Monday, November 14, 2011

Update ...

The following stories are now complete:
A Will To Survive
Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men
Forsaken Harvest (completed as of 11/14/11)
Over the Mountain and Through the Fire
This Is Me Surviving

Stories Currently in Progress:
All Roads Lead Somewhere
Carry On
Gurl
Mom's Journal of the Zombie Years
To All Things There Is A Season
Il Agita Di Amore
And the Geek Will Inherit the Earth

I plan on a very short break and then will begin to try and complete another story. I hope to have at least two more completed before the end of the year.

Chapter 48 - The End

Chapter 48
EPILOGUE

“Daddy, why do Uncle Daniel and Aunt Pauline live in a hole in the ground? Wouldn’t it be better if they lived in a house like us?”

A little dark skinned boy runs up behind the little girl and taps her hard enough to make her stumble and yells, “You’re it!” before running off. The girl just rolls her eyes and continues to walk beside her father as her siblings dart this way and that between the trees.

The father looked down and thought just how much she had turned out like his own mother, even her looks, which caused him a twinge. Since she was waiting for an answer he said, “I grew up in that ‘hole in the ground’ … or at least until I was about six or seven.”

“Is that when Poppa finished the house where we live now?”

“No, that was only a little place. Poppa tore that down when he built the big house we all live in now.”

“But why don’t they come live with us now when Poppa and Mawmaw are gone? Aunt Leena lives with us now.”

“Aunt Leena and Uncle Adam are only visiting until they get their place finished. Now that Uncle Adam is finished with all of his training he is going to start his own medical practice on this side of the ridge while his brother keeps the one going that his dad started over in A-Town.”

“But doesn’t Uncle Daniel want to live with us anymore? He used to. Did we do something wrong? I miss him.”

The father smiled. “No Sweetheart. My Uncle Daniel is … well he needed his own place. All the noise and ruckus up at the big house doesn’t always set too well with him. Aunt Pauline is the same way. And out here they are closer to the plants and animals they like so well.”

“’Cause Uncle Daniel and Aunt Pauline are special?”

The man asked abruptly, “Where did you hear talk like that?”

“I heard a lady at church say it. She said it real funny like she didn’t mean the word like the word is supposed to mean.”

“Now you listen here young lady. Uncle Daniel and Aunt Pauline are a little … different … eccentric maybe … but God made them just like He made us and I better not hear another thing about it.”

Properly subdued the little girl said, “Yes Daddy.”

The father, regretting how forcefully he’d reacted added, “I know you don’t mean anything bad by it Vickilynn but words have power and using the wrong words can be hurtful to people. Folks like Uncle Daniel might take the long way around to get someplace or they might have a totally different way of looking at things, but that doesn’t make it wrong.”

Reassured the little girl said, “Yes sir.” After a pause she asked, “But why do we come out here every day? Why don’t they come to us sometimes?”

“’Cause Uncle Daniel is real busy this time of year and your Mawmaw made me promise when she went that I’d keep an eye on them just in case. Besides, this is your Uncle Daniel’s and Aunt Pauline’s anniversary, they’ve been married five years. Your momma will skin me if we don’t get this cake delivered and get back to the house to help with the garden and J. Paul.”

“Daddy, is J.Paul like Uncle Daniel?”

The man paused and then nodded, “A little bit. Your Mawmaw swears he’s quieter than Uncle Daniel was at that age though.”

The little girl looked completely unconvinced and asked, “You sure?”

The man laughed and reminded her that her grandmother was never one that liked being questioned so if she said Uncle Daniel was noisier than J.Paul is they’d just have to believe it.

The man stepped into the clearing and looked around at the place that hadn’t changed much since he’d been a child running as free as his own small children were doing now. Uncle Daniel and Aunt Pauline were sitting on stools he’d made them for last Christmas shelling beans, something they seemed to have endless patience and energy for.

He watched each of his children begin to settle down as they knew that if they wanted their Uncle Daniel to show them some new and interesting thing he’d found in the forest they’d need to play by his rules of staying calm or he’d get fed up with them and tell them to come back some other time. They also knew not to startle Pauline and he was grateful that they were careful with her even if they didn’t know the whole of it.

Pauline had been a slave during the Starving Years and had nearly died before being rescued by the militia in that area. Then several well meaning people had paired her up with a man that had turned out to be an abuser. By the time he’d died – been killed in a brawl actually – Pauline was like she was and there was no changing it. Uncle Daniel had met her one time when they were taking some goats to market and for some reason known only to God and Uncle Daniel it was love at first sight for both of them. The man’s mother had done what was necessary and Pauline had come home with them and the rest as they say was history.

He leaned against the tree and thought about his own childhood and about his sister Leena … and about his other siblings as well, all of them seeming to have outgrown the wanderlust and finally decided to return to the home they couldn’t seem to wait to escape when they were young and raring for adventure. He was the youngest and the only one that had never seemed to feel the need to see what was “out there.”

He looked up to see Aunt Pauline quietly waiting for him to notice her. He took off his hat and said, “I beg your pardon. I was wool gathering.”

She gave a small smile and said, “You miss them don’t you Jeff.”

He nodded, “Yes ma’am. I sure do. But it had to be the Lord’s work that they were able to go together. There’s no other explanation for how things happened the way they did.”

His parents had been gone three months and it still caused him a twinge but he knew where ever they were they were happy just to be together.

*****

On the other side of the world the old woman stopped to empty a stone out of her shoe. The hike had been lovely but tiring too, especially on the heels of the big ceremony dedicating the memorial to the men and woman that had left Spain at the behest of the UN and never returned. “Reckon the children are doing all right?” she asked the man at her side.

“Jeff will have things well in hand Querida. And Daniel is there to help if need be.”

Dacey nodded. “I know, I know. Time I cut the apron strings. Just he’s the youngest and … well, as much as I’ve had fun seeing your old home Abel, I miss the noise of our own around us. I’ll be glad to start back tomorrow. It was nice that you found some of your cousins still alive but, I feel like such a stranger around here.”

Abel smiled and said, “Yes, me too. It is so quiet here. I thought …”

“Thought what?”

His shrugs were still as eloquent as ever. “Perhaps to find a piece of myself I had left behind.”

Curious she asked, “Did you?”

A rakish grin partially hidden by a mustache and well-trimmed beard preceded his cocky swagger in her direction. “No Querida. I realized if you had not come with me that would have been the piece that was missing.”

Dacey smiled realizing age didn’t change as much as she thought it would. “So, did you like the ceremony?”

“Eh, it was all right. Too many in the audience didn’t seem to really understand what the memorial represented. I saw very few people our age except in the special visitor stands and of them, I saw very few who seemed happy to remember only that they survived. It was a spectacle. I am glad my cousin got us those passes so that I could tell the story of those that had died with honor but I’m not sorry to be returning to where I now belong.”

“To be expected I guess. Not a whole lot of us old timers around, or at least not in any shape to do a bunch of gallivanting around like we’ve been doing.”

The swagger had drawn him very close and he whispered huskily, “You still … gallivant … quite well.”

That caused Dacey to laugh out loud. “Honesty Abel, that ceremony was supposed to be serious and here you are … well … acting like you’re acting.”

Abel smiled and then leaned against the tree while his wife finished tying her boot. “I can think of no better affirmation of life than that and a prayer of thanksgiving. We’ve already said our prayers, so why not now the other? We lived through seven long years of the Heart Rot. To have survived it was a miracle, a blessing from God above. And the recovery afterwards was just as long and nearly as hard as the Starving Time as the world tried to find its way. Then the war … but it is all done … at least until the next crisis and there are children and grandchildren and hope.”

“Why Abel Montoya … there’s always hope.”

“Si Querida, there is always hope,” as he swooped in for a surprise kiss that had her laughing all over again.



THE END

Chapter 47

Chapter 47

The rag tag end of my cough was finally gone and I needed some air, some sunshine. I knew what natural sunlight I got over the next few weeks would likely have to hold me all winter and I wanted to soak up what I could. I wrapped Leena in her blanket and climbed out of the sink. I didn’t have to have help doing it anymore and I glad to not be tied down to someone else helping me all the time.

As I finally reached the top of the stairs I saw that Abel was chopping wood; he swore we wouldn’t run short this year like we had last and he never let a spare moment go by that he didn’t at least add a stick or two to our supply of fuel. Daniel, who had been growing so fast you could almost see it the few times you could catch him standing still, was bringing in another basket of forage to sort and dry or can as we needed.

I told him, “Hand me some of those and I’ll help.”

“Nuh uh … you handle Leena. This is my job.”

“What? You think I’ve forgotten how?”

He looked at me and grinned mischievously and said, “Maybe.”

I stuck my tongue out at him and said, “Razzle frats on you.”

Daniel laughed but didn’t bring me any of the forage. It was a good thing because Leena picked that moment to start squeaking. I picked her up and slid her under the poncho I wore a lot because it was just too hard to constantly run and change my shirt so she could get fed.

It’s a strange thing. When Leena is eating I feel like I go off to Lala Land. I mean it is one of those things I imagine if you could bottle people would pay a lot of money for – assuming people still use money some place in the world – but it is kind of freaky as well.

Leena and I were all comfy on the blanket when the forest got quiet. I was about to sit up to see what had caused it when Daniel rushed over and covered us with a couple of branches and then hid behind it. “Stay quiet as a mouse Dacey. Two people are coming I … wait, that’s not a people that’s Josef.”

I could tell he was about to jump up. “No!” I whispered. “Not until Abel gives the all clear Daniel.”

A little chagrined he said, “Oh. Yeah. Good thinking Dacey.”

