Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Where Can I Find Out About Updates You Ask?

Due to the number of story blogs that I have I decided to create an update blog.  Yeah, I know it sounds redundant but in reality I hope to make things less confusing and time consuming for readers.  Instead of having to subscribe to umpty dozen different blogs you can subscribe to Mother Hen's Story Blogg at and get all of the updates in one location.

There is also a full listing of all of the story blogs on the right hand side of the page and several different subscription choices ... email, readers, google, etc.  Near future during the editing and clean up process I also hope to put a contact link so that if readers have any questions I'll get a direct email.  For now a comment on the blog should get to me.  I'm also going to finally get on that blog that will house all of the recipes that appear in the stories in one location.  I hope to tag those so that you can search them by ingredients, cooking methods, etc.

As always thank you for all of your encouragement.  It is greatly appreciated.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Updates and Announcements

In the coming weeks there is will lots of updates to my story pages.  I've looked back at some of the blogs and they need major editing including updating the "story list" and other links.  To get the whole ball of wax started I'm posting Rain, Rain, Rain.  The story is complete but was badly in need of proof reading so it is going to take me a day or three to get all thirty-something chapters posted.  But for those that would like to read it I have it started at

In addition to the current story list on blogspot I'll be posting some other stories that haven't made it to the blog-o-sphere yet.  Some have been posted in line, simply at other locations, and some have never seen the light of day outside my computer.  I'll also be finishing some that are "in progress" in various locations.

Sorry I've been away so long but I'm baaaack and plan on completing some much needed story time housekeeping.

Friday, March 16, 2012

"Fel By the Wayside" is complete

The story Fel By The Wayside is now complete and can be found at

I am currently working on completing the stories one by one. "And the Geek Shall Inherit the Earth" is an old one that I never finished and it is the one that I am currently working on. I will get it posted to blogspot as soon as I can and you will be able to find the link in my profile as soon as I do.

Thanks for everyone's patience. I had too many open threads in my hand at one time and working on all of them wasn't working so I've decided to work on them one at a time until it is finished and then move on to the next.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Chapter 25

Chapter Twenty-five

Breakfast was the promised pancakes. There was apple juice or milk to drink but I could have crawled into a mug of coffee and stayed there had I not had to deal with my other responsibilities. I had one pancake and decided to eat fruit for the rest of my meal so that the guys could eat and still leave enough over for Lucia and the girls.

“Joey …,” Thomas began doubtfully.

Expecting something else entirely I turned around with the next pancake ready to plop it on his plate but instead found him looking at me like he wasn’t even sure how to say what was on his mind. Deciding it would be easier to treat him like I would have my brothers I just said, “Spit it out. You look like it is giving you indigestion.”

He nodded and said, “Yes’m” in a way that was beginning to make me feel like he must think I am older than I am. I let him go right on thinking it and he finally found his voice. “Tony said … but … I mean … I’ll work my share just I want to make sure …”

I looked at him and then first at Tony then at Bennie but it didn’t click until I remembered a few words from the previous night. I put the pancake on his plate anyway and told him, the spatula moving in time with my hands that always seemed to move when I was talking, “If it is about whether you have a place here or not, stop worrying a hole in it. You’ve got a bed. You’ve got food in your belly. And your accent reminds me of where I came from. Bennie and the girls spoke for you. Tony wouldn’t have brought you if he didn’t think it was OK. Give it a rest and just accept it. Now eat.”

Tony snorted and said, “Spoken like a real Nonna.”

When Thomas didn’t understand Bennie said, “Italian grandmother.”

I saw a small smile tug at the corner of Thomas’ mouth. “I don’t reckon that is just Italian. I had me a granny that thought a good plate of biscuits could cure just about anything that ailed ya.”

I gave him a small grin and said, “With one my grandmothers it was cookies and milk and the other it was a cup of tea or a hot toddy.” Then looking at all the guys I told them. “Last round is coming up. If you’re still hungry after that you can help me bring in some fruit from the orchard.”

“’Bout the orchard. If you don’t mind I’ll tether the goats down there while we’re picking. They’re as good as a mower if you’ve got some grass that needs cutting and they won’t tip over like a cow might on the slopes.”

A sober Lucia walked in at that point and said, “I’ll picket the cows in that area right behind the house. The girls can take turns keeping an eye on them as well.”

Bennie gave her a concerned look but she tilted her chin up like she was daring anyone to say she wasn’t up for the job. That pretty much tore me up; it was such a contradiction from who she had been before. Not the pride, she’d always been a bit prideful, but it was what it was over that was strange and sad.

And that’s the way the morning went. I had thought that Lucia and the girls at least would need a couple of days to recuperate but they were so full of silent, nervous energy that I was thankful they used it at something constructive rather than flip magazines or tapping their nails as they might have before.

After lunch I corralled Lucia and said, “Enough. All of you need to take a break and …”

“Don’t Joey. I might have been next to useless before but I’m not now. And I’ve been out there. And … and I might know even better than you that the world has gone to hell. I’ve been out there Joey. And if we don’t take care of things before it gets cold … Thomas said … the cold sounds as bad here as it did back … I just … I’ve got the girls to take care of now. I can’t afford to be … to be … who I used to be.”

“Sorella …” That was sister in Italian. When she looked close to tears I gave her a hug and said, “You’re not alone Lucia. You got me and Tony. And you’ve had Bennie and …”

She stopped me and said, “Bennie and me … I … I never realized how bad I was treatin’ him Joey. I swear it. And now after what Pop did … and all these responsibilities I got … I can’t ask him to … to …”

Bennie had come around the corner of the barn and just sort of stood there blinking and then just kind of came over and bent down in front of her on his knees. “Fuh gettabout it Luce … a good thing like you ain’t gettin’ away from me that easy. We had a dust up in the family. Lots a people do. I’m sorry about your ol’ man. I’m sorrier about your ma … she was a good woman. But we can’t let their troubles break us. I’ll go slow … give the girls time ya know? But just ‘cause I move slow I don’t want you to think I ain’t movin’ or don’t wanna move wit yous. You’re my woman. Go it?”

Not exactly the most romantic speech but it seemed to work for Lucia and I left them all but climbing all over each other. As I walked back to the house I intercepted Tony and Thomas who were heading that way and told them, “You don’t wanna go that direction unless you are looking for a lesson in the birds and the bees.”

Both guys promptly turned a different direction and I headed over to where the girls were. They still hadn’t talked much and I wanted to see how bad off they were for myself. “Ana? Lindsey?”

Both girls turned towards me. They were nearly identical and had played it up even more than my brothers had; but, after being around them for so many years I recognized the difference between them. Identical they may have been but at that moment I easily identified Ana as being the leader and Lindsey giving me a nearly vacant stare.

Ana asked, “Did you get it fixed between Luce and Bennie?”

I nodded. “Didn’t know they needed fixin’, was more concerned with making sure you three weren’t overdoing it; but Bennie overheard a couple of things that Luce said and went all stupid all over her and they’re fixing things now.”

Ana tried to smile but it never made it beyond a microsecond upturn of one side of her mouth. Lindsey didn’t even seem to register what I had said at all. Ana noticed my concerned look and told her twin, “Wake up Linds … Joey wants to talk to us.”

It was a struggle but Lindsey seem to get more “there” after a couple of moments. She mumbled, “Sure Joey. Sure. We’re ok.”

I shook my head. “I didn’t ask you if you were ok. I don’t expect you to be so you don’t need to fake it with me. I just want to see that you are headin’ that direction. You gotta cry, go ahead and do it … get it out, just don’t let it take over. You gotta get mad … same thing, just use some sense and know when to stop. But you feel like doing anything worse, you come talk to me or Tony first. We can’t maybe fix this but we’re family. Families stick together, even when they’ve been hurt.”

