Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Chapter Six

“Holy hell, what happened around here?!” 

“Cliff?!  Are you crazy?!!  What are you doing here?  And you could have gotten shot sneaking up on me like that you idiot!” 

Cliff gave me a look that would have fried an egg.  “What do you mean what am I doing here?!  No one’s heard from you in almost a month.  You and the old lady could be dead out here in the boonies!  Your uncle was going to come too but said he was too mad and might say the wrong thing or beat up the guy you’re with.”  Cliff took a good look around and asked a second time, “What happened?  This place looks … I don’t know … a lot worse than I remember it.  It looks trashed.” 

Cliff was still angry but he was calmer than he had been when he’d first gotten out of his vehicle and I was just too tired to yell and tell him to go take a jump in a lake.  “OK, first there are no guys involved.  As you can obviously see I don’t have time for that sort of stuff.  And second try a tornado or two.  Small one here.  Bigger one took out the ‘lectric co-op.  Mostly back up for everyone but those of us in this corner of the county.  There is some kind of disagreement about who owns the lines and is responsible for repairing them, or at least that’s what we were told.  There are barely a handful of us that are still without power and two of those are hunting lodges and one is an empty, foreclosed trailer on some land.  So it isn’t like it is a priority for anyone.”  I pushed a hank of hair out of my eyes and asked, “Why are you here again?” 

A frail, wizened old voice called from the house, “Winifred?  Winifred?!” 

“Oh gosh, hang on.  She’s having a really bad day.” 

I left Cliff standing where he’d found me burning more of the trash that had been blown onto Aunt Rachel’s property.  Two hours later Cliff and I sat together on what was left of the side porch drinking tea. 

For the leventy-dozenth time he said, “I should have come sooner.” 

“Oh get over it already.  I hadn’t realized it had been as long as it had or maybe I would have made more effort to get a message out.  I’ve actually been enjoying not having people come out here.  Besides it isn’t like anyone could do anything.” 

“How could you not realize it’s been a month since you’ve had any electricity?  And I thought you said the bloggers and reporters had stopped bothering you.” 

“Almost a month but not quite.  And it wasn’t like they were coming every day anymore but some would still show up like there were expecting to find me dancing naked by moonlight and throwing curses at anyone whose skin of darker than a English peach.”  Cliff gave me another scorching look so I told him, “Oh take it easy.  Time has just been running together and I’ve been busy.”  I snorted.  “Actually too busy to even wonder what the idiots with the telephoto lenses might be capturing for public consumption.” 

Ignoring my snark Cliff asked, “What about church and that other thing … that sewing thing?  Did you have time to do that?” 

“See that tree over there?” 

“The big one that’s laid over?  Yeah.” 

“My car is under there.  Or what is left of my car.  Aunt Rachel’s truck was saved by the pole barn but it only started about half the time anyway and now I think the battery is dead or something because there’s no power to anything and it doesn’t even click when you turn the key.” 

Cliff cursed and I punched him in the arm.  “Hey!  I just got Aunt Rachel settled.  If she hears your mouth I’ll have to start all over again.” 

“You ain’t heard nothin’,” he said albeit more quietly.  “I cannot believe you’ve been stuck out here with that crazy ol’ lady without even a car and nobody knew.” 

“She’s not crazy, she’s just … look, the dementia has gotten a little worse since the storm.  She’s almost 89 and just lost half of the outbuildings on her property and those that are left are damaged including the farmhouse.  It doesn’t matter that most of those building were empty and unused, they were still hers to call her own.  She’s got insurance, and the adjustor has been out and looked around, but I haven’t been able to get to the post office to pick up the check in the mail, try and find someone to repair stuff like this porch, or anything else for that matter.  On top of that her favorite cat hasn’t been seen in over a week and she thinks a coyote might have gotten it, one of her wind up radios isn’t working, and when she is in her right mind she is scared to death that somebody from the county is gonna come out here, condemn the farm, and force her into a nursing home.  She is really, really stressed out.  That’s why I’ve been busting my butt trying to clean things up.” 

