walking away. “I know … look, I know I haven’t ever given you much reason to trust me. Neither one of us was very nice to the other and most folks don’t really know the half of it. But we’re not kids anymore and we’ve both got more on our plates than we can handle alone. Unless you’ve got some place definite to go, please consider what I’m suggesting ‘cause I think it’ll help both of us.”

He stopped, gave me a look, reached for Jessie but didn’t turn tail when he had him. “Del … what are you planning? I can see it on your face. I do not need any trouble.”

“That’s the thing Mark, I don’t need any either. And Daddy is too sick to do everything whether Micah knows it or not. And I’m going to have to tell him sooner rather than later which is going to be … bad. And if the family descends on the Aunts and things are as bad as you let on, bad might not come anywhere near describing it. I … I can’t do this all by myself Mark. I need some help and once he finds out about Daddy I don’t know how Micah is going to react. And look, you’ve got Dee and Cici. I’m trying hard here not to tell you your business but something needs to be done about Cici.”

“What? You think you can turn her into a sweet little angel in ten lessons or less?” he asked snidely.

“No. But I’ll be an extra warm body to watch her and try and keep her out of trouble. And maybe, just maybe, having a female around that cares more than her mother seems to be able to do right now will help.”

“Del, you’re outta line. Dee …”

“Has problems Mark. She’s depressed or whatever it is. And maybe she has a lot of reason to be but she also has a teenage daughter that needs looking after. She can’t have a breakdown and raise a kid at the same time. It is one or the other and right now she’s in the middle of the breakdown it seems. I know you said this was a bad day for her but really, if things get like I think they may she can’t afford any more ‘bad days.’”

He was mad and I could tell it. “Del …”

“Mark, please. I know it is asking a lot. I’m just trying to show you I could help you right back; that you wouldn’t be the only one giving here.”

Mark got a momentarily confused look on his face. “I’m … that’s not it. Del, this is just too weird. You haven’t got a clue what my life is like. There is no way you could. There is stuff going on you don’t know about. On top of that I don’t think, until today, we’ve had a civil word to say to each other since we were little. Now you’re acting like … Del I just don’t know if I can … wrap my head around this on top of everything else on my plate right now.”

I put my hand on his arm, “I know Mark. Boy do I know. I’m having a hard time believing I’ve got the nerve to ask. And I know I’m asking a lot on top of everything else. But the one thing I’ve learned in life is that stuff happens … and it happens fast so you have to be flexible and search out decent friends to share your burdens with. It’s the only way to get from point A to point B. Right now the only thing I’m positive of is that things are going to get hard and that I’m going to need help. And the truth is that I don’t know if I can count on Micah, whether he’ll be a help or a hindrance. I don’t expect a commitment right this second but please, just say you’ll consider it.”

Like a man giving in just to get away he said, “Ok Del, OK. I’ll … I’ll think about it. But no promises and you can’t say that I told you any different down the road.”

Trying to smooth things over I told him, “I won’t. And I want you to know that even if things do get bad and you find another option that suits you better I’ll understand.”

“Sure you will,” he said rolling his eyes and going down the porch steps, his defensive armor going back into place.

“Mark,” I said getting his attention one last time. “I’ve had to learn too many times that you don’t always get what you want in life so you focus on what you need and pray the rest comes around every so often. You’ve told me you’ll think about it and I’ll take you at your word. We’ll stay friends either way. Deal?”

That got me an even weirder look but one tinged with a grudging acceptance that I really did mean what I said. I watched him walk away and then stop by the truck to grab the parts from the junkyard.

Personally I wasn’t sure what to make of my pushiness. Mark had been a thorn in my side for most of my life, or at least it felt like that. Yet here I was, one day back, and instead of avoiding him like the plague I was practically begging him to move his troubled family to live cheek-by-jowl with my own difficult family situation. I swear I thought I needed my head examined. At the same time I felt like if I hadn’t grabbed for the possibility I would have lost an opportunity that wouldn’t come around a second time. I hate that feeling because it usually means God is messing around and setting me up for something and I wasn’t too keen to have that going on on top of everything else.

My brother then yelled, “Del! You gotta see this!!”

Walking back into the house I said, “Try to be a little louder Micah, they can’t quite hear you over in Ketchum.”

“Ha ha, very funny. Seriously Del, you gotta come in and see this. It’s … it’s …,” his voice faded as he again became enthralled by the scene he was witnessing.

“This” turned out to be pictures of military vehicles leaving the vicinity at high speed as water behind the levy poured out. It looked like a scene from an old disaster movie but this time it wasn’t just a computer generated image. The news report was not live as apparently the area was already evacuated and there was no broadcast coverage from the air. Daddy said, “I don’t know if they lost any personnel in the explosion; they haven’t said. The reporter did say that supposedly they were in the middle of negotiations when it just blew. It’s no small section either. There is no saving th ….”

Suddenly a breaking news report came on from the primary national news anchor. Several dams across the nation had been hit as had several other levy systems and water treatment facilities, including Daddy’s former workplace. Some damage was caused by internal sabotage, some by direct attacks like car bombs; and a private jet was flown into the Flaming Gorge Dam. There were also reports of some transportation hubs, airports, and large electricity generating facilities having some type of malfunction. On the tail end of that the television did something funny and then when it came back on there was something my father said he hadn’t seen for years.

There was a picture of an American flag waving in the breeze and the national anthem was playing like they used to right before the television stations stopped broadcasting for the night. Then the emergency alert sound came on only there was no “this is a test and this is only a test.” Instead there were a set of instructions to be prepared for a national broadcast in five minutes from the president of the United States that would simulcast on television, radio, and internet providers.

The problem? Five minutes came and went. Ten minutes came and went. Then twenty, then forty. At forty-five minutes the waving flag continued to wave but the obnoxious sound replayed and then a voice – no one familiar, merely an announcer type voice – read a prepared statement that martial law had been declared pursuant to some Executive Order such and so and that further information would be forth coming, to please stay tuned, mind your Ps and Qs and to obey all federal and civil authorities as they responded to the situation and the other ones that were developing.

Daddy was getting pretty tense by that point. We’d been filling containers and making sure the Aunts were taken care of. I looked out the window a couple of times and saw Mark unloading the Aunts’ supplies from the Feed Depot trailer and into the old barn and then loading boxes of stuff I assumed was ours back onto the trailer, leaving the neighbor’s order on there as well.

Reaching a lull in what we could do while we waited I poured a mason jar of sweet iced tea and went out to where Mark was working.

“Hey.”

“Del, stop being so pushy … I told you …”

“Ratchet it back Mark, I just brought you some tea. It’s hotter than Beezlebub’s hot tub out here. Where is Jessie?”

Taking a bandana and wiping the sweat out of his eyes before stuffing it back into his rear pocket he gave me a long look. “It’s too hot out here for him. He’s asleep in his crib. Don’t worry, I’ve got a monitor,” he said showing me a walkie talkie looking thing attached to his belt.

“I wasn’t criticizing, I was just asking. Do you want this tea or not? The ice is already melting.”

He came around and I could see that his t-shirt was completely soaked even though it was getting later in the day. I was noticing what the wet t-shirt covered up too which wasn’t making it any easier for me to breathe out in the hot and stuffy barn. I felt like someone had hit me in the stomach with a ten pound bag of potatoes.

After taking the jar out of my hand he asked, “Any more news?”

I told him what was on and his shoulders slumped and he leaned against the truck’s tailgate. “Mark?” He definitely looked like a man just about at the point of breaking.

“They went to town. Dee needed her prescriptions refilled. I refused because she wouldn’t go back to the new therapist I’d arranged for her to visit that wanted to try some behavioral therapy options and try and get her off the pills for a while, maybe permanently. Now I don’t know where they are. If something has happened to them it’ll be my fault.”

“In what way? Because you cared enough about your sister and her health that you wanted her to try a different treatment for whatever is ailing her? I kicked myself a thousand times when Daddy had a bad reaction to one of the chemo drugs that a doctor I recommended gave to him. But on the other hand, after they did some testing the cancerous tumor in his stomach lining stopped growing. Daddy just told me, ‘no pain, no gain’ and never blamed me though for a while there he refused to do anything more to help himself.”

“Del, this is a little different. I sent her out to face a flood. Have they … have they shown any pictures at all of town?”

“Nothing since the flag came on the television. The Aunts said that they expect it is going to be as bad as the 1936 floods were. They didn’t explain but Daddy seemed to know what they were talking about and that was before his time. Do you know what they meant?”

He sighed, rubbed the little bit of coolness left in the jar across his forehead and then handed it back to me. “I think so. I want to finish getting y’alls stuff out of the barn. Your dad and Micah made a start but there is still a lot of it in here from the look of things. If you want to listen then come on, but stay out of my way while I work … and watch out, we’ve got birds roosting in the eaves again.”

“Where’s the barn cat? The Aunts always had a cat or two around that controlled the varmints.”

“The dog ran the last one off a couple of days ago. That’s another thing on my list to fix. Cici some how must have talked Dee into taking that blasted dog with them. Knowing Dee she’ll just let the dog out someplace in the country and tell Cici some tale about it being free to hunt and live its life the way it wants like a wild creature should.”

I rolled my eyes at that, “More than likely if she did that, she might as well have sentenced that dog to death. You know the farmers around here have no tolerance for strays, especially mean ones that will go after their stock.”

“You know it. I know it. Dee knows it. But Cici just doesn’t want to acknowledge reality. Sometimes I think that girl … I don’t know what to do for her. I keep asking Dee to get her in counseling but Dee refuses to see that she needs it. I even went down to Cici’s school but no one would even talk to me since I wasn’t her guardian and, well, ‘my reputation preceded me’ if you want to know the truth. Cici can be a good kid when she wants to be and she has the wool pulled over a lot of people’s eyes which makes it even harder. But that isn’t what you said you wanted to know.” He pulled a dolly over by a stack of boxes and started moving things around and I just had to follow him the best I could.

“The 1936 flood was the worst disaster to strike this area pretty much in living memory. There were some floods in the 1960’s and 70’s before the levies were shored up and made a little taller but they didn’t do near the damage that the one in ’36 did. Your Aunts can tell you a thing or two about it but it was so bad that people just really don’t want to talk about it. Whole families drowned. Some little outpost-like towns were wiped from the map never to be rebuilt. The reason why Greeneville (named in honor of the first WPA worker to die on the job) even exists is because Ketchum was washed away and the WPA had to have some place to set up shop while the levies were being built.”

Trying to follow the story I asked, “The WPA, that’s one of those programs FDR created to put people to work correct? Wait, I remember now, you were a real history buff right? You were in a bunch of re-enactors clubs weren’t you?”

“I wish. I couldn’t afford it. I mostly hung out when they were doing their stuff. The men never seemed to care so long as I helped out and didn’t cause them any trouble and the women were always looking for someone to tote something around or as a guinea pig for their cooking. Lots of cool people in those groups and I learned a lot. They could tell really good stories too, like your aunts but different.”

Nodding my head in understanding I said, “So you expect the levy break to be along the same lines.”

Marks shook his head. “No. I expect it is going to be worse. See it used to be that people had the sense not to build too much on the flood plains but when the levies went in the wettest areas dried up instead of being flooded nearly every year. People forgot or got cocky. Now instead of just grazing land or fields you have a lot of subdivisions and homes on that land and those things mean people. Unless they were able to get an evacuation order out I can guarantee there are going to be people sitting on their roofs waiting to be rescued … and there are going to be fatalities.”

