I woke up as Thor stirred and sat up gingerly wincing at what I knew would be a spreading rainbow on my hip … a spreading, painful rainbow. In deference to our company there was no mushy morning stuff but he did run his hand up my arm and ask me quietly if I was OK when he noticed my wince.
“I will be as soon as I limber up,” I whispered back.
Mr. Dink was awake as well and told Miz Louise, “Stay under the covers Cindyrelly. Let me get this here fire going to warms things up. The sun ain’t rizz yet and there’s hoarfrost on the blankets telling me it’s too cold to move out just yet.”
Sure enough as Thor and I went out to take care of our morning ablutions the blanket crackled and the grass snapped. I was more than happy to get back in the cave where the fire was warming things back up. Thor had been quicker than I and when I came back in he was returning from the back of the cave. “If you bring in some of those icicles I’ll take my turn at breakfast.”
“What’s in that one?” I asked.
“Quick oats to go with those blueberries,” he said nodding his chin towards the other can we had opened the day before.
“Did you get lucky or did you figure out how they’re labeled?”
He turned the bottom of the can towards me when he got closer to the fire and in small, fading handwritten print was the contents and a date. “I tipped a couple over and the dates average between five and ten years ago.”
I sat back on my heels and then looked at Mr. Dink who nodded. Turning back to Thor I said, “That’s about when Aunt Bettie Sue … died.”
Mr. Dink added, “The Griffey boy got passing strange there for a while. Acted guilty and nervous over the fact she was on that winding road all on her own. It weren’t until that other brother of his died – that one that were so fond of Bettie – that he seemed to come to hisself though he never were quite the same after that.”
I didn’t say anything. Uncle Bentley was dead; let his deeds got to the grave with him. The urge to cough caught me off guard. I stepped to the cave opening and spat a wad of phlegm. Thor asked, “Get a face full of smoke?”
I shrugged. It wasn’t the smoke. I’d woken up with a tight chest but there was nothing to be done about it and easier to say nothing than to worry Thor and activate his occasionally overprotective streak. The warm oatmeal helped to break up what the cough hadn’t and I felt some relief.
As the sun rose a relatively warm rain began to fall; not hard, but enough to melt all of the ice and give greater assurance that a major forest fire had been averted. All through breakfast and afterwards Mr. Dink kept getting up and standing at the cave entrance before sitting back down again until finally Miz Louise whispered, “I can do it.”
He shook his head, “A break at our age is nothing to fool with and them boots you’re wearing ain’t broke in yet.”
A pointed conversation ensued that resulted in them traveling with us to their destination. We put Miz Louise up on one of the horses and loaded a bunch of the large cans into tote sacks on the other horse. Thor and I loaded more cans into our packs and Mr. Dink put some in a sling he wore across his back. We put a dent in the supply of cans in the cave, but not a big one. We hid the entrance to the cave before we left and covered our tracks then slowly made our way home.
“Mr. Dink …”
“Rocky Girl, I’ve got my mind set. We need to take advantage of the warm weather while we have it. And besides we’re still honeymoonin’ and don’t want to embarrass you youngins.” Well that certainly put a period to that conversation. I saw Thor’s grin and was compelled, despite my concerns and growing fatigue, to smile as well. The idea of a honeymooning Mr. Dink was fairly awesome and I wished fervently that my parents had been around to see it.
The Stone House was really old and built of smooth river rocks. No one was sure just how old it was but it showed up on many of the really old surveyor maps for the area as a known landmark. Not even my grandmothers – despite their knowledge of local history – knew who built it though it was likely some relative of mine since it was located between the acreage that had been in my father’s family since the area had been settled and the land that had been owned by the mother’s family who had been in the area just as long though both had changed surnames more than once. It was a rarity for this area because it had a slate roof over ancient beams. My family had been forced to repair the slate roof a few times but only once every couple of generations. Our venture crew had done it a few years ago so it would last well beyond my lifetime unless something fell on it like a tree.
The fireplace was made of local granite and large though not as big as the one in the old summer kitchen between the cabin and the kitchen garden. You could roast a decent sized pig on the spits in that one. The front door was a single slab of thick oak so old it was practically petrified. It had a couple of bad places in it where some hikers had vandalized it before I was born trying to break in but it was still more than serviceable and would keep out most of what would want to come in without permission. The one weakness was the flooring inside and on the wide covered porch.
The flooring had been rotted badly around the edges of the room when my father’s uncle replaced it with a puncheon floor of pine. Even with no wood-to-ground contact the floor and porch had not stood the test of time. He had also planked over the old root cellar.
We spoke of what we could do to fix things which made the trip seem to fly by despite how carefully we were forced to travel due to mud and Miz Louise’s lack of horseback experience. We got them set up and made sure they had at least three days of wood and promised to bring a wagon load as soon as we could. We also filled several containers of water and helped to cover the window that had several panes of glass missing.
We left the honeymooners and finished our own trek home. I was anxious and worried about what I would find there and could hardly wait to get through the gate. It was so silent that I nearly started crying before prying the barn door open and then nearly started crying at how good God had been. The chickens complained as the cold air blustered in, the cow and steer looked at me like I’d committed a rude gesture. I had to coax Lady but only a moment before she turned into one happy pup. The cats – or at least Barney – were glad enough to rub Thor’s leg before sauntering off to do whatever cats do in their spare time.
