Monday, December 18, 2006

Tin Soldier - Book One, Chapter Twelve

It was hard for Donovan to believe he had been at the farm a year. It was harder still to take in the ways his life had changed. Here he was, a city boy, walking beside a hay cart tossing in alfalfa from the winrows where he and Amalia had raked the drying hay the week before. He was still trying to get the hang of forking and tossing it without losing most of his hay to the wind. Amalia, working the other side of the cart, was an expert, but tired more quickly than Donovan, who had the advantage of strength.

When the cart was full, they sent Will to the barn while they remained behind. They raked up the leavings, then propped their tools against the fence. Tired and hungry, they wandered toward the creek in companionable silence. While Amalia retrieved their lunch from a cool, muddy spot in the shade, Donovan considered the creek.

"You going to jump in?" Amalia asked as she set out some hard-boiled eggs, cheese, bread and apples. "That water's pretty cold this time of year. It comes down from the mountains, you know."

He put his hand in the flowing water. "It's not that cold."

"Get in. You'll see."

"Maybe I will. But not now." He sat beside Amalia and accepted a glass of water. "Sure is a pretty day," he observed, looking at the brilliant blue sky.

"I was thinking the same thing." Amalia handed him a piece of bread smeared with goat cheese. "Days like this make me love living on the land." She took off her straw hat, shook out her hair in the breeze and smiled. "Most people used to work indoors all day and I used think I would've liked that, but not on days like today."

Donovan took a bite of bread and chewed thoughtfully. "On a day like this a person could see doing this sort of thing forever."

"What would be better?" she asked, reaching for an egg.

"Nothing, of course."

"Cities and towns are still in chaos, you know. Raiders and Guardsmen are looting and killing people along the main roads. There are wars in crazy places that no one can keep up with any more. Maine, Vermont, Texas, and parts of California have all seceded." She picked at a bit of eggshell. "We're lucky to be away from it all."

Donovan took the egg out of her hand and kissed her long and slow. "Don’t worry. I’m not going anywhere." He jumped up and took off his shirt.

"What are you doing?"

"Time for that swim, remember?"

"You're crazy. That water's freezing. I bet you don't know how to swim, anyway."

He struggled out of his boots and socks, then took off his pants. "I can't let that stop me."

Amalia smiled as he wiggled out of the last of his heavy work clothes. His taut, muscular body held no end of fascination for her, in spite of the horrific scars on his shoulder and thigh. If anything, she found him more attractive because of the scars. They were like a decoration, a reminder that not even the perfection of his smooth toffee skin was immune to the ravages of an uncertain world. She started to go to him, but thought better of it and settled back on the blanket.

The creek was too shallow for diving, so Donovan waded in. He was only up to his knees when he looked over his shoulder at Amalia. "You're right. It's cold!” He laughed and waded out a little deeper, shivering. Then he ducked \and attempted to swim. After a few minutes of splashing around and getting nowhere, he burst out of the water, ran up the bank and threw himself, dripping, onto the blanket. "Damn, that was cold!"

Amalia ran a hand along his back. "You're half-frozen."

He rolled over and grinned up at her like a cat. "Warm me up."

"I don't think so. Will will be back with the wagon soon."

"No he won't. He'll have lunch with Tasha and Carina first."

"Are you sure?" Her eyes darted toward the path back to the house.

"Pretty sure." He drew her down on top of him. "And if he happens by, a little education won't hurt the kid."

"We're supposed to be protecting what's left of his innocence." She let him kiss her, then after a token resistance, relaxed into his arms.

"Innocence isn't any fun." He kissed her slowly, as if he had all day. In the warm autumn afternoon, it was easy to forget time was passing and there was work to do.

They were fumbling with her clothes when they were arrested by a sound of voices and hooves on the trail. Cursing, Donovan grabbed his clothes and began pulling them back on. Amalia sat up and buttoned her shirt, then attempted to do something with her hair as Will and an unknown boy on a chestnut mare came into the clearing.

Will looked from one face to the other and although both Donovan and Amalia were now decently dressed, his eyes lit up with amusement, as if he knew he had interrupted something. "This is Marco. He comes from Jonasville and says he has a message for you."

"Couldn't Carina. . ."

"No, ma'am," Marco said. "The man said you or Donovan. No one else." He looked at Will. "Not even you."

"What?" Now it was Will's turn to be annoyed.

Donovan felt a lump in the pit of his stomach and suddenly the golden afternoon felt cold. "It's nothing personal," he told Will. "Did anyone else see Marco arrive?"

"No. I saw him while I was taking back the cart. I think Tasha and Carina were already at the house, or maybe in the barn."

