“Widdie,” a sad little voice whispered nearly into my nose. “I has a assident.”
My eyes popped open and then I wanted to close my nose. “Well, you sure did didn’t you.” Then I sat up in bed real quick realizing that the sun was streaming through the window and Kelly was standing by my bed looking heartbroken … and messy.
“Where’s your Daddy, Bumble Bee?” I asked Kelly.
Her bottom lip started to quiver and she said, “Daddy seepin’.”
My feet hit the floor and I went down the hall but before I even got there I heard Jax snoring. I looked at Kelly who had followed me and said, “Boy he sure is sleeping loud.”
I was hoping to get a little giggle but poor baby was just beside herself after having an accident. Well it wasn’t the first I had cleaned up one – the day care center was usually on the front lines of the potty training war – so I did what I had to do and gave Kelly a quick bath with some bubbles to make her feel better. After I cleaned her I stripped her bedding and hauled it downstairs to soak in a tub outside until I could get it washed. I had been bleaching the whites but was running low on that so I decided I’d use the peroxide; but, I would have to wait until Jax could help unload the barrels from the trailer.
I gave Kelly a piece of bread with jelly on it to tide her over and finally hauled her back upstairs with me so I could get dressed. I no sooner had my foot touched the top landing when Jax stumbled out of Kelly’s room in a panic. Kelly spots him and latches onto me like a vice, nearly strangling me which at the same time caused my nightgown to try for a little over exposure. I’m grabbing her and my gown at the same time … hadn’t even had a chance to change at that point … and didn’t know whether to pull it up on top or pull it down at the bottom. All the while Jax is just standing there with that been-hit-with-a-baseball-bat look on his face.
When nothing came out of his mouth despite the fact that his jaw was just swinging in the breeze I muttered, “Little clean up needed this morning. Gack … Kelly, you’re gonna choke my air off Honey, not so tight … and I think she doesn’t want you to know about the A-C-C-I-D-E-N-T.”
He finally seemed to get his brain out of reverse and shooting on all pistons and asked, “Did you take her out of the bed? I didn’t hear her calling. How long have you been up? I wish you would have woken me.”
Trying to address each thing he said I told him, “No. I don’t think she did. Not long. You were tired.”
He finally put things in order but then yelped, “She got out of the crib by herself?!”
“Apparently. I woke up with these little eyes staring at me over the edge of my bed. Don’t make a fuss Jax, she was really upset. I think it must still be that teething stuff you are talking about messing up her stomach.”
Well as soon as Daddy Jax got over his precious Bumble Bee not breaking her neck or any other bones climbing out of the crib for what he said had to be the first time ever … something tells me he just didn’t know about the other times since she was going on three years old … the two nominal adults in the house finally started the day.
Breakfast was more like lunch and not my best effort … instant grits, home-canned sausage patties, and drop biscuits … but it was quick and Jax volunteered to do the dishes since I had cleaned up Kelly. I wasn’t going to say no to that. From there I ran out to the barn where the chickens and rabbits let me know in their own way that I was a cruel and worthless human for messing up their feed schedule and that if I didn’t want to be pecked or gnawed unto the ends of time I had best not make such a grievous mistake ever again.
The rest of that day was taken up with things like finding the proper place for the stuff that came from the mill. Dad’s shop took the bulk of it and I was happy to see that Jax seemed to automatically use Dad’s organizing methods to put things away. Different barrels held different diameter pipes and rods. Gorilla shelving held well labeled tubs filled with fittings and other types of things. Vehicle maintenance stuff had its own area in the shed and was as well organized as everything else. Really long pipes were cradled by chains that were attached to the cross beams below the lofts with eye-screws.
Laundry was another chore that got accomplished and I would have kissed my father had he still been there to kiss. I couldn’t imagine having to clean those sheets by hand. While I was at it I just stripped all the beds and kept them going. The sun was shining and I had something to whiten the sheets with. All the sheets in the house were white with white embroidery work or white crocheted edging so I didn’t have to worry about bleaching any colors out and I finally agreed with my mother than all those hours carefully sewing the white on white designs was worth it; didn’t mean I didn’t want to do it again but it certainly made my life easier.
Going over the linens and doing the laundry made me realize that if the no one was ever going to claim those empty buildings then scavenging them might not be a bad idea after all. Jax had made me aware that I didn’t just have myself to think about anymore. Jax was about Dad’s size and I already knew from digging out some overalls that he could wear his old clothes but Kelly was another kettle of fish. She could wear some of the stuff in the attic but she would need underthings like “big girl panties,” socks, and other warmer clothes once the weather turned. Thanks to Mom’s habit of making things so they’d last I did have a few things. I also had enough fabric, yarn, notions, and other such sewing paraphernalia to stock a small quilting store.
“Hmmm?” His mouth full of an early dinner of canned Chicken a la King served over egg noodles.
“What do you think people are going to use to pay their bills?”
