Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Chapter 4

Sloan pushed me behind him as I tried to run down the hall. "Boys?!"

"We didn't mean to Uncle Sloan!"

Sloan muttered a creative curse and went towards the boys' voices. I walked into my room to find both of my book cases collapsed across my bed.

"Oh Uncle Sloan. It looks like you aren't going to be sleeping here tonight. She's got a big mess to clean up."

I was staring at the destruction then turned with a jerk when I heard two solid whacks. Sloan had caught each boy a good hard one across their backsides. The boys stood there in shock for about two seconds before jumping around and yelling as they grabbed their butts.


The boys stood stock still with dawning comprehension that their uncle was extremely angry. "I warned you two what would happen if you got up to your tricks. You both promised me you would behave and give me time to work things out. We aren't even here 24 hours before you ..." I could see a vein pulsing in Sloan's temple and knew that the stories of red-headed tempers were certainly true for this particular man. He grabbed each boy by an arm and started hauling them down the stairs. I didn't know what he had planned but I'd seen my father get just as fed up with my brothers though it had been years since they'd done something to rile him as badly as Sloan obviously was.

"Sloan!" He stopped and spun and looked back up to where I was standing on the landing. "Look, I know they're your nephews and ... and I know what they did was just plain wrong whatever their reasons might have been. But I had me two brothers that could do things that made them seem mean as snakes sometimes ... but they weren't really bad at heart ... just god-awfully hard headed."

"Hah!" he barked. "Hard headed doesn't even begin to describe these two. I want an accounting of everything that broke and ..."


The tone of my voice actually stopped him. "Just don't. Some things can't be bought or replaced. What is broken is broken. I'll deal with it. If they start getting the idea that I can be bought off ..." I shook my head. "I'm not that kind of person Sloan even if me agreeing to marry you makes me seem like I am."

I turned and went into my bedroom and shut the door as the full enormity of the choice I had made finally penetrated. I was married to a man I didn't know, one with a nasty temper, who had two nephews that hated me without any reason beyond I existed. I did it all so I wouldn't have to leave home. Only my home wasn't my home anymore, it belonged to Sloan and I was just part of a package deal. And I was supposed to do something with him that I'd never done with anyone else ... and not out of love but in exchange for my own room and board.

Tears leaked out of my eyes but I kept brushing them away impatiently. I wasn't the only one crying however as I heard Sloan give the boys what for. I heard them all coming back up the stairs and then the door slowly opened.

"The boys are going to apologize and then help you pick up this mess."

"I'll deal with my things. There's glass all over the floor and they're liable to just get it stuck in their feet."

"You sure?"

"I'm sure," I told him still not turning around.

The boys mumbled apologies between sniffling and then fled to my brothers' old small bedroom they had shared before declaring that they had needed their own space when they turned thirteen. I heard footsteps come back and then Sloan was there trying to stand the book cases back up. "Don't bother. The legs are cracked on both of them and they'll just fall again."

"I'll get Dan to fix these."

"Don't bo ..."

He snapped, "I said ..." He stopped and moderated his voice trying to sound like he had before the boys played their mean trick. "Dan is actually a good carpenter. I've seen him restore stuff I didn't think anything could fix." He sighed and then looked around the room and I tried to see it through his eyes. I'd had the same room since I was a baby. For some reason Mom thought I liked pink ... actually I can't stand it but I always hated to tell her that because she loved the color pink. I had more pink clothes than should be allowed by law. My bed sheets were pink. The walls were pink and the curtains were white with pink roses that Mom had hand embroidered herself.

I told him, "I know ... it's pink."

"Yeah. It is. Like pink do you?"

"Can't stand it if you want to know the truth but Mom and Sarah thought it was 'darling.' Sarah's room was about the same until the health department came in and sprayed some kind of crud all over the place in there. It stained stuff so bad that we had to strip everything out. The boys and I cleaned it up and it has just sort of ..."

"The room down the hall? I wondered why it was the only one in the house that was completely empty."

"Yeah, that one." I had to wipe my nose or risk a snot dribble running into my mouth.

He noticed and asked, "Are you crying?"

"Not really. Just ... "

He took my shoulders and gently but firmly forced me to turn in his direction. He muttered a curse then let go. "I'm sorry for this. Hell of a way to start things between us."

"Isn't your fault and I'm being stupid for crying. Just let it go."

"You say that like you mean it. Were your brothers that hard on you? Uh ... was ... was it your father?"

"What? No! I mean they were hard men but not to me. I guess if I'm like anything it is ... look life basically ... well it sucks. You said you're thirty right?"


"Well I bet you have some memories from before the war."


"Well I don't. And you have family left ... your nephews and that cousin or other that Mr. Burdock mentioned."

Sloan gave a slow, "Yeah."

"Well again, I don't. Between the war taking my cousins and the flu taking everyone else but my Dad and brothers and then some crap headed jerks taking them away ... I don't have anyone. I'm the last one left of more than seven generations that have lived and worked here and I couldn't even manage to save the farm and keep it in the family. And all the rest of it that isn't even worth talking about because it doesn't change it from just being the way things are. As I see it I've got two choices ... I can go crazy or I can make the best of things. Gran used to say 'Sugah, crazy just isn't my calah.' And I learned to feel the same way. So if it makes me seem unfeeling or whatever I'm not. I've just decided crazy isn't my color and that's all there is to it."