“Well, aren’t you calm about it all,” I said astonished at how uncaring he sounded.

Mark stopped took a breath and then leaned his head against a beam in the barn. “I’m not. My sister and niece are out there somewhere but … I’m realistic Del. It used to get me in all sorts of trouble. I just … I don’t have the luxury of … of …”

“Of believing that everything turns out right all the time.”

He looked at me with sad eyes, “Yeah, pretty much. I’m not fun to be around Del. I can’t play games and pretend. I see the ugly and the potentially ugly and I’m just too tired to dress it up.” Shaking his head, spraying sweat droplets around, he continued, “I’m pretty sure that Dee still has enough wits about her to head someplace where she can hook up with the National Guard or whoever they are going to send out here to tend to this mess but there is the poss … poss … “

I went over and put my hand on his shoulder. It was sweaty and he didn’t smell so hot but I didn’t seem to mind as much as I would have in the past. I had a clue what was happening because I’d felt this way before … and I wasn’t opposed to feeling this way exactly but I was sure as heck not going to be so reckless about it this time around and I sure wasn’t going to say anything until I knew whether my feelings were the least bit reciprocated.

“Mark you have Jessie to think of. You can’t go looking for them right now. But, if you haven’t heard from them in a day or … or so … let me know and I’ll babysit so that you can go to whatever passes for a check point to see … you know … if …”

He straightened up and looked at my hand and as I tried to move it he put his hand over mine. “Thanks. As for the rest of this, you’ve got to know this is a very bad idea. My life is poison right now. I’m not in any kind of position to …”

“Hold on fella. Let’s not … not jump the gun. Just because we might both be finding that our childhood ‘hate’ isn’t at all what it is now that we are grown doesn’t mean we have to be in any hurry for … well for whatever might be coming next. My life isn’t exactly all moon beams and unicorn farts right now either.”

That got a surprised bark of laughter out of him breaking the spell we had fallen under and he moved to put one of the last boxes in place when Daddy stepped into the barn. “Thanks Mark. I was wondering what you two were doing out here.”

“Hello Mr. Nash. Del was telling me what was on the tube. Anything new that I don’t want to hear?”

“Basically a repeat of 911 only on a much larger scale and with a lot less immediate coverage from what I understand. The radio stations have more information than the tv that is still in EAS mode but even they have basically admitted that everything is being censored.” His words momentarily shocked Mark and I speechless, we just kind of stood there with our mouths hanging open looking stupid. Then I look close at Daddy’s face. My father was tired and worried and I could tell he needed to go home and rest but that he would fight me if I was the one to suggest it.

“Daddy, Mark was telling me about the flood of 1936 around here.”

My father lifted an eyebrow in Mark’s direction. “Didn’t realize a young man your age would even think of that. I expect the water is going to reach all the way up to the county road just beyond the main gate.”

Mark nodded and said, “Even if it isn’t deep it is going to get wet and I doubt the ditches will hold it all. If you don’t mind my saying something Mr. Nash … well … like I was telling Del earlier, your aunts have some family with houses out in the bottom land. They might well descend on them in the very near future if they can’t hold the water back from their place.”

“And if things are as bad as they are looking there is no way they are going to be able to do it. They’ll be lucky to get out with anything at all. Might very well already be cut off.” Looking at me he said, “Esther’s family are all in town except for her son in law that kept the farm so I doubt they’ll come out this way … unless the town gets flooded which I suppose is a possibility. Clement’s family, now that’s different. I can see them moving in here and … Oh Lord, what a circus. All them Porter connections locked into a small parcel of land; there’ll be murder if they aren’t given work to keep them occupied and out of trouble. I don’t think the ones I know will do anything to hurt the Aunts and in fact may fight over who is going to take care of ‘em just to see who is in the will. But it might not be a bad idea for us to load up the last of the stuff out of the attic too and just live with the mess while we find places for everything Del.”

As I nodded, Mark said, “Yes sir. That’s kinda along the lines of why I’d like a favor sir. I was supposed to deliver this feed to Mr. Montgomery but his place is next to the Porter farm … well, it’s the Carlisle farm now. No way am I going to be able to do it. Doubt Mr. Montgomery is going to need it right this second anyhow. So, to keep it from being … accidentally … uh … mixed in with other stuff that might get moved in here I was wondering if …,” Mark ended hesitantly, afraid he’d gotten close to offending my father.

Daddy ignored the almost implied insult since I knew for a fact he felt the same way about some of them. “If we could store it up near the cabin? Sure. And son, no need to be so polite when we are talking amongst the three of us here. Del knows my feelings on certain of her Momma’s family and their feelings for me. And another thing … I have a feeling if they do move in here you’re going to be sitting in the hot seat. So, if things get where you can’t tolerate them, we’ll move this trailer up to the cabin yard and you and yours can stay up there for as long as you need to.”

“Mr. Nash …”

“Don’t Mr. Nash me. I know where you’re coming from son; been there myself though under different circumstances. That niece of yours might balk but I don’t think Dee will object. And Del is pretty handy with kids so you won’t have to worry so much about your boy. She took all those babysitting courses that the Red Cross and the local hospitals offered, has even taught a few. She knows CPR, first aid, and she’s had some wilderness training as well when she helped out with Micah’s scout troop a couple of years ago. And don’t go all defensive either. I knew your parents; they’d drop into my step-Dad’s store almost every week … when I was a boy I even delivered groceries to your grandmother before she moved out to be with her sister in that place down south of here. Just take it under advisement as an option. No one is talking about you moving the trailer tonight.”

I had a hard time not smirking. The apple sure didn’t fall far from the tree when you are talking about me and Daddy. I might look like my Momma but I am mostly my Daddy on the inside. The reason why I had felt so free to make the offer originally to Mark was because I figured once Daddy had a head of steam he’d suggest the same thing.

And while Mark might feel free to shoot his mouth off to me he was not the kind of guy, regardless of whatever reputation he was claiming, to be rude to my father so all he could let out of his mouth was a respectful, “I appreciate the offer sir and I will take it under advisement.”

Then Daddy turned to me, “Del, I know you and Mark were talking but I want to get back to the cabin. There’s groceries in the truck if I remember you correctly, and we haven’t even finished unpacking and now we’ve got all of this to find a place for. Worse, Aunt Bel said there’s rain in the forecast for tonight.”

Daddy’s timing was pretty good because about that second the little intercom squawked and Mark had to jog back to the trailer to check on Jessie. Daddy confirmed that the Aunts were as set as we could make them at the moment and had plenty of food down in their cellar and in their pantry. In two shakes of a lamb’s tale we were out of there. When Daddy’s foot gets itchy to get moving you move or you get left behind.

It was slow going back to the cabin; the truck was loaded down and I could feel it in how it was responding to the gas I was giving it to keep it going uphill. I shifted into a lower gear and that helped some but it was still nerve wracking since I wasn’t used to hauling such a big trailer up the steep incline and around the switch backs. The back way we came in wasn’t near as steep and the road was in better condition. This is one of the reasons that this part of the original acreage had never been developed. It sat up on a large granite outcropping covered with just enough dirt to for the hardwoods to develop in and then sink their roots into the rocky soil. Access from the original homestead was challenging, especially when the weather wasn’t optimal.

I pulled into the yard behind the jeep and caught my breath. “Daddy, how many more loads of this size you think we’re going to need to bring up?” I asked as I began to walk to the back of the truck and dig out the coolers to get things ready to go on my dehydrators.

“I’m not going to risk a trailer on that goat trail again. Too many bad pot holes and near wash outs; it needs grading worse than I thought it did and driving on it while it is wet isn’t doing the road bed any good at all. I think we’ll just tarp the trailer for now, leaving them barrels on there. We’ll take the truck down tomorrow – the back way if the road hasn’t dried more – and with the three of us loading and using a little ingenuity, I think we should only have one trip.”

“Are you sure? One more sounds … holy smokes!” I walked into the cabin and saw that there wasn’t a surface that hadn’t been covered in something. Most of the floor was hidden by stacks of boxes, wobbly piles of books leaned against walls, a few old trunks sat on their ends looking like they were about to pop open and disgorge their contents in the few empty spaces that remained. I started mumbling to myself. “Tell me that all of these boxes are labeled. Tell I’m not going to have to open every one of these stinking things to figure out what is in them. Tell me I’m going to have some help …”

“Oh don’t get your knickers in a knot Sis …”

“Micah!” Daddy’s warning voice drifted up from the basement stairs.

Micah rolled his eyes but he did talk more respectfully to me after that. “All of them are labeled … well, except the boxes of stuff the Aunts wanted us to bring up here. Daddy wouldn’t tell them no because he said it wasn’t worth the time arguing about it. You’ll just have to go through those. What all did you get at the grocery store ‘cause I’m …”

“Starving. Yes, I know. It’s your perpetual state of being. I got a couple of pizzas for tonight and fresh eggs and slab bacon for in the morning. Hopefully by then I’ll have a better handle on what I’ve got to work with. You said something about Dad not feeling good?”

“Yeah. I tried to talk to him about it but he got all weird and stuff. I’m not a little kid. I’m not going to flip out if he tells me he’s got the runs or something. I wish he would stop treating me like I don’t have any common sense.”

Mentally stepping carefully, and avoiding some of the more obvious come backs I was dying to make I said, “Micah, you know Dad hasn’t been …” but he was already off like a shot so I was saved from hiding the truth if not outright lying to keep Daddy’s secret, but I didn’t think I had much more time. Micah did have common sense, he just didn’t always exercise it. If even he had started to notice then we didn’t have much time left. That thought just wouldn’t leave me alone as I helped to unload trailer, truck, and jeep and try and squeeze everything into some sensible order.

Dinner for Micah and I was the pizza cooked in the ancient enamel stove in the kitchen after I had finally gotten it clean to my standards. I had already gone through a gallon of vinegar just cleaning the kitchen, bedrooms, and getting some laundry finished in the manual laundry tumbler. It was a good thing that I picked up all those jugs of the stuff from the warehouse store, I was going to need it. For Daddy I had bought some yogurt, reserving some of the plain yogurt so I could make our own, and a couple of cases of liquid diet supplements as well as the liquid vitamins that the pharmacist had recommended.

Getting Daddy to eat was occasionally a challenge but he really liked the various rice puddings that I had started to make when he first got sick so I made a really simple version by taking a cup of instant rice, some cinnamon, and a little bit of sugar, and mixing in a cup of boiling water. I could have added some dried fruit but preferred it plain except for a little sweetening and spices.

Daddy and Micah sat and listened to the radio while I did what I could to organize the mess. The cabin’s main good point in my opinion is that for its size it had as much if not more storage space than many larger homes had. It had been designed by some long ago ancestress for her son and his wife to move into, in fact the hunting camp used to be called the Honeymoon House. Children, newly married, could live in the cabin for a year or two until they saved up enough money to either pay off the obligation to their parents or until they could afford to move to a farm of their own … or as often until they emigrated out of the area.

There was a walk in pantry which started as a lean-to built onto the back of the kitchen, eventually being hardened and a door cut into so that it could be entered from inside. Then there was the basement pantry as well as a root cellar accessible by both a door in the basement and doors currently hidden off the porch by an overgrown snowball bush.

