Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Part Two, Chapter Thirty

In spite of her efforts, Amalia only saved half their pumpkin and winter squash harvest. But the seeds from these hardy survivors would grow a stronger crop next year, and the pantry and cellar were full of food anyway, taken in trade from Carina's veterinary calls. There was no way they would be able to eat all of it this winter. As Amalia put the last of the edible pumpkins into the cart, she made a mental note to go through their stores and see what they could give to their poorer neighbors.

As she drove Cordelia toward the barn, she passed the new paddock and stifled a smile. Alpacas were such odd-looking creatures. Especially the white one with the black spots. It looked like a shaggy mutant Holstein calf. But Carina doted on them, and that was all that mattered. It was a shame she didn't have more time for them, considering how long she had wanted them. After a few days of mooning around the paddock, getting them used to her presence, she suddenly had more calls to go on and was now as elusive as she had ever been.

With as much time as Carina spent riding around the valley, Amalia wondered if she would have been better off trading for a horse. There had been so many occasions in the last few months when a horse would've come in handy. But then Amalia remembered that it was she who always protested the idea. Horses were picky eaters and keeping one would be expensive. Still, if Carina was going to be out on the road so often, it would be nice to have a faster animal, one more suited for riding. She would ask Donovan what he thought.

Then again, why bother? Donovan favored anything Carina wanted these days. Everything except her long absences, which he said put her in danger, as if there were any danger in this valley. If she suggested buying an animal that would get Carina home quicker, he'd jump on that in a minute. He would be all for buying a horse, and damn the expense.

Amalia wasn't sure if Donovan's solicitous attitude toward her sister troubled her or not. If she gave herself a chance, she could torment herself over the way he paced the floors when Carina was out late or the way he sometimes watched her from across a room. It would be easy to let her suspicions consume her, but what would be the point in that? Either she trusted him or she didn't. If she lost her trust, she would have to make changes in her life, and she wasn't ready for change. She took a deep breath of the cool autumn air and tipped her head back to feel the sun full on her face. She deserved a little interlude of peace and simple pleasures.

She came around the path behind the chicken coop to find Will on his knees, working on the pen with a resolute air. "What are you doing?"

"Something made a hole in the fence. Probably a coyote."

"Did we lose anything?"

"A broody hen is missing, but I don't think it got eaten. It probably just escaped once the hole was there."

Amalia scanned the area. Other than the section down by the creek, there weren't a lot of places to hide, but the imagination of a hen looking to hide her nest knew no bounds. "You should send Tasha to look for her."

"I did." Will stood up, already taller and stronger than when he had first arrived on the farm. He would be a powerful man one day. "Need help putting up those pumpkins?"

She didn't, but she invited him along, anyway. While they worked they made idle chat about the weather, the animals, and their winter plans. "I was thinking maybe we could add on to the barn," she said.

"Seems big enough to me."

"I thought maybe Carina should have a horse if she's going to spend so much time on the road. And if we have a horse, we'll have to have a place to put it."

"What would we build with?"

"I haven't decided. Wood is easier, but expensive. Adobe is cheap, but I only know how to do repairs, not construction. We'd have to get someone to help us."

"Shouldn't be a problem. Carina knows everyone and they all seem to owe her favors."

"Yes, they do, don't they? Speaking of Carina, have you seen her today? I thought she said she was sticking close to home."

"She was doing something with the goats this morning. Then later I saw her go off toward the creek."

"What on earth would she be doing down there, when there's so much else to be done?" Amalia spoke as much to herself as to the boy.

He answered as if it had been a legitimate question directed at him. "Donovan went down there to check some traps. Maybe she went to help."

"Carina won't touch a trap." Amalia straightened, her mood suddenly darkening. "Why don't you finish this, then put Cordelia in with the goats. I've got some things I need to take care of."

* * *

Trying not to look like she was hurrying, she went down the path to the creek, following the stream as it meandered through the sage and cottonwoods. Finally she saw them up ahead, walking the dusty track beside the water, close together, but not touching. They were talking about something, but although Amalia couldn't make out the words at this distance, it seemed from the cadence of their voices to be inconsequential. Tasha crept out of the brush a little ways beyond them. "Any luck?" Carina called.


"Keep looking."

Tasha darted back into the weeds. Donovan turned to say something to Carina. She laughed, but it was a polite, nervous laugh, like she wasn’t sure if it was right to be amused. Then Donovan said something else, stepping closer to her. She moved away, but suddenly her foot slipped on the loose pebbles of the creek bank. Donovan grabbed her arm and held on, even after she regained her footing.

Amalia hurried over.

Donovan turned at the sound of her footsteps and let go of Carina's arm. "Hello," he said with strained joviality. "We were trying to help Tasha find the broody hen. That is, until your sister nearly fell in the water. I tried to tell her chickens don't swim."

"I had no idea it took three people to find one hen. We don’t need eggs that bad."

"I was checking my traps, too."

Carina went to Amalia, her eyes lowered. "I was just getting ready to go back to the house and get lunch ready."

"Good. We can go together." They turned and walked in silence up the path. Finally Amalia could stand it no longer. "Do you need me to talk to Donovan?"

"What about?"

"You don't think he's a little too solicitous?"

"I don't know what you mean."

"You don't need to protect him. If he's bothering you..."

"He means nothing by it. He got in the habit of caring for me when we were away."

"You're home now, so I'll tell him to stop."

"No, Amalia. Promise me. He'll think you're suspicious, and men don't like jealous women."

Amalia's back stiffened. "I don't think I asked for your relationship advice. I was only trying to help."

"I know. Thank you. But I can take care of myself."

They continued toward the house in silence. Suddenly the air was pierced with the sound of happy screeching. "I found it!" Tasha shrieked, barreling into Carina's legs. "I found your broody hen!" 


Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Part Two, Chapter Twenty-Nine

It seemed incredible that it should be such a fine autumn day. Carina sat with her sister on the seat of the two-wheeled gig, gazing in wonderment at the bright landscape around her. Funerals were so final, appropriate for a day with low scudding clouds, not this brilliant blue sky framed by poplars slowly turning from green to gold. Even the prairie dogs didn’t seem to know it was a funeral day. They poked their heads out of their holes and watched the gig and wagon go by as if they were attending a parade.

Carina focused on Cordelia’s nodding head and steady gait. When that bored her, she picked out sheep in Peterson’s far pasture and looked for alpacas as they passed the Torres farm. Maybe this would be a good time to suggest alpacas to Amalia again. She darted a look at her sister, who had been more than indulgent. The Torres family always needed money or trade goods in order to support their many children. Surely they had a weanling or two they could part with. She would ask. A new project would be a welcome distraction.

As they approached the church, they saw that the wagon lot was full, as was the empty dirt field beside it. It didn't take a regular churchgoer to realize that this was more than the usual turnout for Sunday Mass in the valley. "Joaquin said he'd make sure the groundskeeper kept a spot open for us," Amalia said.

Sure enough, as they pulled in they noticed the gardener standing guard over a couple of empty spots near the building. They pulled in, and while Donovan gave the man a tip, Amalia helped Carina from the gig. Just as they were about to go inside, they were approached by a wizened old man who Carina recognized as a sharecropper on the vast Estrada ranch. She had once treated his only milk goat for thrush and refused payment out of her disgust for the way the Estradas abused their laborers. Carina held her breath. Would she have to accept pity from this man? To her relief, he merely took off his hat. "Bendígale, Señora."

It was just a blessing. Carina took his hand in gratitude. "Gracias, amigo."

It was the same inside. Everywhere Carina looked were people she knew. They smiled at her, but not in a pitying, condescending way. They each had a few words for her, not about bravery or sacrifice, but simple words of appreciation for all she had done for them. They were words that said they stood by her as friends, as the people who loved her. Carina had arrived with her insides in knots, but slowly the tightness in her body melted. She lifted her head and found she could smile at these people. They cared, and that made them the best people in the world.

Joaquin performed the Mass without any mishaps Carina could see, and she was touched when he gave a special homily on the ultimate meaninglessness of death. The words seemed too mature for young Joaquin, but he spoke them with all appearance of sincerity, so what did it matter if some wiser man had probably coached him?

Then the Mass was over and Joaquin asked that all who wished should accompany them to the cemetery. Amalia had requested a brief graveside ceremony with no frills and no long processional of the coffin up the hill, so it was a simple group that assembled outside. Joaquin led the way, followed by Carina and the family. Neighbors filed in at random in a long line that wound up the hill, through the cemetery gates and to the family's plot, where they gathered as close as they could.

The coffin had already been placed near the waiting grave, and although chairs had been set out for Carina, Amalia and the children, Carina preferred to stand. Out of solidarity, the rest of the family did, too, and offered their seats to the most elderly of their neighbors.

Joaquin went to the head of the coffin, sprinkled a bit of holy water and began reading, but Carina wasn't listening. She thought about the dreams she had associated with this man, all the feelings and hopes of a youth she had wasted in waiting. It had been for nothing, but to her surprise, it wasn't painful to prod those recollections. Either she was numb, or she had already started moving beyond the place where it hurt. There was still work to do, after all. Unless she planned on jumping into that hole with him, she had to keep going. What she was really burying were her ideals, and the world wouldn't stop for the death of her fantasies.

Unconsciously she reached a hand toward her throat, where she still wore Donovan's blue necklace hidden beneath her high collar. It was like wearing her foolish notions against her skin as a reminder not let them lead her astray. She cast a fond look at Donovan, standing with the other men who would help lower the coffin when the ceremony was over. He was handsome in his new black suit, even though its fashionable cut made him look out of place among the simple ranchers. Well, he was out of place. Try as he might, he would never fit in.

