Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Chapter 9- Poppies

— Chapter 9 — Alan noticed the change in Jobeth immediately. She had been in bed when they returned home that evening. He assumed she was still not feeling well, but by the end of the following day, she still had not emerged from the room she shared with Shawna. He became concerned. “I better get a doctor up here,” Alan said at the dinner table. Jobeth had refused supper again for the third night in a row. The remaining three sat silently eating the meal Jonah had prepared. He placed his hands on the table, bracing himself to get up. His intent was on going to town to fetch the doctor. It didn’t matter if they had to leave when Jobeth and Jonah were discovered. She was sick and he could not let her go without medical attention. “Alan,” Jonah said softly, looking up from his plate of vegetable stew, “no doctor can help Jobeth. She gotta sickness of the heart that only she can heal.” “Now what the hell is that supposed to mean?” Alan stormed angrily, his face displaying a look of disgust. “Alan, don’t be asking me something I can’t tell yah,” Jonah said to the redfaced youth. “There’s gonna come a time when you gonna have to listen with your heart and not your ears.” This just made Alan angrier. He could not understand what Jonah was talking about. “And I know yah getting hot under the collar, but that is too bad. If you want to help Jobeth, you sit down and finish your supper. She will be up and at it tomorrow. We is gonna let her be for tonight,” Jonah said with finality. He lifted his spoon and shoved it into his mouth forcefully. He chewed his food without actually tasting it. Alan was too stunned for words. He sat down in his chair and stared resentfully at his half-eaten stew. “Now tell Jonah about your day at school. You learning to read?” Jonah said changing the subject. He listened intently while eating his dinner as Shawna chatted about daily activities and a girl at school who was mean to all the other children. Jonah listened intently as Alan, defeated, began to eat again. His eyes stayed transfixed on the bedroom door where Jobeth slumbered deep in mourning. The next day, after Alan and Shawna had left, Jonah walked hesitantly to the door of Jobeth’s retreat. Shawna had been sleeping in the loft with him and Alan since Jobeth began hibernating. He paused, dreading what he had to do. Knowing he could not put it off any longer, he walked into the dark, dank room. It smelled stale and slightly sour. Swiftly, he crossed the area between himself and the window and pushed open the curtains. Sunlight bathed the room, exposing the pale, dark-eyed form collapsed on the bed. Jobeth turned and buried her head into the pillow, protesting. Jonah placed his strong young hands on his hips and glared on her frail body as she withered under his angry eyes. “You can lay there and slowly die if you want, but you are needed around here. You got a bad loss that come to you, but life has many bellyaches to hand out to us all,” Jonah growled, hating himself. “We need you and we are the living. Little Jonah is gone. I am ashamed that he is looking down from heaven with the angels and seeing that his ma’s a quitter. She done let herself get so consumed with misery that she neglecting the living that loves and needs her.” He shook his head sadly. “There will be tears in heaven right now, ‘cause you done forgot about us and how we needs yah.” He turned to leave trying not to see Jobeth’s red-rimmed eyes. “There is lots of work to be done around here and I can’t do it alone. I need my best friend to help me.” And he walked out of the room, closing the door behind him. Lifting her head from her pillow, Jobeth gazed toward the window, her eyes squinting from the bright light. Tears she thought were all dried up fell anew. She wiped them away with the back of her hand and slowly sat up, every inch of her body feeling bone weary. She swiveled her head to the door of the bedroom and mustered all of her strength. “The least you can do is draw me a bath,” she roared with all her might. Jonah leaned behind the door and held his breath as his hands tightly clasped the door handle. He smiled, released his firm hold on the handle and went to get the washtub. “I suppose I could do that by myself,” he responded. Alan was surprised when Jobeth finally surfaced, weak as a kitten, but seemingly better after her ordeal. Jonah had been right; it was just a matter of time before she came around. He