Thursday, March 17, 2011

Chapter 69

Chapter 69

I glanced at my uncle … and despite his words he would remain my uncle in my mind for the rest of my life, after all every family tree has a few nuts in it … then turned back and slowly walked up the stairs to Thor and gently put my shoulder under his good arm to help him back to bed.

“Did you hear what I said?” he asked.

From a distance I heard myself answer. “Yeah.”

“Rochelle … Hon …”

“You did it to protect me.” After a pause that gave me a chance to absorb the truth I said, “You did it so I wouldn’t have to. Now lean on me and watch that arm as we turn the corner. I want to make sure that you haven’t started your wound bleeding again.”

He was as quiet and solemn as I was after that, letting me help him back to the room, accepting the antibiotic, drinking a glass of water without me having to coerce him. I got him comfortable and warm – he had started to shiver showing that he was still affected by his blood loss – and then gave him half of one of the pain pills that I’d found because I knew he would never tolerate me trying to make him take a whole one. When I turned to leave he grabbed my hand with his left, “Rochelle …”

I bent down and kissed him gently. I looked him straight in the eye so he knew I was speaking what I believed to be the truth. “If I’ve learned anything since this all started it’s that life isn’t a fairy tale. There wasn’t going to be a happy ending with Uncle B. He was sick. Where and when that sickness started I don’t know – maybe I’ll never know – but I’m satisfied to leave it at that. As for what you did? You put a very sick and damaged man in a place where he could no longer be a danger to himself or others. Even if he hadn’t been mentally cracked I’m not sure if we could have saved him. I don’t know how much you heard …”

His fingers interlocked with mine and tightened briefly. “Enough; back to where you were yelling it was the greenies that had killed your parents.”

I nodded. “Then you heard nearly all of it. When I was changing the bandages on the stump … I could see the bone, it looked like something had chewed on it. And there were blisters on the skin that remained and …” I nearly gagged remembering. “I had a pet pig get gangrene once; it was my favorite out of the best litter of piglets from one of my own sows. It followed me everywhere just like a dog. One look at the puncture area and Dad put it down and destroyed the carcass. I was heartbroken but he said it’s a poison that is next to impossible to contain once it gets going. He said he was saving the animal a lot of misery and while I could grieve I had to watch out and not be selfish about preferring the pig’s company to the pig’s comfort.” I sighed. “Uncle B said he started smelling it yesterday but that had to be a lie or a fantasy. He chopped off his own foot and that still wasn’t enough.” I shuddered and couldn’t continue.

Thor was already drowsy but didn’t want to let me go when I tugged my hand. “Thor, I’ll be back as soon as I can. I have to … have to deal with the body. It won’t keep. That leg … it won’t take long ‘til …” I shuddered again tasting the bile as it climbed up my throat this time.

“I … I …” He was starting to have difficulty stringing his words together even though he tried to sit back up.

I gently pushed him back onto the mattress and kissed his lips to stop him, then whispered, “I know.”

He sighed and finally released me to do what had to be done. I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t shed some tears for the man that had been my uncle in my heart if not in his. It didn’t seem to matter that he was as crazy as a rabid boar drunk on sour corn mash. Not even his hateful words could completely erase what he had done for me as a child. I bound his body in his own bedding and then tide it securely with some macramé cord from my mother’s work room. Using the moonlight I carried the corpse down to the cabin and then further down into the old root cellar. It was cold down in there and the body would keep and not draw predators; I was in no mood to deal with a bear and the messy destruction it would cause.

I’d be glad when November came and the bears started taking longer naps. Most people don’t realize that black bears in the Smokies don’t really hibernate in deep sleep all winter. Some of them took little more than long cat naps, getting up and moving around anytime it warmed up a little. I’d tracked more than one bear out of the area by following its prints in the snow. That led me to barn one more time to make sure all was safe.

