Friday, December 12, 2014

Chapter LVIII


      “You know, if I was a violent man Dovie Doherty I’d be giving serious consideration to turning you over my knee right about now.”

      “If you were a violent man Jude Killarney I wouldn’t trust you so much or care about your feelings so there.  Now stop being so upset.  I’m not going to let them force you into anything.   And if you aren’t done being weirded out I am.  I need to go check on …”

      I tried to pass by but Jude tickled the back of my knee and I flopped back down on the stairs.  “The kids are fine.  They are polishing off a third bowl of popcorn.  I’ve been listening to them even if you haven’t and since I don’t smell anything burnt the third bowl is because they are hungry and not because they rurnt the second one.  I wanna talk about this a little more.”

      “Jude …”

      “Just … just hear me out.  What if … what if … uh …”  He shook his head.  “Dang.  I don’t even know how to start.”

      “Well … English would be nice.”

      He gave me a glare in the dark.  “Aw right there Granny.”

      I snickered.  “Well you asked.”

      “I didn’t but I’ll let that one go.”  Suddenly he just relaxed.  I can’t explain it any other way.  Then he leaned back and put his elbows on the stairs.  “Would you let me?”

      “Uh … let you what?”

      “Do what Dad keeps hinting around about … pay some attention to you with the end game being … well … the obvious and what we already sorta talked around about.”

      “Oh.”

      “Is that an oh yes, an oh maybe, or an oh hell no?”

      I poked him somewhere in his middle area and said, “I told you to stop cursing over this.  If it has you so upset you gotta curse then …”

      A little more seriously he said, “I was actually trying to make it funny to give you an out in case you were only being nice to me before and trying to … uh … show me some respect and save my pride.”

      “Oh.”

      “Like I said before is that an oh yes, and oh maybe, or …”

      I my shin booted his leg and he knew he’d sufficiently irritated me.  “I already told you I won’t let them turn you into a sacrificial lamb.”

      Slowly as if he was picking his words carefully he asked, “What if I don’t see me as the sacrificial lamb but worry that maybe you might feel like one?”

      I shook my head.  “Why would I feel like a sacrificial lamb?  It’s not like anyone is trying to force me into anything?”

      He scratched his head.  It was now completely dark so I couldn’t see him anymore but I could hear him do it.  I also heard him scratching his beard.  “You’re making this hard,” he told me.

      “I’m not trying to.”

      He sighed.  “I know and that’s what makes it worse.  I’ve gotta just actually say the words rather than assume you know what I mean and that is making me dang uncomfortable.”

      “Then don’t.”

      “But I gotta.”

      “Says who?”

      “Says me.”

      “Then you’re cracked.”

      “Probably … and more than likely to get worse in the not too distant future.”

      He shifted and suddenly he was sitting on the same stair as I was and I felt him put his arm across my shoulders.  I jumped a little and asked him, “What are you doing?”

      “Waiting to see if you are going to crack me for putting my arm right where I put it?”

      “Uh huh.  And is there a purpose for taking your life into your hands like that?”

      I felt him scoot a little closer to me on the stair even though there was barely room to do it.  “Yep.  Trying to show you that the look I had on my face wasn’t from not wanting to but because I haven’t been able to get it out of my mind since I figured out what Dad has been hinting around about.”

      I was very tempted to put a sharp elbow into his ribs.  “And do you always do what Uncle Roe tells you to?”

      He snorted.  “If I had do you think I would be in the situation I am of not knowing whether I am coming or going?  You are too easy to want to be with Dovie.  I keep telling myself things.  I keep reminding you what I am …”

      Heading him off I said, “You mean what you used to be.”

      “Nope, what I am.  I am an alcoholic.  I may be recovering but that particular part won’t ever change.”  He sighed and I sensed the mood was breaking.

      “Don’t be a goof,” I told him with a gentle nudge.  “You act like you are the only one on the planet that has done screwy stuff.  What about Clewis?”

      I sensed it was the wrong tact to take when he responded, “And you can’t stand him.”

      Trying to undo my mistake I told him, “I can stand him.  I just want to hit him in the head with a hammer on some days because he never learned from his mistakes like you did and would likely repeat them if he wasn’t afraid of losing Crystal.  What keeps you from going back to the old way?”

      “’Cause I don’t want to,” he said.

      “And there’s the difference between you and Clewis and I know it.  I hung around with all my mother’s lady friends and people like Granny Cherry and lots of her friends.  I listened to them talk about men – theirs and others – all the time.  I learned a few things Jude.  And what I learned helps me tell the difference between you and Clewis as clear as day.”

      He slowly relaxed again and I felt his arm get a little tighter.  He asked, “So if you are so knowledgeable why are you letting me do this?”

      “Because I’m interested in seeing where this goes.”

      A little surprised he asked, “So I’m an experiment to you?”

      “No, you’re Jude … and I wanna see where this is going.”

      Quietly yet with purpose he asked, “And there’s a difference?”

      “Uh huh,” I told him just as quietly.  “I’ve never done any of this.  I’ve never even been interested in it because it seemed like a whole lotta work for not much return.  I thought that guys like my dad and Uncle Roe weren’t available for me, that they weren’t being made anymore.”