still did not understand what had happened to cause her to hide from view for nearly a week, but he trusted Jonah and obeyed his wishes. Jobeth had lost a lot of weight and the dark circles under her eyes worried him. She seemed very sad but at least she was not sick. As time passed, the circles that ringed her eyes began to fade just as the snow began to melt and spring started to bloom. Jobeth ached for her dead son, but her heart started to heal slowly with the love of the two boys and Shawna. She seldom spoke to Jonah about the baby, but felt a great bond with the young man who was decades older than his sixteen years. Then again, she too was much wiser than her own age of fifteen. The two frequently went to visit the tiny grave. They would sit silently, absorbed in the tranquil atmosphere. When the snow finally melted, just as Jobeth had envisioned, the grass grew tall, alive with small animals and birds. Tiny budded heads pressed out of the earth and soon the field was speckled with multicolored wildflowers. “It is nice here,” Jobeth said, smelling a small, red flower she had carefully uprooted. She planned to replant it onto the child’s grave. Jonah turned from placing the small cross he had constructed on the ground. He wiped his sweaty brow and breathed deeply of the spring smells bursting forth around him. “Good place,” he sighed looking around him. “Feels like God is right here.” Jobeth agreed. “Jonah?” “Yes?” He continued with the work at hand. He would have to dig a hole deep enough to support the wooden crucifix. Jobeth stared at his naked dark back rippling and glistening with sweat. He had removed his shirt when the heat became unbearable. She could not help admiring his beauty. Jonah was a very handsome man. “Thank you.” “For what?” Jonah asked, facing her again, shovel in hand. “For everything,” she pretended exasperation. She stood up and walked to him. “I love you, all right.” And she kissed him squarely on the lips. “Ah, heck,” Jonah said embarrassed, turning his back to her. “I love you, too.” He blushed under his dark skin. Jobeth fell backwards, giggling, until her stomach ached from laughing so hard. “What is so funny?” he said, pretending to be offended. “You,” she giggled, sat up and rubbed tears out of her eyes. She had not laughed so hard in ages. In fact, she could not remember ever laughing so hard. “What would I ever do without you, Jonah?” “You would be just fine,” Jonah smiled, trying to hide his own urge to laugh. It felt good to see Jobeth smile with color in her face. “Aren’t we an unlikely pair?” “You know it,” Jonah laughed out loud in his deep, rich voice. Hearing Jonah laugh started Jobeth up again and they both continued to snicker together. A week later the two were cooking supper when Alan ran into the house after finishing his work at the mill. The house was fully furnished, thanks to Jonah’s carpentry work, and looked like a very comfortable, modest home. Jonah and Jobeth had worked hard to create the type of home they wished to live in and they had succeeded. “Jobeth! Jonah!” Alan yelled from the doorway, “Come see what I brought home.” He was very excited and Jobeth could not help the smile that broke over her face. Her heart fluttered when she thought of him. Jonah noticed how Jobeth flushed over Alan and smiled. He saw the same look on Alan’s face every time he was near Jobeth. She wiped her hands on her apron and removed the cooking chicken from the fireplace. “Come on, Jobeth, move,” Jonah squealed, grabbing her hand and dragging her outside. Both stopped in their tracks as they reached the front veranda. Jobeth’s mouth dropped open and she covered it with her hands. There on the lawn was a cow. It was a small cow, spotted black and white and it stood lazily, chewing grass. Shawna stood beside it holding the leathery lead rope. “Wow!” Jonah yelped, jumping down from the porch. “A cow!” He went up to the beast and began to pet it. “Milk and butter and cream and . . .” Jobeth started to laugh, jumping down from her domain. “Alan, how wonderful!” Alan stood back proudly. This had been a dream of his. “We cannot have a home without a cow. Shawna, show her.” Jobeth faced the blonde child with anticipation as the waif laughed, pulling out small packages from behind her back. “Seeds!” Shawna squealed. Jobeth grabbed the small packages from her tiny hands and recited the writing on them. “Radishes, potatoes, carrots.” She squeezed the envelopes to her chest. “Vegetables! Vegetables! Finally, some