Monday, August 25, 2014

The Unholy Roamin' Empire - Part 11


We were a long while internalizing and coming to accept what we had done.  Reggie and I didn’t like what we did, didn’t harbor any kind of pride in it, but I think the two of us handled the personal acceptance part better than the others did.   

There was no self-loathing or anything like that.  I, despite the absurdity of going through all that I had in my life yet still having the occasional rose-colored blind spot, handled things a bit by getting angry at the people that had put us in the situation where we’d been forced to choose between two very unsavory options … giving up and letting the bad guys roll over us and abuse our “Hobbits” or stand up and defend ourselves with fatal consequences for our enemy.  Reggie seemed to add it to his ledger of being different; he seemed to accept that it put him further away from everyone.   Didn’t he get a surprise when Ginger handled what she’d done by working her way further into his life and not letting him put any more distance between them. 

Jax’s way of dealing with it was looking at it like he had a responsibility to Kelly and to me.  He loved us.  His reason for being was wrapped us in being our protector and provider.  What bothered him more than killing or getting shot was that he wasn’t here when I had to go through that.  It wasn’t that I had done it but that he hadn’t been a shield to blunt the consequences.  It is hard to explain to someone that never met the man.  Jax cared.  A simple concept but a true one.  He cared more about how what I did made me feel than about what it was that I did, more than about how what he did made him feel.  We both held it together during the day or when we were around other people but when we were alone in our room a piece of paper wouldn’t have fit between us.  The warmth and contact of another understanding human being helped more than any number of platitudes possibly could have.   

The first two days after the battle we were all high strung.  We took that energy and focused it on defensive measures.  We rebuilt a lot of the boobies, repeating the ones that worked and dismantling the ones that didn’t.  After talking to Mr. Houchins who admitted that his family was going through similar to what we were we developed the plan to blow the bridge and pass roads.  We laid out the explosives and then Aston and I completed it. 

Blowing the bridge and the span around the Pass gave us all a little bit of peace of mind.  It made it harder for people coming from the direction of town to reach us.  The number of dead bad guys that Mr. Houchins let us know through Junior and Aston meeting up to exchange information and antibiotics and herbal remedies for one of Junior’s little brothers who had developed a bad case of bronchitis gave us more peace of mind.  Between our original battle with people that hadn’t shown up for the attack on the Houchins clan combined with the second group that was men fleeing from that losing battle Reggie and I had done for quite a few more bad guys.  And I suppose in a way that added a touch more to our peace of mind though it came at a cost I could have done without.  But we were never completely at peace … only at a piece of peace as they say these days.  There were still too many bad things and potential bad things going on in the world around us; all we had to do was listen to the radio to find this out.   

There was considerably more ham radio traffic than there had been once communities set up radio stations to try and stay apprised of what was going on in the world around them.  Regular radio also made a return as the government and large corporations tried to fill the vacuum that the terrorists and war left in their wake.  Not all stations had twenty-four hour schedules but during the day there were some fairly decent shows, some of them even being useful in ways to make do and being frugal with what resources were available.   

“I bet Matt is chomping at the bit to get the community radio station up and running,” Jax said one night over dinner. 

Reggie thought about it and said, “Sounds like something he’d want to do.  Widen his sphere of influence or whatever.” 

At the same time Aston barked a laugh and asked, “Start it up with what?  His looks?” 

I said, “He won’t do it unless he’s sure that he can control the content of what is broadcast.  So long as he isn’t in control of the bad guys …”  I ended on a shrug. 

Ashley asked, “What do you mean in control of the bad guys?” 

I let Reggie explain what we’d overheard about Matt being put in charge of some project or group of people by someone called Suicide.  It was a sobering thought for all of us that one of our old friends would turn like that.  It was already hard to accept Double D’s change, but being put in charge of the bad guys was a much higher level of betrayal.  It gave us even more to think about and consider when it came to our plans.  Eventually someone would likely challenge us again and we would need to be ready. 