"Good. Don't tell them anything, understand?"

While Donovan reassured Will, Amalia opened the letter. Alvi had taken the trouble to write neatly, using the simplest possible words in case Donovan had to read it on his own. Amalia read the entire thing at a glance, but continued staring at it as if she could will it into nonexistence.

"What does it say?" Donovan asked.

She handed it to him without a word, then walked to the creek, sat down on a warm rock and sat staring, unseeing, as the water rushed past her feet.

It took Donovan a minute to puzzle out Alvi’s message, but when he was through, he crumpled it and shoved it in a pocket. "I don't have any money with me," he told Marco. "But if you can wait until we go back. . ."

"No, I need a return message right away. I don't care about a tip. I'll get a bonus if I get back to town fast."

"You should at least let us feed and water your horse. We'll check it out and make sure it's sound."

"Carina isn't going to want to see that horse," Amalia said from the creek bank.

"I'll do it," Will offered. He turned to Marco. "Come on. We'll go back to the barn."

"Don't—" Donovan called.

The boys stopped. "What?" Will eyed him solemnly, having guessed by now at the contents of the letter. "Were you planning on not telling her?"

"When and how we do that is up to Amalia."

Amalia walked back to them. Her jaw was set and every move of her body was a study in barely suppressed anger at the fate that had given her this task. "There's never going to be a good time. We may as well go back together and get this over with."

* * *

At first she seemed to take it well. "It's not possible," Carina said. And since it wasn't possible, she didn't have to believe it. This lasted maybe an hour and gave the family enough time to get Marco on his way.

Then she began pacing.

Back and forth across the living room floor, sometimes down the hall to her bedroom, which was all wrong, then back to the living room and kitchen, which weren't right either. She haunted the rooms, staring at nothing and everything in confusion. It just wasn't possible that everything could have changed, yet still look exactly the same. Her movements became more agitated. Donovan handed the children plates of tortillas and late summer vegetables and sent them to their room while Amalia tried to do something with her sister.

"Honey, sit down, won't you?"

Carina paused to stare out a window, then started moving again. She wandered to different items in the room— table, bookcase, painting, Indian blanket, staring at each thing in turn with unseeing eyes as her breathing became more agitated. Her gaze fell upon the mirror hanging on the wall and before Amalia could react, she tore it from its hangings and dashed it to the floor.

The sound brought Donovan running as Carina began grabbing everything she could get her hands on, wordlessly and methodically destroying it. She picked up vases and smashed them, she upended a small table. She tried to rip the recently mended sofa cushions, but found that activity unsatisfactory and hurled a small footstool toward the window instead, where it thankfully missed the glass and crashed against the wall. She didn't scream cry. She was on a simple, silent mission to obliterate everything she came into contact with.

Donovan met Amalia's eyes. "Should we stop her?"

Carina paused in the act of ripping a picture off the wall, walked over and slapped him.

Amalia came up behind her and Carina whirled around. Donovan grappled her from behind, pinning her arms to her sides. "Stop it."

As if a human touch was all that was needed to release her voice, Carina screamed in long anguished wails that quickly robbed her of the strength to fight as Donovan pulled her to the floor. She collapsed in a heap, shrieking like she would never stop.

Amalia motioned Donovan away. "Might as well let her get it out."

He wasn’t so sure. He tried to put an arm around Carina’s shoulders, but she kept screaming as if he wasn’t there. He looked at Amalia in concern.

Amalia shook her head, located the damaged footstool and sat down to wait. At one point the children appeared in the doorway, wide-eyed with concern, but she hurried them back to their bedroom, telling them this was “grownups’ business."

Donovan watched Carina’s heaving shoulders, waiting for just what, he wasn’t sure. It seemed she was going to do this all night. Didn’t she at least need to breathe?

Finally the timber of her voice changed. The screams dissolved into keening sobs and this seemed to be what Amalia had been waiting for. She sat on the floor and pulled her into her lap, rocking her back and forth and letting loose a flood of words that Donovan couldn’t make out. When she finally looked at him, tears were streaking her own face, too. “Get a handkerchief,” she said. “Get several. And a glass of water.”

Donovan rushed to take care of these small errands. He returned with a stack of clean cotton rags and a cup of cold water from the jug in the kitchen pantry. Amalia wet one of the rags and wiped Carina’s face, which stopped her tears for a moment. She took a few deep breaths, then buried her face in Amalia’s lap and continued crying.

This went on until they had worked their way through nearly half the stack of rags. By now even Amalia was starting to show signs of concern. “Aren’t you tired yet, honey?” She rubbed Carina’s back and shoulders, but this seemed to set off more gasping and tears. She motioned to Donovan. “I need to get something. Could you?” She deposited Carina in his arms.