“All the money in the banks is probably toast … stolen, gone, destroyed, records messed up beyond retrieval, whatever. I know from listening to the radio that there is still a government out there in a bunker someplace and eventually they are going to come back out of hiding and try and start things back up. And if not them, some other group will try and do it … human nature.”
After finally being able to swallow he yelped, “Why do you want to bring that up for? Haven’t we got enough problems right now?”
“Sure we do but you and I both know that right now will be tomorrow before you know it. We are putting together plans for right and they seem to be fine … for right now. But what about tomorrow? This is my home Jax … and now yours and Kelly’s if you really mean to share it with me. It is paid off and I have all the papers to prove it; but what about taxes and things like that? You know governments always want taxes.”
Jax continued chewing but this time thoughtfully. “Lydie I don’t have an answer for you, not one I’m sure of. Too … too many variables. I suppose for a while we’ll trade work or stuff. Say we have too many watermelons and someone else has too many … I don’t know … turnips. We can trade and both of us will have what we want.”
I nodded, “That’ll work locally. At least it will if it is something we can grow. But I can’t see no federal revenuer coming along and saying, ‘Now see heyar young people, you’uns be owing us’ins ten percent of all you all produced this yar. You give me two dozen o them punkins, a double peck o’ them zukes, and a tenth o’ the corn in yore silo … add in a few dozen aiggs … and let’s see … a couple o’ them funny lookin’ carrot eaters and I reckon we’ll call it even.’” Returning to my normal voice I asked, “Can you?”
“Naw, not when you talk sound like my mother’s Aunt Beulah,” he laughed. “I take it you have as little liking for that sort of thing as your dad did.”
I nodded, “You might could say that. And another thing, what happens if they start taxing us for just having stuff or using stuff like they did during the Colonial days? Tea tax, coffee tax, taxing the number of glass panes your house had, the number of kids you had; frankly just about anything they could come up with.”
Getting a little huffy I said, “Then I guess we have us another Revolution.”
“That’s fine and it might just come to that one of these days. Dad had said we were coming to it anyway since most great civilizations eventually suffer sea changes, most of them violent. But whatever comes after that is still going to want their tax even if it is just a small one for maintaining a military force to protect our borders. Eventually someone is going to try and come put their hands in our pockets … it’s human nature. Even if it isn’t for money as we know it, it might well be for something else.”
“Gold, silver, that sort of thing I suppose.”
“Well I don’t have any of that. Do you? Dad had to use up what gold and silver he had been able to buy over the years to keep Will in medicine when the liquor wasn’t running.” Looking around and then under my chair just to be silly I asked, “And I don’t see Rumplestilskin around here spinning straw into that stuff either. You wanna be the one to give up your first born if the dragon comes calling because we don’t have what they want in the form they want it in?”
“Like hell I will!: Getting frustrated he said, “Look Lydie, I … I just don’t know. What kind of answer are you looking for from me anyway? You’re the smart one.”
I had hurt his feelings without meaning to and I did something I’d seen in the movies and I was anxious to see if it worked or would I get dumped on the floor. I stood up and hurried around the dinner table and wiggled into his lap and said, “Aw Jax, don’t be that way. If I didn’t think you were smart enough to understand my question I wouldn’t have asked you. You know I value your opinion.”
The last sentence was just too much for Jax; he went from surprised to laughing. “Just where did you think that up?”
I sighed, disappointed and tried to get up only he had decided I was going to stay put. I muttered, “I saw it in a movie. The guy seemed to like it well enough. And the girls would do it when we RPG’d and it always seemed to move things along.”
He laughed again and said, “Oh it’ll move things along alright. I’m just not sure if you realize what you’re moving.”
He laughed again and set me on my feet and said, “Lydie, I’m not mad at you for asking and I should know better than to act Kelly’s age just because I didn’t like the questions you’re asking. I’m just … I don’t know; I hadn’t really thought about it. I’ve been so consumed by keeping Kelly safe, fed, and clothed … scavenging is as far as I’ve thought at this point. Like I told Mr. Houchins, all I care about right now is us, anyone else … even my own cousin … is pretty much down my laundry list of things to do. I suppose we can look at them books in your dad’s office and see if he has anything on what might happen. Can it wait though? Do we need to think about that right now?”
I sighed and shrugged. “I guess not. I just don’t want it to catch us by surprise. I just can’t help thinking though it isn’t always going to be like it is right now. Eventually the salvage is going to run out. Eventually the government is going to come out of its hole and want its power back … or some form of it. And if it doesn’t, some other government from some other country – or their agents – are going to come sniffing around and I’m pretty sure we need to be ready. Even during the Dark Ages they collected taxes, if nothing else, to pay for wars or to protect people from wars.”
We both sort of picked at our food after that but as with everything else we were young, healthy, and were not the type to turn morose and stay that way. Our better natures kicked in and having Kelly around didn’t hurt either. Jax had nicknamed her Bumble Bee but she was more of a clown than a bee.
That night’s run to the mill was uneventful and relatively fast. We did see that something had been at the bodies of the dogs and pieces were missing or drug all over the place.