There were three bedrooms and a loft that could also be used as sleeping space but for now the loft was full of shelves where books and that sort of thing could be stored. The bedrooms weren’t huge but they weren’t tiny like many cabins I’ve been in, before and since. There had been a small, fourth bedroom at one point but it was converted to a semi-modern bathroom in the 50s. Micah’s primary complaint was that the bathroom was pink … Pepto-Bismol pink; the tub, toilet, and sink as well as most of the tile work on the walls was the same … er … interesting shade. It wasn’t the best looking bathroom but it was one heck of a lot better than using the outhouse which we used during the daytime to try and save the water that had to be transferred to the cistern that helped the indoor toilet to flush.

The wood floors needed sanding and polishing but I put rugs down on the floor to cover the worst areas. There was a large coat closet in the front room as well as two large, cedar-lined linen closets towards the back of the house. These I filled with all of our own clothes, bathing linens, blankets and quilts, as well as the boxes of old linens and laces that the Aunts apparently expected me to make something of.

The main living spaces included a front entry room that could be shut off from the rest of the house. It had been an open porch at one time but Daddy had to rebuild the floor a few years earlier and he figured he might as well make it a full renovation. When he was done the room helped to cut down on loss of heat during the winter and gave us a place to put our damp outdoor gear rather than create puddles on the wooden floors.

It also added some badly needed security. The door was part of a couple of sets that he got from a really old church that was being demolished. The doors were all solid mahogany and nearly three inches thick. It took the combined strength of Daddy, Micah, me, and a team of Tennessee mules to get the blasted thing hung and the ones he repurposed for the basement door and the sub cellar door were even worse since we had to set up a block and tackle rig inside. The hinges were made by a local black smith that Daddy used to go to school with back in the Dark Ages and they are massive. Don’t even get me started on the blasted door frames that the doors actually hang in. But I have to admit that they are pretty and swing really nice, they just have to have additional door hardware at the top to keep them from slamming open or closed and maiming someone, if not outright killing them. The locks on those doors are something else too but I won’t go into that right now, suffice it to say that the church had been in a bad part of town and had security out the ying yang.

Daddy also got a couple of the stained glass windows from that church. They were in sad shape and though I’ve put my hand to repairing windows like that with new leading these were in such poor shape that Daddy just had me dismantle the pieces of glass and reset them the best I could. I couldn’t replicate the nearly tiffany-like quality but I don’t think I did too badly. I used most of the glass in two windows up in the loft and one of the windows in the study but still had enough left over to add to a project where I was re-glazing the transom windows in the house. The transom windows allowed us to direct the heat up to the ceiling and out of the house and all it takes is a gentle breeze to really move it along.

The other main living areas are the family room; a “fancy parlor” that was turned into a man’s study over the years as parlors went out of fashion; and, the large kitchen with a fireplace you can cook in, a wood stove that only gets used in the winter, and the old enamel stove that had been converted to propane. There is also a real dining room that holds a table that will seat ten if you put in all the leaves.

The room that I liked best was one that reminds me of either a housekeeper’s study or a butler’s pantry. It is a small hallway between the kitchen and the dining room where the dishes and table linens are kept. The traditional liquor cabinet is in there as well and the lock on it still works despite the fact that it must be almost a hundred years old, having been put on there about the Prohibition era. There is also a little drop down desk top in there and that is where the housekeeper or the lady of the house could sit and work out the menus or enter items into the household inventories. It has been my favorite nook for as long as I can remember.

Daddy has refused to use the master bedroom every since Momma died; he said the memories were too painful because he and Momma shared that room the first year they were married. I was even born in that room but not on purpose. Daddy was on a remote TDY doing some kind of training and he brought Momma to her family to look after her until he could get back. A big storm came up and knocked the phone out … we don’t even have phones at the cabin any more as the poles and lines were never repaired … by the time Granddaddy could get to the cabin to check on her it was too late and I had arrived. Needless to say Daddy almost came unglued when he found out and harsh words were nearly said. Daddy and Uncle Clement’s son did get into it but that was another bit of family drama … Uncle Clements oldest son, only a few years younger than Daddy, has all the tact of a bull moose in rut.

But because of space Daddy put me in the master bedroom – Micah used to be in there with me until we got too old to share a room. I spent more time putting Daddy and Micah’s stuff away than I did my own. I liked the room, there just wasn’t any furniture in there at the moment except for a cot and the chiffarobe where I put my own clothes.

The basement of the cabin was a work-in-progress. I know Daddy had always had some idea of finishing it off and making more living space out of it. But at that time all it held was all the boxes and stuff that I was bringing in out of the weather until I could find a space for it upstairs. The basement pantry and root cellar opened off of one end of the basement and the sub cellar door was under a rug on the opposite end of the room.

The sub cellar used to be one of the scariest places in the world for me. There was no light down there and you could only access it by these steep, rickety wooden stairs. With the door shut it always made me feel like I was in a crypt though not because of the smell, just from the feeling of earth and substance above my head.

Actually Daddy said that we were some of the luckiest people he knew because our basement and cellar were completely dry. The basement was a well-dug structure that had up to that point lasted nearly two hundred years and was lined in the main section with bricks of local “pink” granite. The sub cellar was actually a “dry cave” that the original cabin had been built on top of. A few old family journals still survive from the pre-Civil War days and in a few of them you can discover bits and pieces of family history if you take the time to decipher them. Seems that a small cave opening was on the surface, more of a fissure really, and that early hunters had used it because the deeper you went the cooler it became. One of those early hunter-explorers eventually was granted the deed to the land for some military service or other but built his home in a more attractive area of all of the acreage he eventually came to own. He continued to use the area of the cave as a hunting camp. It was either this man’s third or fourth wife that came up with the idea for the Honeymoon House, probably out of sheer desperation given the number of people that lived in the “big house” at the time. After a couple of generations of use the cabin was repurposed back into a hunting camp or a place where the men could get away to. Stories abound that it was also a hiding place during the Civil War where the family kept their valuables and some food and grain.

All I knew for sure at the time was that the cabin was sturdy despite its age and that there was plenty of room for the three of us as well as all of the junk that Daddy and Micah tended to accumulate.

I was exhausted by ten o’clock and collapsed in bed but Daddy and Micah continued to sit up and listen to the radio. I woke with a start about 4:45 the next morning. There was taping on my window. I got up, grabbed my pistol – Daddy insisted that even though we weren’t in the city any longer he still wanted to keep the same habits – and crept over to the shutters.

“Psst. Mr. Nash, it’s Mark Griffey.” I almost couldn’t hear him through the thick glass and wooden shutters. I did hear his frustrated curse as I was sliding the window open.

“You think my Dad is going to really appreciate that kind of talk Mark?”

I heard him start and lose his balance for a moment as he slid in the abundant wet leaves that had piled up around the house. “Del? Give me a heart attack next time why don’t you. I didn’t mean to wake you. I thought this was your Dad’s room.”

“No, Daddy won’t stay in the master bedroom so I’m the one that uses it. What’s up?”

“Look, I hate to disturb your Dad but … I’m mean I know he wasn’t feeling so hot yester …”

Daddy must have been up getting the coffee going and he had us both jumping like frogs when he came into the room and said, “I was already up. Come around to the kitchen door. Del … get some clothes on and then come out and get some breakfast started.”

I hurriedly dragged on a pair of work jeans and t-shirt, slid my house slippers on and then went to the kitchen. I looked around but only Daddy and Mark were sitting at the breakfast nook. “Micah is still asleep but nine will get you ten the boy will wake up when he smells the bacon frying. He was already talking about it when we went to bed last night.”

It was said with a laugh and I smiled but Mark still had a real serious look on his face. He was already nursing a cup of coffee that Daddy had set him up with and as I got the biscuits going and then the eggs and bacon I finally heard the reason for his glum expression.

“A neighbor brought Dee and Cici home right before dark last night.” Daddy said that was good news and Mark nodded but he also said they brought lots of bad news with them. “Things are really bad in town and worse out in the bottom lands. Small bombs went off throughout the day all up and down the levy system, the news just isn’t getting out because of all the other stuff that is going on around the country.”

“We heard. They are saying that it was a timed attack by unknown terrorists and that there isn’t a piece of this country’s infrastructure that hasn’t been affected. Lots of computer hacking going on as well.”

“Yeah. But I’ll be honest and say none of that is something I can do about right now. Mr. Nash, were you serious about it being all right for me to move my family up here? I’ll work out some kind of payment, really I will, I … I just don’t know when I’ll be able to …”

“Whoa son. If things are that bad we don’t need to talk about payment right this second, first let’s hear what has changed between yesterday and today.”

Mark raked his hands through his hair, something that it appeared he’d been doing a lot of. “I was wrong, Esther’s family showed up first, I guess it was about thirty minutes after Dee and Cici got home. They said they had a foot of water in the house by the time they got everything they could loaded and got out. And when I say Esther’s family I mean the whole kit and kaboodle of ‘em. You know her kids had moved back home with their families because they both lost their jobs.”

Daddy rolled his eyes, “Must be bad if they moved back to their Momma’s as both of them had moved away to what was supposed to be high-paying jobs. Guess I’ll have to listen to that when I go down there today.”

“Wait … it gets better. About midnight Esther’s ex-son in law shows up with his kids. Esther’s daughter, the one that run off, she’s still out in Las Vegas but Rudy Carlisle still makes sure that the kids see Esther regular because he doesn’t really have any family of his own left. His farm is flooding out and it is going to get into the basement of the house he had built about ten years ago … probably not up into the house itself but you know it is still going to be a mess. He’s got all that cattle and equipment. Apparently he’s managed to move everything to the highest ten acres but he has to stay there and keep watch over it, especially the animals … he and his brother will so the kids are staying with Esther.”

I said, “The house must be full to bursting. That’s got to be close to twenty people if you add them all up.”

A nod and groan from Mark let me know I was spot on but he still wasn’t finished. “Then at two this morning Clement’s youngest son and his family showed up and we hear that the older one is trying to make his way there too though he still hasn’t arrived.”

Daddy snorted and said, “Run while you’ve got a chance boy, that’s all I’m going to say.”

Another tired sigh and then I could see that Mark was bracing himself to keep going. “That’s the problem sir. Well … I didn’t really own that trailer, you’re aunts were holding a note on it. They were going to let me work the cost of it off after I had come up with a down payment, but I never could get ahead between one thing and another. And Clement’s son, JD, just kind of … kind of …”

Mark was caught between anger and shock. Even Daddy was sitting there with his mouth hanging open.

I asked softly, “Mark please tell me that the Aunts didn’t just let JD kick you all out of the trailer.”

Mark answered just as quietly, “I don’t think they really know what is going on. I know you think your aunts are … are invincible or something … but they are really just three old ladies and their family descended on them and … and … I don’t know if they have it worked out quite what is happening. I don’t want to create a situation. The old ladies have really saved my life this past year. But I’m to the point where I’m being left with little choice.”

“What is it you want son? Some back up with JD?”

“Huh? No sir, I don’t want a fight. I can’t really afford one. My ex would use it to … it would be fuel for her to take Jessie. No sir, actually I have an old travel trailer I was living in and had had it for sale but no one even made an offer on it. It is kind of like that old Streamline of yours except that it still has the beds and such in it. I can set up a tarp and outdoor kitchen – it’s what we were doing for a while – I just … I don’t have any place to park it.”

