Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Chapter XXIV


      Saturday was a long drawn out day and I was glad to finally have my turn in the bathtub though I needed to wash the dirt ring out of it before I had been willing to pour my clean bathing water in it.  How the kids could get that dirty even though I made sure they cleaned up every night before bed I don’t know.  Lonnie especially was like a dirt and mess magnet.

      I had just settled into a soak when there was a tap on the door.  “Dovie?”

      “Let me guess, someone needs to use the bathroom.”

      “Um … yeah,” came Paulie’s answer.

      Then another voice was added to the conversation.  “Stay put Dovie,” Jude said.  “I’ll take them out to the outhouse.”

      “You sure?  What about your leg?”

      “Last of the red was gone this morning and I’m feeling a lot better Granny.”

      I huffed loud enough that Jude could hear me and both he and Paulie snickered.  “You know, one of these days that is going to backfire on you,” I snapped at both of them and they beat a fast retreat.

      I had found an old straight razor and figured out how to sharpen it … not that it needed much as it already took a strip of hair off my arm with one swipe … and was trying to shave my pits without cutting an artery when there was another tap on the bathroom door.  “What?”

      “Dovie, Corey says he’s thirsty.  Can he have some water?”

      “Tell him he has to use the potty first and then he can have a small drink.  Give me a sec and I’ll …”

      Jude came to the rescue again.  “Why don’t I just round the rest of them up and take them out?”

      “Would you?  Please?  I swear I’ll owe you Jude.”

      He snickered.  “I’ll hold you to that.”

      All was quiet for about fifteen minutes and I was getting the last little square of hair I had missed off the shin on my left leg when out of the blue Paulie banged on the bathroom door so hard the razor slipped and instead of an inch of hair I took off an inch of skin.  “Ack!!”

      I don’t think he heard me though as all he could say was a breathless, “Bear!  Bear!  Bear!”

      “Bear?!” I said trying to scramble out of the bathtub.  My wet food skidded on the tile and I fell back into the bathtub with a huge splash.  I came up spluttering and splashes and coughing up hairy water.

      I was aware enough that I heard someone turning the door knob.  Snorting the water out of my nose I said, “Open that door on pain of death.”

      Jude asked anxiously, “You OK?  It sounded like you fell.”

      “I did fall you Goof!  Anyone would fall when they’re informed there’s a bear at the house!”

      “Well take it easy and finish your bath, it wandered off into the trees.  I’ve seen it before.  It’s just old Three-Toes.”

      I grumbled about bears and boys and blood.  Jude misunderstood and said, “Naw.  Three-Toes wouldn’t bite anyone, it probably only has enough teeth to gnaw on berries and grubs.”

      “Not the bear you … you …”  I slapped the water in anger.  “Just have Tiff bring me the first aid kit and leave me alone.”

      “What do you need the first aid kit for?”

      “Jude,” I growled at him warningly.

      “What happened?”

      Knowing he would just keep pestering me I finally snapped, “The razor slipped.”

      “Oh.  Where?  Is it bad?”

      “None of your business and at least I’m not bleeding like a hog chewed on me but it won’t stop and I need the styptic pencil.”

      He grunted in sympathy.  “You shoulda just … er …  Where did you say you were shaving?”

      “I didn’t.  Go away.”

      “Uh … nothing … er … vital?  Should I go get Rochelle?” he asked diffidently.

      “No … it’s just my shin OK.”

      “You swear?”

      “Jude!  Scat!”

      That’s when I heard Paulie say confidentially, “I wouldn’t hang around when she says scat Jude.  She’s a little sensitive about people seeing her with no clothes on.”

      “Grrrrrr!”

      “See what I mean?” Paulie said before I heard his feet beating a hasty retreat.

      Unfortunately he didn’t convince Jude to go with him.  “Who the Sam Hill has been seeing you with your clothes off?”

      “That’s none of your business either.”

      “You aren’t saying you had a …”

      “No!  Honest to Pete!” I yelled at the door finally managing to get out of the tub without turning the floor red by tying a wash rag around my leg.  “If you must know Mr. Nosy I just got tired of all of the examinations we had to go through while in quarantine.  They didn’t give us Double Negatives a whole lotta choice since we were basically the guinea pigs that got them their stupid vaccine.  And the older we were the more blood they could take from us.”

