Saturday, March 28, 2015


Georgia, 1864

It was morning. Jane stood with her back to the sun, her apron full of still warm eggs, looking west at the smoke drifting into the sky.

A man had ridden up to the house yesterday with the news that Sherman and his men were approaching at a rate of fifteen miles a day, on foot no less! Just their speed was terrifying, but this army appeared to be operating with little to no sleep and did not waver in their intentions, to destroy everything in it's path. They were burning the railroad ties as they pried up the tracks, creating fires hot enough to soften the rails so that the metal could be bent, crippling the railway.

The information being brought east was that the army was young, exuberant and fit, but oddly polite and chivalrous, leaving women and children mostly unharmed. As there were no able-bodied men to drive them back, the yankees took what they liked, crops were ignited, houses were ransacked and anything of value was seized. It was said that Sherman's men were marching with hams slung over their shoulders and sacks of tobacco loaded onto their wagons.

As soon as they had heard the news that Atlanta had been taken, Jane and Robert had turned the pigs loose knowing the animals would be able to fend for themselves and could be hunted later. The garden, the horses and the cow they'd simply left alone, continuing to harvest the vegetables they needed, milking the cow and trading horses with the men who rode up daily bringing news and warnings.

Jane and Robert still had two horses, but had no idea who they belonged to, the horses had been swapped so many times. They kept them fed, watered and safe, waiting for the next exhausted man and beast to appear.

Wind blew into Jane face and she inhaled deeply, not wood smoke, probably cotton or late peas. If it was late peas, the army was mostly likely only twenty miles away, time to think about leaving.

Robert came and stood beside her, his hat cocked onto the back of his head. Jane's sunbonnet blocked him from seeing her face, but he knew from her total stillness that she was frightened.

Robert liked this new country called the United States of America. A place named for an Italian, settled by the British who had successfully broken from the most powerful country in the world to create a new nation.

He liked the vastness of the southern geography. Being able to gaze at the horizon line so far away it seemed like the end of the earth made him feel small and insignificant, which elated him. Having so much space was exhilarating, to not be crammed into a city surrounded by stench and people made him feel as if he were a king on this patch of land and woods. He had bought the farm outright, although the idea of owning land still amused him, his appreciation of having property that was his to control was never ending.

He and Jane grew their own food, milked their cows and collected the chicken's eggs. Jane was strong and healthy from plentiful food and hard work.
He had built the house himself from trees he had felled, split into boards and smoothed with an axe head.

This place was truly his own and now another war threatened to take it from him. It would not, however, take Jane. Of this he was sure.

Jane turned to him, showing him her face filled with fear, her eyes full of silent question.

Robert nodded "It is time to pack."

He turned toward the stables to start preparing for their trip into the woods. The fact that Robert was here with her was made possible by one of his parlor tricks. He had joined up, as all men of age and ability had done. At the first battle he'd fought, he jumped in front of a line of rifles, taking two shots in the chest. He'd laid in the field waiting to be either dragged off to a mass grave, or be left to rot. He told Jane he'd actually dozed off as he'd landed deep in the shade of a pecan tree and the grass was cool. When he woke up from his nap, the battle had stopped so the bodies could be cleared away, Robert then allowed himself to be hauled over a small hill, where his name was noted from the paper pinned to his tunic and when no one was looking he'd gotten up to start his long walk home. And now he'd just told her the war was coming to their front porch.

Jane took her eggs into the kitchen, carefully placing them in a wooden bowl before putting water on to boil. She would boil the eggs in the shell and bring them into the woods with them. It would probably be a long time before they saw eggs again.

As the water worked it's way into bubbles, Jane and Robert prepared for their short journey.

"I have to go to the Marsden's and help them escape." Jane said simply, stuffing a quilt her mother had made into her trunk. She had already packed her treasures along with seeds, Robert's tools, her apron, the plow head and her sewing kit. The trunk had opened up to accept much more than should have fit, but it was at capacity now, the quilt the last thing to fit.

Robert sat on the trunk lid so Jane could latch it. "No." Robert shook his head. "Do not go there. They would want to pack their silver and rugs and who can guess what other useless things. They would still be running around like chickens do when the army marches down on us. If you want to help someone go to the Miller's shanty. With Mrs. Miller with child they might need help loading their wagon. They have been good neighbors to us, to them we have an obligation."

"The Miller family moved on three days ago." Jane worked to close the latch. "They will be sixty miles from here now. And Mrs. Miller has birthed three children easily. She will have no trouble should the baby come. I showed her how to boil the scissors and I gave her the waxed string. She has the raspberry leaf tea she will need. There is no need to be concerned for their well being."

She continued "The Marsden's will try to hide in their barn cellar like fools. They will be found. I should go help them load their buggy and tell them what to leave behind."