I looked back and forth between Daddy and Mark and then had to jump up to save the biscuits and the scrambled eggs. The eggs were a little dry so I took some Velveeta and melted it while Daddy explained to Mark that he did too have some place he could park it. We’d move our Streamline to the back side of the hard and he could have the level place in the front near the road.

Mark nearly collapsed with relief but insisted on talking to Daddy about “lot rent.” Daddy of course was of a mind to tell him off for throwing his charity in his face but understanding I said, “Daddy, I know you don’t want rent per se but what about some help with some of the heavy lifting? There’s some stuff that needs doing that I’m just not strong enough to help you and Micah with and I’m not afraid to admit it.”

So it was decided that Mark would continue to try and work for the aunts, assuming that was possible, and he’d also give Daddy a hand with some of the projects at the cabin. It left both men with some pride but I knew from watching him over the next couple of days that his predicament still smarted quite a bit. But the shock of how quickly things had deteriorated in this country took precedent over our personal problems … at least until what had happened became our personal problem.

The day after Mark had moved his family up to the cabin area he and I ran to Greeneville for some supplies that Daddy had ordered. The town wasn’t completely flooded like Ketchum but there was still significant areas of standing water and it was only because of how high Mark’s truck was off the ground … a leftover from the days before he got married and had some money to baby his truck with … that we were able to travel freely.

The first place we stopped was the hardware store. “Not taking anything but cash or local checks,” said the irritable man standing guard at the door.

Cheekily I responded, “Then it’s a good thing that is all we have to spend isn’t it?” I sailed past him like the QE2 with Mark shaking his head and throwing the man a look of sympathy.

“Del, give the guy a break. He’s got a thankless job.”

“I’ll give him a break all right. There was no reason for him to be so snotty. We hadn’t even stepped foot on the stoop of the store yet. He was the one being rude, not me. We’re the customers.”

“Whatever you say. Try and not get into any fights though. Your Dad will have my skin if you do.”

I turned around and gave him a white hot look to let him know that I didn’t find that funny. To be honest I was in a rotten mood. It had only been 24 hours and Cici was already on my last nerve. She seemed to take it into her head that her main goal in life was to egg Micah on as far as she could and Micah the big dope was hooked on her line every time she started up. Dee also wasn’t helping though Mark said she was actually much more with it than she normally was.

I let the tension out of my shoulders and said, “Hang on a sec.” I walked back out of the store and told the guy that it wasn’t his problem that things were like they were and I had no business being a snot and then I apologized then I went back into the store.

“What did the guy say?” Mark was interested in knowing.

“Nothing. He’s probably as cranky as I am but at least I apologized and … and I’ll try and not take my mood out on other people. Normally I’m better than this.”

“You’re just strung out because your Dad said he would tell Micah the way things really stood while you’re in town,” Mark said trying to be understanding.

OK fine, so it wasn’t Cici and Dee that were upsetting me that day. I had no idea what I was going to come home to but someone had to get the supplies. It just couldn’t be put off any more.

I shrugged, too choked up to say anything one way or the other so Mark walked up to the counter at the back of the store and produced the purchase order. The man, calmer of temper than the one at the door said, “Were you told we could only accept cash or …”

Mark broke in, “Yeah. What’s up with that? We’re just checking to see if an order is in.”

“Credit card machines are all down. So are the ones that do the check approval. Here let me check the stock room to see if we got your stuff in.”

While the guy stepped out I looked around. “Gee Mark, it looks like locusts have been through this place.”

Before Mark could answer the guy came back pushing a dolly of boxes. “You ain’t kidding. Before we started refusing to take anything but cash or local checks we had the busiest day we’d had in years. Tarps, plywood, and other types of hardware mostly but some of the junky Chinese stuff even sold. Sears down the street sold out of generators, chainsaws, and some of their other tools. Tomorrow all we are going to accept is cash because the bank is having a hard time being able to tell us whether a check is good or not.” He grunted as he pulled another small cart of boxes in from the back. “This is about three-quarters of your order, I don’t know when or if the rest of it will come in. It’s …,” the guy gulped. “The boss talked to some of his suppliers and they are all saying the same thing. Until they get the computers and phone lines back up and running the merchandise pipelines are pretty much shut down. A lot of them don’t even have power right now. The boss is out trying to get more fuel for the generators we have because he says if things don’t straighten up in about two weeks the coal-powered plant that provides power through the co-op won’t be able to generate anything and we’ll lose our electricity too. Better back the truck into the rear loading dock and let us put it in back there so you don’t have to answer too many questions. And look, you didn’t hear it from me but my wife works over at the meat market over off of 2nd and they are selling all their meat at a discount before they have to shut down their coolers … but you have to go around to the back. That ought to go a fair piece to helping you fill up these jars.”

We did as asked and thanked him for the information. “Mark?”

“If you are asking me whether we should hit the meat processors I say it is worth a try. I mean assuming …”

“I’ve got the money. I want to swing in here to the grocery … er, maybe not,” I said as we drove by one of the two major grocery store chains still open and saw a couple of women fighting in the parking lot and four cop cars trying to keep the peace.

Mark got a look on his face and then asked, “Del, you remember Kermit McGee?”

After thinking a minute I said, “Older than me but younger than you? Got into a lot of trouble with some out of town girl after leaving home?”

He winced a little at that but said, “Yeah. That’s Kermit. He works at the propane store and I want to stop in there for a sec.”

I shrugged and said, “You’re driving.”

I watched as Mark got out and then walked in to a small store front at the road in front of a heavily fenced area. Mark jogged back out and said, “Hang on.” While he put the truck in gear he asked, “Can you break another bill for me? Why your aunts always insist on paying me with these big bills I don’t know.”

I nodded my head and he drove the truck through a hastily opened and closed gate. Both of the guys looked vaguely familiar but not enough so that I could have called them by name.

“Del, you remember Kermit,” he said pointing to the tall, skinny one. “And you might remember Royal, his sister is your age.”

Then it clicked and my eyes must have widened. The guy just laughed, “Yeah, Suze leaves an impression all right. She still thinks she is God’s gift to the pom pom and has already had that little girl of hers in beauty contests. Don’t hold it against me though.”

I smiled weakly and that only seemed to make Royal laugh harder. Mark touched my arm to get my attention. “Uh, why don’t you go read a magazine or something. This won’t take long.”

My stomach did a flip flop. Whatever it was, it was Mark’s business, I just prayed he wasn’t going to get me in trouble along with him. Luckily for my digestion it really was only a few minutes and we pulled out. The truck felt a lot heavier.

We pulled into the small parking lot of the meat market and Mark asked, “Aren’t you going to ask?”

“No. If you think it is my business you’ll tell me.”

That got a snort, “Well, telling you now or when we get back to the cabin it won’t matter. Kermit owed me a favor. I hooked him up with the lawyer that helped me to get full custody of Jessie. His little girl is a couple of months younger than Jessie and his parents are helping him out but they don’t have money if you know what I mean. Kermit’s dad is on disability for a back injury he got at the mill. Her parents had some high-priced lawyer woman … he didn’t get sole custody but neither did she and he has the little girl right now and through the rest of the summer.”

“I guess I never thought about it from the guy’s perspective. Most of the stories I’ve heard about … you know … it was the guy that didn’t want the responsibility or doubted that the kid was his, that sort of thing.”

“I could get mad about what you just said but I won’t. Stupid people do stupid things and I was pretty stupid there for a while, so was Kelly. The realities of being a mother were nothing like she expected it to be. Jessie made me grow up, I had to.”

Not quite knowing how to tread but wanting to know I said, “Daddy said that Jessie’s mom … er, Kelly … has come back and wants to get full custody.”

“Had, not has. The judge said he will take her application for reinstating her custody only after she completes some parenting classes, and anger management class, and can show that she can financially provide a better home for Jessie than the one he currently has with me. Kelly got really mad, said some things, and got slapped with a contempt of court judgment so for now everything is in a holding pattern. The judge’s office isn’t even taking calls from Kelly’s lawyer until she pays the fine for the contempt. The more time I have to try and get stabilized the better my chances remain. It’s one of the reasons why I just … I’ve changed the way I think about things I guess. Now when it comes down to fighting I have to think about Jessie first and whether it will endanger my custody of him or whether it is going to eat into the little bit of savings I’ve managed to hold onto after the lawyer was paid.”

“Ok. About the stuff in the truck,” I asked, getting uncomfortable with the other subject.

“Like I said, Kermit owed me a favor. Royal … well, he wanted a little something to look the other way. I have enough in savings to cover it when things get back to normal but I wanted to … um … bump the line a little bit.”

“Mark?” I asked getting a little worried despite my attempt to keep my nose out of it.

“Relax. It’s just some filled thirty-pound propane tanks.”

Oh. Just some “filled thirty-pound propane tanks” that we hadn’t paid for. Jeesh. But I didn’t have time to make anything of it because we were walking into the meat market. I let Mark do the talking and again we were directed to the back where we found the processing coolers. All we had was a tarp but since we were going straight home the butcher said we could pack everything in ice and wrap the tarp around the meat.

Talk about haggling. I was shaking by the time we were through but we had what amounted to a side and a half of beef. It cost a little over five hundred dollars and I nearly puked handing over that much money but Mark said, “Look. I know it is a lot of money and here is two hundred that I was going to spend on groceries to put towards the quarter for my family. I’ll help process the bigger pieces of meat and we can use the propane to get the stuff into the jars. At this price I wish I could have afforded to buy more, I have a feeling we can make a killing in a month or so if they haven’t gotten the trucks running again.”

“Oh come on Mark, lots of people around here can.”

“A lot of people around here used to can. Now most people use their freezers and if the power goes out for any length of time …”

I didn’t like the picture that Mark was painting. “OK. Fine. But people around here hunt. This isn’t exactly the big city and it sure as heck is some of the more …”

“Del, you aren’t getting it. I think your Dad does. He got out while the getting was good and he came here to try and … and … have a base of operations to work from. Let’s say you are right and the power stays on long enough for people to get most of their stuff from the freezer into jars. Let’s even say that most people around here are prepared to hunt. Let’s start with the fact that right now isn’t really the right time to be hunting although people will do it. And what happens when all of these hunters start blasting away because they need to feed their families? They’ll empty the woods is what, leaving nothing for the next few seasons. But I don’t think they’ll do that until they’ve depleted the herds of domesticated animals … of course they may have to do that anyway if the animals aren’t to starve to death. As wet as things are it is going to take a long time for everything to dry up and most of the feed crops are underwater.”

“Ok … ok … I get it already. And yeah, I know what you are talking about. Daddy has spent years drilling the possibilities of the zombiepocalypse into my head. Just excuse the heck out of me if it is a lot to have to deal with on top of what is already on my plate and …”

I had to stop. I was not ready to cry in front of Mark. Frankly I didn’t like crying in front of anyone ever, but something made me really detest the idea of doing it in front of my former … definitely former … nemesis. I took some calming breaths and then said, “I’m sorry Mark. I shouldn’t have shouted. I’m just stressed out but that is no reason to take it out on you.”