My back had been to the direction the men had come from and I couldn’t move without unhooking Leena and if I did that she wouldn’t be real happy. She wasn’t big and she really wasn’t all that loud but she could let her feelings be known that’s for sure.

Daniel went to stand up. “Daniel?”

“It’s OK Dacey, Abel told me to come over. But you stay put ‘til I check it out.”

Oh my Daniel, I wish Dad and Mom could see him. Despite all of his issues he’s more mature now as a young teenager than many of my older friends were before they were forced to grow up due to Heart Rot.

In no time Abel ran back over and carefully moved the branch off of me and then helped me to sit up. It was Josef all right but I didn’t recognize the guy with him.

Abel walked up and said, “Dacey, this is Louis. I met him on the trip. He is a good man.”

I nodded but continued to hold back. I was looking at Josef who was looking at me. He tried to hide his shock but I could see it behind his stoney face.

“I know what I look like Josef. Pretty pathetic huh?”

He knelt down and said, “I came over not knowing what to expect. Frankly I’m surprised we found you so quickly. I just went by the little bit that Daniel had said about you living near your parents’ house and took the same trail I saw you take each time.”

I looked in consternation at Abel who had a carefully blank look. “You didn’t.”

“Querida, there were a few times … I needed someone that would come to care for you and Daniel.”

I was outraged and very upset and then suddenly dizzy. “Dacey!”

I wanted to be mad at him but just was too busy trying to keep my brain from spinning. The man named Louis said, “I swore a blood oath Missus Montoya. Wouldn’t ever break one o’ those … more than my soul is worth.”

I looked at him and realized he talked kinda funny. He spoke good English but there was something strange about it. “Got me a Granny what Abel here promised to look after should something happen to me.” He wasn’t Amish either ‘cause he said he’d sworn an oath and that was something they didn’t do.

Then I realized why he sounded so different yet familiar. “You’re from West Virginia.”

He looked surprised but somehow pleased. “Sure am Missus.”

I wanted to ask what he was doing here but Josef was trying to take Leena from me and I wasn’t having any of it. “Dacey, let me check the baby out.”

“Her. Her name is Leena and don’t you dare take her blanket off, she’ll catch a chill and she’s too little to drink tea.”

I realized as soon as I said it that it sounded strange and the concerned look on everyone’s faces made me realize it sounded worse than that, it sounded crazy. I was getting upset and that only made the odd feelings I was having worse. Abel bent down and picked me up and then turned to Josef and Louis, “You swear by all you hold dear that no one else is with you or followed you?”

Josef looked offended but Louis stuck out his hand and said, “Made sure to lose the couple of young rascals that wanted to follow us and then came up behind ‘em and put a scare into ‘em. They left off after that. Nosey peckerwoods but no real harm in ‘em but the both of them learned the hard way not to push me too far.”

I could feel Abel nod and then turn to Daniel who he told, “Run ahead and clear the way.” This must have been a secret between the two of them because when we finally entered the cave the pocket door at the end of the hall that led to all of the various storage are was slid closed and a book case stood in front of it.

Abel noticed me noticing and kissed the top of my head and I relaxed some. He might have told some, might have had a good reason for it, but he didn’t tell all and didn’t intend on telling all either from the looks of it.

I tried to think about what the rest of the place must look like and remembered that the kitchen was bare of everything except the forage that Daniel had been so faithful in gathering and if I had to guess the pantry door was being covered by the stand that held Mom’s cookbooks and such. Abel gently laid me on the bed and then took the squeaking Leena from my resisting arms.

“Let go Querida. She won’t go far, just right here on the bed … beside you, si?”

I started having trouble breathing again and Josef took charge. “Dacey, look at me. You’ve known me for years. You know I never hurt Daniel and I never would. There’s no need to panic here. Just try breathing slow and steady.”

He was right, I had known him a long time and he’d always been good with Daniel. Dad and had liked and trusted him. I tried not to think about the fact that Dad had liked and trusted the men that had come that day he and Mom had been killed but it was a tough battle barely won. Finally I said, “Right here where I can see what you are doing.”

Daniel and Dog picked that moment to stick their head in the door and asked, “Abel, you want me to bring in some water?”

Since I knew for a fact we never had to bring water in it must have been some simple signal and Abel’s answer of, “No Daniel, the barrel is full” must have been the answering one because Daniel grinned so big that it didn’t make sense. Abel led Louie out and must have been taking him to the kitchen but I saw by the shadow on the wall that Daniel and Dog had parked themselves outside the door.

Josef noticed too. “He’s different.”

Since it was obvious who he was talking about I said, “He’s growing up. It’s to be expected. Abel counts on him a lot and so do I.” I made sure it was loud enough for Daniel to hear. I wanted him to know I was proud of him.

Josef nodded and then looked around. “These work?”

“The solar lights? Yeah, we just keep them turned down low to save battery.”

“Makes sense. That’s how they do it at the farm too. We’ve been blessed that a lot of the people were already set with solar … one of the few things the Amish had over the Townies. Now let’s take a look here.”

He unwrapped Leena who did not like it at all. He looked at me and asked, “You keep her swaddled all the time?”

“She doesn’t seem to like it any other way. She gets all fussy if I don’t.”

He nodded and I couldn’t tell if that was a good thing or bad thing. Beginning to get anxious at his silence I burst out with, “She might be small but she’s a good baby.”

He looked at me and said, “It’s all right Dacey. I’m just measuring her and checking her reflexes.”

“Fine. But what is that telling you.”

He wrapped Leena back up but rather than give her to me he said, “Your turn.”

“No … way.”

“Dacey, why do you think Abel took Louis off.”

“I’m fine.”

Daniel stuck his head in the door and asked, “Dacey you want me to hold your hand like Momma used to hold mine? It might help.”

I sighed, knowing I was beaten. “No Daniel, it’s all right. Just don’t you peek you hear me?”

“I didn’t peek when Abel was taking care of you did I?”

“No, so don’t go doing it now.”

Josef sighed and shook his head but that’s the only sign he made that he thought I was over reacting. He really didn’t do all that much but he asked questions that I really resented having to answer.

“You know, I don’t know that it is any of your business,” I told him after a particularly embarrassing question about me and Abel.

“You are about the most hardheaded girl I’ve ever met.”

“Thank you, it’s a gift I’m pretty proud of.” I heard Daniel snicker.

Josef snorted but it seemed he was at the end of his questioning anyway. “Dacey, you’ve had a close call. You still aren’t completely come back from the birth. From what you’ve told me you’re lucky you didn’t develop a fever, infection, or worse. And given it was you telling me and not Abel that means you probably aren’t even telling me the whole of it and I’ll be asking him a few questions too. Now you’re obviously anemic and some of that is affecting the baby.”

That stopped me. I whispered, “I’m … I’m hurting Leena.”

“No, not hurting her. If anything its probably the other way around. A woman’s body naturally puts the best in her milk before the mother gets it. Leena is probably syphoning off a lot of the nutrients you need for yourself.”

Relieved I said, “I don’t care. All I care about is her growing up.”

He nodded, “Which is what I figured which is why Abel is going to need to watch and make sure that you get what you need.”

Not being the idiot he must’ve took me for I said, “Don’t even think about telling me I need to eat liver. If I eat more liver I’m gonna turn into one. Chicken liver. Pork liver. Venison liver.” Sighing remembering the sight of Abel and Daniel with my mother’s books out and making a list I added, “Egg yolks, leafy greens, fish, chickweed, catnip, burdock … and I have to have blackstrap molasses in my tea instead of honey.” That was a real grievance for me. I liked molasses but I preferred honey when it came to my tea.

Josef looked surprised and then said, “Oh … your mother would have taught you.”

“Yes and her books are still around and Abel has gone over every single one of them. He’s got this long list of what I’m allowed to eat and what I’m not and what I’m allowed to do and what I’m not.”

I was running out of steam and trying not to show it. Daniel must have noticed because he came over and said, “It’s all right Dacey. Why don’t you take a nap. I’ll take Josef over to the kitchen.”

“No. I’m getting up. If we have company …”

In the end my stubbornness only took me so far. I walked as far as the kitchen but all I was allowed to do was sit in the rocker and “decorate the room” as Dad used to call sitting around doing nothing.

Abel had gotten pretty efficient in the kitchen but he was wily too. We had intended to start culling more of the flock before it turned too cold so he just did one of them early. It was a gimpy ol’ hen that wasn’t laying anymore and was starting to get picked on so it was really putting her out of her misery sooner rather than later. I told Daniel which herbs to use to season the hen and then they roasted it while we all sat and talked. Or rather they talked, I went to sleep after I fed Leena.

I woke up realizing she wasn’t in my arms and jumped. Abel got up and it was only a few steps before he was beside me. I wasn’t awake all the way and after he let me know Leena was in her little box beside me and then he put an afghan over me I started to sleep back into sleep but not before I heard Josef ask, “How often is she like this?”

“She is much better than she was.”

“This is better?”

There was a pause and then Abel said quietly, “This is much better. For a long time … I thought I would lose one or the other of them, perhaps both. I … I thought about … but Dacey would have never forgiven me and I could not have forgiven myself. So, I helped Dacey to … to care for Catalina. It … it slows her getting better. Yes?”

Josef sighed and said, “As you said, I doubt Dacey would have forgiven you if you haven’t tried and there’s no way a baby that size can go on any kind of milk even if there was some. You’ve done good to do what you did. Do you have any of those pre-natal vitamins left?”

“No. I ground them up and put them in the water we were feeding her hoping they would help.”