I checked the horses and found them to be very content to be left alone in their stalls. No tracks around the outside as far as I could see, but I was annoyed to find the carcass of a large mouse near the hay. Foghorn must have attacked it because I hadn’t seen Boots or Barney – twin feline hellions that took their job as mousers serious enough to run a human down if they got in the way. I loosened some fresh hay into each of the horse stalls and got a friendly chuff from both of them for the extra attention.

I didn’t want to waste anymore kerosene working in the dark but I had to do something to work off the shakes that were beginning to set in. I decided to bring in all of the food from the wagon, especially the potatoes. No sense in leaving a temptation for the wild critters or waking up to find mice had gotten into everything.

I was thankful that the wheelbarrow wheel wasn’t deflated; using the barrow made it a lot easier and faster to empty the wagon. In fact, once I started I couldn’t seem to stop. The entire contents of the wagon was soon deposited on the living room floor and I closed and barred the barn door for the last time that evening.

It would make too much noise to trying and put everything away so I decided to do a more thorough walk through of the house and make a list of what needed to be done and try and prioritize it. I grabbed a pad of paper and pencil from my room when I checked on Thor and finally started the task I had set myself. Every step brought back memories but I tried to keep them in check. My grandmothers had given me good examples of how you could deal with grief constructively no matter how deep the pain and warned me away from destructive behaviors that only led to more hurt.

It again impressed me that there was very little wrong with the house that a thorough cleaning wouldn’t take care of. I gave prayers of thanksgiving when I didn’t see a single mouse dropping. The broken glass was a problem since the windows were thick and double paned but I knew how to replace them with the spares that Dad kept in his workshop; the experience learned after Jonathon and I had done a number on one with a foul ball one summer.

I was growing weary but unable to rest so I continued down into the basement. As expected no damp showed. Dad had grown up in a house that had sat beside the cabin that he had since torn down and hadn’t wanted to deal with the same problems in any home that he built. The floor was poured, decorative concrete that had flecks of stuff mixed it to make it look like terrazzo. One wall was completely faced with native stone and the large fireplace and built in shelves surrounding it took up the whole of it. More built in storage shelves covered another long wall and I went over and used the hidden lever to open one of the sections. In that small space was all of the gizmos, wires, and such that ran the house. I’d need to check the propane level in the tank but once I made the switch over to the whole house generator we could run what we wanted … or not. Better not to count your chickens before they’re hatched. We heated with wood but the other appliances and the house lights ran on propane and some solar. Even if it worked, the propane wouldn’t last forever and I’d learned to do without on the road home. I could always cook on the big wood stove in the canning kitchen or in any of the fireplaces in the house, including the one in the basement that Dad had put cast iron cranes in as well as a rotisserie that he had built himself. To be honest I’d be happy just to get the well and hot water tank up and running. I’d already seen that the windmill was still working in the livestock lot but I wanted to take a hot shower every now and again.

I closed that door and then opened the next panel - this one opening into the larger, hidden storage area that Dad had put so much work into. Knowing now what I didn’t know then I realized that while everything in the room would be a blessing, it would likely only get us through until spring planting time if it’s all we ate. I’d already seen the upstairs kitchen pantry was still as full as I remembered, but not as full as we would need to get us through until the main harvest season.

My head was whirling. I had a ton of things that absolutely needed to be done but Thor’s care came first. I needed to check the orchard; food couldn’t be wasted. I needed to take the wagon and empty that van before it fell the rest of the way into the ravine. I needed to cut more wood; the first snow would fly soon. I needed to get back to Uncle B’s place … and the rest of the town … and salvage what I could before the weather damaged it all. I had to bury the body.

And then I realized I’d never asked him where he’d laid my parents’ bodies to rest. That did it. I laid my head down on the table and let the grief finally take me for a while. When I was done I’d bled most of the remaining poison off and taken my new load up. Never again would I cry so hard and so long. I used a kitchen towel to wipe my face and then I went upstairs, undressed and put on one of my flannel nightgowns from my own closet, and then curled up in the overstuffed chair that I’d always used for reading.

