Think About Icebergs: Their New Lifebypeachesmelba©
Max pulled into the gravel drive, a long rooster tail of dust hanging in the hot, still air of the gravel road behind him. The county had re-graded and spread fresh rock not long ago and everyone living outside town had appreciated their effort. There were also not a few incidental grumbles caused by the increased amount of orange dust clogging throats, dirtying homes and causing freshly washed laundry hanging on lines to be taken in at night dirtier than it had been before washing. He didn't mind the dirt much himself but he knew it was the current bane of Alli's existence. Grinning to himself he thought better the dirt than him!
She had been working hard for weeks now - expanding the garden with what late crops might still grow - cooking and canning as much as possible to ensure an adequate food supply for the three of them over the coming winter. As much meat and fish as could be crammed into the old chest freezer had been but he'd been warned that electricity was sometimes unreliable during the heavy winter snowstorms. He'd gotten the necessary licenses and, with the help and advice of some of Clayton's friends, he'd started looking at guns, but it was his boss who found him the widow selling her things to move South and live with her children. Part of her sale had included a padlocked trunk of her late husband's "huntin' t'ings". She'd asked them how much they'd give to take it away and his boss Hal's suspicions had been aroused when she happily took their first offer of $300.
Hal had told him he'd go halves on the expense if it turned out to be nothing but had added that her husband had been a long-time hunter and fisherman, making sure their family and friends had never gone hungry. They'd both gone into a little shock at finding the well stocked little trunk contained not only blaze orange vest and cap, along with a heavy camo jacket, ammunition, various scents and calls, and nestled on top the old hunter's Remington 700 and a pretty little .22 rifle. Stunned, Max had insisted on going back and giving the widow more money the next day, telling her they were just what he needed and that he couldn't pay her the full value for the guns because...well, he just didn't have the cash right now, but... The smiling little woman had just tucked the money back in his shirt pocket, kissing him shyly on the cheek while telling him how happy her husband would be knowing that someone had the guns who was going to use them.
Hoping the old man was watching from 'the beyond' he sketched a jaunty salute as he pulled the .22 off the truck's gun rack to clean it - unsurprised to hear the skree of a hunting hawk from beyond the tree-line. He knew Alli's Granny considered all of the raptors to be 'Big Medicine', but that she seemed to have a special love for the big red-tail hawks and felt they brought her messages from the 'spirit world'. He was getting used to hearing 'hawk he say' or 'hawk she say' any time he and Alli disagreed or were in a quandary of decision making. Right now he expected Granny would tell him 'hawk he say you welcome'. Pulling the brace of rabbits from the truck bed he headed for the back side of the house, knowing if he dripped blood on any floor but the kitchen he'd face BOTH Alli and her Granny's wrath.
As he entered the house a wave of pungent, plant smelling steam rolled out the door around him, momentarily fogging his glasses.
"Smells good!" He called, "What's cookin'?"
Alli smiled that face transfiguring smile that seemed to have the power to make his heart skip beats, as she replied, "Skin cream! Want some?"
Laughing as he shook his head and backed away from her offered spoon he still managed to slide next to her and steal a kiss, murmuring, "I was wrong, it's not the skin cream - it's YOU that smells so good!"
She giggled as he nibbled her ear lobe and neck but he noted the prominent points her nipples were making under her shirt. Rubbing his semi-erect penis against her hip he said -
"Hold that thought, okay? You need to finish that I expect," at her nod he continued, "and I need to clean these."
Holding the bunnies a little higher brought them into her field of vision, and Granny Merry's as well. The tiny older woman clapped her hands happily as she bustled to fill a pan with cool water.
"Max go clean gun!" she commanded. "Granny take care daa'bu."
She headed out the back door with the tub of water, coming back for the rabbits and a small, wickedly sharp knife.
"Any idea what she's saving all the rabbit skins for?" he asked in some amusement.
"Our baby." Alli answered off-handedly.
Startled Max dropped the rod he was preparing for use in cleaning and oiling the light rifle.
Stammering he said, "Alli? I thought you couldn't...we couldn't..."