“Probably more than you knew from what I’ve seen and heard from you both. They’ll both remain delicate through this winter. You’ll have to be very careful even if she gets stubborn. I’m not sure what is causing those spells you say she has, it could be any number of things; lack of a vitamin or mineral her body is craving, the anemia she is experiencing, simple fatigue, maybe a form of stress driven panic, who knows. But Abel, you’re going to have to face facts. You said you had to perform CPR a few times; the spells could be a direct result of the loss of oxygen and may be a permanent fixture from now on. Are you prepared for that?”

“I … I have thought of that. I had a cousin who had asimientos, what you call seizures. They did not stop her from having a life, a family, she simply had to take care once she learned to recognize when they were coming. As for the rest, we have spoken of her need to take care and she has agreed; she does not wish to leave us.” He continued to talk but I was just too tired to listen.

I woke again when I heard the oven door open and smelled the chicken. I wasn’t exactly hungry … not in it was a pleasure to eat kind of hungry; but my body craved the food, sometimes so much it hurt. But I was embarrassed. The first time we had company since my parents were alive and I was barely moving around more than a slug.

Louis noticed and told me matter of factly, as if he had somehow read my mind, “Don’t fret on it Missus. My Granny is the same way but there are just days when God deems her to have a Sitting Day and on them days it’s just best to do it ‘cause that’s what He wants. Reckon He must have something mighty fine planned for that little peanut o’ yours what with all you’ve been going through to keep her and raise her. Reckon there’s a reason for it and for the way you’re feeling. Best let God do as He sees fit and stay outta His way and mind Him.”

I was beginning to understand why Abel had trusted the man. He grows on you in a weird way very quickly. Abel asked him to say our dinner prayer and Louis seemed pleased to be asked. The men tried to take only meager portions but I told them, “Eat. The sooner that carcass is cleaned up the sooner it can be put in the pot to make broth with. And eat your share of the greens, no one wants to eat reheated, wilty greens.”

I didn’t have to tell them twice and soon enough dinner was over with, the dishes were cleared away with all of them helping to clean their own plates – that was another embarrassment and I hated imagining what my mother would have said about it – and then we all went into the living room where Daniel heated up a pot of acorn coffee for the men. The “coffee” was really just roasted acorn meats that were then percolated in an old coffee pot but Abel liked it well enough and Josef and Louis seemed to as well. I stuck to water. I was always thirsty it seemed.

Abel asked after their families and then once the formalities were out of the way he asked what we’d both been wondering, “What of the seeds?”

Both men grinned, “Nearly forty percent germination. And almost all of those produced something; not anything approaching normal but they did produce. The A-Town voted to save everything for seed though we did give each of the children something.”

Abel asked, “And everyone was willing to do that?”

Josef shrugged but Louis said, “Most. Got some real knotheads even in a place like A-Town. But feeding the kids like we do they didn’t have a whole lot of support for what they wanted.”

“What they wanted?”

Louis snorted, “Wanted to use the seeds like gold, try and trade for more solar or fuel so that we could get some of the big tractors up and running.”

I said, “What’s the sense in having tractors if you don’t have seeds to plant?”

“Good question Missus. They said them soldiers would bring us more in the spring. Bird in the hand is worth two in the bush says I.”

Abel asked, “How is the town set for winter?”

Both men became grim. “We’ll squeak by. We’ve got teams that will watch everyone better this year. We’ll lose a few but not to outright starvation if we can help it. Most everyone that was going to go that route already has, now we just need to care for the weak and less able bodied, the widows, and the orphans. Seeing the crops this year has bolstered those that were weak in spirit as well.”

The men continued to talk and when they wound down I asked Josef, “How’s Monica?”

He gave the barest of smiles, “About like you would expect.” That about covered it and we both knew it. I’d already heard the baby had been a little boy and they’d named him Adam. He’d been born at only six pounds but apparently that was a good weight these days. They had a higher than normal number of stillbirths and miscarriages and it was being put down to poor nutrition and stressful living. Remembering that had me cuddling Leena closely to my chest.

Abel must have noticed because he changed the subject to something less upsetting. There was a little more talk but I was busy caring for Leena and then we all went off to bed. When Abel and I were there together, after making sure our guests were cared for, he asked, “Will you forgive me?”

I wasn’t going to fool around and pretend like I didn’t know what he was talking about. I sighed, “I told you when you first came that this was your home too. I just wish you would have given me some warning or we had talked about it. My parents always talked about the big stuff before they went and did it.”

“Si Querida, but it was a battlefield decision. We were in a bad spot and … and I did not want you to wonder if I never came home. I saw what Jeff’s disappearance made you feel. I could not do that to you.”

Looking at it from his perspective I suppose I might have done the same. “I’m not … not angry Abel. Just … I don’t know … I don’t know if I feel so safe here now.”

“You forget Querida.”

I asked, “Forget what?”

Abel’s voice got still and as hard as I had ever heard it. “I know where they live too.”

The threat was implied and I believed him. That didn’t exactly make me feel any more comfortable with someone knowing but it reminded me as nothing else could exactly where Abel put us in his life. We were the top priority and something in me told me we always would be.

We both were quiet a moment then I asked, “What do you make of the seed germinating?”

I felt him shrug. “It means there is hope, but there was always hope. We just need to go through the fire and trust that we will outlast it. It will be next year that tells whether this year was really important. Will the seeds continue their viability or has the Heart Rot programmed them to self destruct? One year is not enough to see the direction the road is leading.”

“I suppose.”

“Now, did Josef tell you anything I should know about?”

It was my turn to shrug. “I don’t think he knows any more than we already figured out for ourselves. Did he say anything to you?”

He was quiet for a moment and said, “He said that we should wait a long while and not risk another pregnancy until you are fully recovered from this one. He spoke of a few … suggestions … that might help with that.”

Indignant I told him, “That’s none of his business.”

“I made it his business by asking. And he is right. I understand you do not like … er … speaking of certain things. But soon we must. We are man and woman, not beasts of the field that breed for no reason but instinct.”

The way Abel put things sometimes seemed a little crude, but it was true nonetheless. I shook my head and my hair snapped and crackled from the static electricity in it. “I don’t mind talking about that stuff with you. What I don’t like is someone else making like it is their business and they can tell us what we can and cannot do. Whether we have leventy-dozen kids or only Leena that’s between us and God and isn’t anyone else’s say so.”

He kissed my temple. “Querida.” He kissed me again and then put some distance between us. “I am not a rutting bull. I can do this,” he mumbled to himself in Spanish. I don’t think he thought I understood but I did. I understood something else too.

“You’re not the only one that misses the … er … closeness Abel.”

He stopped and then said, “No?”

“No. But I guess we’ve got to do what we’ve got to do. I’m feeling a little better every day. Maybe some days it doesn’t look like it but I am. I’m determined about it. This past year has been hard … for all of us. I don’t think I ever imagined a time would ever be so hard. But we’re getting through it and some good things have come out of it. We just need to hold onto that part of it. I don’t know what this winter will bring … or even next year; probably good things and bad just like life always seems to bring.”

He scooted back to my side and we spooned up together for warmth and mutual comfort. He sighed in pleasure. “Si. But we can do this yes? Daniel is growing. Leena is growing. And we are growing too. Each of us in our own way. It makes me eager to see what tomorrow will bring.”

I rolled to face him and snuggle up under his chin, “Tomorrow’s good, but let’s not forget about right now. Right now seems pretty good too. We just need to think around the problems that might come up. No reason we can’t get er … creative.”

His voice took on a husky note and in agreement he said, “Si … right now seems pretty good too. May God help us find ways to be creative for the rest of our days.”

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Chapter 46

Chapter 46

Seventeen. When my parents were alive it seemed so far off, like it was never going to get here. Then after they died it was no longer important; acknowledging the passage of time only seemed to mean that I was further and further away from them, from the good things my life had been and no closer to the end of the suffering I felt. Time certainly wasn't important to Daniel and that seemed the best way for me to handle it as well.

Then Abel came into our lives and our friendship turned into something so much more. I started to measure time again. When was the last time I had seen him. When would I see him again? How much time did we spend together? Then the winter illnesses that brought back all of the horrible memories of my parents' deaths, of being alone. My fear of being pregnant battled with my fear of spending all my time alone.

Finally they get well then I get “sick” and then well and while I’m still confused and trying to figure out where everything is going my conscious mind finally acknowledges I might be pregnant. I accept the reality of being pregnant and then Abel going off brings back memories of Jeff disappearing from our lives. I was scared that I was going to be left alone to take care of Daniel and even more scared that Daniel might be left alone to take care of my baby and what a disaster that would have been.

Death from disease, starvation, and violence surrounds us on all sides. We may be insulated from it but that doesn't mean it isn't there. It doesn't mean that it might not strike any one of us at any time.

Thankfully Abel returned to me … to us. Thankfully I didn’t have to face it all the time and responsibilities in front of me alone. But as the days passed the shoe was suddenly on the other foot. Now I worried about leaving Abel alone; leaving him alone to take care of Daniel, of the baby and everything else. I saw the fear lurking in his eyes as well. I even saw a certain confusion and fear begin to lurk in Daniel's eyes. And I could do nothing to allay their fears no even my own.

I ate the best I could; both Abel and Daniel saw to that. But it seemed like my body, once so easy to care for, doing anything and everything I asked of it, had suddenly developed a mind of its own. Sometimes what I ate would stay down, sometimes it would not. Sometimes I felt good after I ate sometimes I felt worse. I craved sleep yet when I did it only seemed to make me crave more. No matter how I tried to hide it by the end of July there was no denying my condition was getting worse.

I had to get up in the middle of the night and wound up spending more time in the bathroom than I had meant to. When I came out I was shaking. I found Abel standing there like the wrath of God.

"I am going for Josef before first light. He will come."

Shaking my head I told him, "Um, it's too late for that."

"No. Do not say that," he demanded as he helped me back to bed. "It cannot be too late. I won't hear it."