She was gone a long time, and when she returned she was carrying a fresh rag and a bottle that Donovan thought looked familiar. “I hate to do this,” she told him as she dampened the rag. Donovan moved back while Amalia held the rag over Carina’s face. She struggled only a moment, then lay still.

Amalia set the chloroform aside. “Let’s put her to bed. Hopefully we won’t have to go through this again tomorrow.”

She was so light that Donovan carried her without any trouble. They laid her on her bed and Amalia began stripping off her clothes. “Get a cool washrag so I can clean her up."

When he came back, he found Carina asleep under a quilt. He sat beside her and wiped her red, puffy face. “I had no idea anyone could cry that long."

“She hasn’t cried since we moved out here.” Amalia sat on the other bed and looked around the room at the pictures and memorabilia. “I knew it had to catch up with her sometime. You can’t go that long faking it and not have it build up inside.”

“So what happens now?”

“I have no idea.”

“Alvi’s letter said. . .“

“Yes. I guess at least one of us is going to have to make the trip to Jonasville.”

“I can go.”

Amalia shook her head. “It’s a federal town. Even with your papers, it’s not safe. Besides, they’ll want to see proof of kinship.”

“Alvi will make sure they release the body.”

“Why do you say that?”

Obviously she didn’t know Alvi was a spy. “Just a feeling I have.”

She dropped her head. “Miles was a nice man. I was fond of him. He would’ve been a big help to us, and to the valley, but mostly I was hoping. . .“ she looked at the still form of her sister.

“Do you want to come to bed?” Donovan asked, taking her hand. “You must be exhausted.”

“I’m going to sleep in here tonight, in case she needs me.”

“Can I stay with you?”

Amalia buried her face against Donovan’s chest, wetting his shirt with her tears.

An hour later, Will and Tasha dared peek in the room. They found Carina still unconscious, Donovan and Amalia curled up asleep in the other bed. The children looked at them, then at each other in puzzled silence. Then Will pulled the door to and they walked away, whispering to each other in the darkened hallway.

* * *

It was daylight when Donovan awoke. It took him a moment to remember where he was. He looked at Amalia, still sleeping in his arms, and shook her awake. “We overslept.”

Amalia opened her eyes with a start, looked around the room in confusion, then went to check on her sister. Carina hadn’t moved during the night, but her breathing was deep and regular. “I wonder how long she’ll sleep. I have only the vaguest idea how to dose that stuff. We get it on the black market and you never know.”

“She looks okay to me. She’ll probably wake up in a bit.”

“I kind of hope not.” Amalia looked out the window, rubbing her neck. “We’re getting a late start on the chores, plus it’s harvest time. I know what she’s going through, but we don’t have time to be nurses.”

“Maybe we can get Grandma Peterson to come over, or maybe we can hire someone to help us bring in the hay and chiles.”

“Maybe. Let’s make some coffee and think about it over breakfast.”

They found a surprise when they entered the kitchen. The table had been set for three with a jar of wildflowers as centerpiece. A pot of coffee was on the stove and a covered pitcher of fresh goat milk was on the counter. “Oh my God, the children,” Amalia said. “I forgot all about them.”

Donovan noticed two plates and cups drying in the rack by the sink. Examining the stove, he found a pan of spoon bread in the warmer, with several large pieces missing. “It looks like they managed okay. They had breakfast, at least.”

“A good thing they’re old enough to take care of themselves. She poured a cup of coffee and went to the kitchen window. “I wonder where they are."

“Close by, I would think,” Donovan said, scooping a bit of spoon bread onto a plate. “They’re probably gathering eggs, picking chiles, looking for apples or something like that.”

“We need to finish the hay.” Amalia sat down and picked at her breakfast.

“Eat. It’ll still be there in an hour.”

Amalia took a bite. "It's a little scorched on the bottom, but not bad. I wonder how the kids. . ."

"They survived two years on the streets. Cooking a basic meal is no big deal by comparison."

"I guess not." She ate in silence, lost in thought, until the slam of the kitchen door made her look up.

Tasha came in carrying a basket of squash. Her face lit up with pleasure to see the grownups having breakfast, but then she noticed one place was empty. "Is Carina still sleeping?"

Amalia motioned her over. "Thank you for the breakfast. Did you do all this yourself?"

"Except light the fire. Will did that."

"Good," Donovan said. "You're a little young to be handling the fire. Wait until we teach you how to do it safely, okay?" The look on her face was so serious that he pulled her onto his knee. "You're a very thoughtful girl."

"Is Carina all right?"

The two adults looked at each other. "Not right now," Donovan said. "But if we take good care of her, she'll get better soon."