"We CAN'T," she answered with some heat. "And don't think I haven't reminded her of that on multiple occasions, but all she says is 'hawk he say you get girl baby'...and then she cackles and shakes her finger and says 'better get ready you betcha'."
Shaking her head she added, "Like I don't have enough on my plate right now without having a baby too!"
Looking around at the small house, Max thought that wasn't the least of their problems but considering the look on Alli's face decided discretion might be his best strategy. Nodding noncomittally he agreed, "That's true honey, I don't know how you could possibly take care of a baby in addition to everything you do already."
A hot flame leaped in the far recesses of her eyes as she turned, "I suppose that means that IF somehow we DID manage to have a baby that YOU wouldn't be helping out?"
Fortunately he didn't have to think about the answer to this. Putting down the gun and cleaning rod he got to his feet, moving carefully toward Alli, making certain to avoid the big wooden spoon she was waving at him threateningly. Sliding his arms around her and kissing her softly he assured her, "Of course I would Alli. If we were ever fortunate enough to have a baby I can't think of anything more rewarding that I could do than to help you raise her....or him."
As her eyes brimmed with sudden tears he smiled through his beard, sliding out of arms' reach before adding, "Besides, I'd hate to think I wasted all those Red Cross Babysitting Classes."
Granny coming back in the kitchen with the denuded rabbits interrupted Alli chasing Max through the small house. He was in good enough physical condition now to be able to keep well in the lead leaping smaller obstacles in his way and rolling easily across Granny's bed to be able to make a nearly full circuit. Alli had turned back at one door into her Grandmother's room, doubling back through the narrow hall past the bathroom and cutting him off again with an exultant whoop at the door of the kitchen.
Granny tsked and took the wooden spoon from her hand before she could brain Max with it, using it to stir the merrily boiling pot, all the while muttering about "Wil' Injuns in dis house, t'ink dey too big for WHIPPIN'S!" Then she smiled, her face creasing into a million folds and Max recognized where Alli's beautiful smile had originated. It was hard to imagine the diminutive grandmother, toothless as a baby now, as someone who was once as stunning and beautiful as his Alli was now, but their smiles were the same...well, except for dentition he thought.
He grinned back at the old woman, settling once more to clean his gun thinking how, in some ways, they could easily be living a hundred years ago. Until Alli's cell phone shrilled and broke that particular fantasy. Whoever was calling was family....or Shoshone at least, he qualified, as she answered the phone with "Haa'" - that was the last word he recognized however as the remaining conversation was much too fast for his limited vocabulary to follow. Alli wasn't happy though, he could tell that much - but the way she kept looking at him as she argued vociferously with whoever was on the phone had his antennae vibrating.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Two short fast weeks later they were packing up into the hills, all of them on horseback, several extra horses in the string in case of emergencies, three packed high with supplies and medicines. Alli's cousin Ray was riding lead, Alli rode in the middle most often or back with Max but frequently would ride off in search of some plant one of the elders had taught her about that didn't grow at lower altitudes. Two more of her male cousins also rode along 'in case of emergencies'. All of them packing, including Alli. He'd been surprised when she'd insisted that he carry the Remington and that she would take the .22 but when he expressed doubts had marched him outside, quickly loading the lightweight little gun and closing one eye (despite his protests) she had proceeded to knock six of seven tin cans clean off the fence. Actually it gave him significant relief to know that she could shoot a gun.....whether or not she WOULD shoot if circumstances required it at any point remained to be seen.
The elders wanted her to make calls on some of the outlying tribal members before bad weather set in and made it impossible for them to get in or out. Some required some medications and treatments that she knew about and carried with her. Others would likely be a complete surprise and she hoped she was prepared for whatever circumstances she might find. She had tried to argue for using their trucks but the old Medicine Chief had surprisingly put his foot down, giving no reason. Max surprisingly supported that decision arguing that although they could possibly carry enough gas along with them to shorten the trip that if anything worse than a flat tire happened the whole trip could be at risk, and without knowing what roads or trails were available he was afraid of them getting in somewhere that they couldn't get out of. Riding, especially with her cousins along, gave them the best chances of getting in and out....and secondarily gave him a chance to look at some of the countryside hoping to find an appropriate site to build a home for the two of them.