Joaquin finished speaking and looked at Carina and Amalia to see if there was anything else they wanted. This was the time when people came forward to share their memories of the deceased, but no one other than the sisters had known him. Amalia squeezed Carina's hand and looked at her, a question in her eyes. Carina shook her head. Enough words had been said. Amalia motioned for Joaquin to continue, and after a few more words he directed the men in lowering the pine box into the ground.

The wind picked up, fluttering the sisters' skirts around their calves as they came forward. Carina stooped to pick up a handful of the desert earth, waited a moment for the wind to die down, then dropped it in. She had thought she would be moved at the finality of this act, but oddly, it was just a job, like any of the other tasks she did each day. Amalia bent down, gathered some dirt and did the same. Then they stepped back and let the others come forward. It seemed to take forever for everyone to file past.

Finally it was done and people began wandering down the hill. Amalia went to the other graves in their family plot, picking up small stones and placing them on the headstones. Carina knew she should do the same out of respect for her parents and Alan, whose marker but not his body lay here, but she had done as much as she could for one day. She needed to go down the hill and rejoin the living.

Amalia and Donovan had paid Joaquin to arrange a reception, and kind neighbors had brought additional food to share, as was the custom in these difficult times. Carina walked into the hall and allowed herself to be led to the refreshment table. Although the pies, cakes and breads looked good, she took only a cup of coffee. Then she sat down and neighbors came over one by one or in pairs. Carina accepted their attention graciously, but quickly turned any conversation to the topic of their animals. "How is Baru-- did that limp clear up? Did your guinea ever start laying again?" And when the Torres patriarch wandered over, "Are you looking to sell any alpacas?"

* * *

Amalia, standing off to one side with Donovan, watched her sister closely.

"You don't think she's overdoing?" Donovan asked. "Maybe we should cut this short and take her home."

"Let her decide. She looks like she's handling things all right."

"I'm just thinking of Jonasville and all those people who tired her out."

"This isn't Jonasville," Amalia reminded him. "You worry too much about her."

"It's a habit I got into, I guess."

Amalia turned away, not entirely satisfied with his answer. To distract herself, she scanned the room, looking for the children. Tasha was in a corner playing a game with Jimmy Montoya and one of the Torres girls, but where was Will?

"I think I saw him sneak outside with Diana," Donovan said, reading her thoughts.

"Probably to debate the merits of every horse and mule out there. Those two can talk animals almost as long as Carina can."

"Maybe instead of a valley medical clinic, she should be thinking of opening a valley veterinary school."

"That's not a bad idea. I might mention it to her. We'll need someone to look after the animals if she marries Alvi."

Donovan started. "Why would she do that?"

"Oh, I'm just joking. He's not her type. But he did ask her while you were in Jonasville, or didn't she tell you?"

"I knew something happened between them," Donovan said darkly. "I wasn't sure exactly what."

"He's always pretty fervent in his devotion to her, so I'm not really surprised, but it was in very bad taste to ask when he did. It's a crazy notion. What can a peddler offer her?"

"He’s a federal spy, Amalia. The peddling is a cover."

"You can't be serious. Our Alvi?"

Donovan nodded. "He makes a lot of money at it, too."

"Then perhaps he does have something to offer," Amalia said thoughtfully. "Not that I would want her to leave, but if he could give her a house in town and some measure of security..."

"You said he wasn't her type," Donovan reminded her. "Besides, she told him no."

"I was just thinking out loud, but you're right, it's totally ludicrous."


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Part Two, Chapter Twenty-Eight

Amalia and the children were pleased to get new clothes, and Amalia's face lit up at the sight of the books from Catalunia. But what excited everyone most was the chocolate. Carina hadn't known about the candy, so she was as surprised the others when Donovan presented her with a foil-covered box tied with a ribbon. She was glad to be sitting in a corner out of the direct light of the lamps so Amalia couldn't see her blush.

"Just one piece tonight," Amalia told the children. "You need to make it last." She gave Donovan a small frown. "This was a lot of money to spend on something frivolous."

"We work hard. It's nice to have a treat now and then."

"I love my books and they were free." She turned to Carina. "I'm tempted to hitch up the wagon and bring the whole Catalunia library home. It seems a shame to leave all those books there, unused."

"Maybe I'll take you sometime," Donovan offered.

Carina wasn't sure if he was trying to provoke her or just making idle conversation, but she suddenly couldn't handle any more. "I'm sorry. I know it's early but I need to get some rest."

"I'm going to read soon," Amalia offered. "Can't you stay up for just a little longer?"

Carina shook her head. She hugged Amalia, then the two children. She started to offer Donovan a formal good night, but he got out of his seat and put his arms around her. It was only a platonic embrace, like he would've given the children, but the touch of his body was electric and overwhelming. She turned her face away, suddenly misty-eyed. "I'll see you in the morning."

Once she was in bed, Carina couldn't sleep. Every time she closed her eyes, her mind raced ahead of her, refusing to lie still like her body. After what seemed like hours, she heard footsteps in the hallway as Amalia and Donovan put the children to bed. Then she heard the door to their bedroom shut.

Her eyes flew open. She should've anticipated this. She would never get to sleep now. Her mind ran through several different scenarios, none of which she could tolerate. She had to sleep, but not knowing what they were doing in their room was torture.

She got out of bed and wrapped herself in her black robe, then she slipped out of the room on silent feet, resisting the temptation to listen at Donovan and Amalia's door. No good could come of that. Instead she went into the storage room. They kept everything in order here and she had no trouble finding what she had come for. She grabbed a bottle of homemade wine for good measure, then stole back to her room. It was a stupid thing to do, and she knew it. She was going to have to live with the situation she had created, but just this one night it would be okay. Some herbs, a bit of tranquilizer and some wine...soon it wouldn't matter what Donovan and Amalia did or didn't do in their room.

* * *

The family allowed Carina to sleep late the next morning, an indulgence that would have annoyed her had she not been so groggy. A couple cups of Amalia's strong coffee helped, then she dressed and went to check on her animals. Her mood lifted as the hens flocked around her, pecking at her toes. Goneril and Regan were taking a well-deserved vacation in their paddock, and when they saw her they trotted over to have their noses rubbed. Even one of the barn cats seemed happy to see her, pausing and staring with big yellow eyes instead of skulking away at the sound of her footsteps.

Her work among living creatures had always been where she found happiness and felt most alive. How had she wandered so far in such a short time? As she rubbed a nanny's ears, she grabbed onto the notion that her ability to commune with animals was her strength. This was where she needed to put her heart, not in the grave of a man she had last made love to so many years ago that she could hardly remember what it was like, and certainly not with her sister's man— a grasshopper who was likely to leave one day, if he didn't get shot for cheating at cards first. One of the young goats, already grown big and strong since last spring, butted Carina playfully and she laughed and stroked his head.

When she went in to lunch, she was surprised to find Tasha in the kitchen, putting together some crude meals of leftovers wrapped in tortillas. "What are you doing, dear?"

"I make the lunches now.”

Carina took a closer look. It wasn't going to kill anybody, but... "How about I teach you how to cook?"

Tasha gazed at her solemnly. "Amalia said not to touch the stove. Ever."

"I'm sure she didn't mean never-ever. I'll teach you how to work it safely, and then it will be okay."

When everyone else trooped in, Tasha was trying not to burn some red chile quesadillas. Amalia frowned, but since Carina was hovering nearby watching every move, so she let it go.

Although she had a lot of work to do in the calabaza patch, Amalia hung back after lunch to help clean up. "You seem better today."

"I just needed a good night's sleep and a visit with my animals."

The relief in Amalia's face was glaringly obvious. "About the funeral. I haven't had much luck tracking down a Protestant minister of any credible denomination. There's a guy who runs meetings out of a place off a spur on the Higdon road. He calls his congregation the Dawning World Assembly of Christ's Second Coming, or something like that. I don’t know what he preaches, but it sounds kind of scary to me. I had a feeling you wouldn't be into that."

"I don't think so."

"Joaquin said he can do the service any Saturday or Sunday, and although I didn't make inquiries on the reservation, the Montoyas say that Alma Red Wing doesn't mind doing services off-rez for non-Indians. Or we could just do something ourselves. Joaquin said he doesn't care what kinds of services are held up there at the cemetery, as long as they’re respectful."

"You mean, as long as he gets his fee."

Amalia shrugged, acknowledging the truth of Carina's statement. "Pick a day, and I'll send Will with the appropriate messages."

"What day is it today?"


"Can Joaquin do the service Sunday after regular Mass?"

"That's a good idea. That way anyone who wants to come won't have to make the trip to church twice. It's a busy time of year."

Carina looked away. "All those sympathetic people."

"It'll be okay. Donovan told me about Jonasville. This won't be the same. These are the people who really love you."

"Yeah. Sometimes those can be the worst." Carina felt the gloom settling back upon her, but then remembered her resolution of that morning. There was only her work and the animals, and maybe the children. None of the rest mattered.

"So I should send Will with a note for Joaquin?"

"Yes. Miles wasn't particularly religious, so it's really all the same."


Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Part Two, Chapter Twenty-Seven

By the time dinner was ready, Carina was surprised to find she was ravenous, but it had been so long since she’d had any appetite that she could only get through half of one of Amalia’s stuffed peppers, and a few bites of early winter squash. “I’m sorry,” she said, “It’s really good. I just don’t have any room.”

