It feels like I slept for weeks but I didn’t. I came close to hibernating but it wasn’t that either. I remember waking up, eating a little, going to the bathroom, but my feet didn’t really touch the floor all that much. I lay huddled in bed or sometimes in an arm chair all covered in blankets. I wasn’t sick but I wasn’t well either.
December turned into January then February but I hardly remember. I wasn’t sure what was wrong with me. Christmas and New Years were just dates on the calendar. Too much work, too little food had a lot to do with it. I’d been foolish not to take better care of myself. I ran a fever now and again but nothing at all like Daniel and Abel had. My lungs stayed perfectly clear and the only sniffling I did was after I’d cried, only I couldn’t remember exactly what had started me crying. I don’t really think it was an infection of my body so much as an infection of my spirit. I just plain got depressed and couldn’t seem to fight my way out of it; for a while I didn’t seem to want to.
I was sick off and on so whatever Abel tried to get me to eat didn’t always stick which only made the situation more difficult. Slowly I started coming back around. It was the middle of February but you couldn’t prove it by the weather. I don’t ever remember winter being such a miserable season.
The first time I got out of bed I could have crawled back in and never gotten up again. The cave ¬– our home – looked hideous. It smelled and laundry hung in unorganized groupings in every free space a line could be strung. The kitchen was safe for cooking and eating, but just barely. The bathroom hadn’t been scrubbed since the last time I had done it, literally a couple of months previously. From the entry way all the way back to the storage areas I could tell they’d swept the floors but not often and little else. A layer of dust and filth seem to coat everything.
Abel found me crying. “Querida … here, let me adjust your covers.”
“I don’t want my covers adjusted! How could you and Daniel do this?!”
Abel stopped and I could tell he had absolutely no clue what I was talking about and somehow that made me even angrier. “I nearly killed myself trying to keep up with everything – one person, me – while both of you were sick. I get sick and all you really needed to do was leave me to sleep and when I finally do get up it looks … the cave … do you know how long this is going to take me to clean?!” I went back to crying.
Abel’s face was carefully blank while he let me cry it out. He handed me a handkerchief when it seemed like I was about done and then he told me, “I am sorry you are disappointed Dacey.”
And then I felt bad and told him, “Oh ignore me. I must be going crazy or something. You probably had your hands full with Daniel … and …” I suddenly sat up straight and the room spun. I startled Abel so much he grabbed me a little too tightly but he let loose and patted me instead when I said, “The grow rooms! Oh … oh Abel … how … how bad is it?”
I wasn’t sure I wanted to know but Abel smoothed the rat’s nest my hair had turned into and said, “Not bad. Daniel has been teaching me much. The mushrooms grow good as do the herbs. Daniel says that some of the vegetables do no grow so well but that it is the dirt is getting tired.”
I was relieved and worried at the same time. I got the shakes and it was only a moment before I was asleep again despite desperately wanting to ask questions and get answers to them. The next time I woke up I was better – mentally anyway. I washed myself and then did the best I could with my hair. It was disgusting and after a light lunch of broth that both Abel and Daniel watched me eat like a hawk, I asked Abel if he would help me wash my hair.
I don’t know who was happier about it, me or Abel. I was happy to get clean and he was happy to see that I was taking some interest in my own well-being again.
“Querida … do you wish … to talk … I mean … your … your illness … it was …”
I sighed as he rung the last of the soap suds from my hair. “I don’t know what it was Abel. I’d apologize if I knew what I was apologizing for.”
“I do not ask that of you. It is just … it was … worrying to see you like that. You … I have never seen you in such a state of being. You must eat better from now on. You must take better care of yourself even if I am too stupido to see it.”
“Don’t say that … Querido.”
That made him smile. My Spanish was still horrible but I’d learned to say things to make him grin. Still, he shook his head. “You will not get away so easy. You did the worry of me very badly. I can barely think on the words to say them right at how it made me feel. No more again Dacey, truly my heart could not take it.”