While it was true that it would take people longer to get back to this part of the county with the main travel routes as compromised as we had left them, it didn’t mean that we were completely cut off.  As awful as it was we were left hoping that the bad guys would go after closer, easier pickings … or even better, move along to some new place to ride roughshod over.  I wasn’t comfortable wishing bad luck on someone else but I just wanted the bad guys to go away; to go away and stop doing things that had us choosing to do things that were hard to live with. 

The drastic change in weather we were experiencing was a blessing, but for some reason I’ve never understood blessings always seem to come in the form of two-edge swords.  The harsh cold and damp was probably a bigger deterrent than anything manmade to keeping the bad guys away.  Even with vehicles they still would have been forced to fight in this weather if they wanted to take us.  Thankfully the bad guys that we were then faced with seemed to be of the source that preferred as much comfort as they could get with the least amount of work so battling out in the icy mud and sleet didn’t encourage them to do anything but hole up whether they were.  At the same time however that weather kept us bottled up more than we had been as well. 

There’s good and bad things about being cooped up when the weather is too cold and damp to spend a lot of time outside.  It is good because you are kind of forced to relax in the same way the cold weather forces the plants and trees and animals to relax a bit before spring time brings new life and new challenges into the world.  But it can be bad too … especially when it gives people time to start thinking. 

--------------- 

“Wow.  Hey Lydie … look at this.  It says worms are a good way to compost kitchen scraps.” 

Turning to Ashley who was engrossed in the books I had been using to try and plan out a larger garden for spring I replied, “I know.  Mom used to have a really active worm bed on the other side of the chicken yard.” 

She asked, “What do you mean used to?” 

Wiping my hands on the apron I was wearing after washing and scraping carrots to go in that night’s stew I told her, “After … after they died I couldn’t seem to keep it up?  I let it go.” 

Truly perplexed she asked, “Why?!  The books say it is super easy.  I mean even I could do it.” 

I shrugged.  “I just didn’t have the time I guess.” 

--------------- 

Aston and I almost ran into each other in the hall.  He’d had his face buried in one of the old magazines that was normally in a basket in the bathroom and I hadn’t seen him over the load of towels I had just folded and was taking to the linen closet.  “Hey Lydie, what do you know about wood gasification?” 

Grimacing at the feeling of having scratched my knuckles on a door frame when I’d tried to save myself from dropping the basket and having to start all over again I told him, “I know there should be some books on it in the library that are more detailed than that old magazine is.  Dad and I had one three-quarters built before … Anyway, I just never finished it.” 

“Why not?!  It seems like a perfect way to clean up the old wood that doesn’t get used after winter.” 

Shrugging and moving past him I answered, “I just didn’t have the time.” 

--------------- 

I was measuring the ice down in the cold room, trying to decide if it was worth putting containers on the back porch at night and bringing the resulting ice down to the cellar in the morning or if it was work that could be put off when Ginger cornered me.  “Hey Lydie.” 

“Yeah Ginger?” I asked only half way listening. 

“Ash and I have been reading your mom’s recipe files and some of her cookbooks and gardening books and she’s got all sorts of notes crabbed into the margins about wild foods and where to find them, how good they are, and how they save on the regular gardening work.  How come we never did any of that stuff?  How come you only told us to work in the garden or pull stuff from the edible landscaping around the house?” 

“I asked you to help in the garden I didn’t make you,” I told her defensively after what she was saying caught my undivided attention. 

“You know what I mean,” she replied breezily.  “Wouldn’t it have been a lot easier if we had just been able to gather stuff from the woods instead of trying grow everything we needed?” 

“I don’t know … maybe, but probably not.  It’s a lot more work than you think; more time too.  I used to do stuff like that with Mom but I haven’t done it in a while.” 

Giving me a curiously birdlike stare that made me feel a bit like a bug under observation she asked, “How come?” 

“I … I just didn’t have time I guess,” I said still feeling defensive. 

--------------- 

“Hey Lydie.”  I almost cringed when Reggie found me in the attic trying to finally make the time to organize the salvage and other supplies that had been moved up there because there was no room for them any place else once the guys had taken over half the basement for the armory. 

“Yeah Reg?” 

“I was looking at …” 

“At what?” I said, almost snapping, knowing that a critique of my lack of something was in the offing. 

Startled at my tone he said, “Uh … never mind.” 