“You’re out of the habit of eating. I was that way too, when Alan died. Remember? You don’t have to apologize.”

“I’ll be happy to have some of this for lunch tomorrow if there’s leftovers.”

“I’ll save you something.” Amalia looked at Will. “And this bottomless pit will make sure not to touch it, right?”

“I don’t want Carina’s food.”

“Don’t go telling stories. You’ll eat anything that doesn’t try to eat you first.”

“He’s just growing,” Carina said.

“Boys are always hungry,” Donovan added.

Amalia and Will exchanged looks. They had obviously been over this territory before.

“I leave out food that he can have if he needs a snack. We have to have rules."

She glanced slyly at Donovan. “But we’ve got bigger problems with this boy. It seems he’s moved in on your girlfriend while you’ve been away.”

“My what?” Donovan looked at Will, who was blushing furiously.

“I sent him to borrow a horse from the Petersons so he could run some errands for me. He and Diana hit it off.” She was smiling at the boy now. “They find an excuse to talk to each other nearly every day.”

“Aren’t you a little young for that?” Carina asked him.

“She’s not my girlfriend!”

“Well, that’s good,” Donovan said. “Because if I find out you’ve been trying to steal my girl...”

Will laughed. “She can’t be your girl. Amalia’s your girl. You can’t have two.”

Donovan grew quiet. “No, I guess I can’t, can I?”

“At least he’s taking an interest in reading and writing now,” Amalia went on. “She writes him notes and expects him to answer.”

“Well that’s good,” Carina said, not liking the odd turn of the conversation. “Tell me about your lessons.”

Will made a few desultory comments about dictionaries and division, and then Tasha broke in with a few comments that suggested she was keeping up with Will in almost every way. “I read from the devotional every morning without help now,” she announced. “Want me to go get it?”

“In the morning,” Amalia told her. “That's when we do the devotional readings. Not at night. Come help me clear the table for dessert.”

While Amalia and Tasha bustled around the kitchen, Carina absorbed herself in her wine, trying to ignore Donovan’s eyes upon her. When she could stand it no longer, she looked up and saw that same haunted look she had seen that morning at the rancho, already so long ago. With a conviction in her voice that she by no means felt, she heard herself say, “That was a whole different reality out there.” Then remembering Will was still at the table and looking at them curiously, she turned her attention back to her wine, half-hoping it would make her drunk so she wouldn't have to think any more tonight.

Tasha and Amalia came back with bowls of rice pudding. There was also hot tea with milk and a bit of hoarded brandy for the adults. Although Carina could hardly eat another bite, it all tasted good. She insisted on helping clean up while Will and Donovan went into the living room, and after the table was clear, Amalia sent Tasha to join them, suggesting that she and Will start on their lessons.

Carina tried to get back some of her familiarity with the kitchen. She moved pots around, took a lethargic swipe at a counter, and finally took up a towel and dried the dishes as Amalia washed and rinsed them. “I noticed the creek sure is high for this time of year,” she said, seizing on the first topic that came to mind.

“That's because a storm blew through a few days ago,” Amalia said. “I’m surprised you didn’t get caught in it. The front came through right down the road you took.”

“We did get caught in it, the day we went through Trés Ladrones.”

“What did you do?”

“Took shelter in Catalunia.”

“Oh.” Amalia frowned as she ran a few calculations in her mind. “It delayed you by a lot.”

Carina kept her head bent over the cup she was drying. “There was mud,” she said. “Debris. You know.”

“Did you have any other problems out there?"

"Just rocks. There was one big one that made us have to take the wagon half apart, but other than that, no. No raiders, no outlaws, nothing like that."

Amalia looked out the window, considering. "I think I would've liked a trip like that. No people, just sky and land. I would've taken my sketchbook..."

"Yes, you would've liked it," Carina said, suddenly ashamed of herself. "I should've let you go, like you planned in the beginning."

"What are you talking about? You had every right to go. It was wrong of me to try to stop you."

Carina picked up another plate. "I wasn't ready for it. All those people making a fuss over me...Alvi..."

"What about Alvi? This is the first you've mentioned him. He helped you once you got to Jonasville, didn't he?"

"Oh, yes. He helped a lot. He bought me some things and gave me some very nice presents. He took us to dinner." She drew a deep breath. "He asked me to marry him."

"What?" Amalia nearly dropped a bowl. "You’re kidding, right?"

"I wish I were. I mean, he said not right away. He just wanted me to promise to wait for him and not go marrying one of the valley men or something. As if I'd do anything like that.”

"Well." Amalia turned back to the dishes. "He's always been fond of you, but that was rather blunt, not to mention inappropriate. So I gather you told him no."

"What else could I have said?"

"You poor thing. You're going through enough without having to deal with that."

"It gets worse. When I'm up for it, I'll tell you some of the other stuff that happened, all the horrible people I met in that town. It would've been better if you had gone instead of me."

Amalia rinsed the last of the silverware and handed it over. "Well, you're back now. And you're probably the better for having gotten through it."

"I don't know about that." Carina laid the silverware in a drawer and hung the damp towel to dry. "Let's go see what everyone else is up to. I'd like to see the kids get their presents, and we've got some things for you, too. And then I think I'll turn in early. I'm exhausted.”


Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Part Two, Chapter Twenty-Six

Donovan helped Will finish unloading the wagon and they took the animals to the barn. Amalia and Tasha disappeared into the kitchen to prepare dinner, and Carina finally had a few moments to herself. Now that she was home, she was exhausted to the core. Still, she had to perform the courtesies, get through this first evening with the family when they would be full of questions and would have so much they wanted to tell her in return.

A shower revived her. It felt good to wash off the dust of the road. Then she put on one of her new dresses, looked in the mirror and sighed. If she wanted Donovan to keep his distance, looking like this was the way to do it. She took out her compact and made up her face, just a little, so she wouldn’t look so completely washed out and sickly, then went into the kitchen.

Amalia was putting a dish of stuffed peppers into the oven. She wiped her hands on her apron, and gave Carina a jubilant hug. “I’ve missed you. How was it?”

Carina wasn’t sure how to answer and shook her head.

“You’re too thin, but your new dress is lovely. I saw all those packages. You did a lot of shopping while you were away.”

“Donovan did all the shopping after I bought my clothes the first day.”

“Oh. No wonder you came back with so much stuff.” Amalia frowned. “I didn’t think the money he took with him would go as far as all that. He must have supplemented it a little.”

“A little,” Carina said, thinking of the morning when he laid out all those coins and bills on the bed. “He couldn’t help it. Nothing there is cheap. He wanted to buy you and the kids some nice things.”

“That wasn’t necessary. Not if it meant stealing.” Amalia turned to Tasha, who was standing on a stool at the kitchen counter, stirring something in a bowl. “How’s that coming along?”


“We’re using the last of Alvi’s rice tonight,” Amalia said. “Now sit down, relax, and let me finish getting dinner ready. Without you here, I’ve had less time to sketch, so I’ve been using the kitchen as a creative outlet.” She pressed Carina into a chair and poured her a glass of mulberry wine. Then she returned to getting dinner ready, offering news about the animals, crops, and of course, building and fence repair. “I was thinking we should re-plaster the house this winter. It's been looking a little neglected.”

“Yes, of course.” Carina looked around the bright kitchen. There was something comforting about returning to a familiar place. It would be a pleasure to cook on a proper stove again, with all the ingredients right there in the cabinets where they belonged. Unbidden, her mind drifted back to the meals she had prepared on the road in makeshift conditions.

“I’ve been asking around who in the valley has a jigsaw. I finally found one we can borrow.”

Funny how nothing about the hard floors, smoky fires and ever-present dust seemed so awful now. It was like an adventure. It would be nice to sleep in her own bed tonight, though. She’d go right now if she got any encouragement.

“And I thought we’d start with your room first.”

She hadn’t been listening. “That sounds nice."

Amalia gave a knowing smile. “You don’t have a clue what I’ve been talking about. It’s okay. I’ve only been talking so you wouldn’t feel like you had to say anything. It didn’t seem nice to ask a lot of questions when you've hardly got in the door. And then there’s, well, other things we need to discuss. Tomorrow, maybe, after you’ve had a meal and a good night’s sleep.”

Other things. Of course. In her capable way, Amalia had probably made all the arrangements for the funeral and was just waiting for her to come home so they could fix a date. The grave had probably been dug and neighbors told they would hear something soon. There wasn’t a rancher or small farmer in the valley whose animals she hadn’t tended. They would all be there, and every one of them would be full of sympathetic words. They would pity her with her shorn hair and black dress. Amalia was right. She didn't want to think about that now.


Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Part Two, Chapter Twenty-Five

Tasha saw them first. She had counted the days and watched for the wagon ever since Carina and Donovan had first been expected back. "They could be delayed by as much a week or more," Amalia had warned her, to no avail. Tasha looked for any excuse to stay close to the house working in the vegetable garden, or go foraging for herbs and edible plants, where she could stay within sight of the road. She kept the heavy binoculars around her neck and scanned the horizon hopefully every time she thought she saw a dust cloud.

It was with immense excitement that she saw the familiar wagon in the distance and ran, screeching, to the paddock to give Will the news. Together, they ran to get Amalia, who was gathering the first of the calabazas in a field by the creek. "Are you sure?" she asked, distrusting her eyes as she scanned the horizon.

"Of course she's sure," Will answered for her. "She saw them in the binoculars."