Sloan snorted. "That's one I've never heard. I'll have to remember it. And I wasn't kidding ... I still want an accounting of what's been broken. It isn't to buy you off ... it's to make the boys understand accountability. I told them last time they broke something I was done shelling out my hard earned money on their carelessness and meanness."

"There's not much here you could replace. If your Dan can fix the shelves that would be nice. I know they're old but ... they were handmade by one of my great uncles. The books can be taped or glued back together. The other stuff ... its just memories. Might be best to pack them away anyway." I stood up and brushed my hands off. "I'll deal with this tomorrow. I need to check the animals one last time."

"I'll do it."

"The animals don't know you, it would probably confuse them rather than settle them down."

"Then I'll come with you."

I'd heard the same tone in Dad's voice when negotiations were over so just nodded in the direction of where the boys lay. In a voice louder than necessary Sloan said something to the effect that they'd better be asleep and not move or they'd get more of what they got earlier and a little more besides for still not learning their lesson.

It took longer than I expected as Sloan didn't know his way around in the dark and then insisted on asking questions. "Cows look in good order though that one with the crumpled horn has a mean disposition."

"Yeah, she can be ornery, but she milks like a dream. She's always stayed fresher longer than the others. I'd love to see her have another calf and see if the characteristic breeds true."

"Ornery or a good milker."

I looked at him and I think he was trying to tease me out of my upset. I tried to smile just because he was being nice but it was a lot of work. "Either or. She's kicked the stuffing out of more than one stray dog that came looking for trouble. That's why ... oh my gosh, where's Shotgun?"

"I made the boys tie him up."

"Doesn't he usually sleep with them?"

"With me actually."

"He's your dog?"

"Yeah. The boys were supposed to look after him while they were staying with my cousin but ..."

"Hmm. Well, Boone sometimes slept inside. Or outside. He was an either or type of dog."

"Your father was fine with that?"

"Yeah. We used to have strictly outside dogs and strictly inside dogs but eventually only Boone was left and he pretty much went where he pleased ... except the dining room. Dad didn't care if he sat and stared from the door way but the dining room was off limits."

"Hmm. With all these silos is there a rodent problem?"

"No, Watchit and her progeny pretty much take care of that issue."


"Barn owl. Jeremiah saved it from a cat when it was just a chick and hand raised it. The crazy thing stayed wild even after the boys tried everything to tame it. They named it because even as a chick the bird wasn't shy about going for a finger or nose."

"Uh ... oh! Watch It. Watchit. Clever."

"They thought so. She's getting on up there in age for a barn owl but she'll still swoop down on you and bat you in the head with a wing for fun now and again when she's bored."

"Mmph! Ow! What the hell?!"

I turned to find him dancing around trying to detach something from his leg. "Yay!! You found him!! I thought he was lost forever. Now Cheeser stop it. Turn loose right now so I can hug you to bits and pieces you naughty kitty!" I detached the small, tail-less manx cat from Sloan's jeans and then proceeded to do what I had threatened.

"My god, is that thing actually purring?"

"Oh you just don't know. He's my kitty. He ran away during ... I thought maybe they'd gotten him like they did Boone. I was worried I'd just walk up and find his carcass where he'd crawled off and died. Or that maybe Watchit had gotten him. He's too small to be out at night." I was rubbing my nose in the small cat's fur and he sounded like a Diesel engine. I put him inside my overalls and he curled into a ball and finally stopped shaking.

Sloan rubbed his shin but didn't say anything so we visited the rest of the animals before heading back to the house. While I set a food dish and litter pan for Cheeser in the utility room Sloan went to check on his nephews. The old house carried some mumbled sounds from the room but Sloan didn't mention anything when he came back down. He did however say, "I understand if what happened has put you off what we talked about."

"No ... no we made a bargain."

"You sure?"

"Yeah ... just don't expect ..."

"Fireworks. You mentioned that." He took a breath like he was about to say something and then stopped. Turned to go then came back. "You never asked why I wasn't in the military."

"Oh ... I guess I ... well not everyone gets drafted."

"It wasn't because of that. I couldn't pass the physical."

I looked at him and just waited. "My back ... you ... well it will be dark so you won't see it but you ... you might feel it. I've got burns ... it compromised my flexibility. I tried every branch and none of them would take me."

"I haven't noticed if it has stopped you. You got up the stairs as fast as I did."

He nodded. "I just couldn't pass their one test where you have to be able to bend over to some degree or other. I couldn't do the number of situps they required either."

"Six packs are overrated. They actually look a little weird if you want to know the truth."

He choked on his spit and squawked, "What?"

"The sit up thing ... you do it to get six pack abs right? I just think they look a little creepy is all ... like a jigsaw puzzle where no jigsaw puzzle should be. And about the burns ... Dad had them too. It's why he was able to retire instead of having to stay another tour. It was his hands and up his forearms. Mom used to make him this liniment for when his hands would get sore or the skin too tight. I made it after she ... anyway, there's some in the utility room cabinet if you need it."

"Uh ... no ... no that's ok. So ... uh ... I'll just go finish unpacking my stuff and ... uh ... you ... you come in when you're ready."

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