I shook my head.  “Sorry … just been one of those days.  What was it you needed?” 

“Didn’t need anything, I was just wondering.” 

“About?” I asked as I went back to taking fabric off cardboard bolts and folding it up to put on cedar lined shelves. 

“Well I was trying to come up with some ideas of things to do when the weather warms up and I’ve been meaning to ask about the beehives that are stacked out in the orchard.  I mean, they’re empty.  Did you all used to keep bees?” 

I sighed.  Yup … another critique.  “Dad did but then we lost a couple of hives to some bee disease or other … you can find it in Dad’s farm account books on that shelf behind his desk.  After the hives failed we started getting all of our honey in trade from the Mennonites.  Dad had ordered new bees to start our hives up again but then … anyway, when they came in I just gave them to Mrs. Mulcher at the Extension Office for her 4H Club.” 

“Why?!  We’d be sitting pretty right about now and not wondering where all of the sweetening and sugar and stuff was going to come from next year.” 

Closing my eyes in exasperation I said, “Because I didn’t have the time and hindsight is 20/20.” 

“Didn’t have …?  You didn’t even have a job Lydie.  You …” 

I was in danger of blowing a gasket and throwing a royal tantrum but Jax saved the day by coming down from the cupola.  “Hey Reg … you up here to relieve me or what?” 

“Yeah … coming,” he said.  I could hear the mild disgust in his voice.  It wasn’t quite a judgment on the fact that he thought I’d missed a prime opportunity and he didn’t understand how I could have; nevertheless it rankled and I had a hard time not giving in to the temptation to throw something at the back of his head as it disappeared up into the cupola. 

He went up and I just kept folding, trying to plow through what needed to be done.  I wasn’t listening to what they were saying but I caught the tail end where Reggie said something to the effect, “Yeah, yeah already.  I get it.” 

I only vaguely wondered what that was about because I got a little caught up in looking at the fine legs of the fine man that I had hitched myself to as he came down the circular staircase from the cupola.  They might have been hidden by the jeans he was wearing but since I knew what was there I used my imagination to good effect.  He was still moving a little slow from being shot but not so’s most people would notice.  But I did.  As I worked my way up his torso I realized I wasn’t the only was doing some looking.   I dropped my eyes and tried to appear busy when I realized he’d caught me staring.  I expected him to make me blush even more but instead he said, “C’mon.  This can wait.” 

“Huh?  Wait … I was in the middle …” 

“I know.  Just c’mon.  Kelly will be up from her nap soon and I want to talk.” 

About half the time when he said he wanted to talk, talking was the last thing on his mind.  This time when he said it though I wasn’t too sure what exactly he meant.  I kept my mouth shut until our bedroom door closed.  “Something wrong?” 

“Yeah.” 

I was ready for the next person to tell me I hadn’t thought ahead or hadn’t used my time wisely.  But instead he sat on the bed then pulled me down beside him.  “Something is wrong all right and I want you to stop it.” 

“Uh … ok … just tell me what it is I’m doing wrong.” 

“Not you.  Them.  I know they don’t realize what they’re doing and I know they mean well and all that but I also know reading something in a book and sitting around talking about is a lot easier than actually putting words to action.” 

I was clueless for about two seconds until I added it up and understood he meant that he’d overheard what the others had been saying.  “It’s OK.  They …” 

“No, it isn’t OK.  They’re sitting around with their nose in a book or making notes once their regular chores are done … the stuff that has to be done every day to keep things running smoothly.  But I sure don’t see them looking to take care of the long list of other stuff that needs to be done around here, that while it isn’t absolutely essential that it gets done, that will become essential if it doesn’t eventually get done.  Like getting the attic organized so we know what we have and where it is.  Like all the extra cleaning that you do so that stuff doesn’t wear out before it has to.  Like the mending and sewing that sits around not getting done because they just think they can dig into the bags of salvaged clothes for something that doesn’t need mending.” 

“Jax …” 

“Uh uh.  I’m talking this time.”  He stopped stretched his neck and shoulders like they were tense.  “I’m not saying that they are being terrible.  They’ve come a long way from where they were, I’ll admit that with no problem, but they still don’t know what it takes to run a house by themselves much less a farm.  It isn’t right that they are criticizing you when they didn’t walk in your shoes.  They’re getting a little self-righteous when they don’t have any room to.” 