It was obvious the girls didn’t want to talk about it but at least they had heard what I said. Again it was Ana who took the lead. “Luce says that you and Tony are together now. That we need to treat you like you’ve been to a priest even if you haven’t. Sister Mary Janice wouldn’t be too happy with that.”

I leaned against the house and said, “When’s the last time you two listened to that woman? She may have worn a habit but she wasn’t exactly the nicest person … she wasn’t even nice to the other Sisters at the school. Now knock off the teasin’ ‘fore Tony hears you two. He’s a little sensitive on the subject. Had to promise him that at some point, when things get better, we’d take care that the words got said right.”

It was Lindsey that mumbled, “Nothing is ever going to be right again.”

Ana started looking concerned and she put her arm around her twin. I sighed and told her, “You’re not a baby and I’m not gonna treat you like one. I’m gonna try and be as respectful to you as if …” I had to stop and swallow. “As if you were Ike and James.” That made them look at me and I think they realized I knew a little more about what they were feeling than maybe they had thought about. “You’re ain’t wrong. Things are going to be rough … maybe for a good long while. But we got each other. We’re family even if we don’t share blood or if Tony and I don’t have a piece of paper to make it all legal. And family sticks together. And we make it as right for each other as we can. Maybe not right the way things used to be, but they can be just as good in other ways. We just gotta work to find them other ways. Luce is worrying herself sick over you and she was ready to put all her happiness aside for you. You don’t pay her back by giving up.”

Ana whispered, “I know. It isn’t as bad as it was Joey … least not for me. Linds still has nightmares every night. Pop …” Lindsey winced and turned to look at the trees rather than at me. “Pop put a bullet in her pillow Joey. He woulda …”

Ana was choking up so I said, “whoever that man was in that room that night … he wasn’t all your Pop the way he used to be. Somethin’ was broke inside him and most if not all of his sense was gone. It really wasn’t your Pop doing it but the shell of what was left of him.”

Ana blanched but still managed to ask, “Why? Why Joey? Why did he have to … to go all crazy?”

I shrugged but not like I didn’t care; I just didn’t have the answers for them. “I don’t know Ana Banana … he just did. Maybe it had something to do with how rough he had it growing up and how rough it was before he met your Ma. Or maybe he was sick … a stroke or something. He just wasn’t who he used to be, something cracked inside him. What he did when he was sick … he’s accountable for it, but at the same time you can’t go around not forgiving him and letting it eat you up. He was sick. Try and put it to rest like that and say some prayers to make you feel better. You know your Ma wouldn’t want you to suffer like this.”

Lindsey joined the conversation enough to say, “She cried over what Pop did to you Joey … what he said and everything. Even when it made Pop angry she did it. She missed your Ma so bad. She just didn’t know what to do.”

I hugged both girls and told them, “You’re Ma was somethin’ special all right. She was as much if not more a sister to my mother than her blood sisters were. Now, you listen here and I’m gonna say it ‘cause I feel I got to. I don’t hold nothin’ against your father … and certainly not against your mother. Bad things happen and we don’t always know why. We just have to live with ‘em and try and keep goin’ forward. And even if Tony and I hadn’t gotten together you two … and Luce and Bennie … and even your parents … would have had a place here. I can’t bring your Ma and Pop back the way they were, but you don’t have to go only remembering them the way they were at the end. I ain’t saying to forget it all – that wouldn’t be healthy – but I am asking that if you’re gonna remember the bad stuff that you gotta remember there was lots more good stuff first.”

“That’s what Bennie said,” Ana said with a sniffle.

“Yeah, he’s a lot smarter than he lets on. And he’s good for Luce ‘cause he loves all of her, not just the parts that are easy to love. Know what I mean?”

The girls nodded. “Now I think you two just about had enough of me right now. You wanna keep watchin’ the cows or you wanna help with the fruit.”

Both girls said simultaneously, “Cows.”

I gave them a small smile and said, “It ain’t that bad. You been listening to Luce complain too much.”

They weren’t ready to smile but at least I could see they had thought about it some. I turned and went to the house and the rest of the afternoon was spent the way I had been spending it.

After dinner Tony and I decided to walk to the overlook for some privacy to try and talk about how things had changed. The overlook was near where the old entrance road had been before Tony bulldozed it and planted it over. We never even got to start talking. What met our eyes when we got there had me leaving Tony to watch and running back to the house to get Bennie and Thomas.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Chapter 24

Chapter Twenty-Four

While Lucia led the girls to one of the downstairs bedrooms I stepped back outside and listened to noise the guys were making. I still didn’t know who Thomas was and figured I’d have to find the answer myself. I grabbed a wind up lantern from the bookcase by the back door and walked to towards the barn. As I came forward Tony noticed and said, “Ragazza … in the nick of time as usual.”

I didn’t answer him because I was staring dumbfounded at what looked like a zoo. My mouth must have been hanging open because Tony put a finger under my chin and closed it. I looked at him and he chuckled. “Your eyes are as big as silver dollars Joey. Of course you should have seen my face when I stumbled across Bennie and …” He may have been making a joke but I could also here the choked up sound of too many emotions in his voice.

Shaking myself to try and gain some control I asked, “Should I fix anything to eat?”

A guy’s head popped around the door and I jumped when I realized I didn’t know him. Bennie said quietly, “Easy Joey, this is Thomas. If not for him we would have been toast. These animals come from his family’s place.”

“Uh … hi Thomas. You hungry?”

He looked like he was struggling to talk but then shook his head. “Better not since it is so late … but … but you mind if I … I heat up some of Rose’s milk? We drank most of her evening milk but there’s a little left in the thermos.”

I squinched my nose up imagining what it would taste like without refrigeration. “Honestly, do you really want to drink sour milk? Why don’t you let me put that to making bread and I’ll make you some butterscotch milk or a milk toddy or something like that?”

Thomas’ mouth was soon hanging open like mine had been and Bennie was going, “Mmmmm … butterscotch milk. You sure you can spare it Joey?”

“It’s no problem. Thomas what about your parents would they …” It took me half a second to realize I had made an awful mistake. “Geez, I’m sorry. I’m usually better at making sure I only put one foot in my mouth at a time.”

The young man was sad but not angry. “It’s ok. They had gone to visit my Granny who was in Nashville in a nursing home. They … they ….” He shrugged. “They never came home. Guess you know what I mean.” He turned to lead the two cows into the barn and Bennie and Tony followed him in, pulling a small farm wagon that held other caged animals. I saw rabbits and a few other things I couldn’t identify in the dark. Then I nearly screamed when I got goosed from behind.

“Joey?!” Tony called coming out of the barn at a near run. When he saw me berating a couple of goats for getting over familiar he had to lean against the door to stay upright while tears poured down his face as he tried not to laugh.

“Ha … ha …” I huffed.

Thomas came out and said, “That’s where you three got to. I can’t take you nowhere. Behave before the nice lady wants to BBQ you.”

“Humph. I wouldn’t get any of them near any BBQ of mine until they had a bath. I didn’t know goats could smell so … so … goat-y. They smell like my brother’s football laundry used to.”

That sent Tony off again. Bennie just sighed and shook his head but there was a small, tired smile on his face too. Thomas looked at me to see whether I was fooling or not. “The billy … the male goat … he is the one that smells. The girl goats – the does – just pick it up from him.”

I heard the back door open so I left the lantern with the guys and headed to the light of the kitchen. Lucia walked back inside with me. She was so silent I had to ask her, “Trouble getting the girls to give it up and go to bed?”

She sighed and shook her head. “I wish. I … they’ve … they’ve been like this ever since …” She shook her head again and I nudged her to sit down at the kitchen table.