      “Your brothers weren’t ok guys?”

      “I guess but they weren’t interested in anything but being in the military.  They never took girls seriously.  You remember how they were.”

      “OK, but … uh … weren’t there guys that … I … I don’t know …”

      “Nope.  I was never interested in making myself interesting to the guys my age.  I figured they could either come to me or not at all and either way it didn’t seem to get my interest up too much.  I was always busy with things that … that made me feel older and just different I guess.  I never could trust any of them.  But this is different.  I trust you.  I know I’m safe with you.  I know that if this eventually comes to nothing that I’ll still be able to trust you and I’ll still be safe because you’ll still be Jude.  Make sense?”

      “Absolutely not … but I’m not gonna look a gift horse in the mouth.  The question we gotta ask ourselves is what is this we’ve got here and what are we gonna do about it?  Is it real or are we doing it just because it seems real?”

      Curiously I asked, “When did you turn philosophical?”

      “Oh, drunks are all sorts of philosophical … we gotta be to justify what we do.”

      “But you aren’t a drunk anymore.”

      I could feel him shrug.  “Nope but I guess I’m stuck being philosophical.  So …”

      “So …”

      He was quiet for a few minutes then asked, “You gonna hit me if I kiss you?”

      “Uh …”

      Quietly and kindly he said, “Too much too soon?”

      “Um … what if … what if … I mean I’ve never.  What if you kiss me and I’m so bad you laugh?”

      I heard the tick in his throat as he swallowed.  “Well, why don’t we give it a try and see?”

      It was different.  His beard was itchy but in short order I was distracted from it.  He showed me how to make it nicer for both of us and after a few minutes he drew back.  We were both silent and I was beginning to think that maybe I had been wrong and this was a major mistake.  Then he said, “Dovie?”

      “Yeah?”

      “I’m not laughing.”

      A little nervously I said, “No, you’re not.”

      “But …”

      “But?”

      He took a deep breath and blew it out slowly through his lips.  “I think we need to get out of this dark basement before I forget that you aren’t nearly as old and worldly as you think you are.”

      “Jude?” I asked as he was helping me to stand up in the dark.

      “Hmm?”

      “Are you just being nice?”

      “Uh uh.  I’m trying to have some sense.  I think I’ve done bit off more than I can chew.”

      “Um … I’m not sure what that means.”

      “It means Dovie that I’ve got more experience than you and that I know where this could lead real fast because you sure didn’t make me want to laugh.  You taste so sweet I just about forgot that the reason you taste so sweet is because you are.  You’re seventeen, never even had a boyfriend, flat out told me you’ve never been kissed.  And it only makes me want more and I don’t have any right to it.  So we are going to go up those stairs and you’re gonna put the kids to bed ‘cause they’ve already had their story.  And I’m gonna go stand out on the porch for a bit.  Then as soon as I’m sure I won’t light Dad’s hellfire and brimstone up for taking advantage of you I’m gonna go talk to him.”

      “Oh Jude, don’t say anything to him … please.”

      “You … you don’t … want …”

      “Just let it be between us until we get things figured out and see what we want.  We know what he wants … or what he thinks he wants.  Let’s figure out … our side of things first.”

      “I don’t want to sneak around about this Dovie.  That ain’t right.”

      “Who’s saying sneak around?  We’ve behaved right this whole time when even Aunt Frankie made it nasty in the beginning when neither one of us had thoughts that direction.  Right now it feels too big to share.  I gotta think how to explain things to the kids … or even if we need to explain things.  Maybe you’ll change your mind after you’ve had some air hit your head and you cool off.  Granny Cherry used to talk about men getting overheated and not thinking straight all the time.”

      “Uh … don’t think I wanna hear what my grandmother had to say about overheated men.  That’s a nightmare inducing thought right there.  But if you’re sure that you’d rather … look, I just don’t want it to be because you’re ashamed.”

      “Huh?!  No … no it isn’t that at all.  I just … it’s too big and new … and … and …” I stepped close on the riser and whisper, “And a little scary Jude.  I don’t want to make a mistake.  I can’t afford to.  You’re … you’re like the best friend I’ve ever had on top of everything else you are and I don’t want to lose that.  And there’s the kids I’ve got to think about.  And just … just everything.  I … I …”

      “Whoa there.  Easy.  You really are shook up.  I can feel the goosebumps on your arms.  This was too much too soon wasn’t it?”

      “Maybe.  I don’t know.”  I let him rub my arms and it felt nice.  “I’m not ashamed of the kissing Jude.  But the feelings are so big … so … so something.  I’ve never felt anything like it.  And there is so much else going on.  And …”

      “Yeah.  Yeah there is.  So what I’ll do is go up and talk to Dad about camouflaging what we have in case Carlsburg is as bad as I’m worried he might be.  You’ll stay here.  Then you’ll go to bed.  You lock the door, I’ve got my key.  And when we get up in the morning we’ll go on … maybe not as if nothing has happened but a little less risky.  Sound OK to you?”

      “It’s about the only plan I can think of right now.  My brains are scrambled.”