I had worried him and I was sorry for it. He overcompensated for a time until I was able to convince him that I was out of the dark place I’d fallen into. However I was physically fragile for a while; my bones felt as brittle as all the split ends in my hair. As much as I ate my energy level never seemed to go back to where it was before. I could nap at the drop of a hat; all of us could but I would do it standing up in front of the stove and had to be particularly careful.
All three of us, plus Dog, made an effort to go outside every day. There was a distance between Daniel and I that hadn’t been there before. It wasn’t like he was angry at me but like he had disengaged. It hurt and I cried, but not where Daniel or Abel could see or hear me. Daniel had transferred a lot of his need for affection to Abel and somehow I felt left out.
Oh, Daniel still loved me, that’s not what I mean. And he seemed relieved that I was well and up and around again, but it is like he had taken a leap forward; he was still my little brother but he was no longer my little boy. I should have been relieved – and I was, or at least part of me was – but it left me feeling like I’d lost part of my reason for getting up in the mornings. It was hard to explain.
I had always spent so much of my time on Daniel that now that I didn’t need to it was almost scary. I wasn’t quite sure what to do with myself.
One morning I said, “Daniel, don’t …”
“… forget my mittens. I know Dacey. I’m not little and stupid.”
I looked helplessly at Abel as Daniel stomped out. “That’s … that’s not what I meant.”
“I know Querida,” Abel said with a kiss on my cheek as he too prepared to go outside. “He is simply being a boy. We are careless with our words at that age. I remember my aunts looking like that when my cousins would say similar words. He means nothing by it.”
I sighed and tried to understand. “He’s just growing up. That’s what you’re trying to say.”
Quietly he answered, “Si. And you need to let him. He may … may never been exactly as others are but that does not mean that he will not come close. He may be slower at the growing up … but he is still doing it. Do you comprende?”
“Yeah … I get it.” I sighed. “I know he took his mittens. Just make sure he actually wears them please.”
Abel grinned, kissed me again – we had started cuddling again as married people do but I considered it more for Abel’s benefit than mine – and then went out the door. Not having Daniel to take care of 24/7 – or at least not take care of him the same way – left me with time on my hands but not much energy to do anything with it. That meant I thought a lot.
February may have come to an end but the cold weather refused to leave. Not a single sign of spring was to be found. Then it seemed like the weather just went poof, warmed up to just above freezing during the day, and I knew it was surgaring time.
“Hmmm?” he answered as he sat trying to plow through one of the manuals on wind generators in the library.
“Have you ever collected tree sap to make it into syrup?”
Daniel overheard and asked excitedly, “Is it time Dacey? Is it really time?”
Answering Daniel I said, “I think so.” Daniel seemed satisfied with the single word and went back to what he had been doing before. Turning back to Abel who was still trying to understand what I was asking I said, “Maple syrup.”
At that he made the connection. “No but I have read of it in the books and Daniel said that your family, they did make their own but that you have not for a long time.”
I sighed and nodded, “It’s a big job and we’ve had enough honey with the bees and such but … I think we’ll need every advantage we can this year.” I looked over at Daniel who was playing with Dog and decided I couldn’t hide the obvious. Speaking openly I explained, “If the grow rooms are slowing down we are going to have to depend on the bulk storage items that we still have. Dad put back a lot and it was supposed to feed more people so we are doing better than we should have done but …”
I stopped as the thoughts going through my head seemed to be squeezing my chest and making it hard to talk. “I don’t want to be like everyone else Abel. If there is a chance to stay out ahead of starvation for as long as we can …”
Abel closed the book and came over to sit beside me. “Querida, we are far from a starving time. I continued your inventory as you were … you were ill.” He took the old afghan off the back of the sofa where I was sitting and placed it across my lap. “There, you are shaking again. You must remember, we still have the grow rooms – they have not stopped, just give less. Then there are the chickens and we have kept the little cochinillos – the piglets - to grow for next year. There is still game in the forest for all it is hard to find. And in the spring there will be other things like the pescados, ranas, tortugas, cangrejos, and the other things you have done before. We will survive Dacey, God has seen to that and why would He change?”
I let my head fall back against the sofa. “I don’t know. My skin just crawls sometimes.”
