Saturday, February 21, 2009

Chapter 10- Poppies

— Chapter 10 — Alan went to work as usual the next morning, but he couldn’t shake feeling restless and nervous. Something deep in his bones told him to pick up everything and everyone and run. When he voiced his thoughts out loud to Jonah, he was surprised at his reaction. “Alan, we could be jumping to conclusions. We got ourselves a nice little life here and I am tired of running.” Alan, feeling defeated, nodded. He too was tired of running. He stood beside his friend, wanting him to take the burden he suddenly felt off of his shoulders. “Be careful today,” Alan said as he held Shawna in his arms. She was beginning to be too big to carry. Her long legs dangled over Alan’s hips as she clutched her slender arms around his neck. “We will,” Jonah replied. Jobeth came up from behind him. “Good. Give Shawna a kiss and we’ll be off.” Alan smiled. Shawna stretched her arms out to Jobeth and she hugged and kissed the six year old. Once Alan and Shawna left, she went to the water basin sitting beside the dinner table and began to wash up. Edna needed to be milked and she wanted to make Jonah’s favorite dish for supper: roast pork with potatoes and carrots in with thick gravy. Later, Jobeth sat humming on a stool, tugging Edna’s teats. Milk squirted into the pail making a pleasant hissing sound. Jonah was behind the house down by the creek slaughtering one of the largest pigs for supper. It would supply the meat for many meals to come. Suddenly a thundering roar pierced the air, causing the world around Jobeth to vibrate. Edna stumbled backwards and mooed kicking the pail of milk over. Jobeth jumped up, her heart leaping into her throat. Her hands raced to her neck as dread filled her. Something terrible had happened. She ran outside to see where the noise came from, looking out toward the creek. There was a man who looked like the fellow Simpson, with a shotgun, running away. Jobeth’s eyes darted one way and then another as she started to run in slow motion. “Where is Jonah?” Jobeth asked through clenched teeth. She turned to the side of the house and noticed two lumps slumped on the ground. They were not moving. Jobeth gasped and sped up her pace. “Jonah!” she screamed as she drew closer to the figure hunched beside the butchered pig. “Oh no...” She moaned as she fell beside his crumpled form. A dark pool of blood encased him. The source of the blood was a deep wound in his stomach. “Noooo...” Jobeth cried, tears falling uncontrollably. Panic overwhelmed her as she gently touched Jonah’s sweaty brow. “Jobeth,” he whispered, spitting blood through stained red teeth. “Oh no, Jonah,” she whimpered, picking his head up and cradling it in her lap. “I am dying,” he winced--his eyes were bloodshot and yellow. “No,” Jobeth whined, “I won’t let you.” She hugged his limp head close to her heaving chest. “Jobeth . . . you have to listen.” Jonah wheezed again. His head felt fuzzy and he had a hard time thinking straight. “Jonah!” Jobeth wailed, her heart breaking. “You are my brother and I won’t let another brother die! The people I love can’t always die! How much do I have to lose for the sins I have committed?” Jonah sputtered, spitting up fresh blood. “Listen to me . . . remember what I said about life not always giving you what you want.” Jobeth wiped a tear from her eye with her fingers. A crumpling frown crossed her face. “Shut up!” she yelled. “Life is not fair. How could this be happening?” Her tears fell on Jonah’s paling face. “I have to say what is on my mind before I meet my maker,” Jonah’s eyes became wide, the black orbs drilling into Jobeth. “I don’t want you to mope around after I’m gone. I will be with God and baby Jonah. I am not sad to go to them.” Weakly he reached above his head and grabbed Jobeth’s hand, squeezing with all his strength. “And I will always be with you.” Blood bubbled from the wound in his belly. “You gotta be strong for Alan and Shawna . . . They need you.” Jobeth was bawling, but she continued to listen. She was covered in Jonah’s blood as she clung to him, hoping her love for him would keep him with her. “Alan,” he spat, his voice becoming weak. “He loves you so much. He wants to do good by you and Shawna.” He closed his eyes, his chest not moving. “Jonah!” Jobeth screamed in terror. His eyes fluttered open and looked around aimlessly, unable to focus. “Don’t cry, Jobeth,” Jonah smiled a bloody smile. His eyes