OK, I’ll just flat out admit it right here, I enjoy all the parts of being married. Jude and I were close before but now … just wow. Every day that goes by some part of it seems to get better. Oh, not that things are easy but easy isn’t what makes better, better gets made from work.
It hasn’t been as awkward as I thought it would be sharing a room with Jude in front of the kids. In fact it has turned out to be natural. Every so often Paulie will come to me privately and ask an awkward question but a simple answer usually sets him at ease or satisfies his curiosity. And the questions are coming farther apart, like he’s getting comfortable with sharing me with Jude in a way that perhaps he hadn’t been before. Or maybe I am just reading something into it that isn’t there. It is working out whatever the origin of his questions, so I’m not going to rock the boat.
After the wedding we had one humdinger of a snow storm but since then all we’ve had is cold. I’m not just talking about normal cold but cold as in you step outside without gloves and a hat you are going to be in serious trouble kind of cold. One of Rochelle’s boys got the next best thing to frost bite on the ends of his fingers from getting his gloves wet fooling around breaking ice down by the creek. Let’s just say Rochelle went Mama Bear all over his backside and gave the rest of the kids a good what for as well. They weren’t supposed to be down by the creek to begin with much less playing in it. Now the kids are restricted to their respective yards except for Paulie who has been deemed both old enough and mature enough to follow directions.
To no one in particular he grumped, “Gee, thanks. Now I’m the only one that gets to be a runner between both houses.”
Jude said, “Felt the same way at your age. You’ll appreciate it one of these days.” Then Jude winced. “Geez, I sound like Dad.” I laughed knowing how he felt; I’d been noticing that I sounded like Mom every so often myself. Paulie wasn’t offended and actually laughed at the horrible face that Jude had made so all was good.
Work slowed way down for Jude and the other men here on the farm. Or let me rephrase that, paying work slowed way down; work and projects for here on the farm were just as busy as they ever were if not more so. One of the projects that the men finally had time for was the ice house. We were lucky that the hole was already below the frost line and that no digging in frozen ground was necessary. But that was the only easy thing about the job.
A horrible lot of junk was pulled out of the hole. Grass, leaves, old limbs, bits of old furniture, and then there was the metal stuff most of which was so rusted you could only guess what it had started out as sometime back in the dark ages. There were a few skeletons down in there too but happily none of them human.
We burned off what could be burned off and then piled the metal bits and blobs into a wagon to haul them off to the mandatory recycling center. Most people would have ignored the “mandatory order” if there hadn’t been an incentive of a cash reward per pound. You had to sort the scrap by type of metal and some metals were more valuable than others but to keep the scavengers from robbing houses and farms, you had to prove ownership for most items like house siding (your mortgage papers), frig or stove (warranty papers or purchase receipt), copper piping or wiring (plumber’s bill, electrician’s bill, or receipt for replacement parts), etc. It made the process of turning in the scrap more tedious and time consuming but that was the whole point … most thieves want a quick buck and to get out the door without having to give their names.
We used the duly notarized ownership papers for Uncle Roe’s farm and just said we were cleaning out the gully. Some guy from the environmental agency was there and made a big deal out of how good a thing we were doing. We left Butch to handle it as he had a much higher tolerance for that type of stuff than we did. And for bonus points Jude and I were able to time it so that I was able to go to the Exchange and lucked out that I was able to go to the Bx at the same time as well. I spent a hefty amount at the Exchange and then pretty much cleaned out the rest of the card on shoes at the Bx.
I have to say the Exchange was run completely different from the way that it had been the other time I was there. For one the line was a whole lot longer to get in. For two, the restriction on the number of items you could buy was gone as well but it didn’t seem to matter. People would walk in, take forever to decide what they wanted, and then only walk out with a very few items. The last difference was the strangest; most items were sold in bulk and were kept behind a long counter or in the back warehouse. There were some individually packaged items for sale but they were behind another long counter. You had to fill out a slip for each item you wanted to purchase then you would hand your slips to a clerk who would then measure out each item and bag it up and put a label on it. Before they would do this you had to give them your benefits card to show you had enough points or cash to make the purchase.