I sighed and then climbed up into his lap and just hung on.  It was like finding safe harbor in the middle of a bad storm.  I sighed.  “Thank you.”  I put my hand on his cheek and kissed him, being careful not to knock into his side which was still plenty sore.  “So long as you understand I’m satisfied.” 

“Does that mean you aren’t going to say anything?” 

I smiled a little smugly.  “Catch more flies with honey than vinegar is what Mom used to say and I’m beginning to see her point.” 

“Which is?” 

Smiling slightly I said, “Which is that come spring they’ll learn soon enough.  Let them plan and read and wonder for now.  It keeps them busy and from feeling all cooped up and out of sorts.  It gives them something at least a little constructive to think about and spend their energy on.  Keeps them from being bored and brangling with one another … and with me.  Come spring when the real work starts, when they realize they can’t make up the difference with salvage or whatever, then they’ll know what being busy and not having enough time really means.  C’mon, you know good and well you could have raked me over the coals a few times over how I was learning to take care of Kelly.  I wanted to know why you had to carry her everywhere and why you didn’t do this and why you didn’t do that.  Admit it, I knew next to nothing about taking care of little kids when you and Kelly came to live here and I probably sounded like a pompous know it all.” 

He tried to keep a straight face but slowing a smile escaped.  He leaned us back so that we went from sitting on the bed to laying on the bed.  “OK, so you had a … uh … learning curve.  But you picked it up quick.” 

“Because I had to.  And they’ll pick it up too.  Ashley is almost six months along.  Part of her wigginess is wondering about how she is going to have the baby without a hospital, doctor, or pain killers.  Ginger’s wigginess is that she is still trying to figure Reggie out.”  I shrugged.  “What she doesn’t understand is that Reg is … is shy … kinda … at least about her.” 

Jax put one hand behind his head and pulled me to him with the other.  “I’m glad we got through that part before we had an audience.” 

I nodded in agreement.  “Reggie is … Reggie.  I don’t know if he can bring himself to believe that Ginger really feels anything for him yet.”  I didn’t have to go into Reggie’s family life for Jax to understand what I meant.  “And Aston … Aston is finding himself and trying to figure out how to be who Ashley and their baby needs him to be at the same time.  I think he’s scared.” 

Jax said, “I know he is.  One day it just sort of hits you that you are going to be a father and it takes everything you’ve got not to freak out about it.  Maybe I won’t be that way with you … I mean if we …”  He huffed, “You know what I mean.  I’m not putting any pressure on you I just …” 

“Relax.  You weren’t upsetting me by mentioning it.  I’d be pretty stupid not to realize that there is nothing that is 100% foolproof when it comes to birth control.  I just … I’m just not ready to …” 

He gave me a one armed hug and kissed the top of my head.  “Me either.  Not while things are like they are.  Not while … not while I have to live with you going on patrol and … Just not yet.  I’d be too … too worried that something was to happen and …”  He blew air out of pursed lips.  “There’s just too many things that can go wrong.  Ashley and Aston are right to be worried but … but we’ll all do the best we can to help them.”  After a moment he asked perplexed, “And how did you turn this around so that I’m back to feeling bad for them when I was about ready to snap their heads off?” 

I rolled over and sat up and moved so that I could pull his head into my lap and told him, “Ah, that’s my secret and I’ll never tell.” 

“Never tell?” he growled playfully … quietly though because Kelly was still napping.  “Is that a dare?” 

“Well,” I said smiling and scooting around the bed a bit.  “It could be if you want it to be.” 

I would have been happy to stay snuggled in the bed with Jax for the rest of the day – hang the rest of my chores – but Kelly woke up and needed her father’s attention and I had to get downstairs since it was my turn to fix supper. 

Yep, I wasn’t too sorry that the cold weather was slowing things down.  As it was I had more to do than I could handle.  I just hoped the bad guys would stay away for some good while longer.  But if Matt was put “in charge” I had no idea what that would mean for the rest of us.

 

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