Image pulled from the internet
Eddie made a good crop that year. Neeley canned and dried all her garden produced. The children cheeks filled out with the good food and all the milk they wanted. Once the crop was put by that fall, Neeley’s brothers Albert and Willie, and Eddie’s cousins came over to help with the well-digging. They’d dug down about twenty feet and were just starting to see water seep in, when Eddie broke his shovel handle and called out for a replacement. As one of the men was lowering it, he lost control and dropped it, hitting Eddie in the head. They dragged Eddie out of the well unconscious and hauled him ten miles to town in the back of a wagon. He was transferred to Charity Hospital forty miles away by ambulance. He awoke after a couple of days later, to their great relief, though he was never quite the same. He suffered from debilitating headaches and frequent seizures that left him confused. Worst of all, he raged and had little impulse control. He would have beaten the children if Neeley hadn’t gotten between him and them. Fortunately, she was larger than Eddie and able to control him.
Despite his problems, he was determined to take care of his family. He’d work till a headache or seizure disabled him, then go to bed and get up and try again the next day. Neeley’s brothers helped him get his crops in the next spring, hoping he’d rally with time. Neeley and the children worked beside him, the baby toddling right along behind. When it came time to pick the cotton, they all picked with the baby either riding along on their cotton sacks or playing between the rows. Despite their best efforts, they barely made enough to pay the rent for the next year. They’d be able to eat what Neeley canned or dried from the garden, but there was only enough money for shoes for the the oldest kids, the ones in school. The others were resoled, reheeled, and passed down. Neeley always bought brown lace-up oxfords, so they could be worn by boys and girls. They had fattened six shoats to put in the smokehouse, but decided they’d best sell three for supplies and next spring’s seed.
It would be a hard winter, but they’d squeak by. Neeley was exhausted from picking up Eddie’s extra load as well as keeping up her own work. She was relieved to anticipate things easing up till she started throwing up in the mornings and realized she hadn’t had a visit from “her friend” in a couple of months.
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.
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.
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.