      Then his voice changed a little and he asked, “Good scrambled?”

      “If I answer that I think we might wind back up at square one.”

      He cleared his throat and then right as he was going to say something the door opened at the top of the stairs and we were both blinded by a flashlight. 

      “Honest to Pete Paulie, point that thing some place besides our eyes!” I yelped.

      “Well, what are you doing down here in the dark?”

      “We were getting work done.  Did you all clean up your popcorn mess?”

      “Tiff is washing the bowl.  Corey and Mimi are asleep.”

      I rolled my eyes.  “Did they go to the bathroom first?”

      I heard Tiff call from the kitchen as Jude and I climbed the rest of the stairs.  “Yes they did.  Dovie, the water is ready to be thrown out.”

      That pretty much put the kibosh on any further discussion of other things.  The kids went to bed and Jude went off to speak to Uncle Roe.  I locked up and then went to bed but couldn’t sleep.  My head was full of things that had never been there before.  Then I heard the door open quietly and then the bolt being thrown and the bar put on the door.  I heard footsteps – his footsteps – cross the floor. I heard them stop at the foot of the stairs and then heard him put his boots on the little bench where everyone else’s boots sat.  His steps were quieter but I still could follow him.  When he stopped outside my door I lay as still as I could be.  The door knob turned and I sensed rather than saw the door open.  I don’t know exactly how long he stood there but it was a while, then he closed the door and I heard him go to his room.

      I had started a fire in there so that he wouldn’t have to but it must have gone low because I heard him move the grill and put a chunk of wood on it.  A few minutes later I heard him climb in his bed.  I don’t know how long it took for him to go to sleep but I was still some time before I could close my eyes and they would stay closed.

      By the time I got up this morning he was already gone to start his work week.  I wondered what it meant.  But each time I went to go do the morning chores that I liked to do before I wake the kids I found they had already been done.  The wood boxes in both the living room and the kitchen were full and there by the pitcher of fresh – not stale – water was a fully opened cedar cone and it looked just like a flower. 

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Chapter LVII


      “That’s … that’s a lot to take in Jude.  I … I suppose I could pull it off but I’m not sure.  And what if they trick the kids into answering stuff?  The kids won’t mean to let the cat out of the bag and if they do they’ll feel so bad it will give them a complex.”

      He nodded, “The kids might be the weak link sure enough but we can train ‘em.  I figure they can either go stupid or start crying ‘cause they’re scared.”

      I shook my head.  “The kids aren’t stupid Jude and I sure don’t want them scared.”

      “Not real scared Dovie … think girl, you know I wouldn’t do that to them.  Play scared.  I don’t want to teach ‘em to lie but this is war; maybe not on the battlefield but in our homes.  You and I have both worked too hard to lose it to some ding dang idiots in town.  I’m gonna talk to Dad about it tonight after everyone has gone to bed and we can have some privacy in case there is some objection to it by him or if he has other ideas.  Whatever we chose to do we are going to have to do on the sly but quickly.  I’ve heard Carlsburg is going to be looking around to get a feel for who has what and where.  He takes over the first of the New Year but he’ll be around before that preparing for the transition.  That only gives us a week over a month to get it done if we’re gonna do it.   I’m getting real uneasy about it all, especially with the reports of gun boats in the Gulf of Mexico and submarines off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.  It wouldn’t take much to push us over into a really bad situation and the folks in charge use it as an excuse to really lock things down hard and heavy.”

      “Worse than being forced to give up what we worked so hard for?”

      He nodded.  “Worse as in they may confiscate the guns of private owners.”

      I just looked at him.  “You’re serious.”

      “As a heart attack Granny.  They’ve already done it in the large cities and in many of the smaller ones as well.”

      “You know, I haven’t been around on this world all that long but even I know that wouldn’t do nothing but take the guns away from the law abiding people and leave them in the hands of criminals who would never be dumb enough to turn their guns in to the cops.”

      Jude snickered.  “Sure ‘nuff.  But that’s another thing.  I’ve got all my reloading equipment, all my guns … you think you can make a work space for them too?”

      I scratched the back of my neck.  “Jude I’ll do what I can but …”  I stopped and looked around using the fading light that was just barely leaking into the basement windows.  “I’m not sure I can get all this hidden.  Dad expanded the tunnel but it still isn’t what you would call a huge space.  We’ve got those sacks of grain to think about too.  And there’s stuff you can’t store next to each other or they’ll spoil … like the potatoes and the apples.  And what about what is in the smokehouse?”

      “I admit it won’t be easy and that’s a fact.  They got it worse down at the main house.  And can you imagine people like Mr. and Mrs. Schnell or some of the Mennonite families trying to hide all of their animals?”  He hesitated and then added, “What is going to make it worse is that I can’t get out of this contract Dovie.  I have to keep working.  It’s more important than ever that the taxes get paid on time and come from obvious sources.  I’ll do what I can when I get home but most of the stuff up here is going to be up to you … you and the kids.”

      I sighed.  “I’ll do what I have to.”

      He reached out and touched my shoulder and said, “I know you will.”

