The spring rains didn’t let up for days, washing out any chance of getting to the Meadow Creek Revival. The small creek near the house swelled till there was no question of fording. Anya was devastated to know she’d be stuck a while longer, but Joe was relieved at the reprieve, having no idea how he’d manage. For the next few weeks, they settled into a routine. Joe tore a strip of the flannel and fashioned a sling so Anya could manage the baby as she worked. She her strength and hearing improved every day, and she was putting on a little weight, something she’d never done. As well as cooking and cleaning, she worked alongside Joe putting in a garden. She felt better knowing Joe and the little ones would have something to eat after she was far way. As they planted beans, squash, corn, cabbages, and spring onions, the boy tagged along, packing dirt over the seed as they planted. With the baby on her back, she had to stop and rest often, but it was pleasant, hopeful work, the type she enjoyed. She thought a few times of the fine crop they’d harvest till she remembered with a jolt, she wouldn’t be there. One day, Joe stood and watched her for a while on his way back from the barn with another load of manure, thinking she and the children on his place was the finest sight he’d ever seen. He strode back to the patch, telling her, “These young’uns has got to have a name. We cain’t just keeping callin’ em The Boy and The Baby. Even my barn cats has got a name.” Anya kept right on with her planting, not bothering to answer. “Let’s call the boy Joe and the baby, Sally.”
As she was coming back from turning the chickens out to scratch one morning, she came around the barn to find Joe in conversation with a man on a horse. She tried to duck out of sight, but the man waved and called out, “Howdy, Ma’am.”
“Anya, this is Rufus Menlo, our nearest neighbor.” Joe introduced her.
“Proud to meet you, ma’am. The preacher told me Joe done got hitched to a widow-woman, but I didn’t expect to see such a purty one. My woman is gonna be wantin’ to git over and meet you soon as she can. She ain’t had a woman to talk to in a while and now there’s one on the next section.” Anya didn’t bother to correct him. “We don’t usually git much news around here, and now there’s a marrying and a killing, all in a few days.” He continued without hesitation. “My boy Melvin was out lookin’ for strays and saw buzzards circling and come over a rise to find a sorry sight. The buzzards had already worked the man over, but Melvin could see his head bashed in. He was a peddler and somebody must’a robbed him and stole his horse. They was a woman’s things in his peddler’s cart. Melvin went for the sheriff, and he’s on the lookout for whoever might’of done ‘em in. Some drifters told the sheriff they’d seen him with a fancy woman a few days before. He’s thinking some lowlife might’of knocked that peddler in the head and took off with the woman, or else the woman did the feller in, but it don’t really seem like something a woman could do, does it? The sheriff’s on the lookout for any folk that don’t fit around here.”
At hearing his news, Anya retched and wiped her mouth on her skirt. “I’m sorry ma’am. I never thought of you being delicate. Let me git on my way. I’ll send my woman over to see you.” Rufus kneed his horse and went on his way.
“Here, sit down. Let me get you some water.” Joe steadied her to a chair at the table and poured her a glass of water. “Drink this. It ought to steady you a bit.”
Reblog from Smorgasbard.
I am the product of a mixed marriage. Mother embraced Christmas with all the enthusiasm of a four-year-old while Daddy had to be pulled, kicking and fighting into the season, dreading the ruckus and expense. Mother felt the Christmas tree had to be up no later than December 18, to get maximum joy from it. Daddy dawdled around as long as possible, insisting December 22 was the earliest it could go up. He always put it off until Mother was about to blow a gasket.
Finally, he’d hook the trailer to his old tractor, fetch his power saw and call us to all pile on for the search. We’d bump over rutted farm trails, hanging on for dear life. Mother and Phyllis would be clinging to the little ones while Mother yelled for Daddy to take it slow. Daddy had plenty of kids and assured Mother we were having a great time as we clutched the rails. Most of the time we were. Before long, we’d be combing through several groves while Daddy rejected tree after tree. Finally, he’d steer us toward the one he’d earmarked weeks or months earlier.
The roar of his power saw signaled the fall of the tree. Sometimes, Mother wouldn’t be quite satisfied and would bring home an extra, which she wired together with the first to make it fuller.
Eventually, the tree trimming was complete, every ball, string of tinsel, and special ornament in place. Mother garnished it with shimmering fiberglass angel hair. Every year when the lights came on, we oohed and ah’ed our gorgeous tree, assuring ourselves that this year’s was the most beautiful we’d ever had.