"Would you like to help?" Amalia asked. "I've got an important job for you, if you think you're grown up enough for it."

There was nothing Tasha liked better than being told she was grown up.

Amalia set her up in Carina's room with her latest crochet project and a few items that needed mending. "Work quietly and wait for her to wake up. Get her whatever she asks for. Come find us if there's an emergency, otherwise stay close and keep an eye on her."

Tasha nodded and picked up her crochet needle. She glanced protectively at Carina, then turned to her work, all business.

* * *

The haying was going well enough that when Will came to help them an hour later, they tasked him with picking chiles instead, and continued down the rows. They worked steadily under the maddeningly beautiful sky, and when they got hungry they sat in the shade of the wagon for lunch. "If we get this field done today," Amalia said, "I'll leave for Jonasville in the morning. You and Will should be able to finish things on your own."

"I don't want you going to Jonasville alone," Donovan said. "It's a rough place, in spite of the fact there's feds there. A lot can happen on the road."

"I'll take a gun," Amalia said. "You and I can't both go and leave Carina by herself."

"No, but I can go alone. You know better about bringing in the crops, anyway."

"I told you, they won't release his body except to next of kin."

"Well, at least let's find someone to go with you. How about one of the Petersons, or one of the Garzas?"

Amalia murmured something noncommittal. They were still in disagreement when they put the empty lunch basket in the wagon and resumed haying. The mid-afternoon sun burned hot through their sweaty clothes, and they were nearly finished with the field when a running figure caught their attention. They stopped what they were doing and went to meet Tasha.

"She says. . ." Tasha gasped, panting after her mad dash across the fields, "She says she's going to burn everything up!"

* * *

They ran back to the house, half-expecting to find the entire place on fire. Instead, the smoke was confined to a single spot in the yard, a place that Carina, with the same calm with which she had smashed vases the night before, had cleared of flammable debris so she could build her bonfire. Just as they got close enough to breathe a sigh of relief that the house itself wasn’t the target of her rage, Carina came out the front door, her hair ragged, as if she had sawed it off with a kitchen knife. She was clad in an old party dress of greening black velvet which sagged and bulged in odd places, and in her arms she carried a mass of objects that Amalia and Donovan couldn’t discern from where they stood. With the utter calm of someone on a mission, she dumped everything onto the fire. A toxic-smelling black smoke billowed up and greedy yellow flames consumed the new offerings. Carina went back into the house.

Donovan got to the fire first, and pulled out the first thing he could grab. It was one of her framed animal prints, and he beat out the flames that had been eating at the corner. Amalia stared over his shoulder as fans, scarves and photographs blackened and turned to ash. “Carina!” Of course she got no answer, so while Donovan tried to find something else that could be rescued, Amalia ran up the steps, nearly colliding with her sister in the doorway. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”

Carina tried to push past. “It's obvious."

“You can’t burn your things. You’ll want them later.”

“No I won’t.” She ducked around her and headed toward the fire.

“I’ll put them in a box. If you still want to burn them a year from now--“

Carina tried to push past Donovan. "Mind your own business." Donovan was so startled at her hostility that she managed to get three items into the flames before he and Amalia grabbed her and forced her to drop her ribbons, memory books and paintings.

“You’re going to regret this later,” Amalia said.

Donovan dragged Carina from the fire and together he and Amalia got her into the house while Tasha remained outside to throw dirt onto the embers and salvage what she could. Once they had wrestled her into a chair, Amalia took a hard look at her. Carina’s delicate features were bloated from crying and her fair skin was streaked with soot. The ragged remains of her hair hung in scraggly clumps, hopelessly uneven, and the misshapen dress was a horror. “What have you done to your hair? And what are you wearing?”

“It was the only black thing I could find.”

“You never wore black when anyone else died. Neither of us did.”

“This is different.”

“We're going to get you into some sensible clothes. Have you eaten?”

“I’m not hungry.”

Amalia jerked her sister to her feet. “That’s no excuse.” She glanced at Donovan. “Fix a plate for her, would you?” She pulled Carina down the hallway, noting in passing that it had been denuded of family portraits. “If you touched anything of mine, I’ll kill you.”

When they got to the door of the bedroom, Carina balked.

“What’s the matter?”

“I’m not going in there any more.”

Amalia peeked inside. It was now almost as bare as her own room had been before she gave it to the children. “There’s nothing in here,” she said. “You would’ve gone in there a minute ago to burn what little is left, so there’s no reason not to go in now.”