Cliff shook his head.  “You’re as crazy as that old lady in there.  You ever heard of a hotel?  You ever heard of flagging down a cop and getting a ride to where you could get a signal with your phone?  I know you’ve got a prejudice against them but this is their job.  How have you been getting by with no food and water?” 

“Chill Cliff.  I’m not a complete idiot.  I couldn’t flag down a cop because none came out this way except once when the storm was over to make sure we were still living.  This area is serviced by a contract with the county Sheriff’s office and with all the budget cuts there aren’t enough deputies to cover all the territory they are supposed to; they have to focus on the trouble spots to keep that stuff contained.  And there has been a lot of trouble; maybe not riots but there has been looting and break ins.  As for food and water we aren’t hurting.  For water we have the hand pump and it pulls up colder water than used to come from the tap.  What do you think you are drinking?  And for food, I cleaned out the hole that fed the spring house and that’s what we are using for refrigeration.  Most of the kitchen garden is coming back though it is a pain to water but thankfully we only lost one of the other gardens further from the house.  A bunch of trees in the orchards got damaged but not so bad they won’t come back next year, and most will still have at least some fruit on them this year which I have to pick and preserve between everything else that I’m doing.  The valve on the big propane tank is frozen for some reason but the smaller one attached to the house still has fuel in it.  I try and do most of the cooking outside on the fire pit anyway to keep the house from feeling like an oven.” 

In a completely horrified whisper Cliff said, “Oh my God, you’ve turned into Ma Ingalls.” 

“Oh shut up.” 

Closer to normal he asked, “Seriously.  What do you think this is?  The pioneer days or something?  Come on.  A spring house.  A hand pump.  And … oh geez … I see chickens!” 

I snorted a laugh.  “You said that like you see dead people or something.  Don’t come unglued.” 

“And what was the deal with threatening me with a gun?  Have you lost your marbles?  You could have gotten hurt.” 

Sighing I said, “Hey, you go hunting with your dad and Uncle Carmichael.  And you know good and well I know how to shoot too because Uncle Carmichael insisted that Christine and I learn so he could feel safe having guns in the house while we lived there.  Out here I learned fast you just can’t run a farm without at least carrying a revolver or something.  There’s snakes, coyotes, feral dogs … just all sorts of stuff.” 

“I’m not a snake or a feral dog no matter what some of the girls I dated might say.  I mean it Winnie, what’s up with the gun thing?  Not to mention what happens if you get caught with a gun and the cops run your name?”

I leaned tiredly against the porch post and said, “Because no cops means no cops or 911 or anything like that.  Some of the neighbors around here have had trouble since the storm – and before that – with thieves and rustlers and I figure me with a revolver is safer than Aunt Rachel waiving around that giant shotgun she has.  The thing looks like a freaking cannon and is just as loud when it goes off.” 

“Oh my God.  There’s a demented old lady running around with a shot gun.” 

At his look I said, “No.  Not right now.  I’ve got the shotgun locked in the gun safe.  Actually it was Aunt Rachel who locked it in there and then gave me the keys and told me to keep them until she was in a more lucid frame of mind.  You should have seen her Cliff, she was so sad.  It was like the day she admitted she wasn’t fit to drive anymore.” 

Cliff just shook his head.  “C’mon.  Pack your stuff and something for the old lady too.  I’m taking you out of here.” 


Incredulously he said, “Come again?” 

“I said no.  This is where I belong.  Not being a nurse maid to Christine or under Barb’s thumb.  Here.  Where I know I do some good.” 

“You’ve got to be kidding me.” 

“I don’t expect you to understand.  If you had asked me even six months ago I would have laughed and said I was crazy.  But … look, I … I like it here.  No one hassles me about anything.” 

“What about school?  You wanted to do that thing … be a … a whatever you call it where you counsel kids.” 

“Grief counselor.  And I already do that sometimes.  At Aunt Rachel’s church.  There are a lot of widows and widowers there and some kids that have lost their parents for whatever reason.  I help out with funeral services and things like that when they have a local one.  The pastor says I’ve got a talent for it and that the old folks appreciate someone young taking an interest in them.” 