Anya lay awake a long time thinking after Joe went to the barn and the kids slept, the baby snuggled up warm and sweet in the curve of her body. In his rope bed near the fire, the boy cried out for his mama in his sleep and whimpered without waking. Anya went to him, smoothed his hair and rubbed his back till he went back to sleep. His warm little hand sought hers and she felt stirrings of pity for him, even though she tried not to. She’d already lost the battle of staying detached from the little girl, and was beginning to wonder if she could take the poor motherless thing when she left though she saw the folly in that. She had no friends, nowhere to go and no way to care for the child. Not only that, she might have killed the peddler. The law was hard on a woman. They might be looking to hang her right now. She needed to get far enough away to disappear in a sizable town. The baby would just hold her back. A woman alone would have a hard enough time providing for herself, even if she had nothing to hide. She had to get as far away as possible and seek work as a housekeeper or cook, since that was all she knew. Having barely been to school, she couldn’t be a schoolmarm. She’d had enough of men to know she’d never marry. She needed to get to town where folks had enough money and house to need help. Her prospects were poor, but maybe when she got to Meadow Creek Church she’d meet up with somebody who could help get her on the road to something else. It would break her heart, but there’s no way she could take the tiny girl.
Out in the barn, Joe was thinking his own gloomy thoughts. He didn’t want Anya to go. He started to hope she might stay and they could be a family. Even though Anya hadn’t warmed to him, he’d gotten a little taste of family watching her doing for the baby and doing about the house. It had been such a pleasure to come in last night and find supper laid out. No one had done that for him since Ma died. When Anya left, he and the boy manage, but who would do for the baby? She was far too young to go around with him while he worked.
!She had supper ready when Joe and the boy came in. She’d cooked beans on in a cast-iron pot hanging over the fire and baked cornbread and some sweet potatoes in the coals, pleasant work she was accustomed to. Joe’s brows lifted when he saw supper and bowls and cups out on the table. She crumbled cornbread in a cup and Joe poured buttermilk over it for the baby before lifting her to Anya’s lap. They all fell to with an appetite.
“My name is Anya, not Anna. I’ll stay and earn my keep till I can manage, but I ain’t no whore. Don’t come sniffing around me. I don’t want to owe you nothing. I’m gittin’ better so I can do for the baby and tend the house, but you need to keep the boy with you.” She looked him fiercely in the eye.
Joe looked her and raised his voice. “I’ll thank you to call me Joe. Don’t you think I could’a already done hurt you if I’d wanted? I don’t want nothin’ more from you than you take care of yourself and the baby.” He dropped his voice, speaking more to himself. “I been getting along without a woman for a long time, but I ain’t fell so low I got to take up with a stringy, beat-up neck bone like you.”
Poor Joe was unaware her hearing had improved and was surprised to have a hot sweet potato hit him in the jaw. “I’ll thank you to keep a civil tongue in your head,” she warned him through clinched jaws.
“Yes, ma’am.” He muttered. “Beggin’ pardon, ma’am. No call for me to be spiteful. We are both in a pickle and battling ain’t gonna help.”
“You keep to your place and I’ll keep to mine till I can do better.” The tension eased a bit now they understood each other.
They passed the evening watching the children at their play. Joe had brought them a kitten from the barn. The boy teased it with a bit of string, delighting the baby girl. Joe and Anya caught themselves laughing at it a time or two.
“What’s the boy’s name?” This was the first time it had occurred to her to ask.
“I don’t know. I just been calling him boy. His mama was sick when she got here and never told me nothing. She died the next day.” He stared into the fire.
“You mean these ain’t your young’uns?” She was incredulous.
“No, I don’t know nuthin’ exceptin’ their mama up and died soon’s she got here. I’d send ‘em back to her folk if I knew who they was. She come with nuthin’ but my letter, a bundle of clothes, and these young’uns after I wrote off for a wife. I buried her out in the mesquite and tried to take the kids back to Talphus fer the town or the church to do for ‘em and them miserable bastards run me off like a scalded dog. When I got back after doing chores that night, you was up in the house lookin’ at the baby. I thought I’d done buried their mama alive. It warn’t till just now the coyotes dug her body out of the grave till I knew you warn’t the woman I married. Oh, Lordy. I don’t know why I ain’t left well enough alone.”
I love my job, I love the pay!
I love it more and more each day.
I love my boss, she is the best!
I love her boss and all the rest.