      I looked at his hand that quickly dropped when he saw him looking at it and I said, “OK, what’s up?  Is Uncle Roe giving you a hard time about making sure I get my daily quota of affection or something?”

      “Er … uh …”

      “I’ll take that as a yes,” I told him.  “I love Uncle Roe but honestly, sometimes he is just over the top.  I’m not a little kid Jude and it isn’t your job to baby sit me or anything else.  You look … I don’t know … like you are sucking on rotten lemons or something.”

      He squawked, “I do not.”

      I laughed and made to get up until he blocked me.  I flopped back down and told him, “You do too Jude, you really do.  You just better be glad I’m not the kind that gets a complex over things like that.”

      “Things like what?  And what do you mean a complex?!”

      I laughed again then in a singsong voice I said, “Oh the poor little girl needs some attention but what do I do about it without giving her the wrong idea or turning my stomach inside out?”                        I

was still chuckling but stopped when I noticed he wasn’t.  “Hey, I … I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings.”

      He shook his head.  “My feelings aren’t hurt Granny.  Just trying to figure you out.  Most girls like attention.”

      “And I’m sure I would like it too if I wasn’t for sure that Uncle Roe was riding your case and making you.”

      He forgot to breathe for a few seconds then strangled out, “How … how did you …?”

      I sighed and leaned back where he couldn’t see my face.  The simple fact is I hadn’t known, not for sure, not until that moment.  He’d made me suspicious that something was bothering him when he let slip a few things and started acting so awkward when he never had before.  “Don’t worry about it Jude.  Just because I’m not a normal girl doesn’t mean I’m not a girl and that I can’t sense things.  It might have taken a while for me to figure it out but you have to admit, some of those ladies at church today were about as subtle as a piano falling from the sky.”  He made a funny gagging noise like he was trying to clear his throat and talk at the same time.  “We are family but we aren’t blood kin.  Uncle Roe is very interested in making sure that this part of the land stays in the family.  You are way more interested in farming than either Butch or Clewis though I think Uncle Roe is still going to leave the option open for them until they well and truly get settled into something.  The kids love you to bits and pieces.  It wouldn’t be against the law and I don’t think anyone would even think it’s gross.  You want me to go on?”

      “Well ain’t you just calm as hell,” he snorted angrily.

      “Don’t curse, it’s rude,” I told him bumping his knee with my shoulder.  “Like I said, I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings and I’m sorry if I did.”  I shrugged.  I’m still not sure how I feel about it but I couldn’t hide from what was as obvious to me as a broom in the face.  “Jude, stop letting them manipulate you ‘cause you figure you did so much wrong in the past.  You don’t need to be a sacrificial lamb to make up for it.”

      He was silent a moment and then said quietly.  “Whoooo boy, I’ve made a hash of this.  Dad is going to have my hide.”

      “No he isn’t because neither one of us is going to say anything about it.  Uncle Roe likes the idea of his ideas … but he isn’t likely to try and force this one to come to fruition because it would then interfere with his other idea that keeps him comfortable which is that I am some little innocent girl that needs looking after.  So long as he doesn’t think you are fooling with my feelings he’ll let things ride.  Tolerate his hinting around, give him the idea that you think I’m a little young for that sort of thing but that you wouldn’t let anyone else come near me, and he’ll be happy.”

      “How long have you been thinking on this?” Jude asked suspiciously.

      I snorted.  “About five minutes.  And if you hadn’t been such a guy and worried that I was going to pass out in fear or disgust or something equally as stupid I wouldn’t have had to guess and you could have talked to me and us worked this out sooner so you wouldn’t have an ulcer over it.”

      “Five minutes?”

      “Five minutes,” I confirmed.  I tilted my head back and looked at him upside down.  “If we have this worked out how come you still look like you are sucking lemons?”

      “Because we don’t have this worked out Dovie Doherty.  Don’t tell me what I think or how I feel.  And don’t tell me that I look like I’m sucking lemons, ‘cause I don’t.  And you are too young for your information.  You haven’t experienced much of life at all.”

      “Oh Lord, you’ve been listening to Crystal.”

      “I have not … I mean I have but that’s not why I think what I do.  And just what makes you think you know enough about men that you got this all figured out without barely having to give it much of your time?”

      I snorted.  “I’ll list them off shall I?  Dad, Jack, Jay, Paulie, all the boy kids I ever took care of, Butch, Clewis, and all the rest, being around guys in general, etc. etc., yada yada yada.  Maybe it is more complicated than what they make out in the sitcoms that used to be on TV but all you have to do is read the Bible and it tells you how to deal with the male of the species.”

      “What?!”

      “Oh stop squawking.  It boils down to just one thing.  All you all really want is respect.  Guys just gotta have it … it’s like stamped into your DNA or something.  Just about everything you all do is about getting respect or keeping respect whether it is the right kind of respect or not.  There’s not much more to it.”

      Outraged he said, “Oh there’s not is there Granny?”

      “Well … you like to be fed and watered and scratched in all the right places on occasion but yeah … pretty much it is all about respect.”

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Chapter LVI


“What is it you want me to say Jude?”

      “First off, I don’t want you to say what I want you to … dang it, you’re doing it again.  Look, I want to hear what you are thinking.”