seemed fixed, gazing at the sky. “I’ll be watching over little Jonah, telling him his ma loved him.” “Don’t say that, I need you here with me,” Jobeth cried, rubbing her bloody hand across her already blood-smeared face. She hugged Jonah’s heavy head harder to herself. “I love you. You are the best friend I have ever had. You make me want to go on when I don’t want to. Who will help me run the house or help Shawna and Alan? We need you here.” “I love you, too, but it is time for you to go on alone without me. You don’t need my hand to hold anymore.” He smiled peacefully. “Tell Alan I love him and our girl Shawna.” Jonah squeaked in a high voice. “I will Jonah,” Jobeth sobbed. He grabbed Jobeth’s arms, embracing her body, weakly. “I can’t see! I can’t see…” “Oh, Jonah!” Jobeth cried, hugging his limp body. “Please don’t die. Please . . . please don’t die.” “The living needs you, not the dead. Don’t make me cry when I am gone cause you dying down here,” Jonah barely whispered. “You promise me,” he strained. She lifted his face and gently cupped it in her blood stained hands. Tenderly, she placed an upside down kiss on Jonah’s bloody wet lips, her forehead resting on his chin. “I promise,” she said closing her eyes. She felt Jonah give one final sigh on her cheek, warm and moist, and threw back her head and howled mournfully. She wailed out her pain to the clear blue sky as she held tight to the lifeless body of her friend. That night, Alan walked into the small house feeling dread. Something was wrong. It was too quiet. “Go to your room and play,” he said to Shawna. She looked at him with puzzled blue eyes. “Git.” He said softly but lovingly. He shooed her off with his hands and she skipped off to play with her dolls, grabbing an apple out of the basket on the table. Alan looked around the empty room. It was neat and tidy—it looked like what he usually returned home to, but there was no smell of dinner perfuming the air. Jobeth was nowhere to be seen, when she normally would be bustling around setting the table with Jonah chatting around her. Something was terribly wrong. Alan felt it the moment he’d walked into work that morning. Simpson was not there until later in the day, which was unusual. He acted strange and distant to Alan once he returned. Fear enveloped him. Something was just not right. He immediately ran out the door. Shawna, sitting on her and Jobeth’s bed, listened to the door slam shut. She clutched her doll close to her small chest watching the entrance to her room. Something was very wrong. It did not take Alan long to spot Jobeth slumped over Jonah’s dead body. He ran up to her, panting. Grief spread over his face instantly and a moan escaped his throat. Jobeth lifted her blood-streaked face to Alan’s tortured one. “He’s gone.” She said hoarsely reaching her hand out to him. Alan’s knees gave out from under him and he fell beside Jonah and Jobeth, a sob caught in his throat. He placed a hand over the open, glazed eyes of Jonah and closed them, searching Jobeth’s grief-stricken face for questions he already knew the answers to. “It’s my fault,” he choked, his words barely audible. Tears formed in his beautiful eyes. Jobeth gently took his hand away from Jonah’s eyes, and held it tightly. “No,” she said through a stuffy nose. “Not your fault,” she repeated, shaking her head. She took a deep breath and rubbed tears out of her eyes. Alan looked at Jobeth with quivering lips. He began to cry. Jobeth embraced him and stroked his soft brown hair, lovingly. Jonah had been right again. Alan and Shawna would need her even more now. “I should have moved us last year when I thought there might be danger,” Alan cried, holding on to Jobeth for life. “No, Alan,” Jobeth soothed softly. “It was winter and we were freezing. You did what you had to do. For us. And we were so happy, if just for a little while.” “But,” Alan said, red-eyed, “I knew I should have stayed home today.” “No, Alan,” Jobeth whispered, her fingers running through his hair. She could not help noticing Jonah’s dried blood coated her fingers. “No one knew this would happen. The fault for Jonah lying here is that Simpson and his prejudice! His fear of Jonah, not yours, and Jonah knew that.” “How could he?” Alan begged, wanting the guilt that plagued him to leave. “He told me, and he told me he loved you.” Jobeth smiled, giving birth to fresh tears. “He loved us all and he wasn’t afraid to die anymore. He said there