vegetables!” “Are you happy?” Alan asked, suddenly standing beside her. A strong desire moved through him to sweep her lithe body up into his and touch her lips longingly with his own. His heart pounded and the scent of her freshly washed hair made him dizzy for her. “Very,” Jobeth whispered, very much aware of his strong male presence. She gazed into his eyes, her breath failing her. “Thank you.” She placed her hand on his warm cheek and without thinking leaned over and kissed him softly on his smooth lips Alan’s hand instantly encircled her wrist by his face and he breathed in her breath. It was sweet and fresh. Jobeth’s eyes were closed and a surge of heat tingled up from her toes to her head. She opened her eyes and stared into his piercing gaze. Embarrassed, she pulled away and covered her mouth with the back of her hand. Alan was confused, feeling he had offended her. One moment he had felt joy as he had never felt before and the next he felt as though he had committed some heinous crime. He looked directly into Jobeth’s eyes and breathed deeply of her essence. Not knowing what else to do, he squeezed her hand and went to Shawna and Jonah, who were too involved with the cow to have noticed them. “What we gonna name her?” Alan yelled running down to where Shawna and Jonah stood patting the cow. Jobeth stood still, her heart pounding rapidly in her chest, staring after Alan and wondering what she had done. “How about Edna?” Jonah roared, picking Shawna up and placing her on the cow’s back. “Edna?” Shawna and Alan questioned in chorus. “Yes.” Jonah puffed up his chest, faking hurt feelings. “I had an aunt named Edna once. Yup, Aunt Edna. If I remember right, she looked just like this here old cow.” Shawna and Alan began to laugh hastily at Jonah. Jobeth could not stop a giggle from escaping her lips as she gazed upon Alan’s strong young back. She felt confused. She had enjoyed kissing him and would have liked to kiss him more. How was that possible? When Father James had kissed her, she hated it. She cringed with disgust at his very touch. But Alan had been different-he was gentle and his lips were soft and caring. After Edna and the new seeds came into their lives, Jonah and Jobeth had more to occupy their busy days. Jobeth did not miss going into town. Jonah was more than enough company for her during the day, and in the evenings she had all three of them to absorb her time. She felt very loved and needed once again. Life seemed livable. Jonah and Jobeth quickly set themselves to work fixing a barn for Edna and starting a garden. Fortunately, her mother had taught Jobeth at an early age how to make dairy products. So Edna became a great luxury in their lives. “Jobeth, a girl has to know how to make edible foods with what she has,” her mama would say, looking down at the little girl. She no longer cried when she thought about her parents and the life they once shared together. She was only thankful that they had taught her well. The knowledge her parents had bestowed upon her before they died had proven to be very useful. Jobeth thought of them now with loving memories. They had served her well. Every time Jobeth milked Edna or was making butter or cheese, she would remember her mother and her calm voice telling her how to do this or that. It was just like when she had been on the run with Shawna. She remembered her Pappy’s strong voice telling her how to build a fire or make a snare. They left Jobeth prepared to survive alone and for that, Jobeth was forever grateful. Her parents were still protecting her and watching out for her. Alan kept surprising them with gifts. A month after Edna’s arrival, Alan came home with two live hens, a rooster, some flour and two pigs. But the best surprise of all was Queenie, a little puppy Alan and Shawna found half-starved and abandoned by a creek. They brought her home and nursed the light brown mutt back to health. Everything was going well. The four had everything they could hope for. They had a real home full of love and kindness, something most of them had never experienced before. And they had livestock to sustain them. They even had a watchdog. Fall rolled around quickly, changing the green leaves of summer to bright red and yellow. The warm air began once again to turn cool and crisp. A year had passed since the four left the other members of their little family. Early one morning Jobeth and Jonah started pulling out the remaining vegetables from their garden. They had harvested enough for