With this resolution, I informed Charlene that we would stop at the next town and get her checked by a doctor or midwife.
“I’m fine,” she said, blowing on her coffee.
“You may think you are, but things can go wrong when you least expect it.” I considered. “We need to make sure you get some vegetables and fruit every day, like dried apples and calabaza. Nuts and seeds are good too, especially pepitas. . .” I started counting on my fingers as I tried to remember. “Vitamin C every day, fresh meat or fish whenever we can get it, milk and cheese. . . no more whiskey, and only one cup of coffee per day.”
Charlene frowned over her cup. “What kind of dumb rule says no coffee?”
“One of my friends read it in a book.”
“Books again. Well, I don’t believe it.”
“Hey, look, I’m sorry I even told you, okay? If you’re going to turn into some bossy mommy type, watching everything I put in my mouth, then forget it. I don’t need you. I’ll get someone else to take me home. Or I’ll just go by myself. Or—“
“Okay.” I turned back to my coffee, but my cup was nearly empty, so I reached for the little coffee pot and topped it off. “I’m just trying to help. If you don’t give your baby what it needs, it’ll take it out of your bones and muscles. They’re like parasites that way.”
Charlene said nothing, and since we still had some potatoes from the night before, I heated them up with some cheese. She didn’t object when I gave her a larger portion than what I took for myself, but I noticed as we began cleaning up and packing our gear, she was eating another piece of ginger. At the rate she was going through it, we would need more soon, and it wasn’t likely we would find any at one of these mountain villages.
I suspected we weren’t far from the high mountain town of Nubesombra, but the steady climb and increasingly uncertain road made for slow going. It was such a beautiful morning though, that it was easy to become distracted and forget one’s troubles.
Finally we started finding overgrown paths leading off from the main road, and the occasional abandoned truck or cabin. “We should be coming to a town soon,” I said. “I know you think I’m bossy, but I’d really feel better about this trip if you’d talk to a midwife before we continue.”
“I already saw one. Back when I first suspected.”
“And she said you were okay to travel?”
“On a horse? All the way to Texas, in winter, through the mountains, and. . .”
“Fine. If I see someone, will you shut up?” She moved out down the trail ahead of me, and I let her go.
I caught up with her as we entered town. There wasn't as much early twenty-first century construction as some of the places we had seen, so we soon found ourselves in the center of town, where the buildings must have been at least a hundred and fifty years old.
I went into a few shops, making inquiries, while Charlene sullenly dawdled on the town’s main road, pretending to listen to a street preacher and eating some toasted pumpkin seeds that I had bought from a vendor.
“Come on,” I finally said. “I found one.”
She rolled her eyes, but followed me through the village streets to a little house with a gate and a blue door with a string of red chiles hanging beside it. A pleasant, middle-aged woman answered my knock. “Mrs. Rasch?” I asked.
“You can just call me Lena. How can I help you?”
I was about to explain our situation, when Charlene surprised me by pushing her way forward. “You’re German?” she asked in wonderment.
“Yes,” Lena said slowly. “Many generations ago. It’s a common ancestry here.”
“Me, too. I’m Texas German!” For a moment, it looked like Charlene would launch herself into the confused midwife’s arms, but somehow she restrained herself. “Oh—and I’m here to see you because I’m going to have a baby.”
Lena smiled, obviously relieved that we weren’t some kind of insane census-takers. She invited us in and I made myself comfortable in her front room, which was fitted out like a public waiting room, while Lena took Charlene into another room.
It seemed they were back there for a very long time, and I grew bored. There were some books on a low table, but they were mostly about babies and illnesses and didn’t interest me much. I considered going outside to get my horse book from Flecha’s pack, but I was so certain that each passing minute would conclude Charlene’s checkup, that I remained in the rocking chair, waiting. And waiting.
Just when I was beginning to wonder if they were going to stay back there until Charlene reached term and had her kid, Lena came into the room alone and pulled up a chair. “Your friend is fine,” she told me. “But this is pretty long trip for her to be making, especially on horseback and at a difficult time of the year.”