      “You shoulda said no,” Jude said with some heat in his voice.

      “Saying no was easy, getting them to listen was a completely different matter.  And I caught on real quick that if I didn’t want to get separated from Paulie and then the other kids I had to play ball or suffer the consequences.  Now if you are done with all of the embarrassing questions will you please just get Tiffany?”

      “I’m here,” she said.  “You need help like last time?”

      “No.”

      “What does she mean like last time?” Jude asked, unfortunately catching what Tiff had said.

      “It doesn’t matter anymore.”

      “I say it does.”

      I was hopping around, trying to put my underclothes on without messing them up and then pulled my nightgown over my head.

      “Dovie?” Jude asked through the door again.

      “Don’t you ever give up and go away?  Give me a minute will you?  I splashed water all over the floor.”

      I let the water out of the tub and then heaved in the soaking towels before noticing that blood was soaking through the wash cloth.  “Dang it!”  I sat on the toilet and untied the rag and when the air hit the raw skin I hissed involuntarily in pain.

      “Dovie Doherty you can either open the door willingly or I’m coming in on my own whether you like it or not.”

      “You wouldn’t.”

      “I would.  Don’t believe me ask Wendalene.  Mom and Dad had gone off to some auction for the weekend and it was just the three of us because they had taken Reynolds with them.  Only I didn’t realize at the time her boyfriend had snuck in the window and …”

      “OK!” I said to stop his words from flowing.  “That is NOT a story I am interested in hearing.”  I reached over across the small sink space of the closet sized bathroom and popped the lock.  As soon as I did the knob turned and Jude pushed the door open.  “Where’s Tiff,” I asked.

      “She went to see what the noise was the boys were making upstairs.  It sounds like they turned something over.”

      “Oh glory,” I moaned.  “Can’t a girl just have a bath in peace?”

      “Doesn’t seem like it.  Let me see.”  He turned the old metal trash can over and sat on it like a stool being careful to leave his own leg straight. 

      I pulled away at first but when he just sat there and looked at me like he wasn’t going to budge until I gave in.  “Fine.  But if you make one nasty crack.”

      “I won’t Dovie, now let me see.”

      I propped my foot up on the clothes hamper and pulled my gown above my knee and then gingerly took the wash rag off again, preparing for the sting I knew was coming.  When he saw it he whistled in sympathy.  “You took off a patch of skin all right.  But you aren’t using a styptic pencil on that, you’ll pass out.  I’m going to clean it and then put some antibiotic cream on it.  I know you have some in there because I saw it when I was dealing with the stupid bite before Rochelle got a hold of it.”

      It was unpleasant enough to make my eyes water but Jude was right, at least it was better than pouring salt on it.

      We helped each other up and then as I cleaned up the bathroom and threw my dirty clothes into the hamper he said, “Now what about what about this other time that Tiffany was talking about.”

      “You worry at stuff like a dog at a bone.”  Instead of answering me he just continued to lean against the door jamb.  “Look, it’s not any big deal really; at least not any more.  Just one time they got a little rough with testing.  People were dropping like flies.”

      “It’s still happening in the areas that haven’t self-quarantined because they haven’t won the vaccine lottery yet.”

      “I mean before the vaccine was developed.  They were running out of adult Double Negatives.  Some of the vaccines were actually making the DNs sick.”

      That caused him to stand up straight.  “With the virus?”

      “No.  The stuff they were putting in the vaccine was just as bad as the virus apparently.  So some of the older adolescents started to be used.  It got real bad.  They needed … samples.”

      “Samples of what?”

      “Different things, but for me it was from the injection site.  They’d … they’d shave off thin squares of skin for one injection.  For another they’d … they’d core … core the injection site out.  That was the worst … and no, I’m not showing you as some of them are on my stomach.  But really, I had it easy compared to some whom they actually needed samples of organ tissue.”

      “Organ … ok, that’s enough.  It sounds like a frickin’ nazi death camp.  How come you didn’t say anything about this before now?”

      “Because it is over and done with.  If we spend all our time thinking about the past we’ll never be ready for the future.”