The sun woke me about the same time I heard a familiar cursing voice from down the hall. I jumped up and raced to the bathroom. “Thor?!”

A falsely jovial voice asked me through the door, “You finally awake sleepy head?”

“Don’t make me feel worse than I already do,” I said, the memory of the previous day crashing into me. “What fell and why are you cursing about it?”

“A man needs some pride,” he growled.

“Don’t start that again; I thought we’d been through that last time you got hurt,” I told him not bothering to hide my impatience.

The door finally opened and I noticed that wasn’t all that was open. He hadn’t been able to zip or button up. “You don’t honestly think you are going to get dressed and wander around do you?”

“Ro-chelle …”

I shook my head. “Don’t you growl at me. I could have … l-l-lost you in an instant yest … yesterday. And you still aren’t out of the woods. Now you march right back into that room and climb in that bed and … and if you don’t mind me I’ll strip you myself and tie you down.”

He opened his mouth on an angry retort then got a funny look on his face, looked at me and then said, “You know, that right there’s got possibilities.”

I couldn’t help it, I started laughing. And then I was leaning into him while he used the wall as support. Unfortunately the laughter turned to tears, but only briefly. I’d cried out most of it the previous night.

He finally let me help him back to bed, paler and in more pain that he wanted to admit. I gave him another dose of antibiotic but he insisted the pain pill only be a quarter this time. “I need to stay awake. Those things must be powerful if a half one knocked me out like it did.”

“That was reaction more than anything. And blood loss. If the quarter doesn’t do anything …”

“We’ll see. Now tell me what has been going on, why you were sleeping in that chair instead of beside me, and … and the rest of it including why you are rushing to get dressed like you are.”

I sighed, “The bed’s too small for both of us; it’s only a long twin and I didn’t want to take the chance of hitting your arm. I took stock of the house last night; you can look at my list and see what you think of it. I’m getting dressed because the animals need seeing to before they bust the barn door down.” I was tucking my shirt tail in as I left the room. “I’ll make your breakfast when I come in. Hopefully I can steal some eggs from the hens.”

“Hens? What hens?!” he called but I didn’t stop as I pounded down the stairs, grabbing my jacket as I went out the door.

The horses were less work than normal since all I really needed to do was turn them out into the corral. The chickens had already found their way out into the yard and were having a high ol’ time scratching away as the day warmed up to a better temperature than I had felt in a week. That left a couple of nests easy to find and I stole the eggs that I could. I noted that one of the hens must have turned cannibal because I saw a nest that an egg eater had gotten to, I’d need to figure out which one it was and cull it as I didn’t want the behavior in the flock. I took a bucket, cleaned it, and then got some water from the livestock well.

It took another hour but I did manage to provide Thor with a good meal but it was more lunch than breakfast. He nearly wolfed it down while I picked at my own share.

“Hon …”

“I’m sorry Thor, I just can’t eat. You want mine?”

He looked hopeful, “You really don’t want it?”

“No. I need to get up anyway. I need to go dig a hole,” I told him sadly.

“A ...? Oh.” He grabbed my hand as I was switching plates with him. “Rochelle, you shouldn't do that by yourself.”

“It isn’t far. The family plot is just …”

“You heard what I said.”

“Yes, I did. But let’s be practical. I need you to get well quickly. If I keep asking you to stop healing long enough to come baby me through something then it will be spring before you get your strength back.”

“I didn’t hear you asking for anything,” he grumbled.

I shook my head, “You always know what I want … and need … before it comes out of my mouth.” I stopped and sighed. “I’d be a fool not to admit I would rather have you with me but I can’t justify selfishly putting your health at risk.”

“You’re schmoozing me again,” he said with a raised eyebrow.

“I am not. It’s the truth and you know it.”