When he didn’t understand what I meant I explained, “I don’t know how to sit around and wait for manna from Heaven. It seems to me that if God makes us capable enough to do for ourselves that is what He expects us to do … not sit around and be forever waiting on someone else to do it for us. Dad and Mom raised me to be an ant, not a grasshopper. I feel like we need to gather the sap and make syrup. It’s important.”
Looking at my stubborn face he smiled, “And so we will. But there is no need to lose all our faith while we do it. We will work but we will trust our work is enough. There is no good to come from you to worry until you are sick with the feeling of crawling skin. Si?”
He’d gotten into bad habits while I’d been sick and his grammar was almost as poor as it had ever been … but I did understand what he meant. I may have had my hand on the rudder, deciding which direction to go, but it was God that put the wind in the sails that got me there.
I knew which trees gave the sweetest sap because my parents had been done it for years and my dad had tested the sugar content of the sap himself. And I didn’t intend on just making maple syrup either. The very next day I set about putting in the taps for sap collection.
I stuck mainly with the larger trees because they were the ones that were withstanding heart rot the best but I was also careful about how much stress I put them under. The trees I chose were over twenty-five inches in circumference which meant there could be three taps in them. After each tap had yielded about fifteen gallons I removed it and picked another tree to start on. Since it takes about forty gallons of maple sap to make one gallon of syrup that meant that over time I got about one gallon of syrup per tree that I tapped.
The sugar maple will sometimes yield even better but the average yield is 40:1. On the other hand all other tree saps take a lot more sap to make a gallon of syrup but I was determined to do everything we could. It was a tradeoff though; that was a lot of firewood to make syrup. Birch is 100:1 and pecan, black walnut, poplar, and black cherry are just about that much.
It didn’t take long for us to start collecting but since each tap rarely gives off more than a quart of sap per day it took a lot of trees to get enough sap to boil down a gallon a day. I had about 50 maple trees tapped and still we’d sometimes run short to get a full gallon per day so I doubled the number of trees in production after cleaning off Dad’s old equipment. We kept at it. Every day except Sundays for a month we made syrup. We wound up with sixty gallons of maple syrup and about five or six gallons of each the other kinds of syrup.
Doing something constructive seemed to improve my spirits. I was feeling so much better. At first I put it down to being outside more and getting something concrete accomplished, getting the cave cleaned back up, all three of us well after such a rough winter … but then I realized it might be something else.
The thought had probably been in the back of my head for months, might have been one of the reasons why I was hibernating for a while. It had to have been that long ago because of the symptoms. I lost a lot of weight while both Abel and Daniel were sick but hadn’t managed to put much if any back on … but I could feel my body changing and even Abel had made a few comments about it during our intimate times; he seemed appreciate it.
I felt kind of stupid for not having realized it sooner, especially giving all the times I tossed my cookies there for a while. But when I tried to put on a pair of jeans that should have fit with no problem – they were real baggie in the rear end – and realized I couldn’t get them buttoned; my subconscious suddenly let loose and I had to face facts.
I hadn’t had a monthly in … well , for a long time, for months; it was the first week of April and it had been since before December. I had been putting it down to working and being sick and everything else but that was pretty naïve. I mean, you make your bed you have to lie in it. I didn’t know how I felt … I mean I literally did not know how I felt about it. I was kind of numb. I hadn’t even decided whether I was going to panic or not; hadn’t even given a thought to how Daniel would react to the news. All I wanted to know what how Abel was going to react.
I thought there was no time like the present and went outside to find Abel. I had expected him to be chopping wood but he just stood there with the axe hanging useless at his side. He was looking off to the horizon and then I heard an odd sound in the still of the cold morning. I tried to shake the sound away wondering what insect was making it but then Abel started running in my direction, motioning for me to get down.
We hid beneath the canopy over the sink and Abel said, “Drone.”
“A .. a what?”
“A plane with no pilot on board. Used for reconnaissance.”
About an hour later the little drone came back but Abel refused to stop looking and a good thing too because a little after the noon hour an armed helicopter flew over using the same path taken by the drone. And it was heading straight for Amish Town.