are many waiting for him in heaven so he won’t be alone.” Jobeth sighed and looked down at Jonah. It did not even look like the boy she had loved and lived with. It was just an empty shell. Jonah was already gone. She cupped her hand to her mouth trying to control the urge to burst out crying. Alan needed her to be strong for him. Later she could mourn for her beloved friend, in private. “He told me we were not to cry for him. We had to be strong for each other. That we still had each other and Shawna.” Alan placed his head in Jobeth’s lap and cried. She put her arms protectively around him and rested her head on his back as Alan shook with grief. “We have to be strong for each other,” she cried, Jonah’s words ringing in her ears. “Jonah was a very wise man. One of the wisest men I have ever had the pleasure to know . . . I promised him we would be strong Alan . . . I promised.” She held him and cried with him until night fell across the land and the cold became unbearable. “Shawna will start to look for us.” Alan sniffed, releasing his grip on Jobeth. She nodded, trying to fix her hair. “I will have to clean up before she sees me.” Jobeth stood up on sore, cramped legs. She had been crouched in the same position since finding Jonah that morning. “What do I tell her?” Alan choked back a sob about to release again. “The truth . . . the truth,” Jobeth said turning to the creek. She walked away slowly, like a mythical creature of the forest, leaving Alan standing and staring after her. “I am so in love with her Jonah,” Alan whispered to the air. Jobeth’s form faded out of sight. An unseasonably warm breeze blew over him, blowing into his ear. He could have sworn he heard, “I know,” in its warmth. He looked down at the empty body of Jonah. “I will miss you,” Alan said numbly. “More than you know.” Leaves rustled in the trees behind Alan. He turned back, confused. There were no leaves on the trees. They had fallen off days before. They buried Jonah the next day beside Jobeth’s son. Alan was confused by Jobeth’s insistence as to where Jonah was to rest. “I want him there. It is very beautiful and peaceful in the summer. Jonah once told me it was like God was right there,” Jobeth said, trying to avoid Alan’s questioning eyes. “All right then. That is where he would probably want to be buried.” When the three mourners reached the sight of the burial, Alan looked at the cross already placed in the ground. “It looks like someone else thought this was a good place,” he said to Jobeth. She looked away from him, guilt flooding her soul. She wanted to tell Alan that it was her son that lay beneath the tiny grave marker. She wanted to reveal to him how Jonah had asked to be buried here, beside his namesake, but she was afraid--afraid she would lose Alan if he knew the truth. It was a chance she was not going to take. Alan began digging as Jobeth and Shawna stood back, teary-eyed and watched. They cried openly without reservation as Alan began to scoop dirt over the wooden coffin. No more deep laughter echoing through the day. No more talks. No more Jonah. He was gone forever. Jobeth stood staring at the two crosses erect in the cool air. Alan was on one side of her and Shawna on the other. “Good-bye, dear friend. I will miss you forever. Take care of mine in heaven. My life will always have a hole without you in it. We have been blessed to have you in our lives, if just for a short time. Sleep well and one day we will all be together again,” Jobeth said, looking at both crosses. “I will never forget you,” she said to both crucifixes. Alan placed a warm arm around her shoulder and she smiled at him as she clutched Shawna’s hand. “We’ll be all right,” Jobeth coaxed Alan. “If anything should happen to you two . . .” Alan breathed, bending his face into Jobeth’s loose hair. “Shhh,” Jobeth placed her index finger to Alan’s moist lips. “Nothing is going to happen to us.” She hugged the two sobbing people, holding them dearly to her. “Please,” she prayed in her mind, “please don’t take them from me too. That would be too cruel to bear.” Alan went into town later in the day to sell the livestock, while Jobeth and Shawna packed their belongings. “Don’t open the door for anyone,” he said to Jobeth before he left. “I won’t,” Jobeth said, cupping Alan’s face in her hands. They felt warm and smooth. He smiled warmly into her kind face, hating to leave, but having no choice. Winter was nearly upon them and he