I sighed. "I need you here."

Frustrated he said, "And you need a medico. None of my aunts and cousins were like this. Something is not right."

"Abel listen to me. None of that matters right now. I need you here because the baby is coming."

"Si soon. That is ... why ...". He trailed off suddenly understanding what I had been saying. "The ... the bebe ... comes ... now?"

"Well, maybe not right this second but certainly it seems to mean to be born today."

I didn't even try and translate the slew of Spanish that fell out of his mouth at that point. I don't think I could have anyway. It was just one long string of syllables full of guttural sounds with the occasional squeak thrown in for good measure.

We had prepared for this. Abel knew about animals being born as I did, we'd both been raised on working farms. Human babies were different but not that much. It was what came after that was different. I wouldn't be licking my baby clean. Nature would only go so far to help. We'd have to cut the umbilical cord ourselves. We would need to make sure the baby could take its first breath. The baby would need diapering and swaddling. It was going to be completely helpless. And by the time the noon meal came and went, that is exactly how I felt as well.

I once heard a lady at church tell Mom that having a baby was like trying to push a watermelon through a drinking straw. Another lady said it was worse than trying to pass a kidney stone. Another lady said it was like the old joke of trying to take your bottom lip and pull it up over the top of your head. Personally I'm not sure it is the pain so much as it is you have no control over what is happening. There is no time out when a baby decides to be born. There's no stopping to catch your breath or taking a moment to think. And eventually you don't want anything other than for it to hurry up and be over with.

I gave up being in the bed; all it did was make me miserable and uncomfortable. For a while I sat in a rocking chair and basically just zoned out. For a while I even thought I had the labor thing down but all of a sudden – zap! – things started changing.

The books call it a transitional period. Yeah right. More like a period of going crazy trying to figure out just how uncomfortable things can get. I walked, I bent over, I kneeled, I tried lying on my side, I tried getting on all fours … I felt like a pretzel that was trying to escape being twisted. I felt pain in places I wouldn’t even talk to Abel about. Eventually it settled into waves and I just survived from the peak of one until the peak of the next. Then the valleys disappeared and I was riding a wave of pain that didn’t seem to want to end.

Trying to remember the tail end of it all makes my head hurt. Things got fuzzy and the lights started going in and out. Eventually I felt this big … well, kind of goosh and then it was like this slithery … ok, I give up. There isn’t really any way to describe it if you’ve never done it. Basically the baby came out.

That’s when things got scary. It didn’t cry. I remember Abel praying and Daniel crying and it seemed like a long, long time and then there was this strange squeaking noise. The sound made me happy but in a far away dreamy sort of way. I was floating away … just drifting … and not much seemed to matter.

I vaguely recall my chest getting pounded on and then something being forced into my mouth. I wasn’t all there anymore but a part of me knew what was going on, I couldn’t do anything about it. I knew I needed to help but I seemed to have forgotten how. Then it was like a big electric shock and everything went black.

_____

I can’t tell you how much later it was but there was this squeaking and I knew, absolutely knew, that it was for me and me alone. And something told me I had a choice. I could listen to the squeaking, do something about the insistent tugging, or I could go back to sleep and never wake up.

The temptation to go back to sleep was pretty big. I was tired, not just from the baby but it seemed like from a bunch of stuff that I hadn’t realized was weighing me down. I was ready to just let go then behind the squeaking and the tugging I heard a voice … deep, gravelly, so full of sorrow that it was almost too much to bear. I knew I knew that voice and then I remembered and it became much easier to tell the temptation to take a hike.

I couldn’t open my eyes, they seemed glued shut but I could sigh. It seemed important that I let him know I was there. I must have done it a couple of more times, trying to form the letter A but barely making a difference.

“Querida?” The incredulous tone of voice told me he still wasn’t sure he was hearing what thought he heard. I tried a few more times but I was so tired I wasn’t sure if he understood before the darkness claimed me again.

I woke up again to tugging and a deep cramp. I must have moaned loud enough that Abel heard me and finally believed me. The tugging continued with Abel’s gentle assistance and then I heard him directing someone to do something and there was a sudden burst of taste on my tongue as a very strong broth was spooned into my mouth.

“Easy Daniel, remember she may not be able to swallow.”

His reply made it sound like he was concentrating every cell of his body on the task before him. “She’s swallowing it Abel! She’s really swallowing … it isn’t just dripping down her throat this time.”

“Good … good …”

“God did do it didn’t He Abel! You said He would and He did!”

“Si Daniel, but quietly now. The baby must concentrate so that she can drink.”

“When’s she gonna grow? She’s still puny. If she’s eating shouldn’t she be growing?”

Normally such a question would have made Abel laugh, smile at least, but instead I heard nothing but extreme control. “It will take time, that is all they need. Time and for us to take care of them.”

Time seemed to pass but I can’t tell you how much. I do know that when I finally opened my eyes it was to find the room quiet except for Abel taking care of things for me that had me so upset that my chest hurt.

“No,” I moaned in a nearly silent whisper.

What little sound I made startled Abel and his eyes flew to my face and he saw that my eyes were open. He was so shocked that he didn’t understand I was just about dying of embarrassment right there

He leaned down, trying to hear me. “Are you in pain? Tell me Querida. Can you tell me?”

I could barely form the words and struggling to make him understand was draining me but he finally got the idea. Rather than embarrassment though he gave me a gruff answer I hadn’t been expecting. “I will do what needs doing. I am your husband and it is my right to do these things for you. When you are well you can do them but for now …” Then I heard him sigh and he was less gruff. “Dacey, you took care of me when I was ill and I … I understand what it must cause you to feel. To feel like you are made helpless and a child. But just as you did for me, I do these things for love. Si? Comprende Querida?”

I didn’t but the idea behind it seemed to ease what I was feeling somewhat. The next thing was … “Baabeeeee.”

I could see he still looked very serious as he finished what he was doing and drew the covers over me. “She sleeps.”

That could mean a couple of different things, some of which were too hard for me to bear. “Slllee ..?”

“Easy Querida. She is in a little drawer right here. She is too small for the bed we made. Daniel and I must be careful, she is nearly lost in the drawer.”

“Small? Too small?”

He licked his lips and brushed the hair out of my eyes and I saw he hadn’t shaved in a while but it was hard to tell how long because his beard always grew so fast. Finally he shrugged. “She is small. Very small. I … I do not know if she is too small.” Then he leaned over and picked up a bundle that looked about the size of my mother’s best dress up purse; big enough to hold but not big enough to put much in.

I was absolutely scared to death. I’d had dolls bigger than the tiny thing he placed in my arms. Then it started making noise and I realized what the squeaking had been. Next I realized what the tugging had been as Abel unbuttoned my night gown.

“Easy Querida.” He gently moved me onto my side and then fixed it so that the squeaking stopped and the tugging started.

I didn’t have a clue what to do but apparently my body did and what I couldn’t figure out, Abel helped me with. It didn’t take long before the baby went to sleep. He gently nudged her and she woke up again and started feeding some more. Eventually though she just wouldn’t wake up to eat and he picked her up and patted her a little until she made this strange little bubble sound and then he changed her and laid her back in the drawer. All during this time all I could do was watch and it made a very deep and horrible ache in my chest. I remember crying but I don’t remember going back to sleep but I must have.

My days flew by like that but eventually I was awake most of the time and the bleeding had stopped. I was very weak but I wasn’t in danger of dying. From that point I improved every day until finally I was able to get up and get around. Abel and Daniel didn’t stand constant guard over me as they had and I was able to take care of Leena myself … as in Catalina after his grandmother. Victoria was her middle name … Daniel named her after our mother. Catalina Victoria Montoya but the name was way too big for her so we all called her “Leena” for short.

July became August and August became early September and we should have been preparing for winter … and Abel and Daniel were. But underneath it all we held our breaths. Leena stayed small. She squeaked, she didn’t really cry though I thought lately she had seemed stronger and louder. She filled up her handkerchief sized diapers as often as I remember Daniel doing and her poo stunk which meant that what was going in was definitely coming out all right.

The first time she smiled I nearly screamed and went running to Abel so fast he thought something was terribly, horribly wrong. When I explained and Leena did it again we all started prancing around the cave like a parade of crazies; me with Leena, Abel, Daniel, and even Dog joining in.

My energy came back but not the way it should have. I knew it. Abel knew it too. I rarely left the cave except on the warmest part of the day and only in the best weather. Still I managed to get a cough that took a while to kick. Then the first cool breeze blew and I worried that we hadn’t done enough. That winter was coming and it just wouldn’t be enough.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Chapter 45

Chapter 45

The first thing I remember thinking is that something must have crawled in my mouth and died. It was just that nasty. In fact, so nasty that I started to gag.

“She’s gonna puke … I know she is … she’s that funny color again.”

Daniel. But if Daniel was where his voice was coming from who was helping me to lean over the bed to hurl into the bucket? Well, not hurl exactly; nothing was coming up, not even spit. I tried to struggle but it is very hard to fight and gag at the same time, it’s like the two things can’t exist in the same plain of existence.

“Querida, mi amor, mi precioso …” More nonsensical phrases in Spanish followed those and I’m thinking that I’ve well and truly sprung a leak in my sanity.

I was gently laid back against the pillows and I realized that it felt like the side of my face was about three times bigger than it should have been. I reached to feel it and a hand gently takes mine and pulls it away. “Don’t touch Dacey.” That was Daniel again. “Abel has a cold pack on it to help with the swelling. You know you aren’t supposed to mess with it or it won’t help the ouches.”

I tried to talk but my mouth and throat are so dry nothing is coming out. I feel a damp rag put on my lips and I can’t help it, I start sucking on it like it was a bottle. “Easy Querida, here … this is better.”