As dusk approached each night Ray or one of Alli's cousins would ride ahead looking for a place to settle for the night - ideally some place flat and fairly level with water and grazing. From there everyone seemed to break off into well-defined roles and previously understood chores. Alli would usually set about hauling firewood while Max dug a shallow fire pit and tried to find rock to line it with. Once she arrived with the first armful of kindling, dried grass and weeds and smaller branches he would let her take over starting the fire while he went to gather larger, heavier dead-falls of wood, breaking it up when possible, dragging it back to the campsite for chopping later if needed. Each rider assumed responsibility for unsaddling and rubbing down their own horse, taking them down for water before leading them back out to the grass and loose hobbling them. Max and Alli would unload the pack horses and rub them down with twists of grass before watering and hobbling them.
One of the five would then start cooking, most often Alli, but on occasion one of the cousins would make a meal. More often a breakfast but Max was surprised at them cooking at all. He realized however he had made an assumption based on watching old western movies growing up, not from personally knowing any indigenous people before Alli.
As their altitude increased so did the cold. Ice formed on creek edges every night and on the water bags and even canteens if not left close to the fire or taken to bed with one at night. While rolling over on a cold canteen was an unthinkable shock to the system while sleeping, an even worse shock was trying to get a drink of water and finding your canteen frozen solid. But surprisingly the snow continued to hold off, and the days were uncharacteristically 'warm' - at least by comparison with normal winters he'd heard of from the locals.
They reached a point where cell phones stopped working being out of reach of any towers and he felt momentarily bereft. In all of his memory he'd never NOT had a cell phone - or lived anywhere that a cell phone wouldn't work. When he noticed it he brought it to Alli's attention immediately - only to have her shrug and keep riding, without even trying her own phone for a signal. It was, he thought, one of the few points in their relationship when their age and race discrepancy truly made a difference.
Following what, in many cases, seemed no better than a game trail brought them to one and then another of the outlying farms where they were greeted happily for the medicines and supplies they brought - but even more for the gossip and news of the outside world they brought. Max was invariably made welcome, coming as he did, as part of a tribal envoy but his Shoshone was getting good enough to be able to pick up when the talk around the fire at night turned to the white man in their midst and what he was doing there. Max frequently excused himself at that point to go outside 'and check the horses' - allowing the talk to proceed where it would and Alli to explain if she felt it necessary.
Their culture required a mutual exchange of gifts of equal or greater value and they received supplies to match those they left behind - woven trade blankets - pottery, jewelry and other artistic creations - two young geldings to add to their string and a very young, furry puppy that Max privately thought might be part wolf, but was promptly named 'Bear' - both for his fur and the size of his paws but also for his voracious appetite. They reached the highest and furthest farm and were working their way back now, slowly descending along other trails.
A mild snow storm caught them still on the trails and Ray and the cousins headed for a series of old cliff caves they used when hunting. On arriving Max found the caves to be well-stocked against emergencies such as these with bundles of firewood and of dried grasses for the horses, airtight containers of dried beans and lentils, jerky, and other provender meant that they could weather out a bigger storm than this one looked to be - when the next morning dawned clear and warming and the musical sound of dripping, melting snow could be heard all over the mountain he and the cousins started working to replenish the stored supplies of firewood and dried grass, while Alli and her cousin Ray rode off alone to visit this last farm together. Max felt decidedly odd watching Alli ride away without him - it would be the first time in weeks that they would be apart and he'd grown accustomed to her constant presence.
As the day wore on and Alli and Ray didn't return Max's feelings of instability and oddness increased. He realized they hadn't spent a night apart since they moved in together and he found himself pacing the confines of their small camp - dashing outside every time he heard a bird call or an unfamiliar noise that might have been Ray and Alli returning. At first her cousins teased him but as the hours passed and night fell Max could tell that their anxiety was increasing too. Bear refused to settle down to sleep without the warm comfort of Alli's body on the other side of the sleeping bag and Max too had difficulty sleeping without his partner there.