      “And if you don’t learn from mistakes in the past you are doomed to repeat them.  Or something like that anyway.  Dad is going to flip a switch.”

      “Oh don’t tell Jude … please!”

      “But …”

      “Please Jude,” I begged.  “It’s just … just not something I want people knowing.  And I don’t know … maybe I’ll get in trouble for telling what happened.  It was supposed to be secret.”

      “Dang Dovie,” he muttered angrily.  I just looked at him, silently pleading with my eyes for him to understand.  Quietly he asked, “Are you scared?”

      “I … no … maybe … I don’t know.  It’s just … look, the people running those places could make things happen.  And then suddenly we all got shifted to that last place we wound up in and the tests stopped and we got treated half way decent.  The adults were segregated from the rest of us instead of us all mixed up together.  Same company with the government people running it but it’s like there was a change in policy or administration or something.  They started finding families for a lot of the kids until just my core group was left.  Then internally everything just broke down and staff didn’t show up for work, the adults rioted, and then … then we just picked up and left when no one else came to check on the place.  And it’s over and done with.  I don’t want to bring it all back up.  Especially not if … if …”

      Jude sighed and shook his head.  “OK, I’ll keep quiet about it.  For now.  But …”

      “But …?”

      “What if it turns out to be like what happened to those soldiers that went over there and got that biowarfare stuff sprayed on them?  What if something happens to you down the road in a couple of years like you get sick because of what they done to you?”

      I shrugged.  “Then it does.  Hopefully by then Paulie and Tiff will be old enough to finish raising the youngest ones.”

      “You’re pushing those two together kinda early ain’t ya?”

      “Huh?”  When I finally understood what he was saying I felt like hitting him.  “Not like that you big dork.  Get your mind out of the gutter.  Like family, a team, that sort of thing.”

      “My mind isn’t in the gutter.  I’m just saying it happens … the Mennonites marry cousins pretty regular.  And cousins married regular around here a few generations back too.  Those two aren’t even blood related.”

      “Next you’re going to say something like if Clewis and Crystal weren’t already married, he could come after me and keep the land in the family.”

      He made a fake gagging sound.  “Now that’s straight out the gutter right there.  Besides, you’d wind up killing him and then Dad would be all upset and everything really would be at sixes and sevens.”

      “Then don’t say something stupid like I should hook up with Clewis.”

      “I didn’t say that, you did.”

      “You said cousins.”

      “I said … dang it!  I can’t remember what I said you’ve got me so turned upside down.  But it certainly wouldn’t be Clewis.  You’d be unhappy.”

      “And why should that matter to you?  It would cut you loose so you could go off and have some kind of adventure and get out from under all of this that you’ve got stuck with without any say so.”

      Jude opened his mouth to snap out some pithy reply but then closed his mouth again for a moment before saying, “You really are scared aren’t you?

      “I’m not scared!” I growled.

      “Yeah … yeah you are.  But you don’t have to worry Dovie, no one is making me stay.  I’m doing it because I know it is the right thing to do and I’m not going to leave you high and dry.  Doing the right thing for once makes me feel … I don’t know … better about it than I might have about staying if you and the kids hadn’t come home.  You don’t have to do all of this by yourself.  And … and …,” he sighed.  “And I won’t say anything about what happened to you either if it bothers you that much.  But I won’t lie about it either.  Deal?”

      “You swear you won’t blab to Uncle Roe or Butch or Clewis or anybody?”

      “I won’t blab.  But you should see a doctor … a real doctor.”

      “No way.  At least not right now.  I am done with doctors.  And you better not say anything to Rochelle.  She’s better than she used to be but she’s still likely to do something ‘for my own good’ before she asks my opinion of it.  That kind of trouble I do not need.  And Wendalene is just as bad if not worse.”

      “You’re preaching to the choir Dovie.”

      “Speaking of,” I said hastily changing the subject now that the opportunity had presented itself.  “Did those pants and shirt fit?”

      “Aw Dovie, I told you that you didn’t have to …”

      “We’ve already been over that ground plenty.  Just try it on and see … please.”  I figured if I was going to ask him for something like keeping tales from his own father I had to at least be willing to treat him with some courtesy even if when we brangled.

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