Oh, she makes me so mad!
Bettina brought the note late last night. I had gone to sleep, but Stuart waited up for her. As sleepy as I was when their voices awakened me, I couldn’t help thinking what a sweet couple they were, with him holding her close, after losing sleep from worrying so much. I hope I have someone who loves me like that when I’m old! It must be the most wonderful thing in the world.
When she finally escaped Stuart’s embrace, Bettina gave me the note. After reading it, my first thought was to throw it into the fire in disgust.
“Bad news,” Bettina said, in a tone that suggested no surprise. “I didn’t get the feeling that there was any kind of power struggle going on around there. The Vasquez girl seemed pretty upset with the whole situation, and the servants were jumping at the sight of their own shadows, but I had no sense that bigger plans were being made.”
“Maybe she just hasn’t had time to make a plan,” I said. “Maybe she thinks it’ll blow over in a few days, or a few weeks. Or maybe. . .”
“Maybe you need to be thinking about your own plans, Miss,” Stuart said. “We don’t mind having you here, but food is scarce and this dead town ain’t no place for a bright girl with her whole future ahead of her.”
“But shouldn’t I stay at least a few days?” I asked. “In case she changes her mind?”
“What does her note say?”
I ducked my head. “To go on without her.”
I didn’t like the idea. No, not one little bit. But Charlene’s message was very clear, and Bettina and Stuart were right—this was no place to hang around, waiting. I wanted to be gone from here. I just didn’t want to go alone, knowing Charlene might be in trouble.
But her note said. . .
Fine. I would do the sensible thing. But I consulted with Stuart and Bettina first. I wanted to know the best way out of this hell.
They recommended going due north, saying there was a city that way. But cities have no appeal for me, and the route meant crossing a toll bridge over a canyon. I knew about toll bridges from back home, and they were usually places where travelers were robbed blind. “Is northeast no good?” I asked. “My overall objective is Kentucky, remember?”
“Well, it’s not bad,” Stuart said. But it’s at least a two day trip to the nearest town where you might be able to re-stock. There’s no direct road, and it’s mighty lonely country.”
“That’s okay,” I said. I didn’t add that a couple days of solitary thinking would do me some good.
So after getting a little more information about the land and what I could expect, I set out this morning, leaving behind a note for Charlene telling her how to find me, should she decide to come after me. I had to almost swear on the family Bible I wasn’t hungry in order to escape Bettina’s offer of porridge before I left, and I vigorously refused her offer of some of her weevil-infested cornmeal.
For most of the day, the land was just as flat and bare as any I had seen since coming to this country. Stuart had said if I kept on a northeast line, I would find myself in rolling prairie late in the day and be able to camp by a river. But for a long time it was hard to know if he had told the truth. There was just a lot of emptiness, dotted occasionally with cattle or with herds of a strange creature I had never seen before. I gave these new animals a wide berth, since I knew nothing about them. Later I tried to draw a picture from memory, and they looked something like this:
They graze like cattle, but I don’t know if they’re gentle like cows, so I didn’t want to get too close. They looked strong and the bulls might be vicious.
I also saw familiar animals—prairie dogs, rabbits, hawks, vultures, and a type of bird that was obviously some sort of wild chicken. I tried to shoot one, but it got away.
Finally in late afternoon, the land started changing, just like Stuart said it would.
This was much better. And when I finally came to the banks of the river, I could’ve cried for happiness at the variety of colors and shapes all around me. It was still a harsh land, but at least it was alive and scaled to human imagination. The sky didn’t run on to infinity like it did at Charlene’s estate, where any sane person would start to question the very reason for their existence.
The river water seemed good, so I let Flecha drink, then set some lines to see if I could catch some fish. Then I remembered the small flat tins of fish that Darrell had encouraged me to buy after crossing the desert. I dug one of them out of my pack, opened it with the key provided, and stared at the little whole fishes, lined up and staring at me. Darrell had said it was okay to eat them whole, without cooking or anything. But this just didn’t seem right. So I cut them up and cooked them, and ate them with some cornbread snakes. It was a bad meal, and I won’t repeat it. I’m not sure how one is supposed to eat sardines, but it isn’t with cornbread.
It’s a pretty night tonight. It’s no longer so cold, and it’s nice to just sit and gaze at the stars. They’re so big and close! Looking at them spread out across the sky, it’s easy to think the world is a magical place, where nothing ever really goes wrong. But it does. As annoying as she could be, I miss Charlene. She made me laugh. Her crazy plans took me way off track from where I thought I wanted to be, but somehow we always ended up on the right road after all, just a little better for having indulged ourselves with an adventure.
I hope she follows me! I look up at the stars and planets, and I’m reminded of what Auntie always said about the universe having its own laws and its own reasons for things. But I’m not comforted. I’m reminded, too, of what Will said about the stars—that they were too clean and perfect, and that you needed a little dirt and mess in life in order to appreciate the good things when they came along. This doesn’t really help me tonight, either.
I have so many questions about life and what I’m doing here, but the stars don’t answer. Instead, Flecha has wandered over to see what I’m doing and nibble on my collar. Silly girl. She knows I should be sleeping. We’ve got another big day of traveling tomorrow.
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