He shook his head. “It may be the truth but you put it in such a way as to make yourself out to be the bad guy and me some ruddy saint. I don’t like it when you do that. We’re partners and I don’t want you to develop the feeling that I’d ever force you to be that subservient.”

“I wouldn’t …”

“Yeah well, would or wouldn’t, I still don’t like it. And I don’t like you being right about this either. I want a detailed map where this place is and how to get to you if you aren’t back when you say you’re going to be back.”

I left quickly after that, knowing that Thor wasn’t just talking when he said if I wasn’t back on the minute I said I would be, no matter what condition he was in he would come looking for me. Knowing my horse would be getting a work out in the coming days pulling the wagon I used Thor’s horse to transport the body. It was only three quarter of a mile from the house but it was over in an area that was hilly and surrounding by a copse of trees.

The graves were all marked and taken care of two or three times every season. Because of this even the very oldest ones were mostly still legible and we had a map of all of the burials and whose remains they contained in the family papers. When I walked over to where my parents would have been buried I got a shock. There was a new grave there with stones marking the head and foot. There was a wooden cross with my parents’ names on it but the B and C’s in my father’s name were backwards. The only person I knew that did that was …

“Well now, who be that I wonder.”

I turned so fast my head spun. I squealed, “Mr. Dink!!”

“Aw now, none ‘o that,” he complained gleefully when I caught him and hugged him and nearly spun him around. “Do I look like a dollie for you to be playing with?”

‘Mr. Dink, oh Mr. Dink!!”

In alarm he said, “You ain’t going ter start crying are ye?”

I sniffled my tears back and said, “No sir but … oh he said he’d killed you.” I was doing everything I could to keep myself together but I was nearly lightheaded from the surprise.

He snorted, “You talking about that crazy Griffey boy. Shame … real shame how he done turned out. Had promise but in the end he chose the same dark road as the older two.”

“But how? He … he seemed so certain.”

“Yeah and he ain’t the first I’ve fooled that was out for my blood. Ain’t saying he didn’t nick me but I slid on down into the river and floated away afore he got me good. Got tired of watching that bunch. Got boring seeing ‘em do nothing but act crazy. Had to stop watching after he near about killed his self. Been off into the woods for a spell. Saw the smoke though and knew you were home.”

“You saw him … saw him cut his foot off?”

“Cut it? The boy chopped it off. Near took his hand off. Even so I was going ter go down and hep him, bring him out to the woods so he could soak up some of God’s healing, til that she-cat he took up with came out. Figured after that he’d made his bed and he could lie in it or die in it without my help. You got any tobacky?”

“I … I’m not sure Mr. Dink. If there is any left it’s in the Burley barn like always. I … I just got back home yesterday.”

He nodded and said, “Yep, saw ye. Ye gonna have to bury the other one too?”

“What? No … no … uh … Mr. Dink … the other one, he’s my husband.”

He gave me a look then grinned his gap tooth grin and said, “Ain’t that Johnny, I would have knowd him right off. You went and found you a big ‘un. Is he a good ‘un too?”

I nodded, overcome and not know how to tell him about my parents. “About …”

“Yer fixin’ ter tell me about Buck. Ain’t no need. He done tol’ me hisself. Tol’ me he didn’t want ter be buried in that stupid place Bentley planted him, trussed up like some ol’ Egyptian. So I dug ‘em up, Buck and yer maw, and here they be. When Bentley found out that’s when he come after me. Crazy boy. I was the one that taught him and Buck both how to get around in these woods, ain’t no man better at it than me. What he thought he was doing I don’t know. And now he’s come to a bad end. Buck tol’ me that too. Always knew he would. Knew it the day I saw him spit on his brother’s grave. Cain’t nothing good ever come out of that much anger and lack of forgiveness. It poisons yer.”

“Dad … Dad told you? About Uncle Bentley?”

“Ayup,” he said as he started going through his pockets. “Got any tobacky?”

