Cactus and a Fish Table
I’m pretty sure Auntie didn’t intend to send it to me. She knows how glad I am that I’ll never have to eat another nopal. I don’t even own a pair of proper gloves for picking them any more, and I’m very proud of that fact. So I think Auntie’s new orphan, Kitta, must’ve slipped the photo in there, because Auntie wouldn’t have sent me a picture of nopales even as a joke. She doesn’t have much of a sense of humor, and why should she? The oil crisis and resource wars hit her generation a lot harder than it did mine. We both lost our family, but she lost her entire way of life, too. I've never known her to be anything other than deadly serious.
The news from home is mixed. Will and Coyote continue to run their maverick operation in the south, sometimes helping Unitas and other times conducting their own personal campaigns against unaffiliated troublemakers. Coyote is still up to his old tricks, derailing trains for his own amusement, which means he and Will are as much a part of the problem as part of the solution.
But it looks like there might be peace soon. Robert got México Lindo to agree to a truce. It’s only for a month, and by now the fighting might’ve resumed, for all I know. It takes so long to get these letters! But Auntie said Robert was also crafting a deal with Don Reymundo, who was México Lindo’s biggest ally in the south, and whose lands Charlene and I had to go around last winter, leading to our having to cross the White Sands. If Unitas can get Don Reymundo's support, México Lindo won't have a prayer.
I’m glad now that I didn’t go to Robert at Christmas and make him run away with me. He’s doing important work that will benefit a lot of people. I was selfish to even think of taking him away from where he’s needed. Love can be found almost anywhere, right? But without peace, people will keep dying, and there has been enough death in my country.
So maybe I’ll quit pushing Lee away. I don’t love him, but he’s very nice to me, and he’s a hard worker. He’s smart, too, in his own practical way. People around here respect him, so I could do a lot worse than having him for a boyfriend or maybe a husband someday.
After I rejected him at the barn-raising in early summer, he kept his distance. But I missed his friendship and conversation, so when he got up a fishing party a few weeks ago, I went, too. There were nearly a dozen of us from Northwind and a couple nearby farms, and we had a great time. We even caught a few fish, before we started acting silly and making too much noise.
We didn’t catch any more fish after that, but we didn’t care. We cooked what we had, ate sweet cornbread, and passed around a bottle of good Tennessee whiskey. Then one of the men took out a harmonica and played, and we had a fine time dancing by the pond, jumping in and pretending to swim, dunking each other, and dancing some more. Somewhere in all that I let Lee kiss me a few times, but when we got home, wet and tipsy, I thanked him for such a good time, but wouldn’t let him follow me into the barn. I made a promise to myself that I wouldn’t be careless with a man’s feelings ever again, and I intend to keep that promise.
So when a week later, Lee brought me a little table as a gift, I didn’t know what to say.
“It’s just old scrap,” he said. “Better than letting it become termite food.”
What a liar. There’s always a use for wood, even if it’s just to cook someone’s supper. “And the fish?”
He gave a twitch of his crooked shoulders. “I was remembering what a good time we had, fishing.”
“We hardly caught anything, we made so much noise.”
“This is one that won’t get away.”
No denying that, I guess. “Well, thanks. I hardly know where I’ll put it, though.”
“I’ll help you.”
“No. It’s small, and I’m no weakling.”
“But I thought—“
“Right. And once you’re in my bedroom, you’ll just want—“
His look of surprise was genuine. “What kind of guy do you think I am?”
“I don’t know what the men are like where you’re from, but I was raised up to be a good Christian. If I ever ask you for more than just a kiss and I haven’t offered you a ring first, feel free to kick my ass all the way down the Frankford pike to Louisville, okay?”
I looked at the floor, hoping he couldn't see the heat in my cheeks.
“Now let’s see if we can’t find a place in your room for this table.”
I let him take the table to my room and we moved a few things around so it would fit. When he went to leave, I thanked him and tried to give him a kiss, but I think he knew I was doing it just to be nice and he waved me off, still offended.
I seem unable to do anything right when it comes to men. We've talked since then, but it's been strictly business. Maybe it's for the best. I have my work and my studies to think about. No need to make my life complicated.