A cold spoon is raised to my lips and then a thin trickle of something that tastes like lemon water slides into my mouth and down my throat. Heavenly.

Finally I can croak, “Abel?”

“Querida!”

I feel like I’m being smothered in the mother of all hugs, especially after I realize it is Abel and Daniel at the same time and then Dog adds her bit by jumping on the bed. OK, that’s too much. I mumble, nearly suffocating, and they finally turn loose.

“Home?” It was the only word I could squeeze out.

More lemon water and I begin to feel like maybe I won’t die of thirst after all. “Si, en la tarde … yesterday afternoon. Oh Dios! I should be shot for … for …”

Not only can I hear the despair and regret in his voice but I can actually feel it coming off of him in waves. After so many days of wanting to throw something big and heavy at him for leaving now all I can think about is making him feel better. I reach around and finally give him an awkward one armed hug because Daniel is still holding my other one like he thinks I’m not going to mind about not touching whatever is wrong with my face.

Which gets me to thinking and I start to panic. They both notice at the same time and Abel whispers, “Shhhhhh, is OK Querida. The … the bebe … it moves around like … like nothing I have ever felt.”

I settle for a moment but then croak, “Can’t … open … eyes …”

Daniel answers me because Abel doesn’t seem to be up for it. I feel him shaking as he holds me. “You tripped Dacey and smacked your face pretty good on a step. There was blood everywhere from a cut in your eyebrow. It was awful. And now your eyes are all swelled shut. You look like Terry Hanover when he got stung by wasps.”

I blanched remembering what Daniel was referring to. Terry was a few years older than me and he and some guys were helping one of the older ladies from church clean out her attic, only it wasn’t squirrels up there like the old lady thought but wasps and Terry took the brunt of the first wave. His face looked like a marshmallow that had gotten left a little too long to roast. Not pleasant.

I’m still tired and float in and out of it for the rest of that day. Every time I woke up Abel was right there spooning liquids down my throat. Eventually I had to get up and go to the bathroom. I was finished and unlatching the door to be helped back to bed when Daniel came up and kissed me … something he had not done in a long time. “’Nite nite Dacey.”

I whispered, “’Nite Daniel.”

“I’ll leave my socks on for you tonight.”

That was sweet. I know it sounds totally goofy but for Daniel to say it, it was really just sweet.

Abel let me take about two steps but then when I heard Daniel’s door close Abel picked me up and carried me back to bed. “Querida … I … Dios mio … there are no words … not in my language, not in yours …”

He laid me on the bed like I might break into a million pieces and then I felt him kneel and put his head on what was left of my lap. “Please forgive me.”

He’d surprised me. Abel could be emotional sometimes but this was more than usual. “Abel please don’t,” I whispered. “You needed to go … to see … to whatever. Just now … can you stay? Not go off again? I … I … I need you here.”

I’d never said it right out like that. It was scary, letting him see how much it all meant to me. “Si Querida … I am here and here I will stay.”

“Just … just for now. I know you probably need to …”

“No, but we will talk of why later. For now all that matters is that you … you …” His voice had grown hoarse. “Dacey … I … I want to … to see. I have not because Daniel watched me like a hawk. But now that he is to his bed … I … I have such a need to … to see …”

I felt his hand, tremulous against my belly. I wondered why I wasn’t embarrassed. In a way it seemed totally appropriate but totally crazy at the same time. When I didn’t object he slowly undressed me, being so careful it nearly made me irritable.

He was quiet for a long time. At first look was all he did, but then I felt feather strokes like he was almost afraid of touching me. Then he bent down and kissed my stomach. We both laughed when the baby didn’t cotton to it and gave him a kick in return. He carefully redressed me in a clean nightgown and said, “When you feel better I will help you bath away the bruises. Si, this I will do. But for now, we will both rest.” I was so dozey at that point he could have said we’d be taking a trip to the dark side of the moon and I would have just grinned and said sure, why not.

I felt him get off the bed and I panicked for a moment. “Don’t leave!”

“Shhh, I am right here. I will pull the chair over and …”

“No … no … here, with me. I need to know you’re here for real and not some crazy dream I’m having.”

He asked seriously, “Are you sure Dacey? You need not say these things for me.”

I would have snorted except my face had started to hurt too bad. You’d figure after all this time he would have figured I wouldn’t do something for that reason alone. “Keep me warm Abel. I’m so cold. I haven’t really been warm since you left.”

That did it. I heard him rush out of his clothes and then gently climb in with me. We didn’t do anything of course. I wanted him near me but I wasn’t up to anything else. I don’t think he was either. He was more rattled than I could guess and it was days before I was able to see well enough to see that his voice didn’t always match his expression.

I was not allowed to leave the bed except for a few necessities for nearly a week. I slept a lot. And I ate a lot. But that’s about all I did. For breakfast he would fix me this kind of warm oatmeal smoothie he called avena or something like that. It was a warm, very liquid oatmeal that I could drink through a straw. There was very little substance to it yet it filled me up as well. He also had me drinking something called orxata de xufa … kind of an almond milk or sometimes he would make it with rice. Whatever it was it was good. I told him he could do more of the cooking any time he wanted to.

He gave me a sorrowful look and said, “This is the extent of my culinary skills Querida. My grandfather would make these for my grandmother when she was not feeling well. He got the same distant look in his eyes I had seen in my own when memories from our pasts would come up.

“No matter,” I told him trying to make him smile. “These are worth it.”

He tried to give me a smile but he was still very affected by finding what he did when he came home. In some respects it seems like I was able to get over it better than he has. “Querida, did you trust me so little …”

“What?! No … no that wasn’t it at all. It’s just that I figured it out the same day everything seemed to start changing and every time I thought that this was the right time something else would come up. And then I couldn’t make you stay … because I knew you would. I don’t know Abel … please don’t … don’t be this way about it.”

He could see that I was getting upset and he scooted over to me and said, “Shhhh, I should not have brought it up.”

“No, better you do it now than let it fester. But really Abel, it wasn’t because I didn’t trust you. A part of me trusted you from the very first and that part only got bigger. It was just all so confusing coming right after all three of us being so sick … only …”

“Only what?”

“Only I don’t know if I sick so much in body but in … in spirit or something. What if I’m a terrible mother? What if … what if … if I …”

“Terrible?! No! Impossible’! Ridiculo! Look how you have cared for Daniel. No, I’ll not hear such things … not even from your own lips. Nunca.”

I was finally able to go outside without the sunlight hurting my eyes so bad but I still sat in the shade rather than have them water so much that it looked like I was crying. I wasn’t allowed to do anything but sit and sort greens that Daniel had found and brought back. It was good to feel like I was accomplishing something but even that little bit seemed to take almost more energy than I had.

“Sleeping beauty, do I kiss you to wake you up?”

I had fallen asleep leaning against the tree. “You know, this is getting down right silly. I fall asleep faster than Dog does.”

Daniel who was standing right behind Abel liked that and laughed. “I’ll finish the forage Dacey. You better mind Abel and go inside, it looks like a storm s coming.”

I did get inside and the storm did come. Abel and Daniel were both soaked so they washed up and not long after dinner was finished Daniel went to bed.

I was prepared. I’d made Abel a cup of very rich hot cocoa and this time I wouldn’t be put off. “Daniel’s in bed and asleep Abel. I’m feeling better and can even see out of both eyes now. I’m rested and I’ve eaten.”

He sighed. “You are too …”

“Don’t call me fragile Abel. Just because I’m not one hundred percent doesn’t mean that I’m going to fall to pieces just because you tell me what happened. And I think I have a right to know what kept you gone so long.”

He nuzzled my cheek a moment and then sighed. “I suppose it cannot be put off any longer.”

“Was it that bad? Oh no … I … I didn’t even ask if anyone from Amish Town …”

“No Querida, we all returned safely … but it was a near thing. And a difficult thing for a couple of the men who had not seen war before.”

“War?” I asked quietly. “The military types didn’t say anything about a war did they?”

He gave an expressive shrug. “Perhaps war is not what they would call it but it was fighting and men dying. It was more than a riot or a mob … there was purpose and strategy to it. What they fought over was less clear however. We were caught between three different factions for nearly a month and never did find out exactly what they were fighting over.”

“If things are as bad as the soldiers made them out to be I’m surprised anyone had the energy to fight.”

“When there is nothing left but fighting men will always find the energy.” He sounded old and cynical and it was hard to believe that this man wasn’t much older than I was.

“Is that all? I mean fighting is enough but I mean is that all that kept you away?”

He shook his head. “Those young men are foolish. Every empty building they thought was an opportunity to scavenge. It became … tiresome.”

I think Abel was being polite for my sake but I interpreted it for him. “They were being a big ol’ pain in the backside.”

He sighed and said, “Si … a tomano estupendo pain in as you say, the back side.” I could tell he was annoyed just remembering it. “And had I known you were here, in this condition … I would have just left them to their foolishness. A couple of other men told them the same thing. The worst? That only two of our seven should have been so green and foolish. Instead two that should not have were and it left only three of us to try and control the infantilismo. It was like trying …” He couldn’t seem to think on exactly what he wanted to say then he nodded. “It was like trying to convince Daniel to keep his mittens and socks on that first winter we were together. Ay yi yi … they made me want to … my blood boiled Querida. Never again, never.”

“Ah so that’s why you say you aren’t leaving.”

He nodded, “A big part of it. Perhaps I am become too alone but I do not like this working with people I do not know, and do not know if I can trust.”

I looked at him and reminded him, “You’re not alone, you have me.”

I get the first real smile from him since he came home. “Si … I have you.” Then he got serious and said, “And I should take better care of you. Now let us rest.”