Amalia fought a simultaneous surge of joy and anxiety. "Let's wash up." She put Tasha in the wagon, then grabbed Cordelia by the bridle and started toward the house while Will ran on ahead. She did some quick mental calculations. At the pace of two donkeys walking and pulling a load, it took at least thirty minutes from the base of the mesa to the front gate. It had taken Tasha perhaps five minutes to notice them, another ten for her to notify Will and for them to find her out in the field...if they hurried, they might just have enough time for showers and clean clothes. They could put Cordelia up later.

"Quick shower only!" she shouted at Will as they pulled up at the low wall outside the kitchen garden. "They're going to be dirty and they'll want warm water."

While the children rinsed off under the garden showers, she ran inside and grabbed towels for them. Then while they went inside to dress, she bathed, too. She wrapped herself in a robe and went inside, stopping only to peek out the front window on her way to the bedroom. They were still a little ways down the road, but there was no longer any need for binoculars. Amalia stole a hand to her hair. There was no way it would dry before they got here. Well, at least she was clean. She dressed, added a little lipstick and a pair of earrings, and tied her damp hair with a ribbon.

The children were already at the gate when Goneril and Regan pulled into the drive, heads up and sniffing the air. From the kitchen gate, Cordelia brayed and jerked her head up and down in excitement. The children shouted and Tasha tried to launch herself into the wagon, coming dangerously close to the moving wheels. Then Amalia came out of the house, looking fresh in a peach-colored dress that showed off her pretty legs. Carina knew at an instant what her sister's dress and lipstick were all about. She fought down a wave of disappointment, but what had she expected? That she would've forgotten about him? She willed herself to be tolerant as Amalia flashed Donovan a brilliant smile, then helped Carina to the ground.

Amalia folded her in an embrace. "I'm glad you're home."

"Me, too." Luckily Carina didn't have to look her sister in the eye when she said it, or she would've revealed herself a liar. The children were hovering, anxious for her attention and she turned to them, doling out hugs and asking questions about chores, lessons, and had they been good and obeyed Amalia? When she looked up, Donovan had climbed down off the wagon. Amalia had twined her arms around his neck and was speaking rapid, excited words that he listened to with all appearance of interest. When he kissed her and put an arm around her waist, Carina turned back to the children. She picked Tasha up in her arms, even though it required her last reserves of strength. "I think you've gotten bigger since I've been away." She looked at Will. "Why don't you bring the wagon up closer to the house so we can unload? I think Cordelia is anxious to see her sisters."

"She's anxious to see you. All the animals have been acting funny without you here. They love you."

"Ah, yes. Loved by all the wrong people. Wasn't there a song that went like that? I guess that was before your time." They began walking toward the house, Will leading the jennies and Carina straining to hear if Donovan and Amalia were following. When they arrived at the kitchen gate and all three animals were touching noses and snorting excitedly, Carina dared to look over her shoulder.

Amalia and Donovan were still in the driveway and he was holding her close, saying something. Whatever it was, it seemed to be what Amalia wanted to hear, because she was smiling. Donovan's eyes, when he looked at Carina, offered a hint of a challenge, reminding her she had the power to put a stop to it all. Carina looked away, unable to bear it. She began directing the children in unloading her things from the wagon.

"I'm glad you're back," Tasha said as she clutched the wooden keepsake box to her chest. "Are you glad to be home?"


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Part Two, Chapter Twenty-Four

Carina and Donovan reached the abandoned ranger's cabin at dusk. It was too late to do any fishing, so they ate out of their stores. The meals were growing dull without fresh eggs, game or vegetables, but there was no point in complaining. The next morning they headed out at dawn and soon found themselves among the mesas. Carina grew thoughtful as the day wore on, and even the animals seemed to know they were barely a day from home.

When they stopped for lunch, Carina made love to Donovan in a desperate way, as if she could somehow keep time from slipping away, but it didn't lighten her mood. If anything, she became quieter as mid-day sloped into afternoon. By the time they reached the rancho, she was deep inside her thoughts and had to be brought back to reality.

"Where do you want to put the animals?" Donovan asked. "We can't keep them indoors. We're out of hay. They need to graze."

"Oh." Carina scanned the grounds without seeing.

"Never mind. I'll figure it out."

By the time he got the animals taken care of, the sun was going down. He found Carina on the back patio sipping scotch and watching the fiery reds and golds fade out over the mesas. At the sound of his footsteps, she turned and smiled, but it was a sad sort of smile, one that masked words he wasn't sure he wanted to hear. He sat next to her and accepted a glass of scotch— a real glass, not a cup.

"Where'd you find these?"

"In there." She waved a hand in the direction of the house, which explained nothing. "They seem to be real crystal."

"Maybe we should take them with us."

"If you like."

They watched the darkening sky in silence for awhile. A cool wind picked up and Carina shivered.

"Want me to get your cloak?"

"It doesn't matter." She took a deep breath. "About tomorrow..."

"What about it?"

"I want things to be as they were before. Between me and you. And between you and my sister, if that's possible. What's between us can't continue."

Donovan knew what she said was the proper thing, but fought a sudden wave of anger that she should be the one to say it. "Why not? We'll just tell her the truth."

"Yes. I'll tell her that right after becoming a widow, I've stolen her man. That'll go over well."

"She'll get over it. She loves you. You're her sister."

"Some sister I am." Carina reached for the bottle, but then thought better of it and set her empty glass aside. "Especially after I was the one who encouraged her with you. No, after tonight, it's over."

"Don't I get a say in this?"

She shook her head. "I don't know what your plans are, but the whole rest of my life is on that farm. This has to be it. Don't you understand?"

"No." He got to his feet. "Has there been nothing real about these past few days?"

Carina cast a guilty look at her hands. "My feelings for you are real."

"But you never intended it should last."

"I didn't intend anything. I didn't think at all. Did you?"

Donovan stopped pacing, ashamed of himself. "No."

"So I guess that settles it."

"It doesn't settle anything."

"It does for me."

He gazed at the stubborn set of her shoulders and the maddening way she lifted her chin, and he knew with a sick feeling in his stomach that she wasn't going to change her mind. What was it Alvi had said about obsolete women who didn't think they needed a man? A quiet voice inside him whispered that Carina was giving him a great gift, sacrificing her feelings to give him some measure of freedom, but he needed to prove her wrong. "Come to bed." He reached for her hand.

"It'll be no different in the morning."

"You don't know that."

"Yes I do. I've made up my mind."

"I'll make you wish you hadn't."

* * *

Carina stood on the patio, cooking the last of their food. It had been insanity to delay so long in notoriously toxic Catalunia, to the point where their food stores were this low. If the wagon broke down or a jennet went lame today, they would have to hunt or forage. Carina straightened her back and looked out across the mesas. No, they wouldn't be so lucky. They would be home tonight. She stirred the contents of the skillet, fighting back tears. It was good food, but the smell made her gag. She held her breath and took the food off the grill, then walked toward the empty swimming pool where the air was clearer. Here it smelled only of wind, dust and piñon. She breathed deeply, waiting for the knots in her stomach to unravel.

Feeling a little better, she went back and divided the food onto two plates. Her stomach had settled, and a good thing, since she had no choice but to eat it. The brownies were gone, the juice Amalia had packed at the outset of their trip had gone rancid, and she needed something to sustain her. Courage alone wasn't going to do it.

Donovan walked onto the patio looking tired and pale underneath the glow of his brown skin. Carina's breath caught and for a moment she thought she'd never seen him look so handsome, all in black with that vaguely accusing look in his eyes. She couldn't bear it and turned away. "Breakfast is ready."

"So is the wagon." He sat down but only picked at his food.

"Better eat it. Other than a few dried apples, it's all we've got until we get home."

"Are you going to eat, too?"

"Yes." Instead of sitting down, she took an empty bowl, filled it with earth from the defunct garden and shook it out over the coals. They wouldn't have time to let the fire die of its own accord.

"You can still change your mind."

"I know that."

Donovan's eyebrows flickered and he looked away. "Just making sure." He fell to eating, as if it were a chore that couldn't be put off.

* * *

They spent the morning traveling the broad flat expanse of the mesa, finding themselves at noon on the edge of the trail leading to their valley. Donovan halted the team, set the brake and put a hand on Carina's wrist. "Wouldn't you like to—?"

She pulled her hand away. "No."

Donovan straightened the wagon, clucked at the team and they started down the switchbacks. They were nearly at the bottom, just one curve of the road between them and a full straight view toward home, when Carina, acting on a last wild impulse, threw her arms around his neck and kissed him hard, as if trying to imprint some final memory of him upon her mind. Then just as suddenly, she pulled away and looked into the distance, jerking her chin up in the familiar way that Donovan knew was her way of staving off tears. "Is that it?" he asked.


"You'll regret it."

"I know."

"Okay, then." He slapped the reins against the jennets' backs and they turned the last corner toward home.


Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Part Two, Chapter Twenty-Three

Donovan played along with Carina's whims for an hour, then went to check on the animals and the state of the wagon. He found some parts that were loose, so he made a few crucial repairs, concluding it was perhaps well enough that they were staying in town another day. But the state of the animals' feed worried him. If Carina wasn't ready to move on by the next morning, they would have to turn Goneril and Regan out to graze, no matter what the condition of the local weeds. And too bad for them, should they find themselves short of forage farther on, because after tonight there would be no more hay until they got home.