“Don’t make fun Cliff.  I admit it isn’t the life I imagined for myself and a year from now maybe I’ll be ready to move on to something else but for right now this is the right place.  Look, you’ve seen I’m still alive and that Aunt Rachel and I are doing OK.  Just go back to school or home and let everyone know we are fine and that as soon as I can I’ll go back to updating them on our boring life.” 

“Do you really think that I can just go driving away after seeing the mess you’re in?” 

“I’m not in a mess.  I told you I’m fine.” 

“You aren’t fine.  So ok, you like the country mouse thing.  If you like it then you like it and I’ll live with it … but you ain’t got a car or anything.  What if the old lady falls or gets sick?” 

A voice from the living room window said, “The old lady has a name.  You may call me Miz Rachel like the other children do.” 

At the look on Cliff’s face I had to stop a giggle.  Cliff could be a jerk but he could also be charming.  This time though it looked like he was swallowing slugs to do it.  “Yes ma’am.  I beg your pardon.” 

He got up off the porch and pulled me with him.  “Show me the truck.  It might be something simple like a loose wire or a bad fuse.” 

It turned out I was right, it was the battery.  Cliff had the thing out and in his trunk and was just about to pull out.  “I’ll be back tomorrow.  I have to find a shop that has a replacement and pick up a few things just in case it is a battery cable too.  I also need to get my tools from the house.  Mom will probably give me the third degree but I’ll get that over with tonight.” 

“Cliff …” 

“Don’t even.  God you are so hard headed.  How am I supposed to explain to your uncle that I found you like this and just left you here?  He’s gonna kill me.” 

“No he won’t.  Just tell him ‘Prissy Britches’ refused to do anything but have her own way.”  Before he could try another argument I asked, “Got the fried chicken, biscuits, and apples?  Think it will hold you until you get home?” 

He looked blissful for a moment before remembering he was supposed to be mad.  “You know good and well I’m stuffed to the gills.  How you got all of that cooked with no electric or running water …” 

“Oh stop or you’ll make me blush Mistah Cliff.” 

Cliff made a sour face.  “That’s the Scarlett imitation I’ve ever heard.” 

“Yeah well, if you had wanted to hear a real southern bell you should have heard my mom.  Now knock it off.  I still don’t know if I believe that you dropped that class you were going to take this summer.  Cliff I’ll be really mad if you aren’t telling the truth about that.” 

“I dropped the freaking thing just like I told you already.  Enough with the third degree.  It was just a lame psych class.  I’ve already registered for it this fall.  I just needed a break.” 

“What about your girlfriend?” 

“I’m taking a break from that too.  Sick of just about everything and everyone.” 

He looked it too so I reached over and patted his arm.  He surprised me by putting his hand over mine and looking away.  “Not you.  That’s … that’s not what I mean.  We’re friends right?” 

I squeezed his arm and let go when he let go.  “Of course.  You’re practically my best friend so do me a favor and drive safe.  Just because you occasionally irritate me doesn’t mean I want to see you smeared across the black top … and …” 


“Don’t stop in Hiatsville.  Go around it preferably.” 


Uncomfortable with my reason I mumbled.  “Look, a lot of … uh … look, there’s gangs there and stuff happens to … to certain people who drive through there that they decide don’t belong.” 

“Gangs.  In the boonies.  You’re kidding me.” 

“No I’m not and you know what I mean so please don’t ask me to say it.  It sounds awful enough just running around in my head.  I can’t stand it when either side starts up with their stuff … the klucker types or the Black Panther types.  There’s plenty of crap in between too so just … just be careful and leave it at that.  Please.” 

He didn’t make me say it but he did give me an understanding look and a promise to take the highway to get home even though it took a little while longer. 

I stood watching the cloud of dust that his car kicked up until there wasn’t a single bit of the poof left and then got back to work because the beans weren’t going to get picked with me just standing there.

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