Sorry readers ... am out of town and have a hard time logging into my blogspot account from the access I have.
Cold. Wet. Cold and wet. And ice. Ick.
At first it was just cold and a little wet; then the rain really started coming down. It was like that for a few hours then the rain got lighter but the situation actually got worse. Trees started coming down. We could hear them crash.
Not afraid but definitely unnerved I said, “Carmine?”
“Hmm,” he grunted where we were both huddled upstairs around the fireplace there. We were trying to keep too much ice from forming by keeping the temperature in the house above thirty-two degrees. And if we were going to have a fire we might as well take advantage of it. We were also eating the crayfish and didn’t want the smell of them down in our room. If I didn’t pay too much attention to what I was doing they tasted good; when I noticed what I was picking apart and putting in my mouth¸ not so much. That was the trick of staying alive as a street rat; you eat to survive, but it isn’t always a good thing to pay too close attention to the shape of what goes in your mouth.
Uncomfortable with the nostalgia the crayfish and cold weather was bringing to me I continued, “Ice storms were bad in the city but not like this. Ever so often a storm could bring down a building but it was usually snow weight rather than ice that did it. I assume what I am hearing are trees falling.” He grunted an affirmative. “Just how much damage is there going to be?”
Carmine shrugged and then thought better of doing it again when he let in a puff of cold air under our blanket. We burrowed down and our body heat eventually drove the cold back outside the covers again. Carmine muttered. “Don’t know. Ice storms usually prune out the weak branches and some trees so how bad is relative. It only takes a quarter inch of ice to bring some of them down and I’m pretty sure we are going to get more of that a quarter inch. There’s already a half inch on the rail of the back porch last I checked last. Good thing for us is that around here the trees are primarily average-to-strongly resistant types to ice storms. There are some that give way pretty easy but I’ve looked around and we don’t have too many that surround the cabin that would be a danger. Nothing growing directly over the cabin but them aspens around the trail head are gonna give us a mess of wood for the pile if it gets cold enough for them to explode.”
I looked at him and tried to decide if he was pulling my leg or not. “Excuse me? Exploding trees?”
He laughed at the look on my face. “Usually happens in the early part of the year around here; if it happens at all. First you have to have a day or two where it is warm enough to make sure the tree sap is fluid. Then you need a sudden hard freeze. What happens is the sap freezes so fast that it doesn’t give the tree an opportunity to expand slowly. Think of it like … well … do you remember what a balloon is?”
As it happened I did. “Yeah, I know what they are. I hate them. They used to give them to the little girls at SEPH to make them stop crying. Stupid things always popped and then they would just cry harder.”
“Ok,” he backtracked. I could see he hadn’t meant to trigger such a bad memory and I shook it off; it wasn’t Carmine’s fault that I had memories like that. “Anyway, if you blow a balloon up too fast or hard it will explode because weak spots can’t adjust fast enough. Or better, say you have a closed glass container of water and it freezes; it breaks the glass expanding. Well, same for some types of trees only it causes the trees to shatter and they make a sound like a shotgun going off.”
I was full of crayfish and warm from shared body heat and had started getting drowsy when Carmine said, “Let’s head on downstairs. Getting too cold up here.”
Not wanting to move because it would mean waking up and getting cold again I mumbled, “I thought we would need to keep the ice off up here.”
“Not going to work. It’s dropping too far too fast. This is a bad storm for so early in the season. We were just sleeping on the ground last night and the night before. I hope Jerry got his people some place tucked up good.”
“They had hours to get away.”
He nodded, “True, but when you are traveling with a group of any size you move a lot slower. And those RVs aren’t really made for driving on icy roads. The only reason they were up this way is for the hunt. Their winter camp is getting hunted over because a couple of groups have made that area their year-round home.”
“Can they do that? Just take over someone else’s territory?”
He sighed. “Some people don’t think of the land as territory. The land just is. What is on the land can belong to someone but the land itself can’t.”