Still, Carina refused to go inside, so Amalia deposited her in the children’s room with a warning not to go anywhere. Then she went back to Carina’s bedroom and opened the closet. It was empty. Unable to believe what she was seeing, she stood for a moment in shock. She pulled open the dresser drawers. Also empty. She ran back to Carina, who was sitting on the edge of Will’s bed in a daze. “What have you done with your clothes?"

“I burned them.”

Amalia looked at her in stunned amazement. “What do you think you’re going to wear?”

“I’m not wearing blue ever again. It was his color.”

“Oh, for Christ’s sake. You have to wear something. You can’t go around in that.” She stormed down the hall to the room she shared with Donovan and returned with one of her own shirts and pair of sturdy canvas work pants. “Put these on.”

Carina shook her head.

“What’s the problem? They’re not blue, they’re brown.”

“I’m only going to wear black.”

Amalia struggled with an urge to throttle her. “I can’t deal with this,” she said, and stomped out.

* * *

Donovan found Carina no more tractable on the subject of food. Like a stubborn child, she sat looking straight ahead, refusing to open her mouth to so much as speak. Unlike Amalia, he didn’t get angry. He merely left the plate on a nightstand and went into the kitchen. "I guess she’ll eat when she gets hungry."

“It’s no way for a grown woman to act. She’ll make herself sick.”

“We can manage the work without her.”

“Not if one of us goes to Jonasville.”

Donovan considered. “She probably just needs a few days.”

“We don’t have a few days.”

He took Amalia’s hand. “It’ll be all right. She’s gotten through all the other times okay.”

Amalia pulled away and paced the linoleum. “No she hasn’t. That’s what scares me. She hasn’t gotten through anything else before; she simply denied it. She built up this fairy tale that her handsome and intelligent husband would one day return and make everything right. And now. . .“

“She’s dealing with reality for the first time,” Donovan finished for her.

“I shouldn’t have let her do it. I knew this had to happen someday. Even if he had come home, it wouldn’t have been what she thought. They barely knew each other when they married, and he’s been gone so long. . .”

“But it would’ve been a little easier if he had come back.”

“I was selfish. It was easier to let her be happy while I indulged my bitchy ways.”

Donovan encircled her in his arms. “Don’t talk like that, okay? You did what you had to do, and so did she.”

“But I’m older than her. I promised Mother I’d take care of her.”

Donovan sat her at the table and brought her a cup of chamomile tea from a pot that had been steeping for Carina. “Take care of her, then.” He sat across from her. “She wouldn’t have listened before now, anyway.”

Amalia watched the steam rising off her cup. “Tomorrow morning I’ll send Will to find someone to go with me to Jonasville.”

“Fine,” he said, in a tone that suggested it wasn't fine at all. He stood up, looking tired and strangely old as he walked toward the kitchen door. “I’ll bring in those last two rows of hay and see what I can do to help Will wrap things up in the chili field.”

Amalia set down her cup. “I’ll come, too.”

“No. Let me be a man and do something for once, okay?”

* * *

When Carina heard of Amalia's plans to go to Jonasville, she would have none of it. "I'm going."

Amalia looked at her skeptically. "You're in no condition to travel."

"I'm going, even if I have to walk."

Amalia and Donovan conferred privately. "She and I will go," he said. "You stay here with the kids. Get one of the neighbors to come over, if you don't want to be alone."

"I don't care about being alone. I just don't think Carina is up for it."

"I think she's past the worst of it."

"She's practically catatonic, not to mention she won't eat. She'll be a drain on you."

"Maybe getting out in the open and doing something useful will help her get well."

"Or maybe she'll collapse from dehydration and lack of food. That's if she doesn't snap and run off into the desert. Taking her to Jonasville is crazy."

"Not letting a wife claim her husband's body is what's crazy," Donovan said. "Let's not argue about this. She says she wants to go, so I'll take her. Tell her it'll be the day after tomorrow and she's not going unless she eats and finds something reasonable to wear. That ought to bring her around."

* * *

That evening Carina ate a little atole. She spent an absurdly long time staring at it before scooping it up with all the joy with which she would've eaten arsenic. At Amalia’s insistence, she also choked down a vitamin and some chamomile tea laced with St. John's Wort and a bit of tranquilizer from their veterinary supplies.

After dinner Amalia boiled some coffee and pecan shells, and when the mixture had cooled, she put a dark blue dress into the mixture to soak. It was an old dress of Carina's that had somehow been overlooked in the afternoon clothes-burning. With any luck, she could dye it dark enough to pass for black until Donovan could get her something new in Jonasville.

No one had any enthusiasm for lessons that evening, so they settled in the living room to work instead. Tasha snuggled close while Carina made a few desultory stitches on a sweater she had been knitting for Will.