winter and were storing the food in a cellar Jonah had built behind the house during the past summer. “Jonah, do you ever wonder what happened to the others?” Jobeth asked while brushing dirt from a carrot with her gloved hand. The garden had thrived under their care and she was very pleased. Gardening was becoming a passion of hers. Little seeds bursting forth with life never seemed to bore her. She could spend hours in her vegetable garden unaware of time passing. Next spring she planned to add a flowerbed. Jonah stopped what he was doing and looked at his dirty hands. He did not like to use gloves. He said he liked to get his hands right into the earth. It made him feel closer to nature. He truly believed that was why the vegetables grew so well. He was a firm believer in coddling the garden, treating it with loving care. He and Jobeth were so alike in many ways. “Yes. All the time,” he said, arching his back. He had been bent over digging and picking potatoes for a while and a stitch had begun to gnaw on his spine. “I just hope they have fared as well as we have,” Jonah replied, testing his new vocabulary. Jobeth and Shawna had been teaching him and Alan how to read and write; during this time their slang was disappearing, much to both Alan’s and Jonah’s pleasure. “I guess we will never know.” Jonah continued picking potatoes. He felt suddenly sad. The others rested heavily on his chest. He felt guilty for the fine life he was living. The likelihood that the others had done as well was unlikely. “You don’t mean that, do you? We will find them some day.” Jonah looked up into the sky. “It is not for us to know. God willing, they will be back in our graces. But there is no use letting dreams like that eat at your mind. Some things in life happen that we don’t much like, but life doesn’t have to be fair.” “That is something I do know,” Jobeth spoke softly. “That is something we all know,” Jonah replied, returning to the potatoes at hand. Jobeth sat by the roaring fire after dinner, lazily working on some mending. The nights were getting cooler and the mornings were filled with a world covered in frost. She felt content being inside the warm little house. Shawna was fast asleep in their bed and Alan and Jonah sat at the dinner table figuring out the accounts. Queenie, who had been sleeping by Jobeth’s feet, stood up and began to growl. She was not fully grown yet and was already taller than the largest pig they owned. Alan looked up from the table and Jobeth put her sewing down, glancing at the door. Someone knocked abruptly and insistently. Queenie began to growl louder and Jobeth placed her hand on the dog’s back. Her ears went down and she began to whine. The knock came again, louder. “Alan?” asked a deep voice behind the door. “It’s me, Simpson.” He knocked again, a little more forcefully. Alan, close to hysteria, stood up and pointed for Jonah and Jobeth to disappear. “The loft, go!” he whispered in a panic. Jobeth and Jonah obeyed by jumping up and climbing quickly to the loft. Messing his hair, Alan yelled out, “Coming.” He opened the door pretending to tuck his shirt in. “Come in,” Alan said, moving away from the door. His heart pounded and he fought the urge to look up at the loft. Two men followed behind the person named Simpson. “Kurt, Dean,” Alan said, nodding to the other men. The two in question looked younger than the man Simpson, but they all looked quite similar, with closely cropped brown hair and blue eyes. They all were a bit overfed and wore similar brown felt hats. “What is the meaning of such a surprise?” Alan laughed nervously patting the middle-aged Simpson’s back. “Alan,” Simpson replied, looking around the neatly kept room, his eyes resting briefly on the basket of half-finished mending. “Sorry to have to bother you like this. I hope we did not wake your little sister.” He continued to look around the room. Jobeth spied down quietly at the men, her heart beating against her rib cage uncontrollably. “The boys and I needed to have a talk with you,” Simpson said, looking back at Alan. The other two men examined the house with their eyes, searching for something. They turned on cue when Simpson spoke and sat down uninvited at the table. Alan took the money he and Jonah had been counting and placed it in a container on the shelf. He sat down with the other three men. Queenie, seeing that Alan sat calmly with the strangers, settled back at the fire and went to sleep. “Nice little home you got here, Alan,” one of the