Getting a little irritated I said, “You aren’t going to start doing that ‘white man vs. everyone else’ thing are you? Because I’m not stupid. Just because I don’t know if any of my ancestors are Native American doesn’t mean I don’t get the concept. I got that a little bit from a few of Jerry’s people, not many but there were a couple. It’s like they were trying to make me feel guilty for something that my ancestors possibly did generations and generations ago.”
“Don’t be so sensitive,” he told me. “Things are different out here is all. I understand what you’re saying and it isn’t just Indians that do that … we got people of all makes and models out here that have baggage left over from different historical events. The Japanese bring up the internment camps of WW2, the Chinese bring up being the slave labor that built the railroads, the Mexi’s talk about how their ancestors used to own most of the West, the blacks bring up slavery … you only got a small taste of it and I can just imagine the ones that you got it from and don’t worry Jerry normally keeps ‘em in check by having them take a look in the mirror ‘cause they’re not full breeds and asks ‘em which side of their ancestry are they going to hate the most. I used to have to listen to people whine and moan and blaming other people for their current situation all the time as sec boss. It’s personal choice and a lack of personal responsibility that puts folks where they are, not who gave birth to them … it’s what they do or don’t do with what they’re born with that tells the tale.”
He shook his head, irritated at getting off track. “Look, you’ve got a lot of stuff going on in the Wastelands I doubt you’ve ever faced back East and most of it has to do with the type of people that have chosen to live here as well as those that have don’t have a lot of other options. There are folks that claim they are anarchists but they aren’t, not really, not in the strictest meaning of the word. Then you’ve got the feudal warlord types that watched too many TeeVids as a kid; crazy as a drunk pig most of them but that don’t make them less dangerous, maybe only more so. Then you’ve got the types like Gill who are idealists but who keep making the same mistakes as everyone else did that got us in this situation to begin with. Plenty of variation in those groups too so it gets too hard to put a single label on them. Then you’ve got the groups that are from the Outlands and back East that want to bring the Wastelands back into the fold so to speak.”
Curious I asked, “What kind are you?”
“A lot closer to your type than I am to the other ones.”
Even more curious I asked, “And what exactly do you think my type is?”
“You want to be free to live without having to worry that someone is going to come snatch you and take what should only be yours to give. You just want to be left alone and not have to worry about looking over your shoulder every minute of the day.”
He was right. I just want to be able to live and sleep without fear for a change. I was beginning to wonder if that was even possible. I must have dozed again because I woke up laying back against Carmine who was leaning against a thick lodge pole beam that supported the loft overhead. His hands were starting to go places that they’d never been before. I woke disoriented and jerked away; he tightened his arm around me.
“Easy. It’s just me.”
That stopped me and I turned and gave him a look and asked, “And exactly who else did you think I thought it might be?”
He back pedaled but it was a little on the clumsy side. “I’m … er … well … you jumped. I … well … I guess it was a dumb thing to say.”
I turned back around, “Not dumb just … don’t think I’ve ever made it a habit to let anyone get this close. Just because I didn’t always win the battles with SEPH it doesn’t mean that I let just anyone get this … er … close.”
Thoughtfully he asked, “What about Asa?”
Irritated at being woken and my reaction to his touch I said, “I thought we already had this discussion.”
“Well, we started it I guess. Now, this time let’s really move downstairs. When we start this conversation I don’t want it to get interrupted.” He was right, it was time, maybe passed time.
It was pitch dark in the cabin except for the few glowing coals left in the upstairs fireplace; we had to feel our way down the basement steps. As soon as we closed the door I could feel that it was going to be warmer than staying upstairs would have been. I hung a hide “blanket” across the door to keep drafts out while Carmine got the fire going toasty.
When he had finished he said, “C’mere.”
I wanted to give him a look but to be honest his goofy expresison kinda made me want to laugh. Apparently that wasn’t the effect he was going for because he asked affronted, “What are you laughing about?”
I shook my head trying hard not to let it out. “I’m … I’m not … not laughing.”
“Well, if you aren’t laughing it looks like dinner didn’t set too well with you.”