Carina spent the rest of the morning poring over old magazines and a family scrapbook that had been left behind, alternating these activities with long pensive gazes toward the mountains. She prepared lunch for Donovan around noon, but took only a few dried apples for herself after spending several minutes and a lot of effort trying to open an old tin of mandarin orange slices, only to find them spoiled.

"What did you expect?" Donovan asked.

"I don't know."

When Donovan returned to his work, she went upstairs and made a thorough investigation of the rooms. She found some books and a tarnished silver bracelet that perhaps Amalia would like. In a dresser drawer were a few fading ribbons that she could put in Tasha's hair. There was an entire sewing kit on a hall closet shelf and she confiscated the needles, pins and scissors, leaving the thread behind because it was of poor quality and had become brittle. A bathroom cabinet turned up several towels, and the bedroom closets proved to be treasure-trove of old clothes, although little was of any practical value. But when she came across a man's leather coat, she laid it on a bed and examined it. The leather was stiff with age, but if they oiled it properly at the first opportunity, it might work for Donovan.

When he came in for dinner, the coat was lying across a chair. "Try it on," she urged him. "If you like it, I'll condition it when we get home."

The coat was almost a perfect fit, a little long in the sleeves, but nothing one could complain about. "It's a good thing we're heading out tomorrow," he said, looking at all the things she had found. "Another few days in this place and we wouldn’t have any room in the wagon for all your stuff."

"Some of it is yours now, or don't you want the coat?" She had been about to go outside and start dinner, but came over to him instead. "And yes," she added, "We are most definitely leaving in the morning."

"I didn't mean it that way." He kissed her on the forehead.

"Yes, you did. I know I've been silly, and you've been very kind to indulge me." She returned his kiss with a few that weren't quite so platonic. "We'll get up early in the morning and leave, if you're up for it. Because I think I'd like to keep you up all night."

"Maybe we should skip dinner and get an early start on that."

Carina laughed and abandoned any notion of cooking.

* * *

True to her word, Carina was up before dawn, wearing the absurd pink scarf again, but otherwise sensibly dressed. She stirred about making coffee, preparing breakfast and packing. She had Donovan's coffee waiting for him when he came downstairs. He sat at the kitchen table and stared at it sleepily. "You're spoiling me. Late mornings like yesterday, late nights like last night...I don't think I know what to do with this early morning stuff any more."

"I'm sure you'll remember once you're on the road."

"We're trying to make the ranger's cabin, right?"

"Yes." Carina sipped her coffee. "With any luck the roads will be clear. You can never be sure after a storm."

Donovan frowned in concern. "Is the area we'll be going through prone to rock slides?"

"Not usually. I think I'll take this broom with us, though. It's pretty beat up, but it will be good for clearing branches and small debris."

They left Catalunia as the sun was coming up over the mountains. They bounced over the broken concrete of the residential area and found their way onto the main path out of town. Theirs were the only tracks in the smooth wash of sediment that was slowly obliterating the road. All around them the darkened eyes of vacant buildings stared, but now that Catalunia had been their private playground, any malignant spirits that remained no longer held any power over their imagination.

The road followed a straight path out of town through waving silver grasses, deadly with contaminants. Then they were at the foot of the mountain, staring at the switchbacks winding toward the tree line, where everything looked green and inviting. If all went well they would reach the cabin by nightfall. The next day they would be at the rancho, and the day after that, home.

Home. Donovan had not been allowing himself to think about it. The whole weight of Amalia and the children, and now the problem of Carina, pressed on him every time he thought of the farm. Not that he regretted a thing, but it didn't seem likely he could continue on with both of them like this. He had always drifted in life, never planning too far ahead, and things had always worked out. But now it seemed he had backed himself into a corner where he had responsibilities and uncomfortable decisions to make. He didn't like it a bit.

Carina scooted closer and leaned her head against his shoulder. "It's too pretty a day to be so pensive."

Donovan sensed that her statement was a poorly disguised question, but if he said what was on his mind, they would have to talk about it, and that would make it real. He wasn't ready to feel the yoke of all those commitments. Not today. Carina had been right to insist they delay in Catalunia. Suddenly he found himself yearning for this journey to never end so they could go on like this forever, traveling forgotten back roads, sleeping in abandoned places. It was crazy that he was going to have to make a choice, and that his choice would hurt someone he cared about.

But there was still time before he had to do anything, and out here in the mountains, time seemed a flexible thing. Maybe if he was careful, it could be stretched out a little longer. They still had two more days, and the sky was still mockingly bright with promise. He put an arm around Carina's waist. She had no more substance than the thin mountain air. "Yes, it's a pretty day, isn't it?"


Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Part Two, Chapter Twenty-Two

Carina left the warmth of Donovan's body to stir up the fire, but when he suggested they make coffee and have breakfast, she looked at him incredulously. This was not a day for something as mundane as breakfast. Sunlight streamed in the windows and lit the colored glass of the cupola, and she was seized with a desire to take a good look at the world.

She dressed and went outside while Donovan damped the fire and folded a piece of soft cheese into a tortilla for a hasty breakfast. Then he hurried after Carina and found her picking her way along the cracked sidewalk, throwing her head back from time to time to admire the infinite blue of the sky. "The prettiest days are always the ones right after a storm," she told him. "It's too muddy to travel today. Let's go exploring."

They made their way down potholed streets and through sticky expanses of mud. They explored an old school, an office building, and a post office covered in graffiti. Donovan wasn't sure if it was the glow of the golden day or just the warmth of Carina's sudden happiness, but the devastated town no longer seemed malevolent. In a corner store they found a few good safety razors and some dusty and curling postcards of Catalunia in happier days. They stopped at a playground and after checking the strength of the chains, Donovan pushed Carina on a swing. Then they squelched through the mud of a little park and sat on a stone bench to rest and ponder. When Donovan pulled his uneaten breakfast out of his pocket, Carina laughed. "You still haven't eaten that thing?"

"When would I, with you dragging me all over town? But I'm not like you. I can't live off the air."

Carina closed her eyes, tipped back her head and allowed a breeze to caress her face. "With air this good, I bet you could if you tried."

Donovan studied her. "It's nice to see you happy."

Carina stretched her arms overhead. "Right now is just a nice moment. I'm going to try not to think about anything else."

They went walking again, this time into a residential area. Many of the houses leaned at crazy angles and were surrounded by chunks of brick and plaster that had come loose and plummeted to the ground. One home, however, caught their eye. It was made of concrete that had once been plastered and painted to look like adobe, and inside there was still a bit of furniture and a fireplace with an intact chimney. "It would probably be more comfortable than the library," Donovan offered.

So they moved into the house. They parked the wagon in the garage, but Carina wouldn't let Donovan turn Goneril and Regan out into the scrubby yard to forage. "There's something wrong with the water here," she said. "That's why this town is abandoned. Everything that grows is contaminated."

Donovan stabled the animals in the garage and gave them hay and rainwater while Carina found a mouse-eaten broom and tried to clean up a little. They cooked dinner in the fireplace that evening and spent the night in a proper, if musty bed.

In the morning Donovan found Carina sitting on the lumpy living room sofa, flipping through an old magazine. She had found a gossamer pink scarf and knotted it loosely around her neck, and had put on a bit of lipstick. He approached her with a frown of concern.

Carina smiled. "Good morning. Want me to make some coffee?"

"Sure." His gaze wandered toward the window. It was another pretty day. Good traveling weather. "Don't you think we should get on the road?"

She stood and threw her arms around his neck. "Not today." She kissed him, then went into the kitchen for the coffeepot, and went out the back door to where she had already set up a spot on the concrete patio for a fire. She lit a bit of kindling with her flint, added a few broken branches from a long-dead potted tree, then set the grate over the fire and sat back on her heels to wait for the coffee to boil. "Too bad the fireplace is too small for the coffeepot," she said, "But it's nice to be outside on a day like today."

"Then why don't you want to travel?" Donovan asked, sitting beside her.

"I've got the whole rest of my dull farm life waiting for me back there, and for just a couple days, I want to pretend that things turned out different." Noticing the look of worry on his face, she smiled, her eyes reflecting all the blue of the morning sky. "I'm not trying to dodge reality; I'm just putting it off for another day. We'll leave tomorrow." She pulled the pot of boiling coffee off the grill and set it on the concrete. "Get your coffee cup, and one for me, too. And my magazine. I'll read you all the stories and we'll pretend we're an ordinary couple from the early years of the century, enjoying a leisurely morning coffee while ignoring that the world is falling apart."


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Part Two, Chapter Twenty-One

The storm overtook them as they reached the valley floor, rolling in with cold crippling winds that rocked the wagon as the rain burst upon them in a deluge. Visibility dropped and the gray, wet world closed in. The downpour plastered their clothes to their bodies, chilled their blood, and turned the path to mud. Wheels stuck in ruts and Donovan had to get out and push. Goneril and Regan balked. There was no place to find shelter except in deserted Catalunia. Carina climbed down from the wagon, grabbed hold of a bridle and tried to lead the jennets to shelter by example.

House after house was unsuitable. They were caved in, crumbled, or so unsteady in appearance that taking their chances with the storm seemed more reasonable. Finally, in the thick of downtown Catalunia, where the few remaining signs swung crazily in the wind, Carina spotted something promising. "Over there." She pointed to a small stone library.

Donovan hurried ahead to try the door. The double doors opened readily and they led the jennies into the shelter of the building.

In the lurking silence of the dusty foyer, Donovan and Carina stood dripping while the bedraggled animals hung their heads in the traces. Outside, the rain continued falling in sheets, but here in the library the storm was reduced to a patter against the roof and windowpanes.