Amalia tried to read from Mark Twain, but found she couldn't. The words just didn't seem right. She went to her room and brought out her Bible instead. "I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help," she began. She glanced at Carina. "My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth."

Carina took a few stitches at her knitting, every line in her body resisting comfort. She tried to purl, dropped a stitch, frowned and tried to pick it up, but without any real interest in the task.

"The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night," Amalia continued. "The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil: he shall preserve thy soul."

Carina raised an eyebrow doubtfully, but pretended to focus on her hands, her needles, on anything that would keep her from having to meet curious or sympathetic eyes.

"The Lord shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore."

"Let’s hope so," Donovan said from the easy chair, where he was stringing peppers.

Amalia read for awhile, skipping around to the parts she thought most appropriate. Finally the small print blurred and she set the book on the table. Tasha had dozed off, Will was nodding over a half-finished ristra of peppers, and Carina sat staring at nothing. Although she knew it was partly the effect of the tranquilizer, Amalia found this emptiness troubling. She and Donovan stood at the same time. Amalia picked up Tasha and motioned for Will to follow while Donovan helped Carina to her feet.

Amalia had barely gotten the children into their room and was helping them locate their nightclothes when voices in the hallway made her pause. "You can't not go to bed," Donovan said. "Look at you. You can barely stand up."

Carina mumbled something. Amalia left the children and went into the hall. "I'm not going in there," Carina said.

"She did the same thing this afternoon," Amalia told Donovan. "Put her in her bed anyway. She'll be asleep in another couple minutes and it won't matter where she is."

Carina began crying and leaned into Donovan for support. He put his arms around her. "Can't we put her in the children's room for tonight?"

"I don't think we should indulge her."

"It's just for one night." He cupped Carina's chin and tried to make her look him in the eye. "Just tonight, okay? You have to learn to be brave again."

Carina nodded and Amalia, disgusted, herded the children into Carina's room where they bounced on the beds. After she got them settled, Amalia went into the other room, where she found Carina in Tasha's bed with Donovan tucking the covers around her. The black dress lay across a wooden chair and Amalia fought a surge of suspicion. "I would've helped her undress."

"It's okay," Donovan said, smoothing Carina's ravaged hair. "She was almost asleep. She couldn't have waited any longer."

Amalia looked for a moment at the still face against the pillow. "Are you going to sleep in here with me tonight?"

"I don't think so." Donovan kissed her on the forehead as if she were a child. "I'll be in our room if you need anything, though."

* * *

Amalia rose early to finish dying Carina's sole remaining dress. After a few soakings in coffee and pecan shell tannins followed by a rinse in cold water, a bath of iron salts, and a lot more rinsing, the finished product lay dripping across the clothesline in the afternoon sun where by nightfall it had dried to a stiff muddy color that while not quite black, was not exactly any other color, either.

While Will checked the jennets and harnesses for the trip and Donovan made a few minor repairs to the cart, Amalia and Tasha prepared food for the road. They boiled eggs, baked cornbread, and cooked tortillas. They made pemmican of fruit, nuts and honey. They packed coffee, jerky, pickles, preserves, and dried apples. Amalia prepared bottles of herbal drinks that would keep Carina nourished if she refused to eat, and would tranquilize her if she became restless or got the urge to rage again.

Carina slept until nearly lunchtime, so while Donovan and the children ate at the kitchen table, Amalia took a tray of cornmeal mush and a cup of strong tranquilizing tea to into the bedroom. She found her sister lying listlessly in bed. In the fresh light of day, she looked wan and not at all healthy. Amalia's doubts and jealousies of the night before slipped away like a bad dream.

"I made the cornmeal mush the way you like it," Amalia said, setting the tray across her lap. "It's got cinnamon, ginger, honey and a little of that maple sugar you keep hidden in the back of the spice cabinet. You thought I didn't know about your stash, didn't you?"

Carina stared at the bowl and refused to speak.

"You know you can't go to Jonasville in the morning if you don't eat. You'll like it once you taste it."

Carina glared but obeyed.

Amalia sat down and pretended not to pay her any mind. "I think you'll have good weather for the trip. The barometer is holding steady and the skies are clear. I think you should take the road through Catalunia. It'll make your trip longer by about half a day, but it will keep you off the main roads. I don't care what kind of fancy papers Alvi gave him, Donovan still needs to avoid the feds as much as he can." She glanced at her sister, who was eating as if it were some sort of exotic torture. "Don't you agree?"

Getting no answer, she pressed on with chatter about the crops, the garden and finally the animals. "Will milked the nannies this morning and says they miss you. He says the jennies do, too, especially Cordelia." Amalia paused, scanning her sister's face for signs that she found this subject interesting.