That did it. I’m not a person to let my feelings show very easily … well, except perhaps for contempt and anger and such … but with Carmine and some privacy I could let my walls down. “I’m … I’m not … not laughing … really … really I’m not.”
“Humph,” was all he said but he didn’t seem to be that put out by it. Instead he said, “Are you going to come over here or do I come to you? Either way is fine with me, just … it’s a lot warmer up here on this bed where we can share the covers.”
I gave him a look like I was considering it and then I gave in and said to heck with it. “Move over and don’t hog the space.”
“Can I help it if you’red just so …”
Looking him dead in the eyes I said, “If you want to get very far with this particular conversation I would not start ragging on my size if I were you.”
Carmine started smiling and said, “Oh ho … like that is it?” Then as I was kicking off my boots and climbing in he got serious in a way he hadn’t before. “You are a tiny little thing. And don’t go getting your knickers in a knot Gurl. I do worry a little about … er … hurting you.”
Trying to avoid his concerns I told him, “If SEPH couldn’t break me with their fold, spindle, and mutilate practices I doubt seriously if you can hurt me … at least physically.”
He sighed and then pulled us both down under the covers where we lay until the shivers … at least from the cold … went away. “Gurl, half the time I don’t … look, you … you may know things but at the same time there are things in this life you haven’t experienced. It’s the difference between book learning and life learning.”
I laid my head on his shoulder and he groaned. It made me smile. He felt it and groaned again. “You are not helping,” he complained.
I sat up enough to look at him and for him to see me. “Carmine, I’m ready … or as ready as I’m ever going to be. Just promise me … when you get to the point that you don’t want to be around me anymore that you’ll be honest and tell me up front. I don’t want to have to guess like I did with Asa.”
“When?” He groaned and kicked off his own boots. “OK, this is gonna stop before we go any further … and I do intend on going further so you better listen to me. It isn’t ‘when.’ And it isn’t ‘if.’ I’ve waited too long to find someone like you and I don’t aim on turning loose. I will if you toss me out, I do have some pride; but, it ain’t gonna because I wanna leave.”
I was touched, really I was, but I’m a realist to the bone. “Asa said that too. And he meant it too. I just don’t want you feeling bad when … well … we’re friends and I don’t want you to think I’m going to hold you to some promise that is making you miserable.”
Confused I asked, “Better what?”
“Better hold me to my promise. ‘Cause that’s what people that make promises are supposed to do. I’ve waited long enough for you … or an idea of you … and here you are and if you think I’m so stupid as to let you slip through my fingers you got another think coming Gurl. I’m not going to hold you captive against your will but I wouldn’t mind if you let me pretend every so often if you’re in the right mood.”
He was nuts. Certifiable. On the other hand I could not ever remember wanting to laugh the way he made me want to laugh. Only I didn’t know for sure if I was supposed to be laughing. Because it wasn’t that I was laughing because he was crazy but because he made me … well … he made me feel good … happy. But I wasn’t going to say that out loud. No way was I going to jinx things. So instead I decided to show him.
He finally pulled back and tried to catch his breath. “Whoa, whoa, whoa Gurl. What’s the rush?”
“I thought that’s what you are after.”
He snorted, “Between you, me, and the animals skins what I want is gonna knock your socks off … but we are going to go get it slow. By the time I’m through you’ll be in no doubt as to my intentions … my permanent and serious intentions … as in you’ve got me lock, stock, and barrel forever and ever, amen kind of intentions. Got it?”
I suppose it is like learning to ride a bicycle. At first I really didn’t know what all the fuss was about. I mean I wanted to but it just didn’t seem like something that would turn people inside out like it did. I was satisfied that Carmine seemed to be getting so much from it. But the more often he … er … gave me bike riding lessons the more I realized it really could be something. And then kapow … there it was and I was just as enthusiastic to explore the new facet of our relationship as he was.
The storm seemed to rage day after day after day. Three days then a day of calm. Two days and then half a day of calm before starting up again and not letting up for four days. Two clear days and then it slammed back into us again for another three. Occasionally we would get a little stir crazy but we occupied ourselves with practical things like working the furs and hides, bringing in wood, and melting and boiling snow for water to cook with. When we weren’t occupied with the necessities of living Carmine and I occupied ourselves with what he called honeymooning.