Used to his ways I told him again if there was any it would be in the barn same as always. “What did? I mean …” I stopped, embarrassed at believing my father’s ghost was speaking to this man.

“Oh, some of it was man stuff … young thang like you don’t need to know that part … but he said mostly that if you was to choose to bury Bentley beside him and your maw it wouldn’t be a bad thing. That he wouldn’t be holdin’ it again’ you are anything foolish like that just in case you was to worry at it. I’m gonna to check the barn. I’m low on me smokes.”

The old man wandered away towards the barn where my father always kept some tobacco drying for him and I, praying I hadn’t just had a mental breakdown, started digging the grave I’d come to dig. Two hours and four feet later I hit a good sized chunk of granite and knew I’d likely gotten as deep as I was going to get unless I pick another burial site. I laid the body in the hole and it took a lot less time to file in that it had to dig it out. When I was finished there wasn't much of a mound and you could barely tell there was a new grave.

I rode the horse back to the house and to my amazement saw Thor and Mr. Dink sitting on the porch together. I walked into the yard and Mr. Dink chastised me with a “Your late. You started your man here to worrying. Fifteen minutes is fifteen minutes Rocky girl.”

Feeling bemused I said, “Yes sir. Would you like to stay for dinner?”

He shook his head, “Naw. Need to go check on that woman what’s camped over on Fork Mountain. Her and her two kids would go right good with Jace Tanner. His hunting cabin ain’t too fur from there. It’s good to have something to keep you warm on cold nights. And you best stop yer fooling around young ‘un, you ain’t got time for it. Snow’s gonna fly early this year. The animals say so, dens are all built thick or dug deep. Give it a week, maybe two and we’ll be seeing the first flakes of a long winter.” He turned to look at Thor and say, “You tell her what I tol’ you. And tell her she don’t need to plant no more tobackey, ain’t gonna need it none I reckon.”

We both watched silently as one of the kindest and craziest people I’d ever had the privilege to know walk off into the forest. I shook my head and then laughed, “I never pictured Mr. Dink as a cupid.”

I was nearly loopy with relief and some happiness. Part of me felt guilty for all but dancing on Uncle Bentley’s grave but it didn’t stop me from smiling for the first time in what felt like forever. I did a stupid little jig that had Thor trying not to laugh since it would have jarred his arm and then I flopped down beside him on the porch. “Mr. Dink is alive! What did you think of him?”

He shook his head, “I can honestly say I’ve never met anyone like him. I never even got the opportunity to raise a weapon on him. He was just there and shaking my hand and congratulating me for having the sense to find a good woman. He sized me up and said something about your father approving the match though it came a little sooner than he would have preferred and then we sat and I swear he had my life story out of me quicker than I could ever imagine.”

“Yep, that’s Mr. Dink. He doesn’t take to many people but when he does, watch out. I guess he took to you. He’s a little fay.”

“A … a little what?” Thor asked.

“A little fay … kind of … special, weird, magical, mysterious … he knows things that … that …” I stopped. “What was it he wanted you to tell me?”

Thor shook his head and said, “Later. Right now there’s a chicken in the kitchen waiting to be fried up. Dink said that you don’t have to worry about any of the rest of them being egg eaters whatever the heck that means.” I opened my mouth and then closed it. Yeah, Mr. Dink was fay and I refused to take the beautiful mystery of that away even if it always had creeped me out more than a little.

But the good feeling of finding Mr. Dink alive slowly drained away as the reality of the last few days and our current situation set back in. “Thor …”

“Not until after I’ve got something in my stomach and can take another one of those pills.”

Obviously he knew I was going to tell him I needed to take the wagon and empty the box van tomorrow. Or maybe he didn’t know exactly what I was going to tell him but he knew he wasn’t going to like it. I reached out and felt his forehead. “You aren’t feverish.”

“No,” he answered quickly.

“But you aren’t feeling good.”

It took longer for him to answer this time. “That’s to be expected. Another day and …”

“I thought you didn’t want to talk about it until after you had eaten?” I reminded me.