Carina pushed the bowl away. "That's all."

"There's still some left."

"That's all I'm eating."

"Well, okay." Amalia handed her a cup. "Drink this and we'll call it square."

Carina sniffed at the tea in suspicion. She drank it all and handed back the cup with a faint smile. "It won't help."

"What won't help?"

"I know what's in that." She leaned back against the pillows and closed her eyes. "You're just trying to keep me quiet. You think I'm going to start breaking and burning things again."

"You have to admit, after what you've done so far, we aren't sure what to expect."

"It's okay. I’m finished."

"I'm glad to hear that."

"I'm done with everything. There's no point. I'll bring him home, and after that. . ."

"After that, what?"

Carina shrugged and turned her face away.

Amalia lay down on the bed and pulled Carina into her arms where she lay limp and indifferent, like a doll. “It'll get better. I know it feels like it never will, but one day you’ll wake up and sun will be shining and you’ll notice how pretty it is. The birds in the feeder will make you laugh, you’ll be happy to see the buds on the apple trees and you’ll realize you can survive this.”

“I don’t want it to be bearable. I want everything to be like it was.”

Amalia chose her words carefully. “Maybe it wasn't ever like you thought. This is the reality we have to live with.”

“I don’t want it.”

“You don’t get a choice. No one does.”

“There are always choices,” Carina said with an edge to her voice.

“There aren’t always good ones.”

“But they’re still choices.”

Amalia fell silent, unable to find an argument against this line of reasoning. “You know, I spent a long time being angry at the world. Our parents did us a disservice by raising us the way they did, trying to insulate us from what was going on, raising us with old-fashioned education and expectations. It only made things harder. Even here in this valley, we’re still living in a dream. Things are getting worse out there.” She paused, considering. “There isn’t anyone or anything that will make it like it used to be. We have to take a chance on living in the world we’ve got, because no one’s going to give us the one we want.”

Carina shook her head. “I don’t want this world.”

“You haven’t really tried it.”

“I don’t have to.”

Amalia went to the window and pulled the curtains back. She tugged at the sash and opened the window onto a warm afternoon of bird songs and a breeze that smelled faintly of ripening apples. She returned to the bed and took Carina’s hand. “Sometimes if you’re patient with yourself, do the things you know you enjoy even if you can’t take any pleasure from them, it gets easier.” She hesitated, trying to think what to say next. “You can always change your mind later if you find it doesn’t work. Won’t you give it a try, just for a little while? Promise me?”

Carina turned away. Her eyes followed the stirring of the leaves in the apple tree and the flit of a bird on a branch. She remained unmoved by it all, but managed a nod.

* * *

That evening Carina ate with them at the dinner table, wearing the dyed dress, even though the iron salts had left it stiff and uncomfortable. After dinner, Amalia trimmed Carina’s hair, trying to make the ragged edges presentable. Tasha cut a swath out of the old velvet dress and added a black band to one of Carina’s straw hats, then deftly turned a few remaining strips into pretty hair bands. Amalia found a faded black wool cape among their mother’s old things and Carina was ready for the journey.

“I’ll pack your makeup for you,” Amalia said. “All that black makes you look even more pale than you already are.”

“I don’t care what I look like,” Carina said, but remembering her promise, she added, “Thank you for offering, though.”

“You don't need makeup,” Donovan said, looking up from where he was stringing the last of the chiles with Will. "A week in the fresh air ought to put some color in your cheeks."

“I suppose it will,” Carina had been examining the straw hat and now handed it back to Tasha. “You did a nice job." She sat on the sofa and picked up her knitting needles.

Amalia went in the other room and returned with her unabridged Shakespeare. She read for a bit from one of the histories until Tasha and Will began nodding off. Then she set the book aside and picked up her Bible from where she had left it on the table the night before. She adjusted the lamp and flipped through the tissue-thin pages. “We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed,” she read. “We are perplexed, but not in despair.”

Carina shifted uncomfortably and kept her head down, feigning absorption in her work, even though she could count stitches by touch.

“Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed. . .”

Carina felt Donovan’s eyes upon her, and looked up. What she saw in his face startled her and she dropped her attention back to her knitting without bothering to move the needles. After a few minutes she rubbed her eyes as if she had a headache. She glanced up again. He was still watching her in the same fascinated way a man might watch a dying fire.

“For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.” Amalia closed the book.

“That was nice,” Carina said. She picked up her lamp and walked slowly from the room, as if it was her joints and not her soul that ached.

Donovan looked after her curiously. “Do you think she meant that?”

“No,” Amalia said, shaking Tasha awake. “But she’s trying. That’s all I asked of her. If she keeps going through the motions, eventually the feelings will follow.”