“Is that what it’s called?” I asked, having reached the stage of being so comfortable with Carmine that I could actually try to tease a bit for fun.
“It’s what it’s called when it’s between you and me. Or … at least that’s what I’m calling it.”
Uh oh, my teasing backfired. It felt so strange to see this incredibly strong man go all needy and in need of reassurance. He didn’t do it much and the only time he seemed to do it was with things that concerned the him-and-I thing. It gave me a strange feeling, like I had a power that I’d never had before. But like with all power you have to know how to wield it or someone was going to get hurt.
I went over to him and sighed. “I think I goofed. I was just trying to … er … play with you. The same way you do with me. I think … no, I know … I’m still learning the rules with all of this. If you want to call it honeymooning then I’m fine with that; that’s what we’ll both call it. To me you and I are pack and this cabin is our nest … but it really doesn’t matter where our nest is, we’re still pack … together, you know … forever if that’s what you want.”
That made him smile and draw me to him and the kind of power that came into the room then was the shared kind. “You don’t use the same words but you mean the same thing I do. And yes, I mean forever.” There wasn’t a lot of noise after that for a while.
All things have to come to an end eventually and finally, after nearly three weeks, the storm went away and stayed away and the sun came out. There were several inches of snow on the ground and beneath the snow was a thick layer of ice that had never had the chance to melt off.
Carmine and I stared at the mess from the porch of the cabin but we didn’t stay out there long it was too cold. I asked, “OK, so what did you do in Gill’s settlement when it was like this?”
He snorted, “I was mostly busy trying to keep the stir crazies from tearing things up at the saloon and making sure the border patrols all got back safe in case they’d been stuck out in the storm. This was a hum dinger and if it got as far as Gill’s I can guarantee that he’s got his hands full at the moment.”
I looked but didn’t see any signs of satisfaction at the idea. It made me realize something that I had only vaguely been thinking. “You really didn’t like leaving the settlement did you?”
“Huh?” He looked at me and then frowned, obviously chagrined. “Let’s just say I didn’t like leaving under the circumstances that I left under. But the way things were moving it would have happened … would have had to happen … one way or the other. Gill and I were fighting too much and his pride couldn’t handle the fact that I was no longer his devoted servant. It was like if I didn’t agree with him totally I was being totally disloyal. It was getting to be too much for me to stomach; I’ve got my pride the same as any other man. As far as the settlement goes, with any changeover there will be trouble but I have a feeling they’ll have more trouble than they expect. I had to bust heads on occasion but not as often as people said, certainly not as often as this new regime seems to want to. Most folks have some sense if you can talk them into using it but I don’t know if the new ones will know that or not. And I kept the freeloaders and takers from overwhelming the community. Kept the patrol groups sharp so that when we did have an incursion we handled it swiftly and with finality. Can’t say if it was me that I would trust the guys that Gill is letting in.”
Curious I asked, “Do you ever see yourself going back? Letting them know you are alive? Trying to pick up where you left off?”
He sighed and thought about it. “Part of me does but … I think I’ve found what I want right here. Maybe not here, here … if we are going to stay long term we need to find some place where we can grow some crops … but here as in with you. I don’t like to ever say never – it’ll bite you on the backside every time – but I can’t envision too many scenarios that would have me going back to Gill and his group.”
I looked at him and saw he was serious. I told him, “Good. They were starting to feed on themselves – like a pack with a weak leader and no direction. Too much infighting and too much … I don’t know Carmine. I just don’t think it is a healthy place to be and I’m glad I don’t have to follow you back into it.”
That gave him pause, that I’d follow him even against my personal wishes. “What about Asa?”
I shrugged. “What about him? Asa chose his path. Maybe he and I can be open friends again – I don’t hold anything against him no matter how it ended – but I don’t go looking to get hurt any more than I can help it. Asa made his choice and that was Violet; the rest of it isn’t any of my business. He’ll either deal with his demons or not. For the rest of it … that’s none of my business either unless you going back makes it my business.” Wondering I asked, “Did any of that make any sense?”