He was getting a little imperious but I know it was his way of dealing with being scared for me. My health was the only thing that he was that way about and since I seemed to need it I didn’t object.

June turned into July and I started feeling better but no matter how much I ate it all seemed to stick in the basketball shaped mound that sat on my stomach. I was as then as I ever remember being in every other part of my body … just my chest and the basketball seemed to get bigger. I felt silly … to me I looked even sillier.

“No, you are Hermosa … beautiful.”

I rolled my eyes. “I look like three balls stuck on the front of a stick paddle.”

He opened his mouth to deny it but the look I gave him had him closing his mouth. “I will call it what it is and one day you will believe me. Now, it is time for your surprise.”

“You’re being silly.”

“Perhaps but Daniel and I have worked very hard and you will enjoy it.”

I laughed because it sounded almost like a threat. He led me into the kitchen, sat me at the table and then instructed me to close my eyes. He called Daniel who was snickering and tell him to hurry up.

“Hold out your hands but do not drop it.”

“Uh … this isn’t a frog again is it Daniel?”

For some reason that cracked my little brother up and despite my best efforts I do nearly drop it when it is put into my hands. Cold … cold as the ice room.

“Now … open your eyes Querida.”

I did and what I saw was … was … “Ice cream? You made ice cream?!”

Abel shrugged but was obviously pleased at my reaction. “Not ice cream … frozen horchata. We have been stirring it since last night to make it as it should be … the texture needs to be as butter. Go ahead, taste it before it melts.”

“Get three spoons, it is for all of us.”

Daniel didn’t have to be told twice and soon we were all sharing the best thing I could ever remember putting in my mouth. “Oh Abel, how? How did you do this?”

“It is not so hard,” he said blushing a little at my pleasure. “It was mostly the stirring and stirring and stirring to make the smoothness.”

Daniel grins and says, “Happy Birthday Dacey!”

And suddenly I realize, I’m seventeen years old.

Chapter 44

Chapter 44

April turns into May and I find out that I’m the one that has to explain the facts of life to Daniel. I was hoping Abel would be back to do it … but he isn’t. It’s a misery to me but I keep it simple – he didn’t ask too many specific details thank goodness – and he eventually believes that there is a baby baking in my oven.

Maybe it is instinctual or maybe Daniel is just a good brother but once he comes to understand that it isn’t that I want to be so different and change but that I don’t have any choice because the baby is growing in there he seems to develop a protective streak that I’ve never seen him use with people, only with plants.

“Dacey, you need to sit down and rest, your face is that funny color again.”

“Dacey, did you take your vitamin? You take your vitamin every morning so you and the baby and can get big and fat.”

“Dacey, your shirt popped open again; maybe you ought to get a different one from the storage room.”

“Dacey, don’t carry that wood. The baby might not like it being bounced on his head like that.”

“Dacey … Dacey … Dacey …”

A few times he made me want to laugh. A few times he irritated the living daylights out of me. A few times he made me want to cry with his sweetness. But a lot of the time he just made me proud. I grew to know for certain that my brother could be all right when he got older … he was just gonna get there the long way around. He might always be a little slower and little different … but he was gonna be OK.

It was for Daniel and the baby that I got up every morning and tried to do the right thing. So often all I wanted to do was crawl off and lick my wounds of loneliness and hurt. Hurt that Abel had gone off. Hurt that I hadn’t told him about the baby before he’d gone off. Hurt that that is what it would have taken to get him to stay, and remembering that I was right back at the beginning of the circle and hurt that he’d gone off.

But for all that Daniel tried to help … and did … there was a lot he just couldn’t do. He didn’t suddenly become all graceful and careful overnight. Using an axe was still just too much to ask … for his safety and my sanity. I was back to using the forest’s tree trash as my primary source of wood for the stove. Sometimes it meant that Daniel and I hiked and worked all day just to gather enough wood to last for the next couple of days.

I also couldn’t trust him around the kitchen. He might be growing up but he was still Daniel and still prone to forget what he was doing right in the middle of when he was supposed to be doing them. He also wasn’t a hunter … forager yes, hunter not so much. And even as May turned into June and we were able to fish and do other types of food gathering, I still had to be the one to clean the fish and gut the other animals, prepared them to eat, and do something with the hides and furs afterwards.

Then there was the cleaning and trying to figure out how to prepare for the baby. Reading those books Mom had hidden in her medicine chest gave me the willies. It all sounded a little too much to handle alone … or trying to keep Daniel out of the middle of it did anyway.

And why did I think about having to do it alone? Because I was becoming less and less certain that Abel was coming home. It was well beyond the three weeks they thought that they’d be gone at the longest. I looked down at my body, at the changes in my body, and I knew exactly how much longer they had been gone that they said they’d be. Not even Daniel asked when Abel was coming home anymore and that told me more than almost anything did that I wasn’t alone in thinking that Abel was just like Jeff.

Sometimes I considered going to Amish Town but I wasn’t sure I could make it up and over the Ridge. I was even less sure that I should take the chance. Things were stretching and pulling inside of me and my body didn’t like it. I was so tired so much of the time that I’d started feeling a bit like a ghost.

I ate the best I could. Daniel brought in all sorts of forage. It had gotten to the point I’d had no choice but to let him go out on his own because if I got more than a mile from home it was like I was pulling a freight train behind me to try and get back. Fatigue would catch me off guard and sometimes all I could do was sit down and try and remember to breathe.

But I hated to let him go out alone. There were strangers in our valley. Not many, only a handful, but it was enough to add to my bushel basket of worry. I’d only caught a glimpse of them every now and again. They were more ghost than I was and we never saw the same one twice but it made me nervous anyway. Sometimes I imagined they were people that used to live here and they were coming home to die but it was only foolishness and fears. I never recognized any of the faces.

We did follow one of them, but only once. It was weird, like watching an old zombie movie. They just shuffled along without real rhyme or reason. And then they just fell down. After the person had lain there for over an hour I crept up to look to see why they were sleeping in the middle of the road … only they weren’t sleeping. They were well and truly as dead as the zombie I’d called them, they just weren’t the kind that got up again. I know that for a fact as some vultures were soon circling for a tasty meal and Daniel and I left the body where it lay, vultures or no vultures, because it was too creepy to do anything else.

There was a hole where Abel used to be. He was more of a presence in our lives than Jeff had been. With him gone it was like he had taken part of us with him. At first Daniel tried to be Abel and then in frustration he tried to revert to the way he had been when things had gotten too hard for him when he was little.

“Daniel, please don’t. Don’t you go and leave me too. I can’t do this by myself. There’s you and this baby and all of this other stuff. Please don’t crawl inside yourself. I know it feels good for a while. Look how sick I was there for a while but it doesn’t do you any good, it only makes things harder.”

I don’t know whether he was really listening to me and understanding or if his brain had worked it out all on its own; either way the next day he was back up and around and good ol’ Daniel again. And just in time too because June was a hard month. As hard as the winter had been the summer looked to beat it. All the water ways and bodies – big and small – were swollen from the heavier than usual amounts of snow. Then it started raining. And it rained and rained and rained.

The meadow around the sink became muddy and we had to be careful not to leave muddy trails for anyone to see. I had to find a way to drain the meadow before it started filling the sink itself up. I wasn’t sure how I was going to do it because there was no where for the spring water to go and it was already backing up. There were no seeps inside the cave but I knew it was just a matter of time.

Then I got the bright idea to dig a cut from the meadow to a natural gully that was the natural property line that had been used for generations by people on this end of the valley. It was like a granite sluice that ran for miles. Water was already pooling in the gulley but it was no where near capacity.

When I tried to start at the meadow end of the canal I wanted to dig every shovel filled with water and mud before I could add another one. So we changed ends and started at the gully. Daniel and I would take turns digging we me using a level every few feet to get the run off just right. While one of us was digging the other would gather stones to line the bottom of the canal with so it wouldn’t just erode and fill with mud the first time water ran through it.

It took every bit of time we had that month. Rather than being the shortest line between two points we had to zig zag around some big rock out croppings but eventually we completely a small canal. The run off from the meadow was so gradual that at first I didn’t think it had worked but within two days the water level surrounding the sink had gone down significantly … and so had my energy level.

I’d had no choice. We had to divert the water away from the sink somehow. If we hadn’t we could have been flooded out with one real good gully washer; but it took the completion of the project took the last good bit of me with it. I hurt all over, liked I’d fallen down in the gully instead of just looked down into it. I was so tired I couldn’t even force myself to eat even the meager helpings that Daniel kept urging on me.

Daniel knew something was wrong but I didn’t know how to explain it to him. I just didn’t have anything left to give. I was all give out. “Take a nap Dacey. That’s what Dog and I do when we get tired. That’ll make you feel better. It has to.”

I was just so tired. “All right Daniel, I’ll try. But don’t let me sleep too long. I need to take care of that hen with the broken wing. We’ll have for Sunday dinner tomorrow whether it is Sunday or not.”

He was near tears. “Just take a nap Dacey. You’ll feel better.”

I decided to stretch out on the ledge and just relax a little. I hadn’t really planned on napping, there was too much to do. Not only the chicken with the broken wing but I needed to separate some of the chicks and try and figure out which ones were roosters and which ones weren’t. Then the piglets needed to be fed … only they weren’t piglets anymore but full blown hogs and the boar was starting to get an attitude and he didn’t even have any tusks yet. Then the coop needed repairs and laundry needed to be done and wood needed to be collected and cut and Daniel and I needed to do some foraging and …

At some points in my worries I must have really fallen asleep. The end of June was nasty warm from all the rain and water and the mosquitos could be a misery during certain parts of the day. I came awake thinking there was one buzzing in my ear. Only I realized it was an angry mosquito it was an angry Daniel … and he was talking to someone and it wasn’t Dog.