wanted to purchase a horse and covered wagon to protect them from the elements. He did not want to travel on foot again. It had nearly killed them the last time. They had come too far to regress back to the beginning. They were not the same people they had been a year ago. “Jobeth?” Shawna asked, handing the older girl some of her dresses. They were in their bedroom sorting through their belongings. It was the last room to pack. “Yes,” Jobeth said absently folding cloths. “At school . . .” Shawna stopped, afraid of the answer she would receive. “What is it Shawna?” Jobeth looked up from her folding. Shawna’s blonde head was lowered and her two braids hung down on each side of her small shoulders. “Well, the children said I would be taken away,” Shawna’s eyes looked beseechingly at Jobeth. Sympathy filled Jobeth and she reached out, grasping Shawna’s light form, bringing the child into her comforting embrace. “No one will ever take you away from me, Shawna. No one,” she said earnestly. Queenie jumped up from her resting place on the floor and began to growl. A shiver ran up Jobeth’s spine. Both she and Shawna turned to the door. “Stay here,” she ordered, standing up. Queenie stood protectively beside Jobeth, teeth bared. “Jobeth,” Shawna squealed. Jobeth put her palm up to silence the frightened child and crept to the locked front door leading outside. “Come on out, you whore!” came a female voice from behind the entrance. “We don’t want trash like you around our children!” yelled another female voice. A chorus of approval rang out. Jobeth peeked out the window and saw about twenty women with small children held tight to their sides. One plump, middleaged woman with a toddler in her arms lifted a rock from the ground and hurled it at the window. The glass shattered, causing Jobeth to jump, screaming as her hands covered her ears. Shawna came running out of the room, terrified. “Jobeth!” she squealed, frightened. “The loft! Go to the loft and hide under the bed!” Jobeth said, running to Shawna. Queenie started to bark as rocks began to pelt against the little house, crashing through windows and denting the sides. Shawna scurried up the stairs and looked down at Jobeth with wide, frightened eyes. “Send out the child, whore,” came an angry voice from outside. Jobeth grabbed the snarling Queenie and wrapped her arm protectively around the furry neck. The dog licked Jobeth’s face, whining and growling, baring her teeth menacingly at the door. “It’s all right girl,” Jobeth soothed. “Come on Alan, hurry back.” She glued her eyes to the door and did not move, knowing Shawna would be scared up in the loft alone. Jobeth wrung her hands together, feeling guilty. She was not there to comfort the poor child. “Go upstairs, Queenie. Go see Shawna.” Jobeth spoke into the animal’s ear. The dog whined turning to go up the stairs. She looked back at Jobeth, ears alert. “Go see Shawna,” Jobeth hissed, grabbing a chair to place under the door handle. Queenie obeyed and went to the waiting arms of the little girl. Shawna was relieved to have the dog’s warm furry body with her. “If you think you can whore around our town, you got another think coming!” yelled another voice. Jobeth grabbed a log from the woodpile and stood in a defensive pose, ready. She would do what she had to, to protect herself and Shawna. No one was taking Shawna from her, and no one was going to hurt either one of them again. “Alan, please hurry back,” Jobeth whispered, afraid more than she had ever been in her life. “Hurry…” That afternoon, Alan rode up the familiar path to the house he had shared with Jobeth, Jonah and Shawna for more than a year. He was seated on the front bench of a covered wagon. A brown mare and a spotted brown and white filly pulled the cart easily up the path. He reached the house and noticed the battered appearance. Glass was shattered everywhere and rocks littered the once immaculate entrance. Jobeth and Jonah had cleared out the weeds and branches that littered the path, taking care to give it a simple, yet appealing exterior. Now it was unrecognizable. Panic seized him. “Whoa!” He reined in the horses, which gave a startled snort. Alan dropped the reins and jumped off the wagon, running to the sealed door. It was jammed and he pushed full force with his shoulder trying to get in. “Jobeth, Shawna!” he yelled frantically, pushing the door slightly ajar. “Alan?” he heard from the other side. Relief filled his