I gathered what I needed. I grabbed the pitcher of milk from the frig and for every cup of milk I added one tablespoon of brown sugar, a half-teaspoon of butter extract, and a dollop of marshmallow crème that my mother seemed to have stocked in bulk. I brought everything to a near boil on the stove top, watching as Lucia tried to pull herself together. I was just ready to pour it into mugs when the three guys quietly walked into the house.

Bennie immediately went over to Lucia. “The girls OK?”

“Hopefully they’ll start getting that way now that we can stop running.”

I looked at Tony in alarm. Bennie caught the look and said, “It’s a long story but if we can have some of that it will make the telling easier.”

“Wash up at the sink,” I said automatically. For some reason out of everything that made Thomas chuckle.

I turned to look at him and realized he wasn’t as young as I had thought at first, maybe a year or two out of highschool. Seeing the question in my eyes he said, “Tony said you’d say that.”

I was going to be a smart aleck but then thought better of it and just looked at Tony and said, “Yeah, he knows me pretty well.”

Lucia raised her head at that and said, “So you and Tony are really together now? Calling yourself husband and wife even without benefit of a church?”

I looked at her and said, “Yeah.”

I was worried she’d make something of it but then the serious look left her face and she cracked a smile and said, “About time.”

As the guys washed up I filled the mugs and put them at the table. “Thomas, I really will fix you something if you are hungry.”

He sipped the frothy butterscotch milk but said, “No thank you. I’ll wait for morning. Tony said you fix breakfast and stuff.”

“Yeah, eggs and pancakes OK?”

He got a surprised look on his face and then grinned, “Yes’m, that’s about as OK as life gets these days.” He drained his mug despite its heat and then said, “If you don’t mind I need to go lay down. Didn’t get much sleep the last couple of nights and I need to be up early to take care of the animals. Is there a free sofa or somethin’ like that?”

I gave him a look and said, “Why sleep on a sofa when there’s a perfectly good bed to rest in?”

I started to get up to show him but Bennie waved me back and said, “I’ll show him. I’m beat myself.” He squeezed Lucia’s shoulder as he passed by her but that was it and it only added to all of my questions I was holding back.

Tony stood up and said, “I’ll see they both get settled and then head to bed myself. Don’t be up too late Ragazza.”

That left Lucia and I alone at the table. “Luce? Can you talk now?”

He sighed, “I hate reliving it Joey … I just hate it.” She shrugged. “But that’s stupid, you need to know.”

She ordered her thoughts and then took a sip of milk before finally starting to explain. “It was horrible after we left. Pop was … oh Joey, there aren’t really words good enough or bad enough to describe what Pop was. You remember that time Ol’ Mrs. Stenheim’s sister came to visit and had that weird fit right there in the store? Remember how she was afterward? All paranoid and stuff, seeing things that weren’t there, jumping at shadows? I think Pop …” She stopped and sighed. “Who am I fooling? Joey … Pop lost his mind. I don’t know why. I don’t know if it was something organic in the brain or if he just went bonkers because of the stress. Either way there wasn’t anything we could do for him.”

I was trying to imagine what she was describing but all I could see was the horribly angry man that had attacked me. It was hard to remember I’d considered the man nearly a second father at one point in my life.

“Leo lost patience with him within an hour of him coming around being knocked out. I don’t know where it would have all been heading but Leo stopped the van, got out and drug Pop out and shoved a gun practically down his throat … he was even gagging on it. The girls nearly passed out they were so scared and Ma … her eyes seemed to swallow her whole face.”

I asked her as gently as I could, “Where were you and Bennie?”

A little belligerently she asked, “You think we could have stopped it?”

“No, that’s not what I meant. I mean were you and Bennie OK?”

She relaxed back into her chair and covered her face with her hands. “Sorry Joey … sorry … it … I told you it’s hard to tell it again. Just let me get through it.”

I touched her shoulder and she looked over to see me nod. “Pop wasn’t exactly calm after that but he was quieter. He kept touching Ma and the girls but it was like Bennie and I didn’t exist so much. Every once in a while he’d look at us and then get startled like he’d forgotten we were there.”

“Leo wasn’t doing so good either. He was the kinda guy that is used to being the heavy but not really being the boss of anything; he could follow a plan but didn’t really know how to be … be flexible when things went wrong with the plan. Bennie and I could tell he was starting to get rattled and he was lost but wouldn’t admit it. After a day with the guy I had started to think of ways to … to get rid of him but he was always too close to some of the others, always waving that gun around. We’d stopped for a break and for Leo to look at some map he had for the hundredth time when Bennie found those guns you stashed in his bag. Geez Joey, it was like finding hope after having none. Bennie was armed and he made me take his switch blade but made me promise not to give it to Pop or the others in case Pop talked them out of it.”

“Then on the third day we ran out of gas. He started storming around and cursing but then just walked over to another car that was stuck in the same traffic jam and shot them point blank. I coulda died right there Joey. It is just a complete nightmare to even think about it. I don’t know why no one stopped him but no one did; not us, not no one. It was like everyone was in shock … or scared of losing their place in line,” she added a little cynically. “He made Bennie siphon the gas out of the car and put it in the van. It didn’t get us far. Leo killed for the gas in their tank again and by that time Leo had learned that if he wanted something he was just going to take it.”

“By the fourth day he’d also decided we were just a liability and the van used too much fuel. Angels must have been watching out for people crazy enough to be on the road because Leo got us lost again, and this time we winded up in the middle of nowhere when the gas ran out. He tried to order Bennie to help him beat up people on this farm we ran across but Bennie would have nothing to do with it. Then he tried to talk Bennie into it with promises of a cut of the take but still Bennie wouldn’t help. That’s when Leo threatened to attack me … and … and Bennie went nuts. He and Leo went at it but … but even though Bennie is younger and stronger he’s been out of the game a while; Leo sliced him across the chest with a boot knife that he’d had hidden. Leo could have finished Bennie right there but I got him a good one in the leg with the knife Bennie had given to me earlier – missed the artery that I’d been aiming for but still did some damage. He ran off in the dark and I was too busy screaming at Ma and the girls to give me a hand with Bennie to really give a flip where he was running to. Pop was … Pop was trying to act all tough and strutting around and saying weird things like God had run Leo off, that God had told him what would happen to Leo and that he wouldn’t want to be in Leo’s shoes and all sorts of stuff along those lines.”

“Ma was starting to come out of whatever funk she had been in but she was still shook up bad. The girls were doing better too but none of them were thinking real clear. They kept thinking the cops were going to arrive and take care of things. By then I’d finally admitted to myself that no one was coming to the rescue and that we’d all been as nuts as Pop to have left here, especially with Leo. And don’t look like that Joey, you couldn’t have known.”

Shaking my head and calling myself every kind of food I told her, “But I did know Leo was dangerous. I should have stopped you, warned you …”

“We wouldn’t have listened and you know it.” We both sighed like a couple of old women as Lucia continued her story. “I couldn’t wait for help that might never arrive. Bennie needed water and to get inside some place. Pop started raising a fuss when I told him I was going to the farmhouse. He tried to stop me and I … I slapped him Joey. I slapped my father. I did it because he was getting hysterical and needed to stop but I think it hurt me way more than it hurt him. And it did stop him but I swear I thought he was going to hit me back. I kept remembering what he did to you and I … I think that is when I stopped trusting him anymore.”

“I made Ma watch Bennie and not let Pop do anything to him and then told Pop it was up to him whether he came to help me or not but I was going. Pop finally followed me but in hindsight it might not have been the best thing. You see Leo had been to the farm house ahead of us and … and it was a bloody mess. They were just this old couple and he’d … well, the old man did for him too before he died right there in the doorway of their house but not before Leo had done … things … to the old woman. When he saw the mess and put the pieces of the puzzle together, Pop started getting … stranger. I didn’t mind when he spit on Leo’s body but when he started to stomp on it and kick it … I just couldn’t watch. I couldn’t stop him either. I grabbed what I’d come to ask for and ran back to where Ma had everyone waiting.”