The guy that took my slips when it was my turn just about went cross-eyed. “Are you sure this order is correct?”
“Yes,” I told him primly. “Here is my card to validate to show I have enough points.”
The guy got suspicious, called over a manager or supervisor or whatever they are called, and I got royally interrogated. Lucky for me that Jude was there because I was fast losing my patience. I snapped at the latest supervisor that questioned me, “Look, I’ve done everything exactly like your sign said I needed to do and did it before I got up here so that you wouldn’t have to wait on me taking forever to dot the I’s and cross the T’s. I was trying not to hold up the line.”
Jude put his hand on my shoulder to gentle me and said, “Easy Dovie, I’m sure these fellas are lashed down with rules six ways from Sunday. On top ‘o that I bet they get kicked hard for any little thing wrong with them receipts at the end of the day.”
I looked at him and gave him the suspicious squinty-eye for his good ol’ boy act. “Maybe,” I responded. “But how the heck am I supposed to mess around with the info on that card when Commander Blankenship had the stuff put on it? It doesn’t make sense. Don’t military computers track the data? Are the computers bad do you think? Maybe they need to …”
“No, no, no … nothing wrong with our computers. We’re hardened against hackers.” Which told me they likely hadn’t been at some point and that they had had problems. “And that is former Commander Blankenship … Commander Carlsburg is in charge now. It is simply a matter of getting the correct approval. You are a double negative.”
At that non sequitur I responded, “Yeah. So?”
“Commander Carlsburg has ruled that all DNs are to be tracked and …”
That made the hair on the back of my neck stand straight up and my temper get just a little hotter. I’d already suffered under the harsh hand of “the state” once for being a Double Negative, I wasn’t going make it easy on them to do it again. “I live in the county, not within the city limits. And I’m already on file with the military as you can plainly see by my ID. Maybe I should contact …”
An obviously senior staffer came up and hurriedly said, “No!” Quickly changing to a more weasley countenance he said, “That won’t be necessary. Of course we must be zealous of the safety of our community but since you are already on file I believe we have everything we need.” He turned to the poor, hapless clerk and ordered brusquely, “Finish this order so they can leave.”
I held my tongue after that but once Jude and I had everything in the wagon I asked, “Do I have cooties or something?”
Jude snorted, “I was wondering if you noticed that. Let’s get you out of here and back home. Something unhealthy is going on around here. Even the hair in my pits is curling.”
I rolled my eyes but refused to run like a rabbit. “Not until I finish what I came to do. I refuse to be scared off. I’ve done nothing wrong.”
“Now hold up. I didn’t say you had done …”
“I know you haven’t. If I’m reading your signals though you won’t want me or the kids coming to town any time in the near future … or at least until you have things figured out.”
“And?” he asked defensively.
“And nothing. Once we get out of here I’ll be happy to be the obedient wife even if it does make me feel chuckle-headed. However, I figure since we’re here we might as well do what we said we were going to do which is empty this card. Just let me go into the Bx, get the shoes, and then you can hide me away all you want.”
“Not a matter of hiding you away Sweetheart.” I gave him the look Mom had always given Dad under similar circumstances. “Oh fine, maybe it is. I just want to keep you and the kids away from what looks to be a developing mess. I don’t like what just went on, something doesn’t feel right. Next thing you know they’ll be asking all of the DNs to pin white stars to their outer clothes … or maybe get tattooed across your forehead,” he said, ending on an irritable note.
I put my hand on his arm. “We already are tattooed if you think about it … we’re chipped. And for the record, I agree with you; it doesn’t feel right to me either. But we have needs. We’ve already talked about this. Come planting season things are gonna be hard enough for you to bring in money. We can’t know when or if I’ll be using the benefits again … might only count for Paulie once our marriage gets officially recorded. Let’s use what we’ve got access to right now and then not worry about it again for a while.”