He chuffed. “Yeah. Yeah it did … and I’ll get over bringing up and testing the waters where Asa is concerned. Just give me some time.”
“I didn’t say anything about that.”
“I know you didn’t but you’ve thought it … and so have I. I feel like an idiot boy every time I do but can’t seem to stop myself. The … the two of you could have been good together. You were and I was jealous as … well, it was bad and I acted like an ass to hide it.”
Turning from the pot of soup that we had been cooking I looked at Carmine and said, “Maybe, but at the same time that’s why you brought me the horse and that’s why you were so bent I got beat up wasn’t it? I didn’t understand what your game was … and part of me wishes you had … had tried to get my attention sooner. Maybe with more options I wouldn’t have jumped at Asa’s offer so fast. Be that as it may, Asa and I didn’t turn out that too well and that’s just the way it is. Mostly it was Asa but maybe some of it was me too. I … I think I tried to fix him or be with him to fix him. I could have left it alone and accepted him the way he was but it always bothered me that he seemed so sure in most of his life except in that one area. I thought maybe, since I survived SEPH and all they did to me, that I could help me. My mistake. It was the wrong reason to be with him. And I was too full of myself to see it until it was too late and he was so miserable he couldn’t even stand to be around me enough to tell me the truth.”
Carmine growled, “Last I saw, Asa was a grown man. He could have …”
I leaned over and kissed him, catching him completely off guard because it wasn’t something I normally did. “Over and done with and in the past. You asked, so I explained, but that’s all it is Carmine; a piece of my past that needs to stay in the past. Digging up bones rarely brings anything good. Asa and I both made some mistakes. I’m owning up to mine and this time I made a flaming brilliant choice about who I’m with. He’s a terrific person who I know I can trust with my back … and my front.”
Carmine gave me a bit of a stupefied look and asked, “Is that a fact?”
“A grade A gold one.”
“Well now, I do believe you are brilliant at that.” We both smiled and soon our dinner was dished up into a couple of large, mismatched mugs I had found and used as soup bowls.
Carmine mentioned, “Good thing you found and dried what you could before you got sick. If we had to depend on what was in my supplies alone we’d be hurting before spring got here. Between your clumsy elk and then the buffalo, elk, and mulie we’ll be set for dried meat as long as we’re cautious and we can try and bring in fresh to add to it … we’ll need the hides anyway.”
I shrugged. “I didn’t know you would be coming.” After a pause I told him, “I think Some One was looking out for me again when you did happen along. There’s no telling what would have happened if you hadn’t found me when you did.”
Carmine shuddered, “Don’t remind me. You coulda been dead twice over … shoulda been after that cat got you.”
I shrugged again. “Almost got me. Almost doesn’t count for much in this life. SEPH almost made my worst nightmares come true … but they didn’t. I think I would rather be dead than walking the path they had wanted for me.”
Thoughtfully Carmine said, “I … I haven’t teased you into telling me. I still won’t if you don’t want to. But … but if you do trust me I wish you would tell me.”
Not sure I wanted to go into it I asked, “Why?”
He sighed and looked into the flames. “I’ve had my own run in with them people … or those like them … but it was years ago, before it got the acronym SEPH. Had to do with my first wife. Her father was … well … he was a doctor and looked down his nose at me for a lot of reasons. His daughter …” He scrubbed his face with his hands. “Been a long time since I thought of all this.”
I leaned against him and pulled the buffalo hide around us. “Carmine, if it bothers you that much why bring it up again?”
He looked at me and I was reminded in a way I wasn’t too often that he had ten years or so of life experience on me. “Because sometimes there is profit in digging up bones.” He sighed. “Let me hold you while I get this off my chest. Next to Gill you’ll be the only one that knows the whole story. I’d rather tell you now than let it sneak up on me down the road some place and have you wondering why I kept it from you, having you wondering why I never trusted you enough to tell you.”