Hard Time Marrying Part 19

img_1599Upon Emma’s reference to pregnancy, Anya was so shocked she knocked her coffee over.  It ran off the table onto little Sally’s blonde curls.  Sally howled and both women jumped to see to her.  She wailed, but fortunately her face wasn’t even pink.  The next few minutes were full of mopping her up and changing her clothes.  By the time they’d finished, Rufus had stepped to the door and called Emma to go.  Anya composed herself enough to make her goodbyes, promising to ride over with Joe in a few days.

Sick with dread, Anya settled to rock Sally to sleep and consider Emma’s observation.        She couldn’t remember the last time she’d had the curse.  She hadn’t had to wash rags since she’d been here and didn’t know how long before that.  The abuse she’d endured before escaping and her confusion from her injuries had left her disoriented. The time had all run together.  It was true she’d put on a little weight, but pregnancy had never crossed her mind.  Her hand flew to her belly when she felt an undeniable swelling and her full breasts pushed against the bodice of the dress she’d taken from the store of things in the bundle Joe’s wife had brought with her.

Would this nightmare never end?  Just when it looked as though life might work out, this horror raised its head.  And all this after she’d insisted she wasn’t a whore!  Joe had already been saddled with two children from his dead wife and had tried to pass them off to the townspeople, only to be turned away.  She’d thought she’d never want to be a wife till this terrible turn and now realized a life with Joe and the children would have been precious.  Silent tears ran down her cheeks onto Sweet Sally’s sleepy head.

Joe and came in from outdoors to the tender sight of Anya rocking the baby in the light streaming through the window.  Little Joe ran to her for a hug.  Joe’s heart swelled with love for his family.  Life was turning around for him after all his years alone.

 

 

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Hard Time Marrying Part 14

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.

Hard Time Marrying Part 13

anya-and-baby

Anya had no idea of the horror behind Joe’s outburst as he tore into the cabin, though she knew plenty about the moods of men, none of it good.  She covered her head and cowered on the far side of the bed, expecting a beating or rape, the way men had most often dealt with her.  His previous kindnesses were forgotten in her shock.

“What’s going on here?  Who the Hell are you and how did you get here? I thought you were my wife! Who are these kids?”  He crossed the room shaking her by the shoulders as she waited for the blows to rain down. “

Despite her confusion, with him shouting directly into her face, there was no mistaking, “I THOUGHT YOU WERE MY WIFE!”

He was insane!  Bracing for what was sure to come next, she covered her head with her good arm.  God help me!  Distraught and overwrought he fled the cabin, slamming the door before the boy could get out behind him.

The boy wailed and tore at the door.  The baby cried and clung to her.  The shock of the man’s outburst cleared her confusion a bit.  She rushed to the door, and slid the wooden bar to lock the man out.  At least that would give her a moment to think.  She’d hoped to have a few more days to rest.  In her clouded mind, the baby girl had become the little sister she’d so loved. She to figure a way to get herself and the girl away.  The man might burn them in their beds tonight, but if they survived, she’d have to figure out a way to get them out of here in the morning.

 

 

Hard Time Marrying Part 12

She awoke to a murderous headache and a deafening roar in her ear, the warmth of  the flickering fire beckoning her.  Pulling herself to her feet by clinging to a table leg, she made her way toward it.  As she turned to warm her backside, she caught sight of the baby girl on the bed.  From deep in her battered brain, love for her baby sister nudged her.  Drawn to the bedside, she studied the baby, hardly cognizant of the other child.  Dropping to the edge of the bed, she tenderly touched the child’s burning cheek and tried to gather her to her bosom. Unaware of the man who’d entered the room, her last thought was of her lost baby sister as she slid back into the darkness, barely aware of being ministered to.

She held little memory of the next few days, though her headache dulled and the roaring in her ear became less demanding.  When she could stay awake, she focused on the baby, a blue-eyed blonde, so much like her sister.  A small boy trailed the man constantly.  Thinking still made her head ache, especially when she had the nightmare about a pistol and a man.  The Dream always slipped away like dark silk as shuddered awake, but left her in a cold sweat.  In her dream, she was always trying to get away.

The man was busy but quiet.  He and the boy were rarely in the house, except to bring in milk, do chores, and eat.  He did nothing to threaten or disturb her, but she wanted nothing to do with him or any other man.  Had she been able to think more clearly, she’d have wondered about the mother of the children, but that was too onerous a task for her addled brain.

 

 

Hard Time Marrying Part 11

 

Fatigued almost beyond bearing, Anya’s head felt as though it would burst.  Her jaw ached and blood drained from her left ear.  Her stepmother, Bessie had deafened her right years ago, but now she’d developed a deafening roar in her left.  Barely conscious, she struggled to maintain her death grip on the cow’s halter and half-walked and was half-dragged the final half-mile to the barn. Though she couldn’t hear it, the farm dog barked at her staggering approach, but for some reason didn’t offer to bite as she struggled to the barnyard. Instinct alone guided her into the barn where she collapsed on the haystack.  Old Bossie followed her in and was grateful of the opportunity to get her feed early.  Hay drifted over Anya as she slept, keeping the secret of her presence, though in her decreasing consciousness, she had no concern for anything.  Unaware of anything except pain and fatigue, she slept late into the next day.