I was feeling chilled but there were chores to do. Luckily for me I was not alone but even with both of us working it was nearly time to start dinner before we made it inside. By that time I was stiff with cold.
We went into the house and Thor said, “I’m going to check the radio on the off chance Hefling is still on schedule.”
I followed him to the basement and as soon as we fired up the batteries and turned the radio on we heard Mr. Hefling’s voice. When Thor responded with a pre-designated code word the yells coming out of our radio were so loud Thor and I winced.
Needless to say there was relief but due to communication limitations not much could pass between us except assurances on both sides that all was well. Stro said that he would make contact the next day and we shut down the radio after that.
“Well, the seven dwarfs seem to be happy that Snow White is home safe and sound,” Thor grinned caught halfway between appreciation at their concern and irritation at the number of concerned young men.
I threw a pillow at him and said, “So Snow, how do you like the attention?”
“Hah! It’s you they’re sniffing around.” He was trying to joke but I heard something else underneath it. He saw me notice and then he shook his head. “Ignore me. I trust you, I just keep running into the fact that you had a life before I came along.”
“Yeah, well I love you and you’re my life now so get over it. I didn’t ask you to dump your crew; if you had chosen to stay I would have stayed with you where ever you went. But since you did decide to come with me here, don’t ask me to dump my old crew when they could prove useful to our ability to make a successful go of it here.” I wasn’t angry but I wasn’t in the mood to be gentle either. I climbed the stairs to the kitchen with Thor on my heels.
“What are you doing?” Thor asked when he saw me putting the big kettle on the lit stove.
“Bath water,” I said tiredly.
“You OK Hon?”
“Just tired of being cold.”
“Sure that’s all?”
Suddenly feeling everything that had happened I asked, “After yesterday that’s enough doncha think?”
He came over and took the jar of chicken soup out of my hand that I had removed from the cabinet. “Look at me.” After searching my face he sighed. “It’s not me you’re upset with. It’s this whole situation. It’s been harder on you than you’ve been letting on.” It was a statement, not a question.
I turned and picked the jar back up and proceeded to fix dinner. “I can’t stand it when people don’t get along. No … I hate it. I understand it happens, of course it does, look what we went through when we were trying to get together … it just seems unnecessary when life is already so hard. And … and this finding out this … dark side or whatever lived inside people I thought I knew …” I shrugged, not able to find the exact words I wanted to express how I felt.
But Thor summed it up for me. “You feel betrayed.”
I looked at him, startled that he understood.
“Hon, I’ve been there. People I thought I knew, people I trusted to cover my back, slid a knife between my ribs instead both figuratively and literally. A company I thought would be there and back me up … wasn’t. Even a government – a people – I served with my life on the line spit on the necessity of what I did. You … learn I guess you could say. Learn who you can trust and when and under what circumstances you can’t. You also learn that everyone has a dark side, just not everyone acts on it.”
A little impatiently I said, “I know that. Don’t forget the kind of stuff I’ve grown up facing.”
He nodded, “I haven’t … but I think you have. You wanted … no Hon just listen … you wanted all of that stuff to die with the death of our modern age. You … for lack of a better word you romanticized your home town and the people in it. But just because the modern age has died doesn’t mean the people’s personalities rebooted to something gentler and kinder than they were before.”
I was stirring the pot with my back to him. I was listening even if I didn’t seem like it. He gave me a hug from behind. “Hon, these are the same people they were before it’s just the circumstances have exaggerated both their good attributes and their flaws. War is always like that.”
I said hesitantly, “I suppose it has been a type of war … everything that has happened.” I sighed but it wasn’t just a sigh unfortunately. There was a very audible wheeze underneath.
“What was that?!” Thor asked.
I cleared my throat and said, “Just some phlegm.”
‘Round and ‘round we went but I wasn’t winning the battle. It seemed like it only took moments before I found myself in a bath of hot water with eucalyptus drops in it, then dried and stuffed into a flannel nightie, and finally tucked into a wing back chair near the stove with a supersized hand shoving a bowl of chicken soup in my face.
“Thor, chill … I’m not made of glass, I won’t break.”
“Uh huh. Next time my chest sounds like that I’ll remind you of what you said when you want to tie me to the bed, stick a funnel in my mouth, and pump me full of whatever noxious tea is at hand.”
I coughed and said, “Hey, have you been reading my diary to find out what my fantasies are?”
“Ha … ha … ha. Seriously, your feet come off that stool and …”
I didn’t hear the rest of it because I started coughing again and in earnest that time. Every cough seemed to take a little bit more energy out of me.
He declared, “As soon as I get the room and bed warmed you’re going upstairs.”
“OK. But do me a favor and help me make some coltsfoot tea first.”
“Another one of your teas?” he asked with flaring nostrils.
“Yes, another one of my teas. I can’t use much of this one because it has alkaloids in it but a short term consumption at the concentration I’ll be making it …”
“Rochelle …” he gave a warning growl.
“Relax Thor, I wouldn’t take it if it wasn’t safe. I just want to kick this stuff in my chest before it really does turn into something. Winter colds are miserable.”