“Ma and I managed to help Bennie to the house but the girls … they … they saw what Pop was doing. Lindsey puked and … and hasn’t been the same since. Ana, would you believe it … it was Ana that helped me to bury the old couple while Ma tried to sort Pop out. I got desperate or smart and ransacked the medicine cabinet and managed to come up with some prescription strength Sonata and dosed Pop’s soda that Ma gave him. It took longer than I’d hoped but eventually Pop was down and then out. Ma wouldn’t let me tie him up and now I wish I’d ignored her and done it anyway but I had to focus on Bennie who was in a lot of pain. Ana had her hands full with Lindsey who seemed to want to come unglued too. What was so weird was it was usually the other way around; Ana the one with all the drama going on and Lindsey just riding the wave.”

We were there two days and Bennie was just starting to be able to move without hurting real bad. I should have been paying better attention but I thought dosing Pop would buy me some time to figure some way to deal with things. I’m not sure how it happened or when but Pop must have figured out what I was doing and only played at drinking his tea. Or maybe Ma didn’t … she hadn’t liked drugging him … maybe she thought he’d be OK or something. I found out later he convinced Lindsey to sneak a gun to him … there were a lot in the house so it would have been easy to do it unnoticed … and then one night I guess he decided that ...”

The pain of it was etched in Lucia’s face. I no more wanted to hear the rest than she wanted to tell it but we both knew it was necessary. Lucia plowed on but her voice was barely above a whisper. “Pop would have killed us all if … if Ma hadn’t stopped him. He was going after the girls and they saw him and started screaming. Ma and I woke up ran to where they’d been sleeping and … and Pop was standing over them looking determined, trying to explain it was the only way because the Tribulation was upon us and some other religious stuff I didn’t understand. Ma kept crying and begging Pop to stop and think what he was doing but he only smiled at her and said that it would be all right, he’d take care of her too and then himself so we’d all be together. I … I could hear Bennie struggling up the stairs to try and get to us. I turned to look at him and in just that moment I heard an explosion. But it wasn’t Pop … Ma had … had … she’d tried to defend her children from a mad man. The girls had stopped screaming. Ma was just crying and dropped the gun and ran to Pop. I should have stopped her. I … I just didn’t think he would really … really do it. Ma had Pop in her arms and he sagged taking them both to the floor. Pop was done for; I knew it as soon as I saw how frothy the blood around the hole in his chest was, how fast he was losing blood. Then I saw him mumble something. I ran across the room but I was too late. There was a muffled sound and Ma’s whole body jumped and then she slumped across Pop.”

Silent tears streamed down her face. “If it hadn’t been for Bennie I don’t know if I would have made it through the next couple of days. The girls … the girls were in shock, still are even though it’s been several weeks. Ana tried to help bury Ma and Pop but … but she just couldn’t do it and I don’t blame her. If there had been anyone else I wouldn’t have done it either but there wasn’t. Bennie tried but every bit of lifting would open the slash back up and I worried about infection. I wound up having to put a couple of stitches in the deepest parts to keep the edged together long enough for the cut to start healing.”

She closed her eyes trying not to see the picture of what she’d been forced to do. When she opened them she said, “We almost stayed there … that farm I mean … but Bennie said that there was no way we could scrape by with what little was in the place and that relatives of the owners might come around any day. His worry became my reality. I knew it looked like we had a lot of supplies between what had been left in the van and what was in the farm house but Bennie was right, it wouldn’t last long enough for things to get better because things were never going to “get better” … at least not like they were before.”

“There was an old Lincoln in the barn. Bennie couldn’t lift but he could tinker and it didn’t take much to get the car up and running; the old couple took really good care of it. And the trunk on that thing was huge. Lucky for us the farm had one of those private gas pumps … I guess they had to have one since they lived out in the middle of nowhere … and we filled that car up and all the gas cans we had. The girls and I went through everything that had been in the van and divided it up into piles of keep and leave. It wasn’t easy; the girls had a fit any time they realized there wasn’t enough room for something. We also went over the farmhouse, taking stuff that might be useful like a blanket and pillow for everyone, all the guns and ammunition, the food, medicine and such. I don’t know how we fit what we did. I suppose we could have taken more if we had been willing to strap it to the roof but Bennie worried about being a target and I agreed with him over the girls’ half-hearted protests.”

“Leaving that farm was hard. We left a note telling what had happened in case anyone showed up after we put back out on the road; where the bodies were buried I’d guess you’d say, but I almost hope no one finds it. We left some of the cash Leo had taken from Tony but I don’t know that it is good for anything but toilet paper now. There were fewer cars on the road … fewer that were moving that is. It took us a couple of hours to figure out where we were at on the map and it was then that we realized Leo had been so turned around that he’d been headed southeast instead of northeast like he meant to. Later some of that cash bought us a couple of safe nights in a campground and another tank of gas and it was just enough to get us near Dot but then things got hinky again.”

Chapter 23

Chapter Twenty-Three

It’s been scary awful around here and it will take some time to explain it all. Unfortunately at the same time it has the feeling of being the new normal so I suppose I should get used to it. We’ve had both good and bad; closer to home we’ve seen some good and bad but the overall picture continues to deteriorate. I’m not a person to stick my head in the sand but there’s been a few times I wanted to pull the covers over my head and tell the world to leave me alone for a little while.

I guess when my parents bought this place they could only take so many things into consideration. I’m sure they weren’t thinking of war or anything approaching it; my father the actuary would probably not have thought it that high of a risk. Wrong.

As the crow flies Dot is less than forty-five minutes from a major military installation - Ft. Campbell Army Base – and that’s if the crow flies real slow. I’m not sure if we are in a flight path, or whatever you call it, or if something has changed. I’ve got reason to go with the “changed” option but there is nothing I can do about it. Do know for a fact that there was a plane crash several days back and that there was a whole lotta military traffic up and down the mining roads for about a week afterwards.

Tony and I walked down to the end of his land (not using the main road from the cabin), both of us making sure we had proof that we had the right to be there on our person just in case someone got snotty. We watched the troops scurry like mice up and down the road for two days before anyone took serious notice of us and only then because one of their vehicles lost a track.

Feeling like I was in an episode of the Twilight Zone I said, “What the heck! They’re using freakin’ tanks.”

Most guys seem to be genetically preprogrammed to a love affair with anything mechanized and Tony was no exception. With an air of superior knowledge he told me, “That’s not a tank Joey.”

Refusing to put up with the fact he was practically drooling I said, “That is a tank; it has those things … tracks … instead of wheels.”

“It’s not a tank; do you see any guns? It’s a cargo carrier called an M548.” I nearly handed him a napkin to wipe his chin with. I would have asked him how he knew this but I wasn’t in the mood to listen to a long explanation interspersed with facts I’d forget as soon as he said them.

“Fine, it’s not a tank … even though it sorta looks like one,” I added quickly under my breath causing him to roll his eyes. “Either way they’re tearing up the road bad with it and it wasn’t in great shape to begin with. And those other ones that are coming and going are even worse. If they’re gonna do that don’t we at least get a chance to know why?”

Tony and I were pulling our “disarm them with normalcy” routine while we were being watched by the guys with the guns. Tony and I were prepared for trouble as well but weren’t carrying the amount of obvious hardware the other guys and gals were. The dudes in the military fatigues weren’t buying our act and we hadn’t really expected them to, on the other hand they knew we were there and so long as we didn’t do anything stupid or get too close they didn’t mind us standing around watching.