Anya’s mind was foggy when she awoke, only aware of pain, hunger and thirst.  The beating she’d taken left her deaf and confused. She did vaguely remember trying to fire the pistol, but nothing after that.  Her raging thirst drove her from the barn.  With the pain in her jaw, eating would not have been an option.  She made her way toward the cabin, seeking water.

Had anyone been there to see her, she’d have been a horrifying specter as she fell against the door.  Wakening to find Jack licking the blood from her ear, she managed to hang onto the wall and table till she got to the water bucket.  Slaking her thirst, she dropped painfully to the cabin floor, unaware she was in the world.

 

 

Hard Time Marrying Part 10

For the first time in weeks, Anya slept deeply under the willows without fear of her captor.  In the fickle manner of West Texas, as the temperate day drew to a close, a cold wind swept in clouds from the North. She roused shivering as the rain peppered her with sleet. Knowing she’d die if she just lay there, she managed to rake a bed of leaves and burrowed in, somehow surviving the bitter night.  At first light, she emerged, battered but choosing life.  The day warmed as though there had been no icy storm in the night.

Despite the beating she’d endured, she walked through the hours, often falling, then struggling back to her feet in search of help.  Eventually, she stumbled upon a milk cow grazing in the distance.  Laboriously, she made her way toward It, hoping it wouldn’t wander off.  She stroked the gentle beast, before dropping to her knees, grasping an udder, and squirting warm milk into her mouth.  Strengthened by the cow’s life-saving gift, she leaned against the kind beast, comforted by its warmth..  Anya kept pace with the cow, occasionally milking her or resting while the the beast grazed.Thankfully, the cow didn’t object to her company.

As the afternoon shadows lengthened, the cow seemed charged with purpose and picked up her pace.  Anya took hold of her rope halter to keep up.  As they climbed over a rise, a homestead came into view.  Anya released the cow and she picked up the pace, trotting with purpose as her bag with its engorged udders swung side to side.

Hard Time Marrying Part 9

traveling-medicine-show1No mother had ever loved her.  A woman or two passed through, but none of them stayed long.  Ever since she could remember, she’d trailed Pa at his blacksmith or on the homestead though some days he didn’t speak five words to her.  As she got older, she picked up a little cooking, but neither of them did more than they had to in the house.  She was near thirteen when Bessie and her three boys moved in homestead after marrying Pa, Bessie railed at the filth in the house and set about teaching Anya housekeeping with a ready back-hand.  She wasn’t partial to the girl, backhanding her own boys just as often.  When Bessie’s baby girl was born a few months later, she carelessly handed it off to Anya, taking it only to nurse.  For the first time in her life, Anya knew love, never leaving her new sister in Bessie’s way.

Bessie remarried quickly after Pa was kicked in the head by a horse and liked Anya even less after she caught her new man looking Anya’s way.  Within a month, she’d handed Anya off to a Snake Oil peddler passing through.  He warned her not to try to get away.  “I done paid good money for you.”  Anya endured his drunken assaults and those of men who paid him for her time.  After the most brutal beating and rape she’d yet endured, he passed out from his own “Snake Oil.”  Fueled by adrenaline and the knowledge that it was now or never, despite her useless right arm, Anya dragged herself to the wagon, took his pistol from under the wagon seat, aimed at his head and pulled the trigger.  It kicked her backwards against the wagon.  Desperately, she pulled herself up, took the shovel propped against the wagon wheel, steadied herself as best she could, and bashed in his skull.  Repositioning herself, she took another go at him, knowing if he lived, he’d kill her.

With agonizing effort, she pulled his old horse next to the wagon and slid over from the step.  Fortunately for her, the horse was old and docile or he’d have never tolerated her clumsiness.  Popping the reins, she gave him his head.  From time to time she’d nod off and awaken to find his head drooping, as he rested along with her.  Urging him on, they’d travel a bit more till he sensed she wouldn’t notice his dawdling. In that manner, they traveled on through the night and early morning.  As her fatigue and pain got the better of her, she spent less and less time pushing him.  He ambled along and grazed as he pleased with no interference from her.  She slid from his back as he made his way down a little slope to a stream.  She drank beside him and crawled into the shade of a willow to rest.  Somewhat interested, he watched his fellow traveler, then began grazing further and further along the stream.  It was a good day to be a horse on the loose.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hard Time Marrying Part 8

img_1595Once more Joe settled into his snug cocoon in the barn as Jack and the cats made it their business to join him.  Though he was exhausted from all the work caring for his new family, he felt encouraged.  That boy was smart.  He mimicked Joe at his work and was picking up words way faster than Anna.  He was putting a couple of words together now and used cat, dog, cow, milk, eat, pig and half a dozen other useful words, including damn.  He’d even walked up on Joe pissing behind the pigsty and worked at getting his own little doodle out to give it a try.  That would sure help with some of them diapers.