As their third day in the cave began the steady clop of hooves could be heard echoing across the hillside and Bear yipped happily when he caught scents that he recognized. Ray came riding into camp first, shouting for Douglas who came running. A rapid exchange in Shoshone followed while Max grew more and more alarmed. Douglas ran for his horse, saddling the pinto gelding rapidly. At Ray's additional comment Douglas grabbed two more of the horses from the string and rode off back the way they'd come two days ago. The only thing that kept Max from bodily attacking Ray at this point was the clip clopping sound of another horse coming toward them.
When Alli rode around the bend in the trail Max thought she had never looked more beautiful.....he realized as she rode closer that she'd also never looked more tired.....older, and more nearly her age. Not that she WAS old, he amended. Barely turned 46 the beautiful Shoshone woman had always seemed younger than springtime to him. Now however she huddled in the saddle, wrapped in a couple of the trade blankets they'd taken for supplies, another wrapped around something in her arms. He couldn't tell what it was but hoped it was another puppy for the rambunctious Bear to play with - his boots and toes had been suffering from the puppy's need to chew and a playmate to chew on would be perfect.
As he walked toward Alli's horse a smile on his face Ray stopped him, "Don't ask her no questions. I'll tell you everything but she needs to sleep now."
If it hadn't been for his woman's obvious exhaustion the intrusion would have angered him....and then he realized how unlikely such an intrusion was in their society. Had never happened before during their weeks of travel...or before that. Granny was a law unto herself and interfered between them when and how she pleased. but they lived under her roof as well - he had never seen the old woman resort to such behavior when others were around - or even when other family members quarreled or fussed with each other...often times just turning her back to busy herself doing something else, or leaving the room. Nodding his head curtly he accepted the other man's remonstrance, simply going to Alli's horse prepared to help her dismount.
Alli smiled at him - a tired smile but one that belied the dark circles under her eyes - and handed down the bundle in her arms. At the movement a thin, exhausted sounding wail rose from the midst of the folded blanket and Max realized he wasn't holding a puppy. Startled he looked up at Alli who shrugged and quoted, "Hawk, he say...."
Ray came bustling up taking the bundle from Max's arms and turning it around, looking at him reproachfully, "You're holding her upside-down!"
Max was still making faces rather like a fish out of water turning from Alli to Ray and back again, "Hawk........she? Alli, that's a baby! A baby girl?"
Ray grinned at his cousin, "Got a real flair for the obvious don't he?"
She reached from the blankets to half-heartedly punch the older man's shoulder, "Don't be dissing my man, Cuz'!" Adding with a yawn, "Here, give her to me, I gotta get a little sleep."
Kissing Max a warm but too brief kiss she took the baby, heading into the cave, "Wake me in an hour, okay?" Not waiting for a response she disappeared inside, the sound of the baby's cries dying off fretfully, and Max turned to Ray. "Okay, your turn now. What happened out there?"
Ray nodded, suddenly looking nearly as tired as Alli had, but as they unsaddled, watered and groomed the two horses and moved to the fireside Ray told him the tale and Max was rather astonished at just how much had taken place in the time they had been gone - a time period that now seemed all too short....
Alli and Ray had ridden out to a small sheep holding finding it run down and in a decrepit state. As they rode up they thought perhaps that the owners might have died or moved away but a sudden bleating from behind a shed led to a discovery of several sheep still fenced in pens and a slurred voice from the house had called out wanting to know who was there. Ray had replied that he was bringing supplies and the nurse, and unlimbered his rifle, setting the butt on his thigh and keeping his free hand near the trigger action where the gun was in plain view. The male voice from the house had roared with laughter and invited them up to the house.
They'd discovered the house was as run-down inside as it was outside with a gray-haired, slatternly old woman, shuffling around in a filthy dress and slippers while her son, a greasy looking middle-aged man in a gray wife-beater and stained jeans sat at a table and poured himself a drink of Wild Turkey. Ray's nostrils had flared at the smell of human waste and garbage that assaulted them before they even crossed the threshold but Alli's face had just looked pinched he reported. Looking around the small room she'd asked, "Where is she?" and the older man had mumbled something about 'lazy bitch won't get up' and still being in bed. Alli's eyebrow had gone up at that - she was scheduled to check on the man's much younger wife and bring her prenatal vitamins. Nodding to Ray she had grabbed her saddle bag and headed to where a draped blanket covered a doorway.