We didn’t go near them, didn’t talk to them; didn’t try to get them to talk to us. We were just desperate for information – real information – of what was going on beyond what was parsed out by the mainstream media after it had been sanitized and spun, and if we had to act like a couple half-brained rubber-neckers to do it we’d make the sacrifice. We were learning that pride had its place but it didn’t fill and empty stomach and it didn’t make the answers fall from Heaven. We hadn’t talked to another living soul in almost six weeks and just hearing people talk was something satisfying; even if it was basically just cursing their bad luck.

It was obvious that the cargo carriers were bringing down the debris from the crash … not just bits of broken plane but what was in the plane which appeared to be hauling supplies of some type. We hadn’t seen any bodies but they could have been taken off by any of the helicopters we saw hovering around up that way. Given the way the debris looked – some of it blackened and sooty – I didn’t see how anyone had survived such a crash.

Tony suspected they had to use the tracked vehicles because the plane crashed in a small area that was stripped mined several years ago and it was hard going in and out for regular vehicles much less the heavy equipment they needed to use. He’d figured out where the plane had gone down because he went to the highest elevation on his land and then climbed one of the tallest trees on that section. He could not see the crash itself but the smoke that had risen at the time pretty much gave away the location.

That first day we just watched the comings and goings of the military vehicles from well back in the woods so they couldn’t see us. The second day we let them see us but stayed out of their way. We watched but well back from the sidelines so they wouldn’t mistake us for a threat or get nosey. The next day is when we started the shtick. Everything was fine, cool and copacetic. We saw them, they saw us and judged us harmless, and everyone was … well not happy by any stretch but no one was pointing something that goes bang-bang or ka-pow.

We never made the mistake of becoming involved; there is always risk once you’ve made contact. But things happen and you have to be flexible. You know how something will occur and you just make a split second choice because to do anything else is literally unthinkable? Because there is no way to just turn your back and walk away? That M-thingy, whatever it was that lost its track, was loaded down and running heavy. The repair guys – Tony keeps reminding me to call them Motor Transport Operators – showed up in a duplicate M-whatever you call it, only it was full of what looked like parts and fuel and stuff. The new guys hop out and there is a lot of ribbing and a little sniping at the MTOs that were driving the one that lost its track. The one that had lost its track had been overloaded by its crew.

There was a good bit cursing when they found out they would have to at least partially unload the M-thingy and that there wasn’t another transport available to move it to while the repair was made. The unloading process is where things got hinky. We got “the look” from the new group of MTOs but were eventually brushed off and semi-forgotten about as nothing more than lookie-lou’s. Tony and I are just standing there watching – admittedly grateful we weren’t drafted to help – when we hear from the back of the one being unloaded, “Wait … hey I said wait … wait, wait, stop, it’s tipping!”

They had been unloading from the side of the cargo transport that faced away from us but there had been a few guys in the back moving smaller stuff out and stacking it nearby. All of a sudden a big piece of equipment slides out of the back through the canvas flaps and hits one of those guys in the shoulder knocking him away but landing on the other guy who starts screaming, obviously in pain.

That’s when we didn’t stop to think, both Tony and I just went into motion. We ran over, he goes to help the other guys who are trying to lift the piece of … I still don’t know what it was but it was like a bunch of electronic hardware attached to panels and the guts all exposed. I ran to the guy and tried to grab him to hold him still. Eventually I was crouched behind his head holding his head in a lock with bent knees to keep him from thrashing it around and I’d caught his hands and held on. I talked to him while looking down from above; he would have seen me upside down to him.

“Hey, c’mon, you need to be as still as you can. They’re trying to get a jack to get this thing off of you asap. OK? What’s your name?”

The young guy, as in even younger than me, couldn’t seem to form an answer. One of the female soldiers that wasn’t helping to get the jack in place slid over beside me to take one of the soldier’s hands so we could split the pain of the crushing he was giving us. “His name is Lombardi … Chris Lombardi. Mostly people call him Bard.”

“Hey Chris, you a singer or a story teller? Gotta be one or the other with a nickname like Bard.”

“S … sss … sing,” he finally ground out.

“Choir boy?” I guessed after spotting a St. Michael’s medallion sliding from beneath his t-shirt.

“Y … yyy … yeah.”

Tears were pouring from his eyes but he wasn’t crying. I used my free hand to brush them and the beads of sweat off of his face. “My brothers were too so you watch that twinkle, I know exactly what happens to choir boys when their voices start changing.”

Amazingly he tried to smile but it turned into a grimace of pain and another yelp as they started shifting the debris with the jack. I heard the large and extremely gruff man that had taken charge direct the others to different places to stabilize the piece of equipment as the jack raised everything up. Even with the jack you could see it was taking all of the strength of the men and women involved to keep it from shifting again and totally crushing the guy I was trying to comfort.

That’s when the guy in charge rushed around to us and asked, “Can you two pull him out? We aren’t going to be able to get this much higher.”

I bent down to Chis and said, “Hey Bard listen up. Your friend and I are going to pull you out in just a sec but I need you to let us do all the work and stay as still as possible. It’s gonna hurt so brace yourself. Can you tell me where it hurts the worst right now?”

“L … llll … leg.”

“That all?”

“Uh … uh huh.”

I wasn’t sure whether that was a no or a yes but time had run out. I knew I was strong enough to pull him out on my own but not if he started fighting me. I also worried that we could hurt him worse than he already was if we pulled too hard. I had the other woman stabilize his head and neck as well as she could and told her to pull gently then I got over the top of him a grabbed his belt. On three we started sliding him out at a steady pace but only as far as we needed so that he wasn’t pinned anymore.

The leg was a mess. His pants were torn and bloody but thank the Good Lord that it wasn’t a compound fracture as I’m not sure I have the skill to deal with something like that. Lucia could have. My brothers could have. I need to be able to but that is going to require pulling out the old survival guides that were my brothers and I just haven’t been able to force myself to do it yet.

I did know how to splint and immobilize a leg. When everyone just stood there looking I said, “I need two straight pieces of something stiff and … and duct tape if you have it or wire off this junk or something that is strong and won’t slip when tied.”

They brought me two pieces of pipe and a few of the guys gave up their belts which turned out to be better than wire or tape.

One of the men called, “Can’t land a chopper … too many trees … but a medic team is already on the way. Be here in five from the site.”

I did what I could to keep Bard from going into shock and remain conscious while everyone else got on with what they had been doing but with only one eye as they all watched him. Apparently he is a popular team member, everyone’s kid brother. Turned out he was a year old than my own brothers’ age and it knocked the scab off of something inside me that had been trying to heal.

Looking around I saw the guy in charge was talking to Tony. Looked a little like an interrogation but not a nasty one. I figured the guy was just doing his job. After what seemed like years the medic team finally pulled up and thankfully I was no longer needed though Bard wouldn’t turn loose of my hand until he was on the back board and being moved to the makeshift ambulance. I looked over at Tony and his nod told me to come on over.

“Joey, I’d like to introduce the man in charge, Master Sergeant McManus.” Tony seemed comfortable with the man so I relaxed as much as my nerves would let me.

“How do you do sir?” I asked at my most polite.

Giving me a hard, but not intentionally intimidating look he said in a deep southern drawl, “Y’all live up here?”

“In my parent’s … my … cabin.”

“Mr. MacGregor said your folks were killed on the road to meet you here.”

I nodded slowly, “Look … I’d … rather not get into details but yeah, they died during an attack on evacuees. So did my little brothers, which reminds me … Bard is kinda young to be around all this stuff isn’t he? He wasn’t much older than … than my brothers.”

A cynical twist of the man’s lips stated plainly that I was being too much of a girl. Ignoring my question he said, “Be surprised what young men his age can get up to.”