I love my office and its location,
I hate to have to go on vacation.
I love my furniture, drab and gray,
And piles of paper that grow each day!
I think my job is really swell,
There’s nothing else I love so well.
I love to work among my peers,
I love their leers, and jeers, and sneers.
I love my computer and its software;
I hug it often though it won’t care.
I love each program and every file.
I’d love them more if they worked a while.
I’m happy to be here. I am. I am.
I’m the happiest slave of the Firm, I am.
I love this work, I love these chores.
I love the meetings with deadly bores.
I love my job – I’ll say it again –
I even love those friendly men.
Those friendly men who’ve come today,
In clean white coats to take me away!
She gathered the children next to the wall in bed with her with the fireplace poker hidden the quilts. It wouldn’t be much protection from an ax or gun, but she might be able to put an eye out before he got to her. Fatigued, she leaned against the wall so she wouldn’t be caught lying down when he burst in. Though she was never aware of drifting off, the sound of the man trying the door awoke her just as the sun was rising. Peeking out the window she saw he had put a pail of milk and basket of eggs on the step instead of bringing them in like he had every other morning. “Come on out and git this for them kids. They got to eat.” Jack trotted happily behind him as he headed to the barn. When she was sure he was far enough away, she reached for the provisions. Unable to lift the heavy milk bucket, she had to take it out a dipper full at a time and wasted a good bit trying to strain it into a pitcher. Filling the baby’s bottle, and struggled to change the wriggling child’s malodorous diaper before finally giving up to let her run free. The boy tipped a chair and banged his head trying to get an egg. The eggs crashed to the floor. The baby howled in unison with her brother, though he didn’t need any help. She burst into loud wails faced with the hopelessness of the situation. Clearly, she couldn’t take care of even herself in her condition. Desperate, she opened the door to the man’s banging. If he’d wanted to kill them, he could have sneaked up on them in the night instead of bringing breakfast to the door.
“If you ain’t gonna be able to feed these young’uns, let me in so I can.” She had no trouble understanding his shouted instructions. He got straight to work, breaking up cold cornbread into warm milk, since the eggs were lost. Gesturing for her to sit in a straight chair at the table, he handed her the baby girl propping her between Anya’s injured arm against the wall and raised his voice. “You feed this baby. You need to earn your keep. That other arm works fine.”
While Anya fed the girl, she sneaked peeks at the man, trying not to get caught while he crumbled cornbread into the boy’s milk. He made no effort to fix Anya’s meal, turning to hear and shouted. “Now when you git your fill, clean this mess up. I got too much to do to take care of youngun’s and an addled woman.”
Anya lost her fear as her face flamed with fury at the insult. “Addled! I ain’t addled! I’m jest kind’a deaf but I’m a’getting’ better! And don’t go hollerin’ so loud at me. I ain’t off! You’d act addled too if you got cracked in the head. At least I ain’t crazy enough to claim you’re my husband! Just give me a few days more an’ I’ll be out of here. I just gotta figure a way to take care of myself and git to a town.”
The damn holding back Joe’s frustration broke. “I’ll be glad to see the last of you, but I got a crop to put in and cain’t take time to haul your sorry ass thirty miles to town. Me and these kids ain’t gonna starve on account of you! You ain’t nothing to us!” He didn’t even realize it was the first time he’d referred to himself and the kids as a unit. “The circuit preacher will be over to the Meadow Creek Church in two weeks for revival. I’ll take you the twelve miles over there and some of them do-gooders from church can put you to work or git you to town. It ain’t nothing to me what you do.”
“I ain’t staying here another night.” She spouted, slamming her open hand on the table.
“Suit yourself. Talphus is thirty miles east and Meadowcreek Church is twelve miles northwest of here. Them church folks will be gathering after spring planting. Good riddance! Come on Little Joe. Now, you watch the baby out of the fire. Me and Little Joe got work to do.” He grabbed the little boy’s hand and slammed the door on the way out.
Mother is a master of indecision, easy distracted and forgetful, not a recent development. Many years ago, she loaded her little kids, purse, packages, and God only knows what else into the backseat of her car. Eventually, thinking for sure she was ready,she gave the back car door a shove, suddenly remembering one last thing she should have done, she leaned forward to reach into back seat without stopping the door. It slammed, trapping her nose between the door and the car body. She screamed and blood from poured from her nose as she struggled with the door handle. I don’t believe I’ve heard of a similar accident.