He just looked at me like I’d grown two extra heads with six eyes each. I said, “What?! I was apologizing for being …”

“No … no … it’s … looks it’s not that. I just didn’t expect … I … I didn’t even think. Lord Del, you’re nothing like you used to be.”

“Oh yes I am,” I laughed a little brokenly. “But I’m not a little kid anymore that can get away with believing in the tooth fairy, Easter bunny, Santa Claus, or that there aren’t any consequences to the things I do and say. I try and catch myself before I spout off but when I fail at that I try to at least have the grace to apologize when I’m out of line.”

“Aw Del, now you make me feel bad. I’ll try and not bait you so much. I … well I ought to have more sympathy all things considered,” he said ruefully.

“Don’t worry about it Mark. It just is what it is for me right now. But let’s get this meat home. I’m anxious about what I’m going to find when I get there.”

I hadn’t been able to eat a thing while we were out even though Mark offered to get us shakes or something like that. Even had I accepted his offer or wanted to most places had signs on them that they were closed because of water issues … or because they had run out of food. The emptying of the distribution system was already being felt as hundreds, if not thousands, of “outsiders” had already pillaged much of Greenville.

The closer we got to the cabin the tenser I got. Suddenly Mark wrenched the wheel of the pickup jerking us into a pull out on the highway. “Del … look … I’m really bad at this. I don’t … I don’t have a lot to offer but as often as Dee has cried on my shoulder the last couple of years I know I won’t melt if you need …”

“Oh Mark. If I start crying I might not find the strength to stop for a good long while but I appreciate the offer. The only way I’m going to get through this is just to keep putting one foot in front of the other. I’ve wanted to tell Micah for ages now and Daddy always said no and now that he’s agreed to tell him I’m turning into a coward.”

“Not a coward, you’re just worried about your family.”

“Yes … a coward. There are some things that it isn’t healthy to hide from yourself Mark and this is one of them for me. I’ve spent what feels like my whole life running as hard as I could between pillar and post. I thought I was a realist but the truth is the reality I believed in was one I carefully crafted for myself. Now everything is … is cracking and one day it is going to shatter and I just don’t know … I just don’t know how I’m going to find the strength to deal with it all. And I’m scared. Daddy has always … he was my first line of defense. How do I take care of Micah and keep on doing all of the things that … Honestly Mark, how do I do it? How have you been able to do it?”

“Don’t use me as an example Del. I’ve made more than my share of mistakes. And you might too but if you are like the runt of a kid that used to get on my last nerve because you insisted on proving you could do all the things people said you couldn’t you’ll be OK. “

Trying really hard not to let the water building up in my eyes fall and become tears I exclaimed, “Oh Lord, who would have ever thought that you and I would be sitting here right now and talking like this?”

“Not to be insulting but if someone had told me even a week ago this would be going on between the two of us I’d would have called them crazy … or something ruder. Del … I can’t do what I’d like to do right now; my life is too messed up and I have Jessie to think of … and Dee and Cici. But … if I was free to do what I want to do I’d be telling you that I … I’d really like to see you, take you out on dates, kiss you.”

Mark stopped and laughed, “You look like a deer in the headlights. I suppose I’m about to get slugged for being out of line.”

“No,” I said hesitantly. “No, not slugged for being out of line. And I have … have responsibilities of my own right now. Mark I made a huge mistake once and I’ve operated very carefully ever since. I need … slow … slow and steady so I can see that whatever this is is something that I can trust.”

“A mistake? With a guy?”

I had to roll my eyes. “What? Did you think I meant a mistake with a cheeseburger or something? Yes, a guy. It was right after we moved away last time. I got taken by a con job hook, line, and sinker and some embarrassing stuff happened and no, I’m not talking about it right now. I’m sick enough to my stomach as it is. Let’s just drop this and get home. I don’t know if I can stand the waiting anymore.”

Well, whatever I expected nothing prepared me for what I had to deal with. First thing I noticed when I came into the yard was Micah trying to get up off the ground and my Dad squaring off with two men. I won’t repeat what Mark said but I pretty much agreed with him and we both jumped out of the truck.

“Daddy!”

I got no answer because the two men had just charged him and Mark was barreling into the middle of the fray.

“Micah!” I said as I turned as a young guy that I hadn’t seen before had taken him to the ground again.

Well, as a big sister I just wasn’t going to stand around wringing my hands. I didn’t know these men from Adam. Out popped my blackjack and with a mighty swing I caught the wiry blonde in the ribs hard enough to make him howl and roll away from my brother. Before he could come to terms with what I had just done I popped him on both of his knees hard enough to make him shriek and then I kicked him in the side of his head to shut him up.

I turned to find Daddy being rode hard by the older of the two other men and Mark holding his own with the younger one. I was done being nice. The tazer was in my hand and I ran up behind the guy after my dad and gave him a hefty dose of Mr. Sparkles right in his kidney zone, knocking him to his knees. The blackjack makes a nice bat and I landed one right up side his head.

Daddy was wheezing and pointing so I turned to find Mark had the other guy in a head lock. He was saying raggedly, “Are you fools going to calm down?!”

“Mark? I don’t think he can talk. You are cutting his air supply off.”

Mark turned loose of the now purple face man and he dropped to the ground gagging.

I was livid. “That’s it I’m calling the sheriff. I swear we never had this much trouble in the city. I …”

But Daddy stopped me. “No you’re not girl. They’d only call it a domestic dispute.”

“Domestic …? Oh no.” I toed over the older guy and looked down into a face that I finally vaguely recognized as belonging to my cousin … Uncle Clement’s oldest son Roy. Mark explained that the two other men were his sons.

Roy was only a couple of years younger that Daddy and I felt a little bad about zapping him after I found out who he was … but that only lasted as long as it took him to open his mouth.

“Letting your little girl fight your battles for you these days? You might as well just go ahead and die now cause you ain’t a man anymore.” The blackjack “slipped” and it kind of brushed his mouth … hard enough to draw blood.

While my erstwhile cousin checked to see if I had loosened any teeth I said, “Look, I don’t know what your damage is but family or not I’m not going to stand here and let you just insult my Daddy. What the heck are you doing up here anyway?”

One of the boys took a run at me but I’d been through too many self-defense classes not to easily be able to avoid the attack from behind and used the blackjack to advantage again before either Daddy or Mark had to intervene. “Roy, I don’t know what is going on but tell your boys that I’m done playing. If I get attacked again I’ll use lethal force if necessary and you better believe I’m serious as a heart attack. I’m done messing around here.”

Even Daddy sat up and gave me a look when I said that but I made doggone good and sure that I was setting the precedent here. I wasn’t going to be run roughshod over and they had to believe that I would do just what I said I would.

“You better tell your daughter to …”

Daddy may not have approved of the threat I had just made but he was man enough to back me up. “Roy, you better rethink your strategy. Del is a grown woman and a good shot. And she doesn’t give second warnings.”

“Yeah, that’s right. You take something away from three poor old women and expect the men in their family to sit back and just say nothing.”

Close to really freaking out I asked, “What in the Sam Hill are you talking about Roy?!”

Daddy, trying to take control of the situation and back off from what could have degenerated into a literal blood bath said, “This land. Roy here didn’t know that your Granddaddy had willed it to you kids. Seems he was under the impression that he could just move in here and take over.”

“Well shut my mouth Roy. Granddaddy had always intended for Momma to inherit this portion of the farm and Uncle Clement and Aunt Esther knew that. No one ever made a fuss when he changed it to Micah and I with Daddy as guardian of the asset until we came of age. How could you not know it?”

He mumbled something that made Daddy angry and when I asked him to talk plainer so I could understand him he practically shouted, “Your Momma’s dead. Why should you get anything at all?”

“Roy, you are so stupid. Or are you just trying to intimidate us to make us give you what you want. I can guarantee you it isn’t going to work so don’t even waste your time trying. You know good and well that Granddaddy had that clause in his will that if someone objected to what his wishes were they would lose whatever they were bequeathed. Your Daddy sold his portion and you know that too. Aunt Esther spent hers on who knows what. The farm itself is in a life estate for the Aunts and what they choose to do with it is their business.”

“I’m telling you girl I deserve something for sticking by those old biddies all these years and I’m going to get what is coming to me.” At that he grabbed his two boys and hauled their sorry rear ends down the trail.

Trust me, it took everything I had not to say the obvious but I was sure thinking it. He’d get what he deserved all right if he ever came back around again with trouble in mind. Instead I turned to patching up everyone.

“Where are Dee and Cici?”

“They went down to see the preacher’s wife. She was coming to tea,” Micah answered. I could tell he’d been crying and it wasn’t from the punches he’d endured. Micah was tough and knew how to fight, the other guy was simply older, bigger, and more experienced.

Daddy and Mark stepped away to fill each other in on what was going on and Micah looked at me and asked quietly, “Is it true Del? Is Daddy … is he … has he got stomach cancer?”

“Yes,” I answered just as quietly.

“Why Del? Why didn’t you tell me?!”

“There were so many times I wanted to but Daddy made me promise not to. He said he would tell you himself when he thought it was the right thing to do.”

“It’s … it’s not fair Del. It’s not fair,” he said back again to being closer to a boy than a man.

“No, it’s not fair but … but I’ve never really been a big believer in life being fair. I’ve seen too many times that it isn’t.”

“Gee, thanks Del. That makes me feel better.”

“I didn’t say it to make you feel better. You said it isn’t fair and I was agreeing with you. If you don’t think I haven’t spent my time being angry and sad and frustrated over this then you’re wrong. I’ve done all I can Micah … at least all I could to try and make Daddy better. I’ve taken him to doctors and specialists, tried alternative medicines to build up his system, prayed til I felt like my eyes were bleeding … sometimes we just don’t get out of life what we want. And it hurts.” I was struggling not to cry again. I seemed to be spending a lot of time doing that.

“Del? What are we going to do? There has to be another doctor or a medicine …”

“I thought you said Daddy told you everything.”

“He … he did … but there has to be something else. There has to be.”

I didn’t know what to tell him. I thought the same way about half the time but the other half of the time I knew that sometimes you just had to accept what is rather than pine away for what you want things to be.

“You want to talk?” I asked him.

“No. Yes. Not right now. I can’t stand to think about it anymore. Do you think we need to get Daddy to a hospital? That guy … Roy … he hit Daddy a couple of times.”

“Roy is Uncle Clement’s son and a big a jerk as any we have in the family. The Aunts told me he also has a liquor problem so avoid him if you can … his sons too because they don’t look much better. As for trying to get Daddy to go to the doctor, it isn’t easy at the best of times and I suspect he is too fired up right now to listen. Let’s see how he feels later on. If I have to I’ll get Mark to help me talk Daddy around … or even the Aunts.”

Dee and Cici chose that moment to drive into the yard in their ancient Chevette telling us that Roy was saying some awful things down at the farm and making a big scene in front of the preacher’s wife and everything.

That was it, my temper has always been a thing that I had only a loose control over but I was in the truck and skidding to a halt in front of the Aunts’ house before I even came to myself.

“Roy! I warned you if you tried to make trouble for my family …”

Mark’s truck pulled in behind me and he was out and grabbing me around the waist. “Whoa there Del. Your Daddy sent me after you to make sure …”

“To make sure I didn’t get hurt or to make sure I didn’t skin Roy Porter and staple his carcass to the barn wall?!”