Giving him look for look I told him, “Oh no I wouldn’t and if you had known my brothers you’d know why.” I stepped even closer to Tony. Sometimes memories hurt as bad as an actual wound. I still wanted to remember them but I didn’t necessarily want to do it in front of a stranger. Needing strength I grabbed Tony’s hand and held it. For his part he switched sides so that instead of holding my hand his arm pulled me close. Even still, I noted it was his firing arm that remained free in case he needed it. I also noted that he’d put himself a little in front of me to further insulate me I suppose.

Tony looked at the sergeant and asked, “If you’re finished we’ll get out of your way.”

Tony wasn’t belligerent but I could hear him getting protective. “Sure … but look, you two seem all right … especially coming to help Bard and not asking anything for it.” With a snort he added, “You’re just nosey and I don’t suppose under the circumstances there is anything wrong with that. But if you know what’s good for you you’ll play least in sight for a while. There’s gonna be a crew of feds coming through here starting tonight to make an inspection and unless you want ‘em crawling up your … er … just get lost and stay lost for the next 24 to 48.”

We were turning to leave but before we did I turned and asked, “About Bard … you think he’s going to be OK?”

“Medic just reported. He’s gonna be on desk duty but getting him out as quick as we did and then splinting him looks like we kept him from any permanent damage.”

My relief was ridiculous. I didn’t know that kid from no one and I doubt I’ll ever see him again in my life but for some reason it was important to me that he pull through. Tony gave me a knowing look as we hiked back to the house the long way around. “The kid did look a little like them.”

In a voice that said I didn’t want to talk about it I said, “Yeah. Look, when we get back to the house I need to get more grapes picked and in the steam juicer.”

“Joey …” He stopped when he realized there wasn’t anything that could be said. He ran his hand through my hair and then a knuckled down my cheek. “OK Ragazza,” said quietly. Then trying to think of a way to talk of something else he asked, “But this time will I get any of the fruit to try and make wine with?”

He was poking at me in a little bit of fun because I told him that wine was not an edible and came at the bottom of the priority list. His smart aleck comment was, “Your Italian ancestors are rolling in their graves Ragazza.”

It was the fruit so much as it was the amount of sugar he wanted to use for the experiment. We had most of a fifty-five gallon drum of the stuff – plus other sweeteners – but he wanted eight quarts of fruit, eight pounds of sugar, and a package of my bread yeast. The yeast was the item in shortest supply but I could work around the yeast issue, I couldn’t around sugar when I needed it for preserving.

Feeling bad because I’d thrown a wrench in the only real project he had planned from beginning to end I told him, “Tony, I’m sorry. I don’t mean to seem like a miser doling out the resources.”

He looked at my face and then once again stopped us on the trail. “Joey … Joey … I was only playin’. You know that right?”

I shrugged. “Sure I know it but it doesn’t mean that isn’t how I’ve been actin’. I’m just … I’m just worried Tony. I don’t feel like I’m making much headway in the plans to get things fixed up.”

We started walking again but more slowly so that we could talk. “Hey you, we’ll get there. You told me yourself that we still have the long storage apples to harvest starting next month and the persimmons. And I found that book on local wild foods and already found some of those greens.”

While true it only put my mind at ease a little bit. As soon as we got back to the house I spent the remainder of the day preserving fruit. I was getting almost twenty quarts of juice per bushel of grapes which wasn’t bad at all. Plus I was making raisins, spiced grapes, grape butter, and on and on. Then there were the apples which believe it or not I was close to being sick of seeing. The pawpaws had arrived and it had been hilarious to try and convince Tony to eat one but after he had he guarded them jealously and had become quite the connoisseur of which ones would taste the best. The quinces, well I’d never tasted any so sweet or that smelled half so good; they perfumed the whole house when I brought them in and put them on the counter.

The peelings and leftover bits from the fruit were split between the chicken yard and Mom’s small compost pile that Tony had located after looking for a place to create a trash dump for all of the empty cans we were accumulating. If the fruit didn’t all get eaten during the day it attracted flies (resulting in maggots) and the chickens loved the extra protein in their diets. In fact the chickens seemed like they were doing better than we were in that respect. We still hadn’t gotten around to going hunting but we both knew it would have to be done sooner rather than later. It just seemed hard to find the time when there were so many other things that needed doing first.

Our good fortune did raise my spirits some but a feeling of gloom continued hung over everything. Increasingly I felt cut off from things and I knew for Tony the feeling was even worse. I was also beginning to feel like some outlaw in hiding.

Stories of hunger and riots, of neighbors turning on neighbors, neighborhoods turning on other neighborhoods, of militarized cities as ethnic, religious, and political animosities boiled over made me feel trapped by the ideal Tony and I were living. The guilt of having so much when others had so little was getting to me.

Upset with my musings Tony said, “Enough. Our good fortune has not come at the expense of anyone else. The food in our mouths is not coming from someone else’s garden or storehouse. We are not taking from others, we are creating our own.”

“Yeah, but …”

Not angry at me but after obviously thinking about it himself he said, “No. No ‘yeah, but’ Joey. I refuse to feel guilty about this. There are things in my life I am guilty of but this is not one of them.”

“But Tony …”

“No Ragazza,” he said firmly.

Shaking my head I told him, “I just don’t see how you can be so unaffected.”

“Easily. But if you need an example then recall those two news reports we heard last night. The first was all about increasing food costs, how people were angry, how getting food stamps didn’t help between the cost and the lack of availability. Fewer store owners accept EBTs now because they would rather have the cash right there then have to wait for the reimbursement from the government. The very next story was on crops rotting in the fields because farmers couldn’t find enough harvesters. Ragazza, people claim to be hungry and starving yet they are still too lazy to even do a job guaranteed to put food in their mouths if they consider it beneath their station. Wait until they are truly hungry this winter and then they’ll find out you can’t eat dignity. Better dirty and sweaty doing honest work than digging through the dumpster behind a restaurant praying for a half eaten hamburger or a few pickles to fill the holes in their children’s bellies.”

Tony’s hard childhood and brief life on the street had given him a cynical opinion of most people. He had no patience for those he considered whiners or lazy. Tony may have worn a suit and tie all of his adult life but he wasn’t all that removed from the animal skins worn by ancient man and with attitudes to match. I had no doubt he would rather do anything than go back to picking over other people’s garbage again. Working with me in the orchard and around the cabin was to him preferable to standing in line waiting for someone to simply give him something.

I wanted to shed my guilt over having so much but it was hard to let it go. I dreamed of Lucia and the rest of the family incessantly and had been waking up even more tired than when I went to bed. I don’t consider my dreams prophetic you’d simply have to be totally blind to what is going on in the world and in our country to not see the endless possibilities leading towards catastrophe.

And a pregnancy scare hadn’t helped my nerves either. I was two weeks late and then it hit hard and mean as it sometimes did. When I had come out of the worst of the PMS I had to soothe Tony and explain to him how it was for me a couple times of the year.

Once he understood he was relieved to know it wasn’t something going wrong between us. It was also obvious he thought he was being comforting when he told me, “When you get pregnant you won’t have to deal with this.”

I honestly hadn’t given getting pregnant a whole lot of thought but apparently Tony had. It turns out he’s thought about it for a couple of years now which was one of the reasons he was able to keep his hands to himself despite what he called “the temptation” of being around me. But he’s also loony as a Canadian dollar. He’s got some idealized vision of me as a Madonna and some lame brained notion that because I’m female I must have the entire list of how to’s all nailed down. And what pray tell does he think comes after the manger and swaddling clothes? I don’t know if he’d even imagined anything beyond The Birth as he spoke of it. I’d had no idea that Tony was so ready and eager to start a family. It was just more for me to think about, especially the “soon” part of the equation that he seemed so enamored with. Of course there aren’t going to be any babies if Tony doesn’t stop taking what I consider to be lunatic chances.