She picked Tasha up and started toward the hallway, Donovan following close behind herding Will in front of him. Amalia expected to put the kids in Carina’s room again, so she was surprised to find the door shut. She deposited Tasha in the children’s room and returned to Carina’s closed door. She opened it a crack to find Carina sitting on her bed, examining her new velvet hair band in the dim light of the lamp.

“Are you going to be okay in here tonight?”

Carina nodded. “You don’t need to stay with me tonight. You should sleep with Donovan. We’ll be gone a long time, you know.”

Amalia hesitated.

“Go.” This time her voice was firm. “I need to be alone, and you need to be with him.”

* * *

It was still dark when Will and Donovan hitched the team to the market wagon and brought it around to the house. Everything they needed had either been packed the day before or staged near the kitchen door, so they had the wagon ready to go almost before Amalia could finish preparing a special breakfast of apple cinnamon pancakes.

"I put an extra map inside Carina's Bible in case you lose the one I gave you," Amalia said.

"It's okay. I've already got the map memorized."

"The Trés Ladrones Pass is tricky. Rockslides are pretty common and I don't know how recently someone has been through to clear the road. You'll have to be on the lookout for road hazards and things falling from above, but it's the best way to avoid a chance encounter with feds."

"It'll be all right."

She looked at Carina. "Maybe you can stop with the Sanchez family along the way, or drop in on that nice Williams couple."

"Maybe," Carina said, toying with a scrap of pancake.

"It would save you a night in the open, and everyone likes to see a veterinarian."

"I know."

"You don't need to worry about us," Donovan said. "If anything, I worry about you. I wish you'd reconsider about getting someone to stay with you."

"Will and Tasha are all the help I need."

"I'm more worried about raiders coming by again."

Will looked up. "I'll shoot them if they come back."

Amalia glanced fondly at both children. "I think we've proven ourselves pretty resourceful. It's only for a couple weeks, and we'll be so busy we'll hardly have time to miss you."

Will nodded, enthusiastic about his first opportunity to be man of the house. Tasha was a little less certain. "I'll miss you," she said, turning her large eyes on Donovan and Carina in turn.

When Amalia started clearing the table, Tasha jumped to help, too. While they pumped water into the sink to soak the breakfast dishes, Carina went to her room to get her cloak, and when she returned, she paused in the kitchen doorway until Amalia couldn't help but notice her.

"Are you ready?" Amalia asked, with an attempt at a cheery tone.

"Maybe I shouldn’t go."

"Are you not feeling well?"

"No worse than before. It's just. . ."

Amalia understood. "It's not going to be any less real if you don't go, although if you've changed your mind. . ."

Carina squared her shoulders. "I just wish I could do it without having to do it, you know."

"You want things to fix themselves by magic." Amalia offered her an arm to lean on. "It'll be all right once you're on the road."

They found Donovan stroking Goneril's neck while he had a last minute talk with Will over chores that needed to be done while he was gone. He smiled when he saw Carina, but she turned away and allowed Amalia to help her onto the seat. "It's going to be a pretty sunrise," he said, motioning toward the faint light in the east.

"Yes," Carina agreed, without bothering to look.

Amalia went to Donovan and stood awkwardly in front of him. "Be careful out there."

He took one of her hands in his, then changed his mind and gave her a hug. "It's only two weeks."

"Of course. And you have your papers."

Donovan patted his side where he wore the papers in a leather pouch close against his body. "They stay with me at all times."

"Okay." She cast about for something witty or profound to say but could come up with nothing. "Have a safe trip." She threw her arms around him. "I love you."

He kissed her in answer, then hoisted himself onto the seat beside Carina, who had been pretending to be absorbed in the horizon while she twisted a handful of skirt between her fingers. Unable to muster the strength of will to wish her sister farewell, she pulled up the hood of her cloak to hide her face and set her eyes resolutely on the road. Donovan slapped the reins against the jennies' backs and the cart lurched forward.

The children ran after them as far as the gate, but Amalia stayed by the courtyard wall, watching the cart bump over the rutted drive. She looked toward the east where the sun was streaking the sky with gold. It would be a pretty day; a good day to get a lot of work done. As she leaned against the wall, watching the wagon recede into the distance, she resolved to work hard while they were gone. Very hard. She wanted to drop into bed each night too tired to think, too exhausted to miss having a man next to her. She hoped to make every muscle hurt so much that the physical pain of even ordinary tasks would distract her from the fact that her suddenly-single sister was on a long journey with the man they had both grown to love.

The children were ambling back to the house, covered in dust. There was no time to lose. "Come on," she told them. "We've got a lot of work to do."

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