soul. He could hear Jobeth moving objects away from the door. “Oh, Alan!” she cried, opening the door to his bewildered face. She had never felt so glad to see him as she flung herself into his arms and hugged him tightly, afraid that his husky presence might not be real. “Where is Shawna?” he peered over Jobeth’s shoulder. Rocks and glass littered the once tidy room. “I’m here!” Shawna chimed over the railing of the loft. “Thank God,” he panted, squeezing Jobeth back. “Oh, Alan, we were so frightened. They called me horrible names and they threw stones. They came to take Shawna.” “Don’t cry. They’re gone now,” Alan soothed, patting the back of Jobeth’s long loose hair. Jobeth pulled away from Alan’s strong embrace. “Did you get the wagon?” Jobeth asked. He nodded. Tears filled her eyes. The reality of leaving their beloved little home flooded her. Jonah was here. Her baby was here. “Why?” she wailed angrily. “Why did they have to kill Jonah? Why did they steal him away from us? Why did they have to ruin our home? Why?” She sobbed, unable to stop. “I loved him so much. I loved our home.” Jobeth fell to the floor crying into the palms of her hands. She was leaving so much behind. “Jobeth,” Alan pleaded. “Please, Jobeth . . .” He bent down and placed his large, strong hands around her tear-streaked face. Jobeth looked at him, sniffling. “We have to leave. I don’t want to leave Jonah either, but we have too.” He looked at the debris thrown aggressively across the floor and Jobeth could see his eyes water. “What they did to Jonah . . .” “Alan,” Jobeth felt ashamed by her outburst. “No,” Alan jumped up, glaring at Jobeth. She shivered. Alan had never before acted this way. “Jobeth don’t. You understand what they could do to us, to Shawna?” Shawna gasped, clinging onto Queenie’s neck. Jobeth stood up. Jonah’s last words, to be strong, rang in her ears. She patted her messy hair down, looking up to the loft with a forced smile. “Come on down, honey, and help me pack,” Jobeth said to the silent child whose eyes were big with worry. Goosebumps crawled over Jobeth’s skin. For a moment, the child looking down was that same haunted child Jobeth had escaped with so long ago. Slowly, Shawna crawled down the stairs and grabbed Jobeth’s hand tightly. Reassuringly, Jobeth squeezed it back. “Did you have trouble selling the animals?” Jobeth asked Alan. “No, we had good animals. They just want us out of their town. I sold them quickly.” He smiled shyly at Jobeth, wanting to kiss her. “Wait till you see the horses. They are beautiful.” “Well then,” Jobeth forced a grin, “let’s see them.” They ate in silence and then packed their belongings in the wagon. Jobeth made up a bed in the back, putting the fatigued Shawna down to sleep. It was getting late and they wanted to be on their way. They stopped at the grave one last time to say good-bye. Standing beside Alan, she stared at the stark crosses: the only reminders that the two buried beneath had existed in this world. She wished they were coming with them. She bent down and fingered the dried red flowers on her son’s grave. Her heart ached at leaving them behind, but Jonah had been right, as always. Alan and Shawna needed her and they were alive. She felt she would never get over losing Jonah or her son, but she would live and love. She had to; She had promised Jonah and it was the only way she could survive. “Are you ready?” Alan questioned, watching her caress the dried seed heads. Jobeth was almost sixteen and had already lived a life far beyond her years. She had lost her parents, her child and her best friend all in a little more than two years. The pain was there. It probably always would be. She looked at the man beside her and her sad heart lightened. She snapped one of the flowers into her hand. She would take a part of them with her. Somewhere, someday she would plant those seeds. She placed a mittened hand on his arm and smiled peacefully at him. “Now I am ready,” she said. Seated back in the wagon, Alan clicked his tongue and slapped the reins down onto the horses’ backs. The wagon began to move forward. Alan was worth going on for. He was only seventeen years old and worked harder than any man she knew. She turned and faced the road. The sky had turned gray and cool. She snuggled into her wrap and sighed, clutching the dried flower in her hand. They would make it. They had to make it.

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