“I don’t need any smart aleckiness Ro-chelle.”

I let that go, knowing he was foul because he was hurting and feeling helpless, neither one a place any man wants to find himself. I decided to let dinner put him in a better mood. Stewed potatoes, pinto beans, creamed sweet corn, cornbread with honey, and fried chicken. It was half way through dinner before he started talking again.

“All right. But I go with you. We’ll do it like before. I’ll prop up in the wagon and …”

I wanted to reached across the table and yank his ear off. But the reality was I knew there was absolutely no talking him out of it. And I couldn’t bring myself to lie to him and just set off without him.

The next morning wasn’t fun for either of us. Thor was even more sore than the previous day despite the wound looking and smelling clean and there being no fever. I laid a thin mattress cot in the back and bundled him up with blankets so much he complained. “Stop it Rochelle. I won’t be able to take a shot if I need to.”

“You start shooting with that shoulder being in the shape it is and you’ll do it some damage.”

We weren’t really angry with each other, more our usual nitpicking but it didn’t feel appropriate which made us even more aware and cranky. The box van wasn’t much bigger than a bread truck but it was completely full. After several different methods I finally settled on emptying a goodly number of boxes, setting them on the road bed, and then when I had a stack on the road bed transferring them to the wagon. It was irritating work as I had to climb down to the van, lift things out at a weird angle, carry it back up to the road and then lift and load the boxes in to the wagon.

Thor was in a lot of pain and by the time we took the first load back to the house and I was ready to come up with some excuse to call it a day for his sake. But the man proved to have more sense than I was giving him credit for.

“This isn’t working. I don’t want to admit it, but it isn’t working. I’m of absolutely no use to you out there except as a distraction.” He stopped and scrubbed his pain-filled face with his large paw of a hand. “Saddle my horse but leave him in the corral. It took us three hours to do this load. I’ll give you four to do the next since you’ll be able to load the wagon with more boxes. If you aren’t back by then I’m coming to look for you. Understand?”

With Thor not around and with me not having to drive quite as slowly to avoid jarring him it didn’t take me four hours, it didn’t even take me three and I was able to completely clean the van out, including the packet of documents from the cab and draining the diesel fuel from the tank, before the end of the day. The only harrowing part was at the very end I had to scramble out of the back before it completely slipped over the edge. Unloading it had shifted its weight from the back where it hung on part of a fallen log to the front where the engine was located. I didn’t tell that to Thor later, nor did I explain how close it had been. I had a feeling he suspected but sometimes ignorance is bliss and he avoided asking though I noted the effort it cost him.

Thor had slept off and on through the day and now that I was bone tired he was still too awake to sleep right off. To appease the anxiety that had set into hom over being left out I opened the boxes and cases and he helped me to tally up what we had.

Towards the end Thor yawned and said, “I don’t care what part of the world you are from, rich people just don’t think the same as the rest of us.”

I managed a tired chuckle and admitted, “Nana was … different. She came from money; lots of money. She tried to act like your average citizen but the truth is she was just too disconnected from the type of life most of us lived. Oh she cleaned some of her house, washed the occasional dish, cooked a couple of times a month when the hired help had the day off but that’s not really enough. Her idea of budgeting was a whole lot different from my parents’ that’s for doggone sure. I don’t even want to know what she paid for all of this … this stuff.”

Thor rolling his eyes as he looked at a case of canned items I’d just opened said, “Canned buffalo and elk I can understand, but canned alligator? And canned rattlesnake? Are you telling me you actually ate that stuff before you hooked up with us?”

I snorted, “Yeah. I was hungry. And, despite what it looks like, it wasn’t bad. What about you though. I heard some of the stories you guys told. Or was it all tall tales?”

“Hon I’ve eaten some really raunchy stuff, things I don’t even want to remember. But I suppose beggars can’t be choosers. Just don’t tell me when you feed it to me.” He had nudged a can of canned whole baby conch with the toe of his boot.