"I don't see us going any farther today," Carina said needlessly.

The tarps had kept most of their goods dry. The lanterns lit without a problem and Donovan went searching for a place to bed down the animals while Carina unhitched them, rubbing their ears, patting their necks and speaking to them with the first real affection she had shown in weeks.

"I found something," Donovan said, emerging out of the gloom. He took hold of Regan's bridle and led the way.

"A reading room?" Carina said, upon leading Goneril into the place Donovan had found. "Well, it doesn't seem to be leaking. I guess that's the most important thing."

They got the animals clean and gave them some hay from the wagon. "We should build a fire," Donovan said, noticing that Carina was shivering.

"I suppose the ceilings are high enough, and there's enough broken windows we won’t suffocate ourselves," she said. "But where?"

"The only thing I saw that didn't look flammable was the entryway. If we moved the wagon, we'd have enough room." Donovan took her hand and led her back the way they had come, and this time Carina assessed the foyer with an eye toward what might burn. The floor was marble, the ceiling was high, and there was nothing nearby that could catch sparks. Far above their heads was an absurd folly of a cupola where colored glass glowed dimly in the fading light of day. "If we moved the wagon into that room over there," Donovan pointed, "We could build the fire here in the middle of the floor."

"What will we burn? Books?"

"Why not? You don’t think anyone’s going to read them, do you?"

They pushed the wagon into a small room and shut the door, then gathered a stack of reference books which Donovan lit with crumpled newspapers and magazines. The Catalunia phone directory caught first, then a thesaurus and encyclopedia. Then they were all ablaze, and Carina held her hands out toward the warmth. But books burned quickly, and it took a lot of them to keep the fire fed. After a few minutes, Donovan went to the wagon, retrieved a small hand saw and disappeared into the stacks. By the time he returned, Carina had traded her wet clothes for dry. She stood as close to the flames as she dared. When Donovan brought over an armful of sawed-off wooden chair legs, she let the cloak drop to the floor so it would be safe from sparks and helped him make a teepee of them. Then she stood back, picked up her cloak and put it back on. "I'll get some more books," she said, picking up a lantern. "Just to keep this thing going until the wood catches."

Donovan used her absence to change into dry clothes and spread out their bedrolls near the fire. It wouldn't be comfortable sleeping on the marble floor, but he tried to fold as much as he could underneath for padding. Then, realizing they hadn't eaten all day, he brought out some food and a bottle of scotch to take the edge off the cold.

The flames were dying and the chair legs were starting to smoke in a desultory sort of way when Carina returned, her arms full. She set the books next to the fire, collected a few off the top and took them to the room where the wagon was stored. "For Amalia," she said when she returned. "She'd never forgive me if I spent a night in a library and didn't bring home souvenirs."

Once the chair legs caught, the fire began putting out real warmth. Carina sat on a bedroll and accepted a brownie. She downed it almost at a bite, ate a second with nearly equal speed, then fell to nibbling some dried apples.

"It's nice to see you have an appetite." Donovan poured a cup of scotch for her, then one for himself.

"We've done a lot today."

"We've done a lot every day."

"I guess we have, haven't we?" Carina allowed herself a smile. "It feels like we've been gone forever."

"It hasn't even been two weeks."

She turned to him in surprise. "Are you sure? That doesn't seem right." She tallied the days in her mind. "It feels like a lot longer."

They gazed into the fire, sipping their drinks. When the fire looked like it might be faltering, Carina added another book, then sat back and took off her cloak. Her blue necklace glowed in the firelight and Donovan admired it for a long moment, then pressed his lips against her throat.

Carina sat back in surprise, but said nothing. When he kissed her again, it was on the lips, and she  pulled him to her with an intensity of need that surprised him.

"Are you sure this is what you want?"

"Didn't you know? I’ve wanted this for a long time."


Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Part Two, Chapter Twenty

That evening as they drew near the Sanchez farm, Carina balked. "I'm not up for explaining," she said. "They'll think I'm needy, and I can't stand for even one more person feeling sorry for me right now." So they made camp in a recently cut hay field, using the wagon and their tarps to fashion a crude tent.

At dawn they hitched the jennets and prepared to tackle the pass. They wound their way upward in the cool of early morning, the fertile valley receding behind them as they climbed. It was hard work and as the sun rose higher Goneril and Regan sweated under the strain. Donovan and Carina shed their jackets as the mountain air warmed to valley-like temperatures. Finally they came to the pass. There were a few small rocks scattered over the road, but nothing they couldn't drive over.

"We may make camp early," Donovan remarked.

"I hope so," Carina said, looking at the sky in concern. "It's too warm today. That front is close by."

"What are you talking about?" The sky was blazingly clear in all directions.

Carina started to say something about cold fronts and warm air, but Donovan was no longer listening.


Carina saw it too. "Maybe it's not as bad as it looks.”

"I don't think we're going to get off that easy." Donovan allowed the jennets to walk up to the boulder, where they stopped of their own accord. He set the brake and climbed down for a closer look. He kicked it, then went back to the wagon for the shovel and tried to leverage the boulder out of the way, but it didn't budge. He stepped back to consider. It didn't block the entire path. Animals and humans could easily pass to either side. But the wagon...

"At least it's not tall," Carina pointed out. "It's not as high as the axle is wide. Maybe we could build a ramp. You know, run one set of wheels up over it, while the other set remains on the road."

Donovan looked at the wagon, then at the rock, making quick mental notes. "We'd have to take everything out. But yeah, we might make it work. We could use the sides of the wagon to make a ramp."

"How long do you think it would take?"

"Maybe a couple hours, if all goes well."

Carina glanced toward the spotless horizon. "I think we need to try it. If we don't get through the pass ahead of the storm it'll only be that much harder afterward. And a storm is coming. I can feel it."

They unhitched the jennies, led them to the other side of the rock and tethered them to a scrawny sapling. Then they began moving boxes, bags, baskets and bedding to the other side where they staged it all neatly against the side of the mountain. Finally all that was left was the coffin.

Donovan climbed into the wagon and lifted one end, then the other. Then he scrambled out. "The other side is lighter," he said. "All you have to do is get in and push it toward me until most of it is out, then climb down and grab your end."

The coffin was heavier than Donovan was prepared for. He watched Carina stagger under the weight of the other end and wondered how big Miles had been. It was with a relief as much mental as physical that he finally set the coffin on the ground some distance from the sheer drop and the great rock in the road. He noticed Carina was rubbing her hands where the metal handles had bruised her skin. "Are you all right?"

"Yes." She looked at the coffin for a moment, then returned to the problem of the wagon. "We'll remove the sides, and then use some of these smaller rocks to support the ramp in place."

Soon they were both at work releasing the boards that formed the high wooden sides of the wagon. While Donovan set them in place and tried to construct a way to keep them steady on top of the rock, Carina went searching for smaller stones to hold them stable on the ground. It took several trips, but at last their ramp was as secure as they could hope for under the circumstances. They pushed the wagon forward. "Wait a minute," Donovan said. He took a closer look at their setup. "I'm worried about the wheel on the ground slipping. We'll dig a groove to keep the wheel in place and make sure the wagon goes where we want it to and doesn't slip off the ledge."

Carina glanced at the sky again and frowned at the gray smudge on the horizon. She grabbed a trowel while Donovan got the larger shovel and together they started chopping a narrow trench in the dirt road. They were covered in dust by the time they were through, but when they finally stepped back to assess their work, they were satisfied. "I guess it's time," Carina said. She took a long rope, tied one end to the shaft and the other to the horns of Goneril's harness collar.

"Come on, baby." She gave a tug and Goneril began moving forward. Behind them, Donovan pushed the wagon until the one wheel caught in the groove and the other began going up over the ramp.

With an ease that was deceptive, the wagon went up and over the boulder, tilting crazily to one side before sliding smoothly down the other side of the ramp. Some rocks they had placed as a defensive barricade kept it from continuing down the path. The cart stopped with a jerk and an echoing rattle of loose boards.

Carina left Goneril nibbling some weeds. "We're pretty smart, aren't we?"

"We are." He threw his arms around her.

Carina laughed, but something she saw over his shoulder made her catch her breath.

"What?" He let her go and spun around. In the distance was an unmistakable dark line against the horizon. "How long do you think we have?"


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Part Two, Chapter Nineteen

On their first day of travel, the sky was a brilliant blue and the sun was warm on their backs. Carina remained quiet, but it was a resigned silence, not the intense gloom of before. Donovan watched the way her gaze followed the eagles soaring in the mountain passes and wondered if she was finally feeling better.

That evening she spent a long time brushing the jennies and checking their hooves for stones. She fussed over them in much the same way she used to, and even sang them a little ditty of her own invention, but Donovan sensed a lack of conviction and suspected she was only going through the motions.

When he woke up in the middle of the night and found her gone, he wasn't sure what to make of it. He found her sitting in the wagon next to Miles' coffin, speaking to the pine box in a low, uncertain voice. Sometimes she seemed to ask a question and other times she rambled, as if explaining some important point. After watching from the shadows for a few minutes, Donovan began to feel embarrassed, as if he were intruding on something so intimate even the moon had no business being out where it could see. He stole back to bed and went to sleep.

He awoke a few hours later. It was still dark, but he sensed it was nearly dawn, and Carina had still not returned. He went back to the wagon and found her asleep, her head pillowed on an arm flung over the top of the coffin. Donovan shook her awake and she sat up with a start. "It's time to get up," Donovan said, pretending that for her to sleep in this fashion was the most ordinary thing in the world.