The Aunts came out onto the porch. Aunt Bel was wringing her hands and Aunt Lilah looked like she’d swallowed a mouth full of alum but Aunt Sheba stepped down the stairs and said, “Girl, calm yourself.”

“Calm my …?!” But at a look from her I gulped air and tried to do just that. “Roy may be my cousin Aunt Sheba but blood doesn’t cover everything. He and his two sons came up to the cabin looking for trouble, claiming not to know that Granddaddy had bequeathed it to Micah and I. I don’t know what all was said because by the time I got there they’d already worked Micah over and he’s just a 16 year old kid and it was two to one against Daddy and you know he is sick and doesn’t need that.” That last sentence was ground out because I was real close to going into a black rage again.

“Is this true Mark?” Aunt Lilah asked.

Roy called from the corner of the house, “Are you going to believe him or me?!”

“Don’t mouth off at me Roy Porter. I won’t have it,” she answered him back. “I asked you a question Mark.”

“Yes ma’am; those are the facts as I know ‘em to be. Del’s Daddy isn’t looking too good right now and Micah is pretty strung out because he just found out just how bad off Mr. Nash really is if you catch my meaning. They don’t need any trouble but Roy came looking for some all the same.”

Aunt Sheba looked me in the face and said, “You know we can’t turn him out Del, he doesn’t have any place to go.”

“You do what you think is right, it’s not my place to tell you anything and I know it. But you watch your back. I’ve had a long hard time forgiving him for showing up to Momma’s funeral drunk and I don’t care if people tried to excuse it by saying he was grief stricken. Granddaddy nearly struck him out of the will for that alone. But if Roy wants to turn this into a blood feud, I’m both Porter and Nash enough to give him one.”

Mark was pulling me backwards to the truck. “Get in the truck Del,” he said in my ear. “Get in the truck and go home. Your aunts are embarrassed enough. The preacher’s wife is still sitting in the parlor, you should see her face through the window. And Esther looks like she is about to have a stroke or something. Come on, your dad is probably worried sick.”

“No one … I mean no one messes with my family Mark. They’re all I really have in this world and Momma wouldn’t want me to stand for it either,” I said forgetting to whisper.

“Well, these people are your family too,” he reminded me.

“They can be my family or they can be my enemy. The choice is theirs to make.” I got into the truck and as soon as Mark was sure I was driving back to the cabin he followed.

No, I’m not exactly proud of the way I spoke that day. Having a hot temper is no excuse. Being scared to death for my father and brother isn’t any excuse either. I knew I was upsetting the three old ladies that I loved to pieces but that didn’t stop me from being angry at them for harboring Roy and his family when they’d just seen what they were capable of.

I know I wasn’t doing anything to make our lives easier but at the same time something in me felt compelled to draw the line when and how I did. I was worried that showing any weakness would only make us more of a target in the days ahead.

When I turned the engine off there was nearly absolute silence in the clearing. I knew that Mark had parked and was talking to Daddy but I just couldn’t bring myself to get out of the truck. I must have laid my head on the steering wheel and sat like that for ten minutes before Daddy walked up. “You done?”

“I don’t know. I still haven’t decided whether I’m going to puke or not.”

“Well, if you are better get it done and over with. Mark showed us the meat y’all brought back from town. It isn’t exactly what I sent you to get but it’ll do for now. You’ve set yourself a rough task of getting that all preserved up before it goes bad.”

I couldn’t believe that Daddy was just letting it go. I finally looked him in the face. “Girl, you’re too much like me. A little more of your Momma in you would have softened the edges but, maybe made you too soft to deal with what you’ve had to do in this life. I was always grateful that I was able to count on you, I just hope I haven’t ruined you for any man.”

That was Daddy, a real modern man on one hand, treating me as he would a son, not questioning the issue of equality at all … and two seconds later about as archaic a father as any girl has ever had to deal with. I loved him so much and in that second I really started to get a picture of how much it was going to hurt when I lost him.

Nothing else was said about Roy as we were all too busy dealing with that meat. Mark and I did most of the work. Daddy wasn’t feeling well and it was no wonder and Micah wouldn’t get more than three or four feet from him. It was pretty heartbreaking for me to watch but I hadn’t realized anyone else was noticing.

Unexpectedly Dee came around and patted me on the back and started helping. It must have surprised Mark as well because I could see him looking at her from the corner of his eye more often than not.

“I’ m pretty useless Del but I can wash the jars. Mark, I doubt you remember the stories but Momma didn’t can when you were little because she had a pressure cooker explode on her and it gave her an excuse to stop. She also thought it wasn’t worth the time and effort when you could go to the grocery store and get what you wanted. But … well if what I saw in town keeps up it is going to be a while before things get back to normal so this makes sense. But even when I was married I didn’t have a freezer that could hold all of this meat. You sure you’ve got enough jars?”

Mark didn’t set her straight and I wasn’t about to as far as how long it might be before “things got back to normal.” I think Mark was even more convinced than I was that we were headed for rough times in this country.

Cici for her part was being herself. Creeping around and trying to get out of every little job that Mark set for her. She kept it up even after he told her, “Cici if you want to eat you will do your share and you will do it right.”

We were at it for hours. Mark, with some help from Daddy (and Micah), did most of the cutting and grinding. Dee actually helped quite a bit with prepping the jars, lids, and rings and I made sure to thank her for it. She seemed to stand a little straighter when she realized I was serious and that she was truly contributing to the group’s welfare since some of this was for her family.

We worked outside for as long as we could but as soon as dark fell I could see that Dee and Cici were both drooping, unused to the amount of labor involved. I told Mark to tell them to scat and him too, that I would do the rest.

“No you won’t.”

“Yes, I will. I’m going to tell Daddy and Micah to budge off too. There really isn’t anything else you can do anyway. I’ve got both my canners going and that is going to take a while and right now I’m just trying to get some soups and other mixes ready when these two batches come off. I wish I had fresh vegetables to use instead of just my dried ones. At least I still have plenty of potatoes from our other run to town.”

“Your aunts have a pretty good sized garden. Miz Bel only has to look at something and it seems it grows like crazy. You could …”

“No!” I said a little more forcefully than I meant to. Moderating my voice I said, “I’m sorry I snapped Mark but no, I’m not going to the Aunts for any kind of help. They made it clear what side they are taking.”

“You really going to hold this against those three old ladies? They’re between a rock and a hard place.”

“So am I. I won’t be nasty to them Mark but I’m against being beholding to them under the circumstances as well.”

He cocked an eyebrow and said, “Your Dad mentioned that they’ve already sent up a bunch of jars of canned vegetables and stuff for the house.”

“That was when we were first moving in.”

“And that makes a difference?” he asked.

Grinding my teeth and finally settling back down I told him, “I know to someone else it is going to sound stupid but that is the way I feel. No one down there said squat, asking how Daddy was, worrying that Roy had really hurt him. They didn’t ask about what shape Micah was in either. All they wanted to know was whether what little I did say was the truth and then tell me to my face that they were still keeping Roy under their roof despite the danger I think he represents, not just to my family but to all of us.”

“Well, if you want to know the truth, I do understand how you feel but that’s me and I’ve been known to be stupid a time or two. Those three old ladies are all about family. I don’t know if they’ve got it in them to cut anyone off especially if they think sending them back out into the world may be the last time they ever see them.”

“Well I thought we were supposed to be family too and Roy attacked us, not the other way around.”

“Hey, like I said, I understand but I can sorta see your aunts’ side as well. Doesn’t mean I agree with it but I can see it.”

I was quiet for a couple of minutes, “And I guess I can see it too. It just hurts. No one asked … no one came out to intervene when Roy started back up. You know how that looks?”

“Sure I do. And I told you I didn’t get along with some of your cousins if I have to be around them too much. Small doses is ok because I can tolerate their jabs about how far down in the world I’ve come but a steady diet of it is too much.”

“I’m sorry Mark. I didn’t know. I wasn’t around them much growing up, just bits and pieces and they were always off with their friends and I tended to stay hanging out at the Aunts’ or with Daddy and Micah. I knew Uncle Clement better than I know Aunt Esther, she always looked down on me being homeschooled. Matter of fact you used to rib me about it too.”

“That’s because I was jealous. I hated being cooped up in a classroom all day.”

Startled enough that I sloshed hot broth on my hand making me set the pot down with more force than I had intended. “Ow!”

“You OK?”

“Yeah, it’s no big deal.” He was holding my hand and turning it in the light of the lantern to see if it was burned when Daddy came outside to check on things.

“Mr. Nash, Del sloshed some hot broth on her hand,” Mark told him as he walked up.

“Tattle tail,” I whispered under my breath because sure enough they started looking at my hand like a couple of meat examiners. “Oh, that’s enough. It’s just a little red. I’ve had worse. I’ll put some cream on it in a little while after I get this batch finished.”

“You’ll march yourself in there and put some cream on it now,” was Daddy’s reply.

Knowing better than to cause a ruckus when Daddy was in a mood I went and pulled out the first aid kit I had put in the butler’s pantry. Micah cornered me as I was standing there fuming about getting bossed around by a couple of men I knew for a fact wouldn’t let me give them a little first aid if they were dripping blood all over the place.

“Del …”

“Please don’t cry Micah. I know that is an awful thing to ask but … but I don’t know if I can handle it right now.”

“I know, I’m not a little kid … I still just don’t understand why y’all didn’t tell me before. Now I’ve got to face everything all at once.”

Leaning against the wall and speaking quietly in case Daddy came back in I told him, “Hindsight is 20/20 Bubby. I didn’t want to believe that things were ever going to get to this point and I don’t guess Daddy ever thought they would either. He was just trying to protect you from the worst of it … and maybe protect himself too.”

“Protect himself?”

“Yeah. I mean think about it. If Daddy admitted to you how sick he was that would have meant admitting it to himself.”

After a confused moment the light dawned. “You mean as long as I didn’t know about how sick he was he didn’t have to think about how sick he was; he could … could … ignore it sort of.”

“Yeah, at least that is what I think has been going on. But it is to the point he can’t ignore it any more. Maybe … maybe if the world wasn’t going crazy he could have put it off a little longer but that isn’t the way it is and … and as cruel as this sounds we don’t have any choice but to deal with things the way they are. Wishing isn’t going to change a dang thing.” That last was said with more anger than I had meant to let show.

“I … I didn’t know you were … well … you sound angry.”


Shaking my head at the futility of it I told him, “I’m a lot of things Micah and it’s been like this for me a while. I wish I could have shared more with you but I’ve already explained that. Yes I’m angry and you’ll go through times where you get angry too. The doctors I spoke with told me that it is just part of the whole process. Right now I’m just tired and overwhelmed and my anger isn’t at Daddy being sick so much as at everything else that is going on that only makes that situation worse, harder to deal with. I swear I could have really killed Roy today.”

“I know. I haven’t seen you like that since that store that you were working at got robbed.”

“I … look Micah … all I can do is promise that I’m trying to control myself but sometimes my feelings get away from me. If there was an enemy I could focus all of my anger on I might be better off but there isn’t, not really, not right now. I also know I need all of that energy to take care of things here, around the house and Daddy and you and …”

“I’ve been a pain in the butt haven’t I?” he asked in about as repentant a voice as I’d ever heard him use.