“Conch isn’t bad. I had it that time the GWBs had a boating summer camp out of the Florida Keys.” I laughed but a couple of tears rolled down my cheeks. “Jonathon was seasick the whole entire trip. His brother started calling him puke-face and wouldn’t stop until I threatened to toss him overboard with his mouth taped shut so no one could hear him yell for help.”

An eyebrow went up. “Mean thing weren’t you?”

“Not as mean as Jon … a … thon’s …” I was crying again. “Lord what is wrong with me?! Every time I turn around …”

“Come here.” And since I wanted to anyway I didn’t say anything about the way he was ordering me about. “Stop trying to avoid it. You’ve been putting it off for months. Now we’re home your mind just wants to do what it should have had the chance to do all along … grieve. Don’t run from it, it’s not healthy. And I don’t want you to feel like you have to hide anything from me.”

“Please don’t go all Dr. Phil on me,” I told him half jokingly.


I snorted, “Something my parents used to say. Apparently there used to be some talk show host on TV that played at being a psychologist … or maybe it was the other way around. I looked him up on the internet once; it was really creepy.”

“Oh you think I’m being creepy?”

“No! And don’t try and tickle or you might wind up having to take a whole pain pill instead of just a small piece of one.” I sighed. “I’ve got to go to town tomorrow.”

Thor groaned.

“I mean it … and you know it. I need to go by Uncle Bentley’s place and then to pick up some stuff in town. It has to be done. If nothing else I need to check out the clinic and the vet’s to see if I can find any more antibiotics.”

We talked about it some more and I thought we’d worked it all out but about three in the morning Thor woke me up knocking the bell off the bed where it hit me in the head. I’d brought in a cot rather than sleep in the chair another night. He was running a fever.

For three days the fever bounced up and down, sometimes high enough to really frighten me. I didn’t dare leave or even go far from the house. I chopped wood, tried to start the generator which didn’t want to cooperate, cleaned the house, packed my parents’ clothing away in the cedar closet, and unpacked out stuff and gave it a good washing. Finally Thor started feeling better on the fourth day and by the fifth he was much improved.

He was sitting on the porch while I ran sheets through the mangler and then hung them on the clothes line. “Hon …”

“Thor I’ve put it off as long as I can and you know it. Mr. Dink said …”

Tired and irritated Thor said, “I still don’t know why you believe that. It’s a beautiful day. Warm even … or at least warmer than it has been. Why would you think it is suddenly going to up and snow?!”

“Before another week is out there will be flakes coming down. I haven’t gone to the orchard. I haven’t gone over the town. I …”

“We! We were supposed to do that. Not you alone … us … together!” he growled.

“And who said I’m going to get it all done in a couple of days?”

“Then why do it at all until I can get back on my feet?” he snapped.

Trying not to lose my temper I told him, “Thor, I know this place. We saw for ourselves there weren’t enough people left to fill a teacup. I need to go and see what I can manage to get for us. Later ... when the snow starts coming down … I’m going to have to have your help to manage some of the bigger loads but for now I want to see if I can salvage some of the smaller, lighter items. Especially any food around town.”

“I heard what Griffey said as well as you. He was down to “meager” supplies. Why do you think you’ll find something he didn’t?”

“I don’t for sure, but given the fact that Uncle Bentley wasn’t doing the looking, that those people with him were, it’s possible they missed stuff.”

“’Those people’ were greenies and there could be more of them around.”

“Possibly but I doubt it. Even if there are I doubt they are operating in a group of any size. Thor please, I don’t want to argue. You know its necessary. If it wasn’t I wouldn’t leave you, not even for a few hours.”

He growled, “I don’t need a babysitter woman.”

“Argh!!” I bellowed. “Do you know you have got to be the worst patient in North America? Possibly even further abroad? If I didn’t love you I swear I would …”

“Would what?” he asked quietly.