“I know,” I said. “But she didn’t even tell me she was pregnant until yesterday. And she doesn’t want to take a train.”
Lena frowned slightly. “So I understand it’s just the two of you traveling alone? No one else?”
“I can look out for her. And I won’t get us lost.”
“That’s not why I was asking. I’m sure you can keep her out of trouble. She says you’re some kind of famous gunfighter.”
I felt myself blush. “That’s not true,” I said. “Someone started a mean rumor about me, then someone else thought it would make a good song, and by now it might as well be about someone else entirely. Please don’t believe any of those lies.”
Lena gave a little shrug. “I’ve never heard the song you and she refer to. I’m actually more concerned with what you know about basic medical care. If you’re going to be traveling with her, you need to know what to do if something goes wrong.”
I tried to argue with her. I explained I had some basic veterinary training, but that didn’t go over too well. I told Lena that I knew a little about herbs and vitamins from Aunt Amalia, but that didn’t satisfy her, either. I didn’t mention, of course, that I had tried to starve myself into a miscarriage the previous year, since that would’ve probably ruined what tiny bit of credibility I had with her.
Nothing would do but that we should stay an extra day in town, where Lena would give the two of us a basic course in midwifery. By now Charlene had joined us, and was so enthusiastic that I suspected her of having arranged the deal herself. And since I really didn’t want to find myself out in the wilderness with Charlene having weird symptoms, I allowed myself to be talked into it. Lena said we could stay with her, the cost was minimal, and the matter was settled.
Our education began right after supper, and I wish I could say I enjoyed it, since it was my first experience that in any way resembled going to school. But babies had never interested me, and I had a hard time keeping my mind from wandering. I noticed that Charlene was writing down some of the things Lena told us. “Taking notes,” she called it. So I took notes too, and that made it a little easier to stay awake.
When we were finally through and settled into the room we had been given, I told Charlene I hoped it wouldn’t be so boring the next day, or I’d need a whole pot of coffee to keep from falling asleep.
“I think we’ll get into the actual childbirth process tomorrow,” she said. “That ought to be scary enough to keep you awake.”
“Oh, God. Don’t remind me what a horror that is.”
I said it without thinking, but now Charlene gave me a funny look and I remembered I had never mentioned my baby to her. I was glad when she didn’t pursue the matter and settled into bed with a contented sigh. “I’m glad I took your advice. This beats sleeping on the ground surrounded by snow, doesn’t it?”
I had to admit that it did.
“And she’s German, too. Who would’ve thought to find German families here?”
“Who would think to find them in Texas?”
“Oh, we’re all over.”
“It sure looks that way. Maybe she’ll make you one of those eggs and jelly things for breakfast.” I fluffed up my pillow and picked up my book, looking for the page where I had left off the night before.
Charlene raised herself up on an elbow and looked at me. “You really do care about me, don’t you?”
“What?” I set the book down. “Of course I care. Why would you think I didn’t?”
“I don’t know.” She rolled over on her back and closed her eyes. “I’m a lot of trouble.”
“No, you’re not.”
“Liar. I am, too.”
She was quiet so long I thought she had maybe fallen asleep, so I picked up my book again.
“You never congratulated me,” Charlene finally said.
“On what? Getting pregnant? That’s not hard.”
“You’re right about that.”
I set the book aside and looked over at her. “Are you happy about this baby? I didn’t get the feeling that you were. But if you are—“
To my complete surprise, she threw herself onto her still-flat belly and began crying into her pillow. I pushed my covers aside, padded over to her bed and sat down beside her. My tentative hand on her shoulder did no good, and she only cried harder. So I stretched out beside her, pulled her into my arms and let her cry on me. She did a good job of it, too. By the time she finally cried herself to sleep, my shirt was a wet and sticky mess. But I switched it out for my other one, figuring since we’re going to be in town another day, I’ve got time to clean it.
Poor Charlene. Someone obviously hurt her very badly. She’s brave to stay as cheerful as she does. I’ll tell her tomorrow how brave I think she is. Maybe that will help a little.
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