      “No you don’t.  I just tried to tell you and you got all snarky about it.”

      He sighed in exasperation.  “So forget I was … snarky.  Talk to me.”

      “Why?  I don’t see that it matters.”

      “Because I’m trying to figure things out.”

      “That doesn’t make any sense.  Why should my opinion help you to figure things out when you already have your own opinion?”

      “Because it does Granny, that’s why.  There’s things going on … expectations that people have … that you … you just aren’t seeing.”

      “What kind of expectations and why?”

      “It’s hard to explain because it hasn’t … look … nothing has been said outright but I’m beginning to get feelings about things and it’s weirding me the heck out.  I’m not sure what to make of it.”

      “Again, what kind of expectations?”

      “Just … just stuff.  When I’m for sure I’ll talk to you about it but for right now just let me keep it to myself because it has more to do with me than anything else.  As for why I want to know what you think?  Mostly just because I do … and I’m sorry I made you feel like I was trying to twist and turn you to make you have a particular opinion.  I didn’t mean for it to come off like that … some of it was just a natural reaction I guess.”

      “Tell people to leave you alone about their expectations.  You made some mistakes in the past.  You aren’t making those mistakes anymore.”

      He sighed.  “People don’t see it that way all the time Dovie and that is only part of what I’m talking about.  Now just tell me honestly, what do you think?”

      “I think people are by and large stupid and mean.”

      He gave a surprise cough, “Excuse me?”

      “You asked me what I thought and that’s what I think.  I think people as a whole are pretty much mostly stupid and mean with a great big helping of selfish in there too.  They are so busy pointing out the mistakes everyone else is making that they can’t be bothered to save enough energy to look in the mirror and do anything about their own mistakes.  Worse, it is always more important for the other person to get right with God before they do it themselves; it’s the only time I’ve ever seen people rush to let the other guy go first.  The world is nothing but a huge daycare center with more than its fair share of bullies and wimps and suck ups and rule breakers and meanies and toy hoggers and mischief makers and everything else.  To me it ought to be to let the punishment fit the crime … those rioters?  Kick ‘em all back where they came from, block ‘em in, and let ‘em duke it out with each other and let ‘em do all the damage they want; but they don’t get any help cleaning up the mess afterwards.  No money, no help, no nothing … let the consequences come home to roost and let them learn what it means to reap what you sow.  Let that go for everyone else, me and mine too.”

      “OK, that’s local but what about the war?”

      “What about it?  Those people came over here and killed thousands and thousands and thousands of our people.  Find where they are at, bomb them back into the abyss, then not give them anything else ever … no national charity, no food, no loans, no help, no nothing.  People that want to then go in and help them afterwards, that’s their business, but it will be ours to drop them off of the help list too.  We aren’t the only ones those terrorists hurt.  Get those countries as allies and then kick the stuffing out of the ones that did it.  Rock ‘em fast, hard, mean, and completely.  Then go back to our lives and live and let live.  That’s how you deal with bullies.  Kick ‘em hard and heavy in their private parts.  It might not stop them from trying again but I can gauran-dang-tee you they’d think about it first and won’t automatically assume victory.  And if they did do it again then you break them completely.  None of this fooling around business, just nuke ‘em from space if that’s what it takes to get people to leave us alone.”

      I could feel him looking at me though I refused to look at him.  “So you really wouldn’t have had a problem if Caleb and Jinx had been hung right outside in the yard?”

      I shrugged. “I was surprised that that is what the judge sentenced them to but they knew what they were doing Jude.  I know they are your friends …”

      “Were … and a long time ago at that.  Even if I had still thought of them as friends that night would have put a period to it.”

      “Ok, they were your friends.  I just meant I didn’t have the same connection to them as maybe you did or do.  It kinda bothered me in a way but on the other hand it didn’t.   They wouldn’t have stopped at me … they would have gone after Tiff.  They were just the type.”

      “Now Dovie …”

      “Don’t tell me that I’m exaggerating Jude.”

      “You saying it already happened?  That’s why she is like she is?  Quiet and … and that … that way she has of … I don’t know … getting out of Dodge when people start raising their voices?”

      “The reason why she became mine to protect is because the ward she was on at another facility … look, I don’t have all the details.  Staff stopped anything from happening, checked her over and everything but I was told when Paulie found her and Mimi and put them under my wing I asked the staff about nightmares she was having at the time and they filling me in.  Guys can be such jerks … grown men Jude.  And you know about the things that happened … nearly happened … on the road, or at least most of them you do and the rest aren’t worth bringing up.  I’m just saying I know people are crapheads and it’s not that they don’t know how to stop being crapheads, it’s that they don’t want to stop being crapheads.  So yeah, I wouldn’t have lost any sleep over it had they hung them here … but it would have been by the gully and not by the house; but not for me, but for the kids’ sakes.  And whether you are a homegrown craphead or grew into one in some other country … that’s the way people are; they’d rather be a bully than anything else, and thinking otherwise is just a fairytale people tell themselves to feel better.  God is the only One that can change people that much and he doesn’t do it by pushing a magic button but by offering people a chance at a change of heart.  Folks have to want to change and most just plain don’t.”