She wandered over with the coffeepot while he was stirring the coals from the previous night's campfire. "I can do that."

Donovan had just gotten some fresh kindling to light. "Why don't you see if you can pick out something you'll like for breakfast? I'll get the coffee started."

Carina looked like she wanted to say something, but went to rummage among the food baskets instead. She fried Donovan a mixture of potatoes, goat cheese and re-hydrated jerky, but when they sat down to eat, she had only a brownie and a cup of coffee in front of her. She met his eyes as if expecting comment. Not getting it, she sighed in gratitude and ate. She had set her napkin aside and was sipping the last of her coffee when she finally spoke the thought that had been troubling her. "There's no smell."

Donovan scraped the last bit of food onto his fork. "What are you talking about?"

"The coffin. There's no smell of rot or anything; just the box itself. You don't think...?"

"They embalm them before they ship them back.”

"I suppose they have to, don't they? I guess I'd just kind of hoped..."

"Hoped what?"

"That maybe there was a mistake." Carina ducked her head.

"It's a matter of record. They gave you his effects. Didn't that convince you?"

"I didn't look."

"Then how did all that stuff get into the fancy new box Alvi gifted you with?"

"He did it for me.”

"Maybe you should look now. I'll sit right here with you. It'll be okay."

Carina drew her knees up to her chest. "No. But do you think maybe we should open—"

“Absolutely not." Donovan set his plate and cup aside and put an arm around her shoulders. "You're talking crazy. He's gone and there's only this, what you see around you." He saw the genuine distress in her eyes and drew her into his arms. "When we get home, we'll have Amalia look at everything. She'll tell you the truth. Will that be okay?"

Carina sniffled and nodded.

Donovan cupped her chin and raised her head so he could look into her eyes. "We have a plan then, right? There'll be no more crazy talk on this trip." He brushed his lips over hers, then picked up his plate and coffee cup.

Carina took the dishes out of his hands and turned away. "It won't take long to pack all of this. If we hurry, we should be able to make the Sanchez place by evening."


Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Part Two, Chapter Eighteen

Donovan was waiting when Alvi and Carina arrived in the gypsy cart. Alvi pulled up behind him, set the brake and jumped down. "I'll try to make this fast," he assured her. With supple ease, he climbed up into the driver's seat of Donovan's cart and picked up the reins. Donovan fished in his jacket pocket and handed Alvi the claim ticket. Then to the older man's surprise, he didn't leave. "I thought you were going to wait with Miss Carina."

"I changed my mind," Donovan said. "I want to make sure the wagon gets packed correctly. Besides, this is supposed to be my responsibility."

"You are either very brave or very arrogant," Alvi chided.

Donovan gestured at his new black clothes. "I'm a mourner in a town that's full of them. I'm a certified 4-F and wear a brace. I hardly rate a second look."

"But you will not show ID."

"Are you saying you can't get me past the guard?"

Alvi drew a long breath. "Of course I can get you in." He clucked to the team and slapped the reins against their backs. The animals pulled against the traces and the wagon jerked forward.

At the gate, two privates saluted smartly and one grinned. "Morning, Alvi. You bringing us a load of hooch?"

"Don't you wish, Private Wilson!" He showed the claim slip. "I'm afraid my errand is a little less cheerful today."

Wilson glanced at the ticket. "Sorry to see that. Was he kin to you?"

"After a fashion. Do you need to inspect our wagon?"

"For you?" He offered a sly smile. "Not unless there's a chance you got something good back there. We just got paid, you know. Your deals are better than what we can get in town."

"No, I'm afraid I don't have anything today, but I'm leaving this morning to make some trades. I'll be back in a few months, and we'll do business then."

"Looking forward to it."

"So am I, friend." Alvi started the team again and was through the gate before the soldier had a chance to ask for Donovan's ID.

"That was easy," Donovan said.

"Easier than I expected," Alvi admitted. "That's the problem with taking them young like that. They rarely have the cunning of a more experienced man and don't recognize a trick when they see it. It's no wonder we're losing the wars."

Donovan thought back to his own escape more than a year ago. "I'd still be with my unit if it wasn't for naïve young recruits."

"Indeed. Which road are you taking to Valle Redondo?"

"The way we came. Trés Ladrones. Catalunia."

"A lonely road," Alvi said. "There's very little out there. Not much help if something goes wrong."

"Safe from Feds though," Donovan reminded him. "And too far from anything worth stealing to be attractive to raiders."

"There is some truth to that. Do you travel armed?"

"I got my shotgun back this morning."

"They are usually good about returning hunting weapons. People have to eat. Hungry people only cause trouble." They were passing a few storage buildings, with Building 32 straight ahead. "Did you find some nice gifts for your Amalia when you went shopping yesterday?"

"A few things.”

"And what are your plans for after you get home?"

"Help finish the harvest, I guess. Try to do a little trading in town before the holidays."

"Ah, yes, Christmas presents. It's fun to buy pretty things for children and ladies, isn't it?"

"It’s a lot more fun than plowing and stringing chile peppers."

"That it is," Alvi agreed. "A word of caution, friend. We have talked about my unadvertised business, and you know I sometimes hear important things." He frowned in concern. "I continue to hear of plans to clean up Macrina. The town is growing prosperous and the Feds want their cut. They also suspect there are young men of draft age there. It's been a long time since they've recruited in that area."

"That's what I heard."

"If I were you," Alvi said, his voice low and sincere. "I would make my trades in Higdon for a little while."

"Higdon?" Donovan looked at him skeptically. "I hear they're disorganized and unsafe."

"Unsafe for a lady. Unsafe for an old man like Peterson. But not unsafe for a young and clever man like yourself. Should you fail to take my advice and find yourself in Macrina on the day of a raid, I can't guarantee that your papers will be much use. They might help, they might not. A large unit with full cross-checking capability would see through it in a minute."

"I see your point. I don't suppose you know when Higdon's market days are?"

"It’s my job to know everyone's market days. Higdon is usually the second week of every month. But each year they have a special market period starting the first of December. It is usually quite good. There is a road that goes from Higdon directly to Mexico, which makes their Christmas market very unique."

"I'll keep that in mind.”

"I hope so, friend. It would be a terrible tragedy for the ladies to lose you simply because you were in the wrong place at the wrong time, don't you agree?"

Before Donovan could answer, they found themselves pulling into a long drive that extended across a series of bays across the front of Building 32. Alvi handed his claim ticket to a corporal and was directed to a bay at the end of the row. As they pulled up, some young recruits brought out a crude wooden coffin while two others began recklessly moving the goods in the wagon aside. Donovan jumped down to direct them and for a few minutes everything was confusion. Finally they got the coffin in, strapped it down and began re-packing everything else around it.

"Be sure they tie the tarp down well," Alvi advised. "They say the front is still a few days away, but things could be moving faster than they predict and it's hard to see a change with the mountains in the way." He frowned at the sky and called the corporal over. "Any chance we can get a plastic tarp?"

"No, sir. Regulations."

Alvi fumbled in a pocket and slipped a coin into the young man's hand. "We will be traveling a long way. It would be a shame if one of our war heroes were exposed to the elements on his final journey home, don't you think?"

The corporal stole a glance at the coin and slipped it into a pocket. "Yes, sir, it would." He walked away and returned a few minutes later with a brown plastic sheet. He handed it to the recruits and had them tie it on top of the canvas tarp.

When the men were finished, they stepped back and saluted. Donovan climbed onto the box, Alvi clucked at the jennies and they were on their way.

They passed through the base in silence and were almost at the gate when Alvi said, "You will make certain Miss Carina gets home safely.”

Donovan looked at him, startled. "Of course. What kind of question is that?"

"It isn't a question. I only wish I didn't have this other commitment."

"I can look out for her."

"I don't worry for her physical safety," Alvi said. "I worry for her feelings. She is fragile right now and could do something rash."

"I don't see her setting things on fire again."

"That isn't quite what I meant." Alvi flashed Donovan a look that was completely lost on him. "I don't want her putting her hopes in the wrong places."

"Oh, she won't do that."

"Really?" They pulled through the gate with a smile and wave to the guard. Up ahead, parked beside the curb, was the red gypsy cart. Carina was standing by the donkeys, rubbing Patrón's nose. Alvi pulled the team to a stop, jumped down and walked over to her. "That didn't take so long, did it?"

Carina shook her head. "I suppose not."

He took her hands in his and started to say something else, then pulled her close instead. In her ear he whispered, "Do nothing foolish, dear. Have a safe trip home. I will visit you in the spring."


Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Part Two, Chapter Seventeen

Donovan stood outside the motel in the pre-dawn darkness, directing the two boys who were loading their things into the wagon. It wasn't hard work, but leaving space for the coffin was a tricky matter. The load would have to be re-packed at base no matter what they did. It was either that or take the wagon empty and come back for their things afterward. At least this way saved time.

Carina came out of the motel, her last bag slung over her shoulder. She was wearing new black pants and boots, which made her look more capable and less delicate than she had seemed in her fluttering skirts. The clothes must have imparted some confidence, because she held her head up and moved with a measure of her old style, not particularly graceful, but direct and sure like one of her goats. She approached the side of the wagon and looked in, then she handed one of the boys her bag.

"Is that everything?" Donovan asked.

"Yes. I even looked under the bed, just in case. But if you have time, you might want to take a look, just to be sure. I’m still not in my right mind, you know."

