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.