I looked at him and snorted and said, “Yeah, but nothing too awful I guess. Not really. Certainly not too much worse than your average teenage male of the species.” After we both rolled our eyes in feigned humor I continued, “But if you could, you know, just tone it down a bit and not go off wild and crazy and get into jams … this just isn’t a good time for that sort of stuff and you’re getting a little too old for it. OK?”

Not as grudgingly as I had expected he replied, “Yeah, sure, I get it. I can’t promise not to get into fights with that Cici. Man, if you think I’m bad you must think she is a holy terror.”

“We’ll keep that between me and you please. I … we … are going to need Mark’s help and he needs ours too. It means a few compromises here and there. I’m hoping Cici will tone it back some as well when she finally accepts and understands what is really going on in the world right now. She’s fourteen, that’s old enough to start growing up.”

Realizing I’d been inside more than I had intended I brushed past Micah with a one armed hug and then went back outside to find that Mark and Daddy had unloaded one canner and was reloading it with the jars I had already prepped.

Daddy asked quietly, “He seem OK?”

“Better than I expected. But he’s hurt that we didn’t tell him sooner and you know he’ll eventually get over the shock and get angry.”

Daddy just nodded, sighed and then said he was going to go lay down for a while but to call him if I needed anything.

After Daddy was out of earshot Mark asked, “He’s just going to leave you to handle all of this?”

I gave a small laugh and told him, “Daddy hasn’t had a choice in letting me handle things for a long time Mark. He had to trust that I could help take care of Micah, homeschool myself, and generally be the woman of the house before I was even a pre-teen. You didn’t see it because when we were here the Aunts were always interfering … with the best of intentions … with the way we normally did things. I always got more frustrated with their low expectations than I did with Daddy’s high ones.”

“But still … I guess I just don’t get it. I mean, look at Cici.”

I snorted and said, “Yeah, let’s look at Cici. It isn’t that I don’t feel for your little princess but I don’t see how it’s doing her any good to let her run wild like she has. That’s like telling her you don’t have any other expectations for her than for her to be the way she is right now. I’m going to tell you something Mark and I know it is going to hurt your feelings some but here it is … I’ve got a 16 year old brother than has already noticed that Cici is a girl and trouble at the same time. I don’t think he is stupid enough to do anything about it, apparently she hasn’t made the best impression on him, but then again I’m probably going to warn him off if she keeps it up.”

“For God’s sake Del, she’s a little girl!” Yep, he was angry.

“She’s not a ‘little girl’ Mark, she is fourteen. And she walks around dressed like she’s got it all for sale at bargain prices.”

“Hey!”

I wouldn’t let up. “Those jeans shorts she has aren’t old Mark, she’s cut them that short on purpose … what passes for a hem on them goes right to the bottom of the pocket. And that tank top she wears? And the bra underneath that is some kind of peek-a-boo barely there thing? Come on, you aren’t blind.”

He said, “I said something to Dee but she said that is what is in style and what all her friends wear.”

“Well I can tell you that isn’t what is in style right now … except for the slut patrol types. I ought to know, one of my jobs was at the Mall and I saw it all on campus too. And if her friends are wearing that then maybe she has the wrong kinds of friends.”

He was angry but it was more because I was pointing out the truth in a way he couldn’t ignore. He slumped down on a stump and groaned, “What am I supposed to do about it Del? I can barely keep up with raising Jessie. How am I supposed to raise Cici too? And that was even if she would let me.”

“Well there is part of your problem right there. Cici is still too young to decide how she is going to be raised. Heck, Micah is just now reaching the beginning of understanding that sort of stuff and he’s going on seventeen. Can’t you remember how it was for yourself? I sure do. I was mature for my age, had a lot of responsibilities, but I would have made a mess of things more than once if I hadn’t had the absolute boundaries that Daddy set for me. It gave me an excuse to use when I was in a situation I could admit that I couldn’t handle.” I put the next bunch of meat in the pan to sear and then continued, “I couldn’t admit it then, I think when you are a teenager you are still too full of yourself, but I can say now that I’m glad my Dad was like he was, is like he is. I was given a lot of leeway because of the way our life was but at the same time Daddy was really strict and I knew where the line was … and is … because he was consistent about it. I still live under Daddy’s roof and I’ll honor him with my obedience until that changes and I’m nowhere near embarrassed to say that.”

“I didn’t have that. Even before my parents died things were … different for me. Dad worked a lot and was older, worried about where the money would come from when he retired. Actually he was always going on about money. He and Mom fought about it a lot. They didn’t have a lot of time for kid stuff and mostly thought they were too old for it. Then … after they died and Dee got married … well it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out I wasn’t too happy. I acted out a lot and was too angry to explain to people why. Come to think of it I guess that is why I used to ride your case so much, you had what I wanted.”

We both shook our heads but I’d had enough of the heavy conversation so I said, “My, my don’t we sound all grown up and stuff.”

Mark grinned and said, “I don’t mind growing up, I’m just tired of feeling old. There are days my life feels over with before it even had a chance to start … oh … I … Del I didn’t mean to …”

“Relax Mark. A few months back I would have been hyper sensitive about accidental words like that but it isn’t your fault my life is like it is or that Daddy is sick. I’m just … look, I’m just glad I have a friend. Is that OK?”

“Yeah … yeah it is. I have to admit it is nice to have someone to talk to about Dee and Cici; someone that will tell me the truth and not just what I want to hear. Look, I’ll be right back but I need to check on Jessie. He’s been sleeping a long time and that’s not like him.”

I was in the middle of changing out the other canner when Mark came back to help. “Everything OK?” I asked.

“Yeah, Dee gave him some teething drops before she put him to bed. I usually like to … uh …” he stopped, embarrassed.

“What?”

His answer came out so fast that it nearly sounded like one long word. “I usually like to give him his bath and read him a bed time story before putting him to bed.”

Trying to put him at his ease I said, “That’s cool. Daddy and I took turns doing the same thing for Micah. Jessie probably eats it up, I know Micah did even though there were nights when he didn’t seem like he was listening. If we didn’t read him a bedtime story he would pitch a real fit.”

Mark shrugged and didn’t say anything but did seem to relax. We were at it until about two in the morning before we were both just too tired to continue. We took what meat was left and divided it between the RVs propane refrigerator and the solar cooler in the cabin’s kitchen and then we parted company both of us hoping that we could get enough sleep to be able to face whatever was coming the next day.

I took a spit bath and then checked on Daddy who it looked like had been forced to take a pain pill before crawling in my bed. It didn’t feel like I had been asleep more than a few minutes when my forgotten cell phone went off. I answered it automatically even though I hadn’t received a call on it in days.

“Hello?” I mumbled after seeing it was the Aunts’ number on the caller ID.

“Delilah, I expect to see you here at eight o’clock.”

“Wait. Aunt Esther? See me where? At the farm?”

“No, on the moon … of course at the farm girl. Where else would I mean?”

The details of yesterday settled into place and I said, “Aunt Esther I’m not going to fight about Roy and …”

“Good. There has been quite enough of that already. Roy got roaring drunk last night and behaved like a complete fool and is, thank God, sleeping it off in the trailer with JD and his family and will likely be that way for most of the day.”

“Then why …?”

“It should be obvious.”

Trying to maintain my cool I said, “Well it’s not.”

“Something simply must be done around here. There isn’t enough room so some of this stuff is going to have to go. There isn’t room for everything.”

“What stuff and where do you intend it to go?”

“Oh for heaven’s sake girl, just be here when I told you to. And bring the truck.” Click. I was left holding a phone that now only had one person speaking into it.

“Argh!”

“Del?” It was Micah. “What did Aunt Esther want?”

“To make my life a bigger misery than it already is.” He grinned hesitantly and I told him I’d fix him breakfast before I left but it would have to be something easy like pancakes because I only had an hour before I was expected at the palace. That did get a laugh out of him and I heard Daddy laugh too when he relayed what I’d said.

I was happy to see that Daddy was able to eat. I told him, “I don’t know what Aunt Esther is doing but I won’t be any longer than I have to. I’ve got too much to do around here.”

“Del,” then he sighed.

“Don’t worry Daddy, if I feel a fight coming on I’ll just leave and to heck with the rest.”

“No Darling, that’s not it. I’m trying to think of a nice way to say this.” He ate another bite of pancake while I waited. “I don’t want you to tell the family down there what we are up to and what we have or don’t have. I’m not asking you to outright lie but …”

“I get it Daddy … OPSEC.”

That got me a smile and a syrupy kiss on the forehead. “That’s my girl. I knew you’d understand. Now see if you can get Mark to come in and eat some of these flapjacks; you’ve made enough to feed an army. While you’re gone I’ll get going on canning the last of the meat. Might make some of my world famous chili and some sloppy joe mix if you haven’t gotten around to that yet.”

Mark was outside walking around with Jessie pointing to a squirrel. Mark wasn’t averse to the pancakes. He did walk over to the truck with me and while I was climbing in the cab asked, “Did you say Esther called on the phone?”

“Yeah, which is weird because the phones have been down.”

“Radio said they were going to try and at least get the cell towers back up and running locally but that they’d only work intermittently and to try and text rather than tie up the voice lines. I’ll stay up here and work with your dad but I’ll have my phone if you need a hand. You fight pretty well for a girl but you are still just a girl.”

I couldn’t help it. I laughed. “Yeah, and you’re a guy and if it turns into a hen house fight you’ll be next to useless because I doubt you could ever bring yourself to even say boo much less hit a woman.”

“That’s not what my ex claimed,” he said, suddenly gloomy.

“Well then I guess it is a good thing she ran away and you aren’t stuck trying to figure out how to make it work isn’t it? Where are Dee and Cici?”

“Don’t expect to see them until lunch time. They wake up late and it takes them forever to get dressed and look presentable.”

I let that one go because it would have been too easy and headed down to the farm. As soon as I was out of the tree line I saw the mess I hadn’t really taken in the day before. It’s a wonder I didn’t hit another vehicle because they were parked all over the place. Trucks, cars, a minivan, trailers, four wheelers, and couple of dirt bikes … it looked like the leavings of a used car lot except for what turned out to be Aunt Esther’s Cadillac sitting in the shade of the barn covered by a large tarp.

My foot hadn’t hit the bottom step before Aunt Esther was out the door and saying, “You’re late.”

“Five minutes Aunt Esther and you’re lucky it wasn’t longer. You didn’t exactly give me a lot of notice and I have my own responsibilities that come first.”

Aunt Esther’s trademark sniff was her only reply before telling me, “Well don’t just stand there girl. There’s work to be done.”

I agreed to give her two hours of my time and her lips thinned so much that nearly she wiped all of her lipstick off onto her teeth but I wasn’t budging.

At the end of two hours the bed of the pickup was loaded and so was the back of the extended cab. The biggest items were an antique bedstead that had seen much better days and an old mattress and feather tick. I wasn’t going to take that until Aunt Lilah took me to another room and told me, “Del, now listen to me. This may not have been how my sisters and I had ever envisioned our things being parceled out, frankly we didn’t think we would ever see it because it wouldn’t happen until after the last one of us passed on, but we’ve discussed it and this may be better. At least this way we have some say in who gets what. And you take what we give you if for no other reason than we ask you to in your mommas’s memory.”