"Actually, I was thinking you look like you're feeling better today."

Her gaze wandered to the keepsake box that the boys were loading into the wagon. "I slept a little better last night. Do you think it's time to get Alvi?"

"Yes, we're almost finished."

Carina walked to the barren field that served as a campground. Alvi's wagon was in its same spot, but the donkeys Caudillo and Patrón were in their traces, worrying their bits and tossing their heads. Although she didn't feel the same intensity of affection that she usually had when she saw an animal, Carina forced herself to rub their ears and noses. Now that the initial knife edge of grief was receding, she could remember some of Amalia's words and appreciate their wisdom. If she went through the motions long enough, the feelings would eventually come back, too. She patted her old friends and although she lacked the heart to coo and talk nonsense to them, she found herself smiling into their wise brown eyes. "I bet you know all his secrets."

She went around to the door and knocked. It opened at once, as if Alvi had known she was there and was waiting. He was dressed in the colorful gypsy outfit that Carina now recognized for a disguise. Nonetheless, it was a style that suited him. In the warm glow of an oil lamp he looked dashing and full of happy energy. "Good morning, my lovely," he said, reaching down a hand and guiding her over the threshold. "Come in and sit down. I was just finishing packing."

Carina looked around doubtfully. There were no wares or personal effects to be seen, so she couldn't imagine what kind of packing there was to be done. But as she sat on the edge of a wicker chest, he moved about tightening the many ties and straps that kept items hanging on his walls or lying flat on top of shelves and chests as the wagon bounced along the country roads. "I don't think I've ever seen what all you do back here," she remarked.

"That's because it's so dull, darling. I would never bore you with such matters if it could be helped."

Carina fell silent, looking at her hands. "About yesterday..."

Alvi stopped what he was doing. "Miss Carina, let us both forget what I said yesterday. It was too soon. I was out of line and I apologize."

"No," Carina said, shaking her head. "I mean, yes, it was too soon. But I was flattered. You're so sweet."

"Sweet." Alvi spat the word and returned to his work. "I live to be 'sweet.'"

"I'm sorry. That was the wrong word."

"Yes, it was."

"Well, what I meant was—"

Alvi looked at her again. "I know what you meant. You were quite clear. I was not listening, and that was wrong of me."

"This isn't about right or wrong."

"Isn't it? Good. That puts my mind at ease." He saw his jacket hanging from a peg and put it on. "Shall we go? I don't want to get a late start on my journey, and I'm sure you don't, either."

Carina got to her feet. "Yes, I suppose it's time. But Alvi, I don't want us to part like this. I don't like how it's suddenly all different."

The man's features softened. "Nothing is different between us. You can reject me a hundred times and I will still be your friend." He put a hand against her cheek and she closed her eyes and leaned into it with the instinctual move of a cat. He was about to speak when he saw the necklace.

Carina sensed his sudden shift in mood and opened her eyes. "What is it?"

"That's a very lovely necklace you're wearing." Alvi said quietly. "I don't think I've ever seen it before. Is it new?"

She reached a hand toward her collar. "Yes." Then she dropped her eyes. "Donovan gave it to me."

All Alvi said was, "How nice of him," but Carina sensed the sudden change that went far beyond anything that had been said before. Her racing mind thought of all the explanations she could bring to bear on the matter. How dare he think there was anything more to it than just another one of Donovan's youthful, impulsive gestures? But she sensed too, that anything she said would only make things worse. She pulled her collar up close around her neck and turned toward the door. "We should go. Caudillo and Patrón were looking impatient."

Alvi latched the door, followed her down the steps, then folded the stairs out of the way and locked them for travel. "They should know better than to be impatient," Alvi said to no one in particular. "I've told them again and again. Too much hurry is never a good thing. It takes patience to get what you want."


Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Part Two, Chapter Sixteen

Carina sat nervous and silent throughout dinner at the taqueria up the block from their motel. She nibbled a quesadilla but spent most of her time rearranging the beans on her plate and pretending not to notice the tension running just below the surface as Alvi and Donovan discussed the food, the town and whether the fine weather would hold. “On base they are saying a front is on its way and to expect storms,” Alvi said.

“Are their reports usually accurate?”

“Yes, unfortunately, and I’m afraid I have no choice but to head out in the morning. I’m behind schedule.”

Carina looked up. “Why would a peddler be on a schedule?”

“All of life is a schedule, my sweet, but I recommend you wait until the storm passes before trying to go home.”

“If you can travel through it, so can we. I hate this place. Being isolated in the country is better than being surrounded by the phonies and government parasites around here.”

“I have more experience traveling in bad weather than you have, and your route is directly in the path of the storm.” He shrugged. “But the front is still a few days out. Things might change. If you make good time, perhaps you’ll be home before it arrives.”

“We should have no trouble,” Donovan said. “We cleared some of the roads of hazards on our way up, and the animals are adequately rested.”

“I’ll try not to worry, then.” Alvi motioned to the waitress and ordered flan for everyone. “I shouldn’t be ordering dessert for a girl who hasn’t eaten her supper, but I’m afraid I can’t resist.”

Carina looked away. “I don’t want it, Alvi.” But once the custard was in front of her, she made short work of it.

After dinner Alvi walked them to their motel room, but left almost immediately, claiming to have a lot of packing to do. Donovan couldn’t imagine what kind of packing a man had to do when he took his home with him, but he was glad to be rid of him. Carina seemed glad to see him go, too. “He tires me sometimes,” she confessed as she collapsed into a chair.

“He’s a very intense person,” Donovan said diplomatically.

“Yes.” She gazed at nothing, pondering. “Thank you for putting up with all of this. I’ve been a lot of trouble.”

“You’ve been no trouble at all.” Donovan wandered over to his packages and pulled out the bottle of scotch.

Carina sat up. “Can I have some?”

“After last night?”

She ducked her head. “I’m sorry. Just a little to help me sleep.”

There were no glasses in the room, only earthenware mugs, but Donovan poured a generous amount for her, and then some for himself. He looked at all the packages that would have to go into the wagon and suddenly felt weary to the bone. Maybe it wouldn’t take long to get everything staged by the door. He could hire someone to pack the wagon in the morning. There would enough to do once they were on the road. No point making things harder than they had to be.

“You shouldn’t lie to me,” Carina said, startling him out of his reverie.

“What are you talking about?”

“You. Saying I’m no trouble. I’ve been nothing but trouble.”

“It’s not your fault.”

She frowned and sipped her drink. “It's not all my fault, but enough of it is. Still, you shouldn’t lie. Alvi lies. I’m not sure why, but he does. It depresses me to only get more lies from you. I count on you to tell me the truth when he won’t.”

“What does Alvi lie to you about?”

“You tell me.”

Too late, he saw the little trap she had sprung. Well, it wasn’t like he had been sworn to secrecy. “Alvi has to lie. He’s an informer.”

Carina nodded, as if the explosive news was something she had already suspected. “I should’ve realized long ago.”

“I don’t think there’s any malice in it,” Donovan said, surprised to find himself taking up for him. “He gives a lot of disinformation. He’s even helped people escape to the Underground.”

“So he plays both ends against the middle. Nice.”

“Whatever his faults, his feelings for you and Amalia are sincere.” He thought back to Alvi’s remarks while they were sitting in Margaret’s waiting room. “He'd do anything for you.”

“Except take no for an answer.” Carina tossed back the rest of her scotch and stood up. “I’m going to pack my things and get ready for bed. Thanks for the drink.”

After she left, Donovan stacked and staged his purchases near the door, then poured himself another drink and went into the bedroom. He found Carina in her new nightgown, thankfully white, not black, standing in front of her empty luggage. Clothes and other items were spread across the bed in disarray and there was an expression of utter confusion on her face. “Do you need help?” he asked.

“No, it’s just...” She shook her head and smiled at her own folly. “How hard can this be, right?” She began picking things up and stuffing them into a bag with abandon. “It just seems so hard to get started on anything. I’m afraid I’ll do it wrong, and then I won’t have another chance. It's like every decision is irrevocable.”

“I don’t think how you pack is going to make much of a difference on the rest of your life,” he said. “But if you don’t leave out something to wear tomorrow, you’re going to find yourself irrevocably having to unpack again.”

Carina looked at her bag with a start, then sat on the bed and ran her fingers through her hair. “I don’t know why you put up with me. I feel like I’ve totally lost my mind.”

“Lost your illusions, more like.”

“I guess I had a lot of them to lose.” She looked up and searched his face earnestly. “Isn’t anything as it seems?”

“I’ve never thought so.”

“I liked my illusions.”

Donovan fumbled in his pocket, pulled out a blue velvet box and handed it to her.

The necklace seemed to glow with an inner light in its nest of white satin. Carina’s breath caught and she looked up at Donovan in confusion. “This must’ve cost a fortune.”

“Not really.”

She rose to her feet. “You didn’t steal it, did you?”


“But you probably stole to pay for it.” She hesitated, as if she would give it back. “I can’t wear blue any more. I already made up my mind about that.”

Donovan took the necklace out of her hands and held it up so she could see the full effect of the light shining through the gems, then he clasped it around her neck. “Of course you can wear it. It’s the color of your illusions.”

She reached a hand to her collarbone and touched the cool stones. Without meaning to, she smiled. When she looked at Donovan again, a little of the old warmth and humor lit her eyes. “I guess there’s no harm,” she said, “In wearing a reminder of how foolish I can be.”