Day One Hundred Five
But that dream! I woke up holding the blankets tight against my body, wanting Robert so badly I could’ve cried. If we had done even half the things I dreamed of last night, I swear I would’ve gone to him last Christmas instead of striking out on my own.
But if I had done that, I wouldn’t have ended up here, and I’m feeling more and more certain that my future is farther along these roads, and not back home.
Still, with the bright promise of a spring morning all around me, nothing seemed too crazy or impossible. I stirred up the fire, put some coffee on to boil, then sat down to write a letter.
After I finished my coffee, I threw the letter in the fire. Robert is an important man back home. He worked hard to get where he is now. He has no reason to chase me across two nations and into unfamiliar countryside, especially after I've given him no reason to believe I know my own heart.
It was just a dream.
I covered the fire, packed my gear and got back on the road.
Most of the day was uneventful. The road continued along the rail line, but there were no stalled trains and no one asked for my company. In the afternoon I came to a town. It wasn’t much different from other towns, except for a strange building that arched over one of the roads. It didn’t look like people still used it for anything, but it always interests me to see the way people used to build. You’d never see someone make something like this today.
I had already left town and was passing through old tract housing and mobile homes, when I was seized with an idea and jerked on the reins. Flecha stopped and a man behind me with a donkey cart shouted.
“Hey, lady! Don’t stop in the middle of the road!”
I apologized and moved out of his way. Then I kicked Flecha into a trot and we continued on. No, I wouldn’t go back to town and mail Robert a letter. What would I say that could possibly make any sense? Let the past stay in the past.
Late in the afternoon I started seeing signs that warned of detours ahead. I've never seen such a place as Oklahoma for detours! What could it be this time?
I guess I must’ve spoken the words aloud, because a woman on a mule turned to look at me. “It’s because of the dam collapse. You didn’t know?”
“I’m not from these parts.”
She pulled her mule up alongside me. “There used to be a dam up the way. It created a reservoir and controlled the rate of flow downstream. It fell apart last fall. The flooding was terrible and a lot of people died.”
“That’s awful. I guess it messed up the roads?”
“More than that. The river chose a new course, right on top of some of the roads and railways.”
I had never heard of a river changing its course before. Back home, rivers and creeks might vanish, but they rarely flooded, and I had never heard of one jumping its banks and finding a new route. “There must be a lot of water around here, for it to have been able to do that.”
The woman examined me from under the brim of her hat. She looked to be maybe in her forties, a brown and healthy woman who spent a lot of time in the sun. She had a capable air about her, and I could tell she wasn’t the type to put up with any nonsense. But when she smiled, her eyes crinkled at the corners and her lips curled down in a teasing way. “Where’re you from, hon, that you aren’t used to water?”
She was astute, too.
We talked for awhile, and she told me her name was Paula. She used to live in one of the flooded areas and fled for her life the night the river jumped its banks. “I’ve been staying in town with a cousin,” she said. “I come out here every month to see if the water has gone down enough to reclaim my land.”
She invited me to tag along with her, and since I needed something to think about besides whether to send a letter to a man I would never see again, I agreed. We didn’t follow the detour instructions and instead went down a side road that Paula knew about. We wound around through the countryside, and she pointed to flood-scarred landmarks and told me what had been there before and how things had changed.
After awhile she fell silent, and I could tell from the way she bit her lip and narrowed her eyes that we were nearing her land. I had a feeling it wasn’t going to be good, and it wasn’t.
We sat our horses for several minutes, staring at the water. “Well,” she finally said, turning her mule around and starting back the way we had come. “I guess that’s that.”
I caught up to her. “It’ll go down some more, won’t it?”
“After six months? Not likely.”
By now it was late in the afternoon and I wondered where I would camp for the night. As if reading my thoughts, Paula said there was a place nearby she had been using when she came out here to check her property. “It’s too far to get back to town tonight, and I don’t always like being out on the main road. Too many people, and too many of them desperate.”
I thought this judgment was unfair, but didn’t say so. We ended up stopping at a building that looked like it hadn’t been doing very well even before the flood.
We unloaded our gear and made supper. Paula had brought along a meal of chicken and biscuits. To that I added some food from my packs, and we had quite a feast. For dessert, Paula had some cookies—a wonderful treat.
It would’ve all been very nice, except that Paula wasn’t in a talkative mood any more and spent a lot of time staring into the camp fire, deep in thought. I was wiping the cookie crumbs off my fingers and thinking I had better start cleaning up, when Paula looked at me. “Where’s your home?”
That was a more complicated question that she realized. “I’ve had a lot of homes,” I said. “But there was only one that ever really felt like it was mine, and it burned down a long time ago.”
“So you don’t have any place, either?”
I thought of Auntie’s home near Estrella, and I thought of Unitas. I thought, too, of all the offers of home I've been given on my crazy journey so far. “I’ve got places I can go, but I’m looking for someplace that will be all my own. I want it to be my choice, not someone else’s charity.”
Paula nodded and stared into the flames again, poking a smoldering branch with a stick. “I’ve been thinking along those lines for awhile, myself. My cousin is nice, of course, but I’m used to having a place of my own.”
She looked like she wanted to say more, but stood up instead. She brushed the dust off her pants and announced that she was going to bed.
I wasn’t sleepy at all, so I stayed out here to watch the fire. I hope I won’t dream of Robert again tonight. It’s a distraction from the things I should be worrying about, like how to get to Kentucky. In a world where people like Paula are having real problems, who am I to waste the better part of a day dreaming about a man I can’t have?
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