I was all for following Sgt. McManus’ suggestion. In fact the last thing I wanted to do was go anywhere near a federal agent, investigator, or whatever they call themselves. I worried that they would find our place and mark it for “redistribution of resources.” My guilt didn’t extend as far as actually volunteering for them to come in and clean out shelves of everything. I thought Tony was of the same mind. You know what they say about assuming anything.

I hadn’t thought much of it when he said he was going to walk his land and look for more forageable food. He had the plant identification books from the library in a pack he slung on his shoulder and I fixed him some food and water to take with him. I knew he got itchy to do something besides hold my apron strings and also knew it was good for him to go work off that energy before it turned into something nasty. He was also surveying the land for water sources and other useful features. But when he didn’t come home for dinner and then didn’t come in before darkness fell I became frantic. I didn’t know whether to go looking for him in the dark or to wait until first light.

It was approaching midnight and I still hadn’t made up my mind about what to do when I heard a grunt and something bang around on the porch. I thought it was a bear at first but even graduated from public school I learned that bears didn’t curse in Italian. I wrenched open the door and threw myself at Tony nearly knocking us both over the railing to the ground below.

I kissed him and hugged him, checked him for injuries and then finding none I grabbed what was nearest at hand – the outdoor broom that had been leaning against the wall – and raised it like a war club prepared to damage him but good. “Are you crazy?!! Where have you been?! I’ve been worried sick!! It’s not only dark but it’s tomorrow and not a word from you!! You could have been lying in a ditch some place and …!!”

Tony just laughed, and after finally getting the broom away from me asked, “Worried about me were you?”

I was incoherent with unspent anger. I didn’t know whether I was grateful he wasn’t hurt or furious because he wasn’t and was just standing there not begging my forgiveness for causing me to worry. “You … you … you … !! ARGH!!!”

That’s when I heard the snickering. My breath caught in my throat and I turned slowly in the direction I had heard it come from. I knew that sound like I knew my own voice. We’d gotten into enough trouble in school not being able to control when we’d get the giggles.

The only light was moonlight and I nearly broke my neck getting down the stairs but finally we were hugging. Lucia wasn’t snickering anymore; her laughter had turned into tears and then she dissolved into a howling cry. I knew that grief, had experienced it myself first hand. I looked around, afraid of what I would see – or what I wouldn’t – but it was too dark to make anything, or anyone, out.

Tony wrapped us both in a hug and kissed Lucia’s head where it rested on my shoulder. I was the only thing holding her up. Quietly he said, “Let’s get them inside.”

Then Bennie was there and so close he made me jump. “Can you manage Lucia and the girls? I need to help Thomas with the goats and other animals.”

I wanted to ask questions but Lucia was shivering. The nights had become chillier and that night there was also a cruel dampness to the air. I called out softly, “Girls?”

Ana and Lindsey stumbled out of the darkness wearing identical looks of shock and exhaustion. Surprisingly Lucia pulled herself together and pushed the girls ahead of her, up the stairs and into the dim light of the kitchen. Turning to look at me she said as we entered, “I know you’ve got a million questions but let me get the girls to bed first and then I’ll start explaining.”

It was very unlike the girls not to take immediate exception to being treated like children but they were docile … too docile. It made my teeth hurt to see their total lack of spirit. “There’s some hot water left if they …”

Lucia shook her head, “Sleep first. They can primp tomorrow.”

Chapter 22

Chapter Twenty-Two

“Complicated things” wasn’t nearly so complicated as I worried about. It has changed things but at the same time they are pretty much the same as they were before … besides the obvious of course. It would have been nice if we could have had a honeymoon period to play and get used to the extreme new intimacy we were experiencing but life doesn’t always give you what you want; I was grateful that at least so far we had what we needed.

Tony wasn’t kidding when he told me he wanted me to wear his ring. He took that literally. It was an old Italian wedding band that he had inherited from his mother’s aunt. I’d never seen anything like it. It was a thick band carved in what Tony told me was Florentine fretwork and with an antique ruby set in the top. “I know it is not a traditional ring Josephine,” he said when he put in on my finger. “But my mother’s aunt was a wise woman and … and good to me in a way that my mother and Nonna were not. She said that I would find someone someday that would make me want to be the best man I possibly could. And she was right. She told me when I found that woman to put this ring on her finger, not because the value of the ring but to remind myself of the value of what I seek to build.”

Brains, brawn, and romance … Tony is quite a package. Of course he is also mule headed and a little dictatorial but I’m not going to complain about it … not much anyway. If he can accept me as I am I should be able to respect him enough to do the same. Actually being “married” is more fun than I ever expected it to be. A wall that I hadn’t known was there isn’t there anymore. I’ve got a self assurance when it comes to dealing with Tony I hadn’t realized was missing. Of course turnabout is only fair; he should be able to expect from me the same things I do from him.

I will admit that Tony is going a little overboard. I’m not sure whether it is being “married,” him getting better, or the news that we hear but he is too intense, occasionally a little overprotective. OK, it feels like a lot overprotective. OK, he’s driving me up the freakin’ wall. Not everything is perfect and there are things about it that make me want to throw things on occasion. There, I said it. Doesn’t make me feel any better but I’ve finally admitted it. I’m not use to this much physical closeness with someone, I’m not sure if I’m handling it too well.

We can never go about our day separately. When I’m out in the orchard he is right there too. When he isn’t helping he is standing around with the rifle on his shoulder glaring at the world as if daring them to come anywhere near me. It was cute the first time I noticed him doing it. The cute factor had died by the end of that same day.

“Tony! I lived on my own for three years and don’t need you babysitting me every second. I know there are things you want to do … so go do them. All I’m doing is picking fruit and hauling it back to the kitchen for processing.”

His nostrils flare every time I tell him that and I get the same one word response every time. “No.” Not “no” with an explanation. Not “no” with a rationalization or justification. Just “no” and a stony face. Grrr. How is it possible to love someone so much and want to slug them really, really hard at the same time?

At least he has given up trying to do all of the heavy lifting. “Tony!”

“Joey!” he said mocking me.

I gave him the same look my mother used to give my brothers when they were treading on thin ice. “Watch it Buster. Look, I know you want to help. I also know that you don’t like the fact that I’m quote ‘working like a dock hand.’ But the truth is Tony that I’ve worked like this ever since I started working; first at Mr. Stenheim’s market, then at the Deli. I know what I’m doing. I don’t carry too much and I don’t do anything to strain my back or any other part of my anatomy. Sure I get tired and maybe sore at night but that’s just life.”

“I saw that bruise on your … er … hip,” he growled.

Great. The one stupid stunt I pull he gets to see the rainbow surprise I fully deserve for doing it. “I went up one too many steps on the ladder. I should have secured the ladder to the tree but I didn’t. That was a one off Tony, not a regular occurrence. My bumper landed on the stub of a pruned off branch. No big deal. I know it’s ugly but it’ll go away.” He snorted but finally laid off when he saw I was serious about being cautious.

Another bit of zazzle we had was after an early dinner we sat down to listen to the radio but turned it off fifteen minutes later, both of us too irritated to listen to any more of the political posturing that was going on. Tony looked tired and just because I felt like it I got up and started to massage his shoulders. Looking over to the paper he was doodling on I asked, “Whatcha drawin’?”

“Remember the old clothes lines that were there before they were taken out to make way for the community garden?”

“How could I forget? Some of the older people in the neighborhood on that side were really bent out of shape about it. I don’t know why though, most of those old pulleys didn’t even work.”

