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.