Nearly in a panic I tried to claw myself the rest of the way awake and climb up the stairs. I was half way up when a spell of dizziness hit me and I started to fall. I remember giving a scream but that’s it.

Chapter 43

Chapter 43

The reason I had come outside suddenly seemed like it was far from a thing I should be bothering Abel with at the moment. Instead I asked him, “When was the last time you saw something fly that God didn’t hatch from an egg?”

Deep in thought he answered, “A long time.” He chewed on his lip and then got up briskly and said, “We need to know what is happening. Are you well enough to come with Daniel and I or will you stay here?”

Alarmed I said, “You are so not leaving me behind!”

He nodded. “Very good.”

In a matter of moments we were grabbing our gear and packing Daniel and Dog a pack. I included the sweater that I had pieced together for Dog just on the off chance that it got suddenly cold again. Dog wasn’t just a pet, she was so much more and we all did what we could to ensure she lived a long life. I had even sewn her booties but she objected strenuously to them no matter that I’d had the best of intentions. Daniel had laughed himself sick at the sight and claimed that Dog hated mittens as much as he did.

Perhaps I should have mentioned my suspicions to Abel but since I didn’t know for sure and since that was more than likely just going to complicate things too much I kept it to myself. I was wearing overalls anyway so the issue of tight clothing wouldn’t be obvious.

We didn’t stop and smell the roses – not that there were any to smell that time of year – nor did we stop for anything else either. After all three of us being sick most of the cold weather and not getting out to stretch our legs on long hikes, the trek up and over the pass to get to Amish Town was brutal. I wasn’t the only one heaving once we made it to the top. It was also still slushy and muddy up there so we had to slow down to keep from slipping on the increasingly unkept trail.

As we neared Amish Town we came in slow and steady which was a good thing because they had spotters with some kind of equipment. Despite all I’ve been through there was something intimidating about having a big, black gun held on you by a real live soldier … but they were our soldiers, or were once Josef vouched for us we were treated like visiting relatives.

I located Monica with a few other women and saw they were helping at a big tent. I took one look at her and went, “What did you do? Eat a watermelon?”

She tried to give me “the look” but all that came out was a really stressed out grin. “Funny. You need to take that act on the road.” She looked around and then asked, “Where’s your shadow?”

It took me a second to realize she was talking about Daniel. “With Abel.”

She made room for me next the pot that she was stirring and I saw that it was nearly all broth with what looked like real noodles in it. My mouth started watering. “We’ll feed the children first.”

I helped ladle broth into large mugs or bowls or whatever the children had with them. One of the women made Monica take a mug and sit down and I followed her over to the table. Finally I asked, “So what’s up?”

She surreptitiously looked around and said, “They came in and just landed in the middle of town. They knew what this place was, who lived here. Supposedly we are known as a ‘friendly community’ and now that the worst of winter is over with they are trying to see which ‘friendly’ survived, who needs assistance, that sort of thing.”

Suspicious I asked, “You sure this isn’t some Trojan Horse?”

She shrugged, “They brought food … of a sort anyway … and right now the children especially need it.”

Blanching, finally admitting what I’d been seeing ever since we’d come into town I whispered, “How bad has it been?”

With a calm acceptance I hadn’t expected she said, “We lost almost two dozen; mostly the very old and very young. None to starvation alone but the lack of proper nutrition started it. Some of the old folks went without just so the children would have something to eat or so the animals could be fed so that they’d be able to make it to spring when they could forage again. Josef … he’s … he’s been going without to make sure I eat … because of the baby. We didn’t count so well and …”

I smiled despite it all and said, “Momma always said you have to sleep in the bed to make … reckon you’ve been …”

“Dacey!”

I covered my mouth with my hand but she could still see my eyes crinkled up. Monica has apparently turned into a prude but my humor was infectious and she finally said, “Fine. Be that way. Maybe you’ll have to pay for playing pretty soon yourself.”

I was saved from responding by a female soldier approaching Monica and saying, “The base approved a convoy and they’ll be here midday tomorrow. Your husband said that you’d know the best place to set up to disburse the rations and store any set up a clinic.”

Monica got up and went off with the woman which left me looking around wondering what to do. The children … they didn’t act like children, more like tired lumps. They were all thin and scrawny with dark circles under their eyes and hollows where their cheeks used to be. Some of the adults looked worse. I had to stop people watching because it hurt.

I got up and left the area and went to find Abel and Daniel. Unluckily for me I found Daniel first and he assumed the worst. He was helping to move some boxes of military stuff – medical supplies from the look of them – and he nearly bit my head off. “Go away Dacey, I don’t need a babysitter.”

“Grouch. I was interested in what you were doing is all.”

I walked off feeling worse than I had in a while; a little lost and out of place. I found a stump behind one of the buildings and sat on it and before I knew it my head was bobbing as I tried not to doze off. Eventually I knew it was useless to fight it so I slid to the ground and leaned my head back for a few minutes.

I woke to a babble of irritated Spanish. “Abel,” I sighed. “If you’re going to fuss, at least slow down so that I can figure out what you are saying.”

That stopped him. He sat down beside me and said, “I could not find you.”

“I was right here.”

“Si Querida but I did not know that. Josef has opened his home to us for the night.”

I shrugged. “Better than sleeping outside.”

He grew concerned at my lack of concern. “Querida, what is wrong?”

To my total disgust I snuggled into his coat – my father’s old coat – and started sniffling like a two year old. “Daniel … he … he grouched at me.”

“Eh … Daniel is a grouch every morning.”

“No … no he was mad because he thought I was … was mothering him too much.”

After a pause Abel asked, “Daniel said that?”

“He told me to go away, that he didn’t need a babysitter. All I wanted was to see what he was doing … and he … he told me to go away. I wasn’t … smothering him. I went looking for both of you only I found Daniel first and …”

I didn’t want to talk anymore and thankfully Abel was more than willing to hold me and comfort me. He said, “I will talk to him. Growing up is one thing … hurting you while he does it is another.”

I sniffled my tears away and said, “No, don’t. He probably didn’t realize what he was saying and I don’t want to make a big deal out of it.”

“Dacey, growing up for a man means taking … uh … responsibilidad. Even if he did no comprende his actions, to not point them out makes the danger of spoiling him. You will do the very thing he wished you not to … to baby him.”

After thinking about it I replied, “I guess. I just don’t …”

“… want to make a big deal of it. Si, I know. But sometimes deals must be made for things not to happen again. You are his Hermana …that will never change and he should show respect for all that you have done for him if he wishes to have respecto in return. Si? You understand?”

I guess I did. Then changing the subject I asked him, “Have you been able to figure out what is going on. I didn’t have time to talk much to Monica much and … and I …I guess after that I was more involved in coming out here to pout and feel sorry for myself.”

“Aw Querida … it truly upsets you what Daniel has said.”

I got another hug that felt good and told him, “No … well yes … but not the words just … I don’t know Abel, sometimes … lately anyway … it feels like I let him down this winter. I … look, we need to talk, but I guess this really isn’t the time to do it.”

“What? No, not it is fine. It is much to take in si, but I have the time for the talking. But let us sit down, my legs complain of the hike after not having travelled so much since we were all sick”

Since I was in generally the same condition I didn’t object. We picked a bench on the porch of an old store front where we watched as the soldiers interacted with some of the AT people. The elders weren’t much in evidence but Abel explained that to me first thing.

“What do you wish to talk about?” he asked.

Since that was a loaded question and I still needed to talk to Josef I instead told him, “I need to know what is going on. I feel … feel so out of touch. Every time I try and bring it up something else gets talked about in its place. I try and talk to Monica but it winds up being about her belly. I go in search of you and Daniel and I get sidetracked with hurt feelings. Let’s just cut to the chase so I can know.”

He looked at me and then understood. “Ah, cut to the chase I have heard … you mean no more delays.” At my nod he said, “The winter has been very hard here. Many of the ancianos – the elders – are weak or Josef is worried they will catch … er … the germs and he asks them to stay inside. There is a network here that helps no one get abandoned so everyone knows everyone else’s business. Somehow they have kept all who wished to eat fed … but there were some elders that gave up and drifted away. Some … some babies did not thrive either.” He stopped and I could see him battling himself for a moment before simply saying, “I will not let this happen to you. You will eat from now on properly. Si?”

I had been trying not to worry if I had done something to the baby by being sick but for a second it came roaring to life in my head. I quickly stuffed it back where it had jumped out of but it wasn’t easy and now that I knew it was there so I couldn’t play stupid. My love for Daniel didn’t mean I wanted to make one just like him … or one with any number of other problems. I felt guilty enough as it is.

“So … we saw the helicopter. We know how we felt when we saw it and can imagine if it landed near our home. The same was true here. But they were able to convince those here to let them speak with the community leaders and from there it went on to what you see now.”

“OK, but what have you learned? What is going on it the big, outside world?”

I watched him sort out and organize his thoughts – Abel’s face can be as expressive as his hands, and then he told me, “The Heart Rot, it still holds the world in its grip though scientists have found, as did we, that certain things are more immune to it than others. Edible fungi and ferns are being cultivated. Algae and seaweed are two other crops in high demand. Fish farms – as well as clams and oyster farms - are very important and I hear that several families here have survived on little more than what fish and other things they were able to put away from their farm ponds and local rivers and lakes. Edible weeds too are an attractive source of food for both humans and forage for livestock. The new crops have not saved everyone, many have already died and many will continue to die.”

Horrified I cried, “Then what’s the point?! Why are they here? To share the good news?”