“Vultures maybe?” I said when Jax and I noticed.
He shook his head. “No feathers or bird poop. Enough birds to leave three big dogs little more than piles of bones should have left some type of sign behind. If it hadn’t been just last night I would have said insects as complete as they’ve been turned to skeleton. But look at that leg bone … something has broken it and likely chewed out the marrow.”
I shuddered, “I’ll take your word on it. I’m a farm girl but even I draw the line at some things … and it smells around here.”
“Yeah it does don …” He stopped and looked around. “Get in the truck Lydie and get going. The hauler is warmed up enough. Let’s get gone.”
“What’s wrong with you all of a sudden?”
“Tell you when we get on the road … go.”
Well, we went but it was a couple of hours later, after we’d hidden the tractor trailer down the old utility right of way that was overgrown but still passable so long as Jax drove slow, that he finally told me. “Pigs.”
“That’s what I smelled,” I told him feeling suddenly stupid.
“Probably drawn by the smell of the carrion. Could have been vultures on it but the pigs came up and finished the job. That’s why the bones were so scattered like that. No way did I want to meet enough feral pigs that could do what happened to those dogs, much less meet up with them at night.”
I agreed. Jax and I were tired. Not from specifically from the wood run but all the work we had been doing for a while plus the missed sleep the night before. The problem was we were so keyed up it was hard to get to sleep and Kelly was even worse. I dug out some old Looney Tune cartoon DVDs and hooked up the television in the room that Jax was using.
“Wanna stay and watch cartoons with us?”
Jax looked so hopeful that I said, “OK, if you don’t mind me doing my hair.”
Since it was up in a towel where I had taken a quick shower he said, “Nope. Actually, I’ve never seen it down. I … WOW!!”
I had taken the towel down pretty abruptly to make my point. “I know it is a mess, you don’t need to rub it in.”
“No! I mean that isn’t what I mean. Geez, I didn’t know you had so much hair! You had all of that in those braids you wrap around your head?!”
I threw a chair pillow at him which made Kelly laugh, pick it up, and do it a couple of more times for me. “Dad was kinda … well … strict. I wasn’t allowed to cut my hair until I turned eighteen. I’ve just … I don’t know … I guess I’ll get around to cutting it one of these days …”
“Awww why?” he asked.
I shook my head. Just like a guy to be goofy about the goofiest things. “Because the Rapunzel look is passé from what I’ve been told.”
I rolled my eyes and told him, “I don’t know. Why? Do you like long hair or something?”
Crawling off the bed to come over and examine what I was doing he said, “Yeah … I do. I mean its your hair but … but it looks …”
He was starting to breathe funny and I was starting to feel funny and then Kelly decided to be funny. “Daddy! Ook at the ooster! I say, I say, I say … I’s a chickie awk!”
Jax whispered huskily, “Later.” Then he turned and swooped over and picked Kelly up and said, “Stop dancing on the bed before you fall off Chicken Hawk. You’re about as noisy as that runt too. I say, I say.” Kelly giggled up a storm but finally settled down once Jax laid down prone on the bed to watch the cartoons with her.
While the two of them snuggled on the bed I sat in the chair trying to turn my rat nest into something resembling a head of hair. By the time I had finished it had gotten awfully quiet and I looked over to find Jax asleep and Kelly’s eyes bobbing closed for longer and longer stretches, finally closing and staying closed. I smiled and realized that this was what I had been missing so much … not a clan necessarily but a real family, one I could be a part of. I had never really considered being part of a ready-made family by being with someone that already had a kid but this seemed to suit me and I decided to forget what I might have wanted at one time and enjoy what I wound up with.
I got up and switched off the television and then turned to pull the covers up over the two of them. Jax had made sure that Kelly had gone potty and hadn’t had anything to drink in a while so I thought she would be OK. I turned quietly to leave but Jax’s fingers had suddenly reached up and snagged the bottom of my shorts.
In a tired whisper he asked, “Stay with us?”
Quietly I said, “I’ll squish you two.”
“No,” he said softly. “Just … just stay with us.”
If I hadn’t been so tired I might not have given in. But I did. I wasn’t sure what my parents would have made of the arrangements but if I was being honest the fact was I had stopped worrying about that so much. I knew my parents would have wanted me to be careful and use some sense, but at the same time they would have wanted me to be happy. Turned out I slept better that night than I had in a while, certainly better than I had expected to.
“Oomph! Kelly! What …”
“Daddee! Potty time!”
A groan and then a soft¸”Wow.”
I wanted to crawl under the bed but it was at that moment that I heard the rooster and I sighed. “Don’t look,” I told Jax. “I’ve seen myself in the morning. It isn’t pretty.”
“You’re right. You’re not pretty … you’re gorgeous.”
Well that’ll put a little wiggle in your morning. But a little was all we had time for. We got up and moving quickly, got dressed, ate, took care of the animals and the most immediate chores, went over the garden, then loaded up my old beater truck with a few odds and ends, attached the wagon and then it was off to the vacant trailers we went.