“I don’t know, something desperate,” I complained as I hung up the last item from that load, a pillow case I had embroidered for my hope chest at my mother’s insistence.

The day had turned warm and I felt sweaty and sticky and totally out of sorts. I didn’t relish the idea of going into town alone for lots of reasons, but primarily because of the unwelcome memories that were liable to jump out at me from around every corner.

“You could always try blackmail.”

Thor’s statement came so far out of left field it took me a moment to turn around and look at him. He wasn’t looking at my face. The day had turned warm enough that I’d washed my hair and shaved my legs the night before and I was only in cutoff shorts and a t-shirt that seemed to be a lot smaller in places than it used to be.

All I could do was look at him and shake my head. “You have got to be the most outrageous …”

Then his eyes climbed to mine and he grinned that grin I knew so well … and cherished. On a bit of whimsy I decided to call his bluff. Thinking of every slinky, pouty vixen from the movies I could I slowly walked up to him and put one hand on his shoulder. And the rotten booger laughed spoiling it.

“What are you doing?” he snorted between belly chuckles.

I picked up the empty laundry basket and put it over his head before storming in the house. “Hon! Come on! I didn’t mean nothin’!!”

Good thing the old wood range was designed to take abuse because I was slamming pots and pans down, getting dinner ready to cook.

“Aw, come on now. You just caught me off guard,” Thor tried to coax after he’d finally been able to get up and follow me inside.

“Don’t you ‘aw, come on’ me. Just because I don’t know how to bribe you exactly doesn’t mean you needed to laugh at my first try,” I growled.

“You’re right. And when you’re right, you’re right. Now give me a second chance.”

I turned up my nose at his grossly inadequate apology. “Well I don’t feel like it now.”

“I bet I can get you back in the mood.”

I cracked eggs and scrambled them so hard they nearly flew out of the bowl. “Thor …” I said warningly when he came up behind me and tried to kiss me between his fits at trying not to laugh.

He was finally forced to sit down at the kitchen table and just let it out. I nearly thumped him with a skillet. “Hon … I …” Snort, gasp, laugh, cough. “I really … you just … the look on your face …”

“I was trying to do a sexy pout like I saw those beautiful women do in the movies,” I muttered, embarrassed.

Of course that set him off again. “Woman, you make my life worth living. Now come here and let me apologize properly.”

I was still irritated but not amiss to a little bribery myself. “You already turn me inside out just being yourself, you don’t need to try and be anything else. That’s what I think is beautiful. Those actresses … they weren’t nothing but doctored up, photoshopped fakes.” Then he pulled me closer into his lap and said into my ear, “I like what I’ve got right here. I’m more grateful to God than I can put into words. I still don’t know, after all that I’ve done in my life, how He could bless me like this.”

When he talked like that my mullygrubs melted away. I put a hand on either side of his face and said, “The feeling's mutual Mr. Thoresen.”

“I love you Mrs. Thoresen.”

I nearly forgot to cook the dinner but I couldn’t spend the rest of the day sitting in his lap like a lazy cat. While the cornbread baked I ran out and brought the sheets in then took them back upstairs and put them on the beds I had finally aired out. The rooms had been aired out nicely as well and overall the house was finally losing the neglected feel and smell than it had had.

The pain pill Thor had been forced to take in order to eat his dinner cut short any other plans I might have been devising but we did manage to agree that I would go into town alone tomorrow but that I would start early and then come back before two in the afternoon. That would give Thor time to try and make it to town if I ran into trouble.

I left the farm right as the sky was turning pink. Thor gave me such a laundry list of do’s and don’ts that I wondered how I was supposed to get anything accomplished and make the trip worth it at all. By the time I pulled up in front of Uncle Bentley’s it was full light. I sighed and stepped down, tying my horse to the front porch rail. I put my foot on the bottom step and started to climb the stairs. I was so not looking forward to the task in front of me.

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