men said. He was running his finger across the fibers of the wooden table and admiring the handiwork. “How did you fix it up so good while working?” He looked up, smirking at Alan. “I manage,” Alan replied a little coolly. “Shawna helps a lot.” He started tapping his fingers on his knees under the table. Jobeth looked at Jonah crouched beside her under his bed. She placed her arm around his shaking shoulders. He tried to smile confidently at her, but failed. “Alan,” Simpson said seriously, “the reason why we’re here is because my little girl, Amy, she is in school with your sister, well she says when she walked by here the other day, she saw a nigger and a white girl running around.” Simpson stared at Alan hoping to see him falter. “Rumor around town is that you and your sister aren’t the only ones living up here.” Jonah and Jobeth clutched each other tightly in the loft. “Is there a nigger and a girl here?” Simpson asked point blank. Alan stood up angrily. “Does it look like I have anyone else around here?” He glared at the faces of the three men he worked with. He felt the heat rise on the back of his neck as anger and dread enveloped him. Everything was going so well. Jobeth even seemed to be happy. Nothing else had happened between them since the kiss, but she was always kind and sweet with him. He did not want things to change and the three before him only posed problems. He had to think quickly. “I only wish I had a girl up here.” Alan laughed, causing the other three men to laugh with him. Jobeth did not find it funny. She felt fear rising in her throat, and she squeezed Jonah for comfort. “Yah, don’t we all?” laughed one of the other men. “A real saloon gal. Yee- Hah!” he wallowed. “Well, my Amy don’t lie.” Simpson said. Jobeth and Jonah swallowed a lump forming in each of their throats. “But the doc thinks she might need specs,” Simpson said, standing up from his chair as the other men followed suit. “If there is something going on up here,” he said calmly to Alan, “I’d put a stop to it right away. We are God-fearing, good folks. We don’t want no messing around going on in our town.” He looked straight into Alan’s green eyes, telling him his true feelings. “Sorry to disturb you, Alan, but this is the way things are.” He paused, trying to lighten the mood. “Listen, there is a country dance at the Mackenzie’s on Saturday. Young Miss Jossie’s gonna be there. A young man like yourself aught to be thinking of settling down, especially with a little sister to think of. She needs a female around to teach her how to be a good wife and mother. Miss Jossie would be a mighty good catch and I know she has an eye for you.” Alan blushed deeply. Miss Jossie was Simpson’s niece and not at all his type. She was a mindless creature who constantly hung out at the lumberyard bringing him refreshments and baked goods. Alan was fully aware of her intentions and was not at all interested. “That seems fine,” Alan lied. “I will have to look into it.” “Good . . . Good,” Simpson said. “Jossie will be glad to hear it.” Jobeth felt sudden outrage. Who was Jossie? Did Alan like her? What if he did? Then she felt fear. What if Alan did want to settle down? What would happen then? How would she fit into the picture? It had never occurred to her that Alan might want to marry. But then why wouldn’t he want to get married and have his own life? She was a fool to think he would always be there to protect and care for her. One day he would want to move on. Maybe he already wanted to with this Jossie. “Well, boys, come on. Let’s get a move on before the women folks start to fret. Good-bye, Alan, and mind what I say. We like you and want to keep it that way.” Simpson said opening the door, looking serious. “Don’t worry,” Alan said too loudly as he watched them walk away. Jobeth could tell he was jittery and her heart went out to him. Alan was always concerned about how she and Jonah felt about being hidden away. They had never even thought how hard it might be for him to pretend they were not there. It must have been torture to lead two different lives. Jobeth had been so content that It had never occurred to her. “Come on down,” Alan said, after a bit of time had passed. Jobeth let out a long sigh and relaxed. “That was too close for comfort,” Jonah said, helping her down the ladder. “You’re telling me,” Alan replied, absently. His mind was a mile away. Something told Jobeth things were going to change once again.

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