      Slowly he asked, “So you think this is a righteous war we are in?”

      “I’m saying that …” I stopped trying to word things carefully and shook my head.  “Had we gone in and crushed the enemy then got out and got back to minding our own business it would have been righteous.  I lost my father and brothers … and you could blame Mom’s death on it too … to the terrorists that insist on conquering the world and making everyone convert to their ways.  And because of that I feel I’ve got some say in this.  Our cause was just in the beginning but they’ve fooled around with it so much and made it about other stuff and I don’t know what all the end goal is supposed to be anymore.  I’m not even sure if anyone knows what the end goal is for any of the participants are anymore. It is just a rut that has taken over the world.  Everyone is so busy fighting that I’m not sure anyone is still looking at the big picture.  Regardless of who ultimately wins we are all gonna be losers because no one was decisive in the beginning; no one wanted to do what had to be done and give it some finality because they didn’t want to be seen as ruthless when that is exactly in my opinion what they needed to be.  So go ahead and think of me whatever you want to, you will anyway.”

      Instead of condemnation I felt him patting me on the back.  “You’re a lot angrier than you let show aren’t you.”

      “I don’t really want to talk about it Jude and frankly it doesn’t have anything to do with what we were talking about to begin with.”

      “I know you don’t want to talk about it but one of these days you’re gonna need to.  You … you can’t just keep working, hoping one of these days you are going to outrun all of these feelings and everything is going to be ok.  What do you think I was doing by drinking?”

      “Thanks,” I said sarcastically.

      His hand stopped patting and gently rubbed a couple of times before falling away.  “Maybe I didn’t say it soft and easy Dovie, but it’s the truth.  I’m not going to keep at you about it because having people talk at me didn’t help either but I’m here if you ever do want to talk.  But as for the rest of it … about people being crapheads?  I won’t disagree with you ‘cause I can’t.  And I guess I can see now why you keep your opinions to yourself … Mom and Aunt Twilla with their rose-colored glasses, Dad wanting to believe in the basic goodness of the folks he’s known his whole life, Butch thinking if everyone would just follow the rules, Clewis … being Clewis and finding a wife just like him.  The rest of them being themselves too, me included.  The way you say it would definitely make a couple of them uncomfortable and defensive.”

      “Exactly,” I told him.

      “But at some point maybe they need to hear it anyway.  I did.”

      I snorted in rejection of what I viewed as his tactics.  “Aw for … look, don’t start using psychology on me.”

      “I’m not,” he denied.  “But listen up Granny, you be careful when you talk to anyone outside the family.  You and I may not line up exactly on everything but we do on more than I started out expecting to which is … weird feeling.  But here’s a tip for free, I already caught on to the fact that private business needs to stay private when you are around strangers and a stranger is anyone not immediate family.  You don’t know who you can trust and who you can’t these days.”

      Jude was referring to the fact that he’d been working a week on the expansion of the checkpoint facilities along the highway and there’d been some things happen that caught a lot of locals off guard.  I asked him, “Anymore trouble?”

      “There’s some type every day.  We have Observers in the ranks but no one is for sure who they are but they are tattling what people talk about.”

      “Those DHS types you think?”

      “No thinking, I know.  And it is going to get worse before it gets better.  Commander Blankenship is being promoted and transferred to another area.  This new guy coming in – guy named Carlsburg - he comes from a local family but he hasn’t lived here since he was a kid; and the last thing he is going to be is impartial.  Blankenship was hard but fair; Carlsburg … I don’t have a whole lotta confidence in him from what I’m hearing.  Rumors from the area he was previously stationed already have him making plans to redistribute from the rural areas into towns. He seems to think towns are more valuable assets and they need to stop the rioting to keep damage down to a minimum to protect those assets.  Apparently civilized people live in town and only ignorant hicks live and work on farms these days.”

      “Uh oh.”

      “Yeah.  So here is why I needed to know what your opinion is so can you turn around and look at me when I’m talking so I can see what you think of it?”

      I had to change stairs to turn without being practically in his lap but when he was done I could see why he might have been hesitant at first.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Chapter LV


      Went to the church yesterday for the first time since the dinner-on-the-grounds.  It was nice but you could cut the tension with a knife.  Brother Shirley got everyone refocused on why we were supposed to be there but it took a bit and the initial singing was pretty pathetic.  By the time the sermon started however the hymns were pretty raucous – Power in the Blood, Give Me That Old Time Religion, Battle Hymn of the Republic, When the Saints Go Marching In; it really got the blood pumping.

      After church though we had to forego all the usual visiting and catching up because there are some pretty stiff new rules on people congregating in groups of any size for any purpose.  Church services are exempt – after a lot of tug o’ war with what I hear people call the powers that be – but it was a close thing.  Darn those rioters anyway; if they want to mess up where they live that’s one thing but why is it necessary for them to mess things up for the rest of us?  I’m afraid I’m just not thinking very Christian thoughts about people that can’t keep their own house cleaned up so seem to not be able to help themselves when it comes to making a mess in other people’s homes.  But then again, maybe I would feel differently if I was them … but I just don’t see myself ever being that. 