He shook his head. “No, to try and preserve as many of the functional communities as they can so there is something to build from when the Heart Rot is over.”

Beginning to have doubts I asked, “And if it never goes away?”

“It has not gone away yet but that does not mean that it is not going away.”

Confused as I sometimes was by how he phrased things I asked, “Huh?”

“The scientist, they measure particles of it in the air … the density of it. The density has lessened over the last two years. Not enough that any area can be free of its grasp – they even found it at the north and south poles - but if the readings go down again this year then there will be hope. That is why the soldiers go around, first with their drones and then with personnel. They are …” He stopped looking for a good way to explain it but I thought I’d already figured it out.

“They are picking who lives and who dies by which communities they choose to help and which ones they turn away.”

Abel reluctantly agreed. “Si, that is one way to say it.”

“Well aren’t they all saintly.”

He gave a bitter grin. “I do not think they aspire to sainthood Dacey. They do not do this thing from the goodness of their heart but because if they do not do this thing they will not have a country to soldier for. Though much can be said against these people they see loyalty as a virtue and they have taken on as their mission the continuation of their country. That means that some people must survive. Perhaps it is not always fair who they choose to help and who they do not but then again Querida, I stopped believing in fair many years ago.”

I thought about what he’d said then asked, “So what are they doing? How are they picking these new friends they want?”

He shrugged. “I believe they are picking communities with the greatest number of components for survival already in place. This community has knowledge and a willingness to work. While they are non-violent there are enough in the community willing to protect the true pacifists. There are natural resources already in place that can and are being used. There are only two components that would of the greatest benefit and that is food and medical care. Josef is already training more people to help with the medical end as well as learning from the natural methods used within the community. The soldiers have said that their command post has agreed with a series of two donations for the community. Tomorrow they’ll bring in a load of bulk food and medicines. This will have to last until next spring when the soldiers will return and they will re-evaluate for another delivery.”

I noticed, as it always did, when Abel was speaking about technical or military stuff his grammar was way better and this time was no exception. I let it pass because if I brought his attention to it, his nervousness would get everything all turned around.

“Well,” I said. “That’s mighty nice of them. I just hope it doesn’t set this place up to be attacked by raiders or bandits or more of the same we just got rid of.”

Abel shook his head. “I said ‘some’ food Dacey, I didn’t not say much food. The greatest thing they bring is a small supply of Heart Rot resistant seeds that have been found.”

“What do you mean found?” I asked, confused again by the way he had phrased it.

“The scientists, they cannot genetically modify a resistance factor but they have found cross-breeding some … what they call semillas de la herencia … heirloom seeds … will germinate and produce in some environments. These seeds have been placed into the care of Grandfather Issac and the community has already voted to grow them for everyone’s benefit rather than on a family by family trial.”

I was pretty blown away. “Seeds? Like …” I stopped, looked around, then just made a face rather than use words that might be carried away on the wind.

“Si … like that.” Then he added, “But again, not many, and not enough to feed the whole community even if all of the plants survive. But, if all of their resources are combined, hopefully survival will follow.”

I had a million other questions to ask but one of the soldiers came up and asked Abel if he would come listen to something to see if he could understand what was being said – they don’t know he is a former peacekeeper, only see him as bilingual. I went in search of Monica

At that point I knew I couldn’t delay talking to Josef any more but I didn’t figure on getting caught again by Monica to help with the soup line. Seeing the children really tested my nerves. I wondered how much Daniel would have stood out from them if he hadn’t lost much of his healthy look over the winter. Then when Monica and one of the soldier medics started talking about her condition and that all of the pregnant and nursing mothers needed to pay particularly close attention to their diets I just about wanted to scream.

But what came during the community meeting after the children had been fed and carted off and while everyone else got a small meal – with our family contributing acorns and some dried meat to the thin stew – forced me to lock my jaw so that no sound could come out.

There’s a delegation that is leaving to parley with another community a couple of counties over to see if some kind of mutually beneficial agreement can be made. That community is at a lower elevation and on flatter land so there is hope that they will successfully grow corn or some other grain like sorghum. It was the trip so much that had me wanting to scream as the fact that Abel was going to go on it to help with security issues that were likely to come up.

After the meeting adjourned and we were tucked into a spare room on the back of Josef’s and Monica’s place Abel tried to approach me about it.

“Don’t. Don’t try and ask my opinion about it now. You’ve made up your mind and have done for a while now.”

We were whispering but it was still a fight. “Querida …”

“I said don’t and I meant it. You need to go so go … but don’t think I’m jumping up and down happy about it.”

A few more things were said back and forth and then Abel said, “I am not Jeff. This is not the same thing.”

I was so mad I sat straight up in the bed. “Don’t you lie to me Abel. Not after all this time. You know good and well it is just like it was with Jeff. He felt pulled to go too. He needed to go too. He felt it was his duty to go just like you do. So don’t tell me this isn’t like Jeff because it most certainly is. Jeff left and he didn’t come back …”

“I will come back Querida.”

I shook my head and felt the tears slide off my face onto the covers. “Don’t make promises you can’t keep. Lies and broken promises hurt more than just about anything else. If you go, be honest with me and yourself why you going. And you get to say I told you so only after you come back safe and sound. Last thing I want to do is to have to live with another permanent goodbye.”

I could have made him stay. Or at least I’m pretty sure I could have. All I would have had to do was tell him I had a baby baking in my oven. But I didn’t want to make him stay, I wanted him to stay because he wanted to. And if I couldn’t have that I wouldn’t use the other as blackmail.

We made up. I was too scared not to … to leave such a thing hanging in case the last time I said good bye to him was the last time I would ever get to say good bye. But even though we made up I … I don’t know … it was like a part of me already believed I’d never see him again after tomorrow. My body wouldn’t let me lay away worrying but my dreams were horrible and I woke in the morning more tired than I’d gone to bed.

Monica looked guilty whenever she looked at me. Josef wasn’t going. He had wanted to but the community voted him down. First there was Monica to think of and second, he was the communities only trained medical professional of sorts.

It happened too quickly; we were saying good bye and then they were just … just gone. A group of seven men and they were swallowed by the forest before I knew it. I turned to Daniel who was crying and asking why Daniel had to go and told him to pack his gear and say good bye, we needed to go home.

“But how will we get there Dacey? Abel is gone.”

“Same way we got places before Abel came along Daniel. I’ll get us there.”

He looked at me and I could see he wanted to be angry but the sorrow won out and he just hung his head and turned to go do as I asked. Abel had had a talk with him last night but who knew if it would have any affect.

Monica had gone off to tend to something or other and I went back inside to grab my pack. I heard slamming cabinet doors and drawers and followed the racket to the small study that Josef used as an office. I told him, “You’re gonna tear those things off if you aren’t careful.”

He was really mad and it was a moment before he could calm himself down but that was OK, I pretty much knew how he felt. He reached for a package on his desk and said, “It’s not much but here are some of the medical supplies for you to take with you.”

I nodded my thanks and then said, “You got a sec? I kinda need to ask you something.”

Since I had never come to him in quite that way he sat on the corner of his desk and waited. “How do you know if … if a woman is gonna have a baby?”

He jumped like I’d poked him with a sharp stick and then got all professional. I added, “I mean besides the obvious.” I sighed and explained things in a little more detail at his request.

“I take it that Abel doesn’t suspect?”

“No. I was gonna tell him and then the helicopter thing happened. Then I was gonna tell him last night only this other got in the way. I should have told him I know so I don’t need any lectures but I just couldn’t.”

He drew the blinds and then shut his office door. He had me lay down on the table he used for such things and said, “I can feel your uterus easily so by this you are about sixteen weeks along, but standing up I’d never guess it.”

I sat up and pulled myself together while he went over to a cabinet and pulled out a big bottle of pills. He said to me, “This are vitamins. Take them. Even if you don’t think you can get it down, take one each day. It’s important Dacey. You’ve already had some nutritional interruptions in the first trimester.”

“That’s bad isn’t it.”

He shrugged. “I can lie to you or tell you the truth.”

Without hesitation I said, “Truth.”

“That’s what I thought.” He pinched the bridge of his nose. “The most common side effect of poor nutrition is low birth weight but that comes with a whole slew of dangers of its own. ig bottle of pills. He said to me, “This are vitamins. Take them. Even if you don’t think you can get it down, take one each day. It’s important Dacey. You’ve already had some nutritional interruptions in the first trimester.”

“That’s bad isn’t it.”

He shrugged. “I can lie to you or tell you the truth.”

Without hesitation I said, “Truth.”

“That’s what I thought.” He pinched the bridge of his nose. “The most common side effect of poor nutrition is low birth weight but that comes with a whole slew of dangers of its own. Depending on what your nutrition was like at time of conception also plays into it … did your body have the reserves to build the baby right. We won’t know the answers to any of that until after he or she is born. But from here on out you need to be as careful as you can be … for the baby and for yourself which is the same thing at this point. You need to be able to not just grow a baby in your body but be able to withstand the stress of childbirth itself. I lend you a book …”

“That’s OK, have a couple, I just have to dig them out.”

“You sure?”

I nodded.

“Perhaps you and Abel should stay with Monica and I …”

“No.” There was no hesitation in my mind on that point. “We need to get home. There are things to do and I can’t get them done if we’re here.”

Thank goodness that Josef was man enough to accept my determination. “Do you want this kept quiet? Do you want to tell Monica?”

Again my determination was complete. “No, there’s no sense in it. Monica’s got her own problems and it is no one else’s business.”

“What about Daniel?”

“I’ll explain it when I need to.”

“All right but remember what I said … and the two of you are always welcome if you change your mind.”

I nodded but we both knew I wouldn’t. In my own way I could be as stubborn as Daniel.