A little frustrated because I wasn’t seeing the picture fully formed as he already was he said, “Yeah, but that’s not … look, you know how the pulleys worked?”

“Of course. There were pulleys on both sides. A big circle of clothes line ran over each pulley. You pulled on one line to push or pull the line away to pin the clothes on or to take them off. That way clotheslines were strung between buildings and used the empty space above allies and stuff rather than taking up the green space at ground level.”

He nodded his head and kept doodling. “Exactly. It was what Aunt Belinda called a labor saving device. It reminds me of the ski lifts of North Carolina.”

I was still waiting for him to fill in the blanks and just kept massaging his shoulders. “Never been,” I admitted.

Disgusted he said, “I know. It was one of the things I wanted to … Oh never mind. Look, what do you think about making one of those clothes lines … or ski lifts … for hauling stuff from the orchard to the house?”

I kissed his ear and said, “You really are looking for a project aren’t you?”

Still aggravated at his doodling he was erasing it hard enough to put a hole in the paper so I told him, “Tony I carry the fruit up because it takes less time but there is a road to take the tractor on if you wanna help me pick a loader full or wagon full. I’m just not sure if I could process that much fast enough so the fruit wouldn’t spoil.”

He threw the pencil across the room and got up so fast that I near fell off the back of it where I had perched. “Hey!”

He ran his hands through his hair and started to say something three times before storming out the kitchen door and slamming it behind him. I didn’t know whether I was supposed to run after him or not. I decided not. If he was going to blow up he could be the one to let me know why.

An hour later I was still down in the basement pretending to myself that I was getting some work done. I had gone from worried to upset and was now simmering in my own bit of anger. Tony came down the stairs and sat near the bottom. He sighed, “My temper got away from me.”

I shrugged nonchalantly and said, “I noticed.”

“Do you want to know why?” I shrugged again. “Joey?”


“Would you feel better if you threw something?”

Tony was trying to be charming so at least I knew his snit was over with whatever it was but now I was fast approaching one. “I’m not going to throw anything ‘cause I’ll just have to clean it up.”

He was silent for a while then got up and came over. “You’re not going to fight are you?”

“Why should I?”

He sighed. “You aren’t making this easy.”

Looking at him dead on I said, “Again, why should I?”

Subdued but not as over his snit as he was trying to act he said, “It was stupid, I admit it. OK? Can we just let it go? Just please don’t say ‘why should I’ as an answer.”

“Fine.” I almost said “whatever” but instead I really did decide to just let it go. Tired and still confused I said, “I’m done in. I’m going to go wash up and go to bed.”

A little unwisely he asked, “You gonna make me sleep on the sofa?”

Truly angry I finally turned on him and said, “Geez Tony! I don’t make a stink about you storming off. I don’t make a stink about you coming back. I don’t pick a fight. You say let it go and I say fine. Now you’ve got the nerve to ask me if I’m gonna send you to the dog house? Exactly what is it you want from me?!”

I stormed upstairs and straight to the shower, inconveniently forgetting that I’d done a couple of loads of laundry while we dinner and that there was no hot water. I stepped in and shrieked at the very cold spray hit me and as I’m trying to jump out I catch my foot in the shower curtain and fall out of the tub taking the curtain and rod down with me. The rod hit me in the head and I saw stars.

I must have passed out for a second because I came to as I was being wrapped up in a blanket. The water was off so I knew there’d been a little time elapse. There was a little streak of red on the bathroom tile floor and when I brushed some hair out of my face I found it was in my hair as well. That’s when Tony’s worried voice penetrated. “Joey? Come on Ragazza, talk to me.”

Groggily I said, “I’m … I’m fine. Stop waving your hand in my face like you want me to count your fingers.”

“Grazie Dio. Joey stop wiggling; you’re wet and slippery.”

I shook my head and it started to pound. “You are not carrying me anywhere. I’ll get blood all over the place and there will just be a bigger mess to clean up.”

He grumbled and growled but I refused to leave the bathroom until the mess had been cleaned up, including the dent I had gotten in my scalp. “Stupid thing.”

In exasperation Tony asked, “The shower rod or you?”

I guess I was more of a mess than I thought because I felt my bottom lip quiver. I tried to hide my face but Tony must have seen. He did some fast talking that buzzed right over the top of me and then said, “I’m sorry Ragazza. My mouth … you can kick me later … after I take care of you.”

“I’m not kicking you or throwing anything at you. Just move so I can go get my clothes and get dressed.”

“You don’t need to get dressed. You need to let me put you to bed so my heart will stop pounding like a friggin’ jack hammer. You could have a concussion, a broken bone …”

“I don’t have any broken bones or a concussion but my backside is bruised from landing on the plunger handle.”

“Here, let me see.”

Of course I squawked. My dignity was affronted enough as it is. And as crazy as it sounds we both wound up laughing and heading for the bedroom to make up. After a while I asked him, “Exactly why were you so angry?”

With an arm under his head and holding me with the other one he said, “I don’t know. I feel so … so freakin’ useless. I’m like a fish outta water.”

Trying to get comfortable without pinching the sore spot on the top of my head I said, “You think I know what I’m doing? I’m just repeating what my parents did, doing what my mother taught me, remembering what it was like when I was little before we moved to New York. All I’m doing is replicating stuff Tony, none of it is something I came up with on my own.”

Still frazzled and tired around the edges Tony said, “I don’t have that Joey. You know I was on the street for a couple of months before Uncle Nicky and Aunt Belinda took me in but this isn’t the same thing. I feel like I’m … I’m wasting something … time, resources, energy. I don’t know, it is just frustrating.”

Thinking I said, “You haven’t complained about the food you are eating even though it is different from what you were used to.”

“No. Why should I complain when it is all good?”

“And I haven’t seen you looking wistfully at your suits and ties that are hanging in the armoire even though you lived in them before, even when you came to see me.”

He snorted, “No. What is your point Joey?”

“That you should give yourself time. You are adapting and you will find your niche. Just don’t beat yourself up over it while it is coming to you.”

Sighing he said, “I don’t like feeling like I have no control. This mess going on in the world …”

“I know. It’s just for me I can’t seem to figure out a way to do nuthin’ about that other stuff. I’m not hiding my head in the sand I just don’t have anything but frustration, fear, and anger to give it. I’ve found that to be a waste of energy. I have to prioritize and right now that means tryin’ to set us up for winter and early spring. You were right when you said we couldn’t survive on fruit all winter long but I don’t know what else I can do about it right now. I … I’m worried Tony. I never grew up rough like you did. I’ve never gone hungry … not really … not like the cupboards are completely bare hungry, not eating out of garbage cans hungry. I’ve had to eat Ramen noodles at every meal for more than a week but I still had it to eat. I’ve got to …”

The more I let the worry come to the surface the more agitated I became and Tony saw it, maybe understanding what motivated me for the first time. “Shhhh Joey. Don’t get upset. I tell you what, tomorrow I’ll look at your dad’s library downstairs. There are a bunch of books on this area … history and stuff like that. Maybe there is something in there to get ideas from.”

Quietly I said, “Things are so broken Tony. I’m scared. I know I … I act like I’m not sometimes, play at bein’ a clown, but if I didn’t have you here I’m not sure what I would do. I’d survive but it would be so cold and lonely and depressing. You help me keep myself sane. You give me something to focus on.” After a moment I made a face in the dark. “Geez I sound like a needy whiner. Toughen up Balducci.”

“That’s MacGregor,” he said sliding down beside me.

“You sure about that?” I said smiling challengingly despite knowing he couldn’t see me.

“Yeah. Balducci-MacGregor maybe but if … you know … we have kids I’d like ‘em to be just MacGregor … them hyphenated names give me a headache.”

“Geez Tony … you are such a guy.” And from my point of view that was a good thing.