      Even as a kid, and that is despite the fact that some people still consider me one, I did what I had to to improve the lot of my family without making it harder on other people.  I accepted help when it was offered, but I never demanded help like I was entitled to it.  Some people might consider that I went to the Exchange as an entitlement but I look at it as something my father and brothers gave their lives for and I went for the family, not for myself alone.  And I’m not going to expect any more than what we already got; if it happens it happens, if it doesn’t then I’m not going to whine about it because I shouldn’t be counting on other people like that in the first place. 

      There are so many things going on out there in the world right now, I’m not sure what to make of everything; especially all these new rules.  Some people seem to think that compromising for safety’s sake is tolerable for a while.  Some people think any kind of rules and regulations might as well be a declaration of war against the people.  It’s hard to know what to think.  If people would just obey the basic rules and laws already on the books there wouldn’t be the need for everything getting like it is; but of course they don’t.  I keep my mouth shut and my opinions to myself even here at home because even in the family the opinion varies depending on who you speak to and how wound up they are at the time.

      Jude caught me down in the basement last night and I had a time of it trying to figure out how to answer him.

      “So, what did you think of church today?”

      I shrugged.  “Music seemed to get people in the mood, that’s for sure.”

      He nodded, “Sure did but I meant, well, not church exactly but the rest of it.  How people were acting.”

      “I think folks are plenty stressed out and some of them don’t seem to do much but complain about it.”

      “Some of ‘em can’t do much but complain about it because it’s almost too late to do anything else.”

      I rolled my eyes.  “No one ever has to complain, you choose to open your mouth and say the words.  And if all you have left is complaining, you shouldn’t do it blaming other folks for the spot you find yourself in from not thinking ahead and seeing where things might go.”

      “Little hard on folks doncha think?”

      “Yeah, probably.  But it’s not like I’ve exactly had it easy.  I know I’m lucky to be where I’m at and getting the help that I am.  But we’ve kept it in the family.  Too many of those folks are growling because they think the government – or worse, other folks that they think have more than they do – aren’t doing enough, that they should be providing them with things they think they have a right to.  They’re mad about social security, medicare, food stamps, commodities, subsidies, banks, taxes, wages, child support not being enforced, and I don’t know what all else.”

      He snorted, “You’re showing your age.”

      I shrugged.  “Oh yeah, like you’re so old.  And what do you want me to say?  I can’t help my age.  But you asked so I said. I just won’t answer you next time.”

      He shook his head.  “That’s not what I meant.”

      “Isn’t it?  Why do you think I stayed out of that conversation that you men were having up at the house at the noonday meal?  You bunch ask for someone’s opinion and then when they give it and it is different from yours you gotta set in to trying to change the person you asked or criticize them for what they think.  I swear if I hadn’t gotten up and left the table I would have dumped a bowl of greens all over Clewis and Crystal both.”

      “You don’t care for them much do you?”

      “Of course I do, they’re family.  What I don’t care for is their holier than thou attitudes.  I mean they’re almost like those what-do-you-call-‘ems you hear about on the radio … anarchists.  Everything is just fine and dandy if it gives them what they want when they want it but don’t you dare put any rules on them.  On the other hand they get bent out of shape when other people doing what they want when they want gets in their way.  Now does that make any kind of sense at all?”

      “Why didn’t you tell ‘em that?”

      “’Cause I gotta live here.”

      “Now who isn’t making any sense?”

      I hesitated before explaining.  “Look, you’re different.  I can handle you bossing me and the kids because you think before you boss … most of the time anyway and the times you don’t really don’t matter much because you’re usually right anyway.  You give more than you expect in return.  It makes it so much easier to trust and respect you.  But Clewis … and to some extent Butch and even Uncle Roe and the rest of them … they … they expect to hold a position for no other reason than their place in the pecking order of the family.  Butch is oldest male child.  Rochelle is oldest female child.  Uncle Roe is the patriarch.  I’m not saying that … oh I don’t know.  I’m done talking about this, I’ve got work to do.”

      “No, go on.  I’m wanna hear it.”

      I put down the basket of nuts I had meant to bring upstairs and leaned against the wall.  “Jude, one time I asked Dad why he saluted certain people.  He explained it had to do with authority.  But then I asked what happened if someone wasn’t as good as they thought they were and maybe didn’t deserve the authority they had.  So Dad explained about chain of command and how things are supposed to work.  The higher you go the more qualified you are supposed to be … because you earn your way there and you have more and more experience as you go up the chain.  Now that I'm grown I understand it doesn't always work that way, but it is supposed to."  I almost kicked him when I caught him trying not to roll his eyes when I said I was grown but did my best to ignore him and continued, "I give Uncle Roe obedience because I know he loves me even though it is mostly because of Mom.  It is also because he has done a good job of holding things together and has a lot of experience.  He deserves to be the patriarch of our family and deserves my respect for the job he has done and continues to do.  Butch is like his second in command down there even though I don’t think he really wants the job long term.  Farming was nothing he really wanted to do; he wants to drive trucks or maybe even have his own supply company.  You know how he is; telling all that stuff where it is supposed to be, how it is going to get there and when would just totally do it for him.  But he has done a lot of sacrificing for the family and means to do the best job he can even if it isn’t the job he wants.  I respect him for that, but he is bossy and Uncle Roe has to be there to knock the hard edge off of his bossiness.  Rochelle, as much as it pains me to admit it, is a rockin’ doctornurse.”