Jude didn’t like it but he recognized the truth of it. “Can’t afford to leave the horses in the stable anymore and it is too cold to leave them standing. Couldn’t anyway ‘cause we’re loaded with goods.” He stopped and thought. “Do you object to buying used?”
I rolled my eyes. “Do you remember who you are talking to?”
An unwilling chuckle escaped him. “Sorry. Just mean the Bx has an outdoor sale area where they set up their thrift store. They take bennie-cards there plus I can keep an eye on you without leaving the wagon.”
I nodded my agreement but added, “If I had been smart I would have gone to the Bx first and then the Exchange.”
“We didn’t find out the Bx sale until we were already in line inside the Exchange otherwise I would agree with you.” He pulled up to the drop off point. “Need help getting down?”
“No. I’ll get done as quick as possible. I’ve got our list and I’m sticking to it.”
“Just be careful. And remember we still need to go get Butch though knowing him he is still jawing with folks at the fuel depot.”
I nodded once again and then hopped down. And I was quick with my shopping; not as quick as I had meant to be but I didn’t lollygag either. I had to look through the shoe section and really dig in bins to find boots for Paulie. Luckily he had big feet and could wear a man’s size nine. Corey and Mimi were another problem but I finally found several matching shoes of various sizes in a large pile of cast offs that barely cost anything. As soon as the ground dries up I’ll switch them to moccasins and then sandals once it turns warm.
I found a pair of boots for Clewis as well; the sole was flopping on the one pair of winter boots he had. The only other items I needed for sure were bras for me. Mom’s didn’t fit and I had felt totally strange trying them on. The ones I had were getting uncomfortably raggedy. Underwear I could sew but a good support bra was another thing unless I wanted to use a bikini top pattern and I wasn’t that desperate yet. I also don’t have any desire to wear double barrel slingshots made out of bandanas, ace bandages, or halter tops which is what I heard Faith and Wendalene leaned towards. I was more like Rochelle and Aunt Frankie though without the proportion issues … I didn’t mind a little jiggle when I walked but too much was just too much and made me irritable and self-conscious.
Then it turned out I had to buy a laundry bag because they didn’t provide boxes or bags for the thrift store which meant getting out of line and hunting around some more. By the time I was walking out of that area I was more than ready to get outta Dodge. I put the bags in the wagon bed and then climbed onto the wagon seat. Jude took one look at my face and asked, “Somebody give you a hard time?”
I answered, “People are idiots.”
“Yep. Any idiot in particular bother you?”
I heard the protective tone in his voice and did what I could to shake off my anger. “Just more of the same as at the Exchange.”
“You sure that’s all?”
“People are stupid. I sure hope this crud doesn’t spread. I don’t know what I’ll do if people at church start acting this way. I don’t know how I would explain it to the kids … not because they haven’t seen people act this way but because they’ve never had anyone they really knew turn on them because of it.”
“Hmm. Explain crud.”
“Like in the beginning of it … at least what I heard after we had been quarantined. Anyone that was a DN were viewed with suspicion and thought of as a foreigner even when they weren’t. We just about lost all of our Constitutional rights in quarantine. And you remember how that guy Hennessey was; guys like him were pretty typical of the staff in quarantine.”
“Lotta people like that at the Bx?”
“Well, maybe not a lot, but enough. I heard so much whispering and felt so many eyes on me – unfriendly eyes – that I feel like I need a bath. It was like being in a tank of slimy worms all rustling against each other and me.”
He reached over and gave me a hug. “Sorry Sweetheart. I should have …”
I wouldn’t let him feel bad. I said, “You don’t have anything to be sorry for, let’s just pick up Butch and head home and get away from this stuff. I’m done with town for a while but I’m still glad we got done what we did, at least we got that accomplished despite folks’ attitudes.”
But picking Butch up proved a little more difficult than it should have.