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.