      Snorting in response Jude asked, “What’s a doctornurse?”

      “Whatever it is that Rochelle is.  That’s what I call it in my head.  The thing is, though she hides it, I know she is studying because I spied her through the window the other day face down in a book and sleeping.  Lorne told me not to say anything but that she falls asleep most nights just like that … studying all of those books she had for school classes she never got to take.”

      “You like to live dangerously,” he said.  “If Lorne told you not to say anything …”

      “I’m saying it to you so you’ll understand what I mean.  Rochelle still rubs me like a rusty cheese grater but I gotta respect her for the effort she is putting into things, for how she is trying to help not just our family but other people too.  Then there is Wendalene and her Rick, Lorne, Boo, River … they all are trying even though Wendalene is another one that makes me feel like she is pinching me every chance she gets.  She does know her livestock and she takes a lot of work off of Uncle Roe and Aunt Frankie.  Faith … for the life of me I don’t know what on earth she does.  It’s like her disappointment that life isn’t turning out the way she expected has drained her ambition for everything.  She’s just there … kinda sorta anyway. She hasn’t addressed more than a handful of words to me directly since I’ve been back.”

      “And does any of this have to do with my original question?” Jude asked sarcastically.  “They’re my family too.  I know they ain’t perfect but that don’t mean I’m afraid to have an opinion around them.”

      “I’m not afraid to have an opinion either, I just know that my opinion is better off kept to myself.”

      Getting irritated he said, “And what is that supposed to mean?”

      “It means that no matter what my opinion is there are so many people above me in the pecking order that someone will get their tail feathers singed over it … likely more than one.  And that means that they’ll do their best to sway me to their way of thinking because they don’t have much confidence in my ability to have my own opinion and it be a valid one.  And to be honest, I don’t need the trouble that would cause me.  And don’t tell me there wouldn’t be any trouble because that is just a fantasy.  Flying under the radar means that people can ignore me.  I start getting noticed and people might want to start doing something about me which would likely interfere with what I’m trying to do here with the kids.”

      “Crystal been talking again?”

      “Has she ever stopped?”

      “Probably not.  But … ok, you’re getting me turned around.  Forget about everyone else, I’m asking what you’re opinion of things are.  And I won’t go carrying tales to any of the rest of ‘em.  Just talk to me.”

      “You aren’t going to leave me alone about this are you?”

      “No.”

      I sighed.  “You are going to think this is a cop out but I don’t know what to think right now.”

      He gave a sarcastic agreement by saying, “Yeah, that’s a cop out.”

      Getting upset I told him, “Well I don’t mean it to be.  Look … there’s a war.  Regardless of who started it or why there should be rules because if we lose the war it will be worse than anything anyone around here imagines.  I’ve seen enough DBs … real live dead bodies … to last me a life time and I don’t want to see any more.  I’ve read enough history to know that whoever wins will be all over us like a mob of hungry crows pecking at our bones.  I’ve got those kids I promised I would take care of and I don’t want anyone or anything making it harder than it already is.  If people would just follow the rules things wouldn’t be so messed up.”

      “Now you sound like Butch.”

      “No,” I said shaking my head.  “I don’t believe in rules for the sake of rules.  I just mean commonsense rules and laws.  There doesn’t need to be a ton of them telling us what we have to do every minute of our lives, just general ones that fall on the side of commonsense and people minding their own business without doing things that interfere with other people’s lives and private business.”

“OK, that’s fine and dandy but reality is that people aren’t following the rules.  So what do you expect the rest of us to do?  Sit around and say nothing and let people walk all over us?”

      “I don’t know!  Stop pestering me about it!”

      “Dovie you are going to have to …”

      “See?!  You are just like the rest of them,” I told him, my feelings hurt enough that it surprised me.  “I can’t have my own thoughts and have you accept that they are my thoughts.  Oh no, you gotta make sure that my thoughts line up with your thoughts cause we can’t have dissention in the ranks.”

      I made to run up the stairs but he grabbed my arm, “Hey!  Hey I didn’t mean …”

      “Let go Jude.”

      “I will, just slow down and let’s talk about this.”

      “You don’t want to talk … you want to boss me into submission and cover it up by making it look like I just changed my mind and that the decision was my own.”

      “Now that’s not fair.”

      “Anymore fair than you telling me that you want to hear my thoughts, that you won’t go carrying tales, yet when I tell you what I think you try and beat me over the head ‘cause I’ve got thoughts to begin with?”

      He wanted to be mad for about two seconds and then sat down on the bottom step and tugged me down.  “C’mon, sit … I’m not gonna fuss at you.”

      Seeing as how he spread out in the narrow stairwell and I would have had to literally climb over him like a jungle gym to get back upstairs I sat, though it was definitely against my inclinations.