The guilt trip only made me feel worse and I was still uncomfortable. It got worse when box after box of home canned goodies went into the truck bed. Then Alainna, one of Aunt Esther’s daughters said, “Don’t be stupid Delilah. This stuff is nearly a year old and they’d just wind up giving it away to their church as charity. We need to clear that room out so we can store everyone’s nice things there. And besides it’s not like your family has anything. Better to be charitable with your own family ahead of strangers. I don’t even know how safe this stuff is. Mother much prefers real, store-bought items. Not to mention you know Aunt Sheba is going to make us all work in that ridiculously big garden they insist on keeping, growing more of it that they’ll just have to give away too. At least I’ll be able to fix a decent salad. I brought my own dressing that I ordered from …”

I just stopped listening to keep my head from exploding. First off “Alainna” had been plain old Ali when we were growing up but somewhere along the last couple of years it looked like she’d started down the same road as Aunt Esther and refused to even respond unless you called her by her “proper name.” Secondly, I hated for people to call me Delilah. I know Momma meant well by naming me after all three aunts that raised her but not even the Aunts liked their names. Mostly however, I hated that everyone treated us like the poor-as-church-mice members of the family. To prevent myself from correcting that misconception I had to keep repeating to myself OPSEC, OPSEC, OPSEC.

As soon as two hours was up I was out of there despite the pleas and outright commands to stay and help. No, I’d definitely had enough and the load in the truck only added to my already long list of things that had to be done that day.

I drove back to the cabin to find that they had just loaded the last quart jars. “Del, we’ll turn what is left into sausage and jerky. Dig out those seasonings so we can … Jumping Jehoshaphat girl! What on God’s green earth do you have in here? Micah, come help your sister!”

Mark and Micah stood there and goggled at the load in the truck before starting to unload it all onto the front porch while I explained what had happened. “What was I supposed to say Daddy? I was stuck no matter what came out of my mouth.”

“Don’t worry about it Del, I got sucked into the same thing when we were getting our belongings from the barn and the house that first day. It is darned hard to tell the Aunts no when they get their dander up. Besides, you need a bed and that’ll do as well as any and save us a trip to town to hunt one up. But this needs to be it. We don’t have the room here for much else until I get the shed built and that is going to have to wait until after …”

He never finished what he was going to say. He suddenly turned green, took four steps and puked into the bushes. When he stood up and caught his breath I saw a patch of read on the handkerchief he’d used to wipe his mouth. He shoved it in his pocket fast but not before accepting that I’d seen it.

“Daddy?”

“Let it go Del. There’s nothing to be done about it.”

For the next three days Daddy ran a low grade fever so he stayed on the porch playing foreman when he wasn’t lying down resting the best he could. Micah did have his moments of anger but he dealt with them better than I ever gave him credit for being able to. Mark was a lifesaver and Jessie was a good distraction for us all. Even Dee and Cici started pulling their weight although there was one bad day where Cici went ballistic because her father refused to let her come live with him in town because it would be “too disruptive” to his schedule.

By necessity Cici had to change what she was wearing unless she wanted to die of infected chigger and mosquito bites. But it also, strangely enough, coincided with a bit of rudeness on Micah’s part. I had given Micah the compost bucket to empty and then had stepped outside to ask him to bring in a bucket of water so that I could mop the kitchens and bathroom floors when I heard him exclaim, “Keep your distance Jailbait. I’ve got enough troubles without you trying to get me into more. And if you don’t knock it off I’ll say something to Mark.”

“He won’t believe you,” came the arrogant reply.

“I don’t care if he believes me or not, I’ll still have my say. And Del will believe me. She’s already warned me that girls that dress like you do are out for the wrong kind of attention and for me to keep my fly zipped.”

That isn’t exactly how I phrased it but it came down to the same thing and I was glad that he had gotten the message. I just prayed he wouldn’t say it like that to Mark if it ever came down to it.

JD did come up once to talk to Daddy. I’m not sure what was said but I think an understanding was reached. Daddy invited him to stay for lunch and I fixed cornbread, pinto beans, and stewed potatoes and was actually complemented on it though I’m not sure his wife was going to appreciate it too much given how much he had eaten.

The day after that Rudy came up to sit with Daddy a bit and brought nearly two dozen hens that he said he would have to cull unless we took them.

“You doing OK Rudy?” Daddy asked.

“Better than a lot of folks. Water has gone down some on our land but the rain is keeping it from going down very fast. My cattle all have wet feet and I’ve had to pen my hogs I have left in with my brother in law two counties over, the flooding completely missed his place but even he’s lucky he had all his feed order come in. Fuel is getting expensive though the government has instituted price controls and rationing.” Rudy turned to Mark who had started digging fence posts for a chicken run just to stay out of the way. “Mark, hope there isn’t any hard feelings over … well … over that trouble we had.”

Mark swallowed and said, “No … no hard feelings. It is done and over with and bigger problems are going on. No sense in wasting the energy on a feud.”

“Good man.” He looked over at me and then at Daddy and said, “You need someone to vouch that Mark Griffey is a hard worker and I know lots of people who would step up, me included.”

Rudy was lucky I was too tired to be in a fighting mood because the iron skillet in my hand sure did want to test out the strength of his skull at that moment. Daddy paid him no mind for which I was grateful. Whatever, if anything, was building between Mark and I needed to grow slow and not get goosed along before we were ready for it.

The day after that all heck broke loose all over again. Another round of attacks on the US occurred, this time on several population centers, before they had even found out who had been responsible for the first one.

Daddy wiped his forehead and said, “Thank God they were only using conventional weapons. Lord knows what they’ll throw at us if it happens again.”

“That you know of,” Mark said, taking a sip of his sweet tea as we sat on the porch listening to what reports were being released.

“Eh?”

“That you know of,” he said with more confidence. “You said yourself that we can’t believe everything we hear on the radio and that most of what is on the TV is garbage to keep people from being too scared. If they aren’t telling us everything ‘for our own good’ then what is to keep them from hiding that one or more of these attacks have been with something besides conventional weapons?”

Dad screwed up his face in thought. “Well, you’re right of course but anything too big they would lose control of real quick. There’s already a lot of finger pointing going on and this would be a prize for the opposition to use against those in power.” Daddy stopped and I could see him thinking.

“We aren’t really near anything important … closest thing would be Ft. Campbell but I’m not too worried about it at this point. I don’t think it is that they want to wipe out the US so much as they want to wipe out the perceived reputation the US has. What they’ve failed to take into account is that without the US, the economic rubik’s cube that the world is made up of will fall apart. We are a consumer nation but we also have significant natural resources. Take us out of the picture and things will completely collapse.”

“That’s all well and good Daddy,” I said unable to keep my two cents to myself. “But a lot of these jihadists already live a primitive or at least very low on the economic rung life.”

“I don’t disagree with you Baby Girl but you’ve made a huge jump.”

“Huh?”

“No one has claimed responsibility yet. Maybe they didn’t really expect it to work. Maybe they scared themselves silly. Maybe … maybe their leaders are ticked off at an unauthorized plan. Who knows.”

“But who else would it be?”

“Sweetheart, the US isn’t high on people’s friends’ list the last couple of years. There’s that nutcase down in South America. But I would say he is more of a conspirator than someone with the actual weight and ability to pull something like this off. There are the drug cartels in Mexico but they are too much like bulls in a china shop. The Asians have the tech savvy to pull something like this off but China in particular doesn’t have a lot of reason to at the moment. They need our dollars coming in now that they’ve had to face their own ruptured industry bubbles, not to mention they’ve got enough of their own civil unrest to deal with to keep them busy. Russia? Maybe, but again there isn’t a lot of logic to that given current circumstances. I’ve also considered some version of homegrown terrorism.”

“Ew.”

“But possible,” Mark said immediately after my sound of disgust. “And to add another to your list that goes with that what about some of those environmental wacko’s? You know the really violent ones like you used to see in shows like Whale Wars and the ones that tried to blow up that chemistry lab at that university?”

“Yep,” Daddy replied. “They’ve got just about everything that they would need to pull this off. One, they’ve got the money. Lots of people donate to these groups; well-meaning though they may be their donations could get misused. Look how many people in Hollywood or these kids of millionaires call themselves environmentalists. Two, they’ve got the tech savvy. They recruit in the highschools and colleges, usually from the honor roll students. They are as bad as a cult when it comes to some of their recruitment tactics. Three, opportunity. A lot of ‘environmentalists’ work in the fields that have been the hardest hit by these attacks. Four, motive; some of the worst events in history have started with the best of intentions.”

Daddy was tired after we talked and was going to go lay down for a while. We hadn’t heard from anyone at the farm in a couple of days so Daddy asked Mark and I to go down and scout things out. “Stick to the trees on the way down if you want to. Don’t let ‘em drag you into anything. I just find it passing strange that we haven’t had any of ‘em come up here since Rudy came by.”

Mark and I were just kind of goofing as we walked down, but it was a quiet goofing around. It was too hot for one thing and another neither one of us was really eager to run into anyone from the farm. It had been nice to be all but cut off from civilization. Cici and Dee had fussed a bit at first but that had gone by the wayside, especially after I started telling Cici that if she was bored there were lots of chores I could find for her to do. Dee still existed mostly in la-la land but she did seem more balanced than when I had first met her.

We were hushing each other as we reached the last bend before the road turned straight as it connected with the drive that ran beside the house and eventually out to the county road. Mark was the first to notice and jabbed me in the ribs to shut up the last of my giggles.

He pulled me further into the trees to the side of the road and we fought the underbrush to get closer to the house. Mark whispered, “I see the cars but where are the people? Dinner should … be … have you ever known your aunts to let their animals roam free like this?”

“Oh Lord no, the garden.”

Mark craned his neck, “Don’t see … yeah, there are a couple of geese in the garden and I think a chicken but the gate is closed and the fence still up. Maybe one of the kids let the animals out.”

“Mark,” I said looking out from under the arm he’d thrown out to stop me from going any further. “Why is the screen door swinging open and shut like that? Aunt Lilah will have someone’s head on a platter. You know how she is.”

“Yeah,” he said too quietly. Turning to me he said, “Stay here I’m going to …”

“You did not just tell me to stay here. Because I know you are smarter than to think that for even one second …”

“Del, enough,” he said with the same kind of authority that had clued me in to not push my father any further. “I’ll signal you to come up as soon as I make sure it is safe. Something is going on and I can’t see what it is if I have to worry about watching both our backs.”

Though it went against everything I wanted to do I nodded. “Thank you. Look, you take the rifle and let me borrow your pistol. I don’t want to freak anyone out if they are just all sitting at the dinner table and have lost track of time.“

We made the switch and I watched him cautiously circle around the yard until he could come out closer to the farm house by passing behind the animal barn and the chicken coop. I saw him grab the screen door and then the main door and push it open.

I nearly jumped as bad as he did as I watched Mark nearly fall backwards off the porch as a goat came pushing out. He turned and looked my direction but didn’t call me to come on. What worried me worse was to see him place the pistol in his right hand and cover his nose and mouth with the crook of his left elbow, toe open the door and go inside.

I felt like a rubber band that was being stretched to the breaking point and when Mark came stumbling out of the door and leaned over the railing of the porch, visibly puking I couldn’t stop myself. I ran forward, straight out of the woods and across the yard.

Mark saw me coming, the rifle slowed me down even though I still felt like I was flying, and met me before I could go into the house.

“Back up Del. Back up. You are not going in there.”

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