Even though Anna still looked down when he looked at her, he’d caught her looking his way a few times.  She drew back from his touch and certainly hadn’t given any indication she wanted him in her bed.  But she had two children!  Surely she’d warm up.  She knew a wife’s duty.

Deep in his thoughts, the howling of coyotes brought him out of his reverie.  Jack went wild lunging at the barn doors as the terrified cats scattered.  What in the Hell were coyotes doing this close?  They normally shied away from a place with a dog.  Maybe they’d gotten brave with Jack in the barn the last few nights.  The”d probably jumped a rabbit, but he’d better have a look.  Getting his lantern off the hook, he lit it outdoors.  Jack was way ahead of him chasing the coyotes from the grove of mesquites he’d been avoiding, the place he’d buried Anna.  He’d been avoiding thinking about that grave.

The coyotes were long gone but Jack ignored his call, digging and growling.  Though he’d have preferred waiting for daylight, he thought he’d best see what had Jack stirred up.  The smell of death overwhelmed him as he neared the trees and was sickened to see Jack pulling a long bone from the grave.  He wretched and dropped to his knees as he realized the coyotes had dug up his dead wife.

God in Heaven!  If she was in the grave, who was in the house?

 

 

 

 

 

Hard Time Marrying Part 6

Minolta DSC

Minolta DSC

snakeoil The boy stirred. Joe almost wretched as he worked the floppy, little body from under the covers, soiling himself up to the elbows in a soup of feces, urine, and sweat. This was worse than a calf with the scours. He spread a towel on the floor near the hearth and went to work, bathing and diapering the little fellow before he could even think of feeding him. The boy whimpered a bit, but by and large was unaware of his bath. Finally, clean, dry, and dressed in one of the gowns, Joe settled back in a chair to spoon him some milk doctored up with Dr. Marvel’s Wonder Tonic. Had Joe only realized it was mostly alcohol, he’d have dosed himself before starting the bath. The boy even roused enough to sip from a tin cup before lapsing back into sleep on the flannel-covered hay.

That job finished, Joe touched the woman’s shoulder. She sprang back screaming like he was a bear. She showed considerable spirit for a woman who’d so recently left the grave. Appalled at the bruises on her face and the cut over her eye, he dropped his eyes. Surely he hadn’t hit her with the shovel as he covered her grave. Stepping back, he gestured to the baby, holding his nose to show it needed bathing. He pointed to the boy lying asleep on the hay bed and to the bath supplies. The woman clearly was humiliated at being befouled, pulling the cover back over herself. Joe had laid her bundle of clothes on the foot of the bed, figuring she’d want it first thing. She shooed him out. He gave her a few minutes out of consideration for her dignity before letting himself back in, finding her struggling to dress, her right arm useless. How could he have been that rough getting her to the grave? Pained, he helped her into her dress, looking at her as little as possible. He helped her to the table, though it was clear she was repelled by his touch. Once she was seated, he poured her a cup of coffee, thick with cream and a healthy glug of Dr. Marvel. When he saw she was strong enough to manage, he turned his attention to the baby girl.

She was as warm and pink as her brother, crying out in protest at being stripped and bathed. Finally, warm, clean, and dry, he offered her to her mother to nurse. The woman looked at him as though he’d asked her to nurse a pig, gesturing the baby away. Realizing there was no choice, he poured some of the warm milk into the bottle and fed the baby himself. She wasn’t having any of it, pushing the nipple out of her mouth and howling. Looking to the mother for help, she shook her head as though it was no matter to her. The woman must be addled from the fever and the grave, he thought. He was finally able to get enough milk into the baby to satisfy her, between the bottle and the cup. She was asleep before he laid her on the makeshift bed next to her brother. When he turned back to the battered woman, she was dozing in the straight chair. She jumped then moaned when he touched her shoulder, but allowed him to help her into the hay with the children.

That being done, he turned to the mess awaiting him. Building a fire under a tub outdoors, he set water to boiling. He’d never faced a pile of washing like this, only doing his a few times a year. He stripped of his dirty shirt, shaved some of the soap into the water, and got to work. Shaking out the worst of the soil, he plunged as many of the diapers and clothes into the tub as would fit and stirred them around with a stick until the mess was indistinguishable from the wash water. When he was satisfied he’d done all he could, he fished the laundry out of the malodorous soup and hung it on the fence, not bothering to rinse.  The bedding, done with fresh water and soap looked little better, but the entire  lot eventually achieved a universal stiffness as it dried, the soil having been mixed with soap and universally distributed.