Robert looked angry. "No Jane. I forbid it. You have assisted those helpless people enough. You gave them a peep of chicks and had to tell them to keep the box near the stove. Then they ate three of the chickens before you explained to them to wait until a hen stops laying to eat it. They are not your responsibility."

Jane stood. "Please Robert, if I do not go and try to convince them to flee I won't be able to sleep. We are taking so little. We can spare the time."

Robert stood and stomped outside, where he paced in a circle before throwing his hat on the ground. Then he went to halter the cow and saddle the horses.

Fifteen minutes after that, they were riding towards the Marsden's plantation on the ownerless horses, loaded down with the few things they'd need for a few days stay in the woods and leading the cow.

The ride to the big house took two hours, leading the slow cow.

Mrs. Marsden stood on the porch of her plantation, looking towards the smoke with her three daughters clustered behind her wringing their hands. All four women still wore their corsets, laced into them by Aunt Sadie, one of two houseworkers who had not fled with the rest of the slaves. All the women were gasping for breath, struggling to inhale against their near panic.

"Oh," Mrs. Marsden said when she saw Robert and Jane. "Have you come to put your cow into our barn? Has something happened at your farm?"

Robert dismounted and then helped Jane down before going to find water for the cow. He anticipated needing to fill the trough from the well.

Jane went up the porch steps "Mrs Marsden, Sherman's army is approaching fast, it is time for your family to move to safety. If you go north into the woods now, it will be safe to return in two days time. I will tell you what to bring."

"Oh, dear me! I shall have Aunt Sadie begin packing the china and the linens. Oh, and the ball gowns, the girls will need them for the coming social season. Please Miss, come in while I have Sadie and Toby begin the preparations."

"Mrs. Marsden, you cannot bring any of those things...." Robert heard Jane say before she moved into the house and out of his earshot.

He set to the tasks of tending to the few animals left. After carefully checking over the horses for well being, he began to hunt for the harnesses he would need need to hitch them to the buggy.

These were not work or draft horses as he would have preferred, but high steppers, meant for pleasure riding or perhaps jumping.

Robert located the things he needed, left the horses to eat their fill and went to let the chickens go. As he approached the coop, he was pleased to see the birds alive and well, their coop clean, with fresh straw for their nesting. He carefully checked for eggs, then chased the chickens out into the yard, closing the coop behind himself.

He heard shouting coming from an upstairs window, women's voices raised and arguing about dresses. Robert went into the barn to ready the buggy.

While Robert was in the middle of securing the buckles on the second horse, Jane came out onto the porch, leaving the door open behind her. She ran to the barn and finding Robert said 'Unhitch them, they won't leave. Mrs. Marsden wants to pack her daughters' ball gowns and says she has never eaten a boiled egg and will not eat one now. Nor will she sleep outside or travel so far only to come right back."

Robert saw tears in her eyes and did not say anything about his turn of events, he simply unhitched the horses and left them in the yard. If they ran off into the woods, they would come back to the house but if he left them Sherman's army would take them. Robert did not like the Marsdens and their complete lack of ability to care for themselves, he did not want to see them in any worse condition than they already were. All the women had grown thin since Mr. Marsden had gone with the army, the four females left to tend for themselves as best they could without a tended garden or chickens until Jane had given the chicks to them.

He walked to the front of the house and found Jane already in the saddle. Robert swung up onto his horse, looked over at Jane, "One day out, two days to wait, one day back. They'll be gone by then." Jane just looked at Robert and kicked her horse to a faster pace, fear clear on her face.

"We'll be safe. They're moving quickly and...... I haven't heard of such an efficient army since the days of the Romans. They're not wasting time, just destruction. This is going to break the South, it's going to get worse before it gets better. People are going to starve. You'll need to prepare yourself for that. I'm sorry, but you do."

Jane bit her lip and looked away. Robert knew she'd been feeding anyone who stopped at their door, all of them fleeing before Sherman. He'd seen one wagon with a harp sticking out of it but they had not one scrap of food and only a bucket full of water they'd collected at a creek. Jane had fed them, given them blankets and food to take with them. Robert had thrown down his hat in disgust before storming out to the stable. How did these people stay alive? And why did they think Savannah would be any different?

The supply lines to the Confederate States of America had been cut, there was nothing in Savannah the same way there was nothing anywhere. They were not going to find a storehouse full of dresses, kerosene and sweet cakes by the sea, they were going to find burned buildings and a starving population.

As they rode, Jane tried not to cry and Robert silently fumed while they both kept one eye turned toward the west. All day the wind carried the smell of smoke to them, making both of them anxious and wishing the cow would go faster.

When it began to come on dark, they found a small creek and made camp there. Robert cleared a large circle down to bare earth where Jane built up a fire using a precious stick match and began to cook a supper of salt pork and turnips. While the turnips cooked, she went to the creek to wash her face and hands. Robert took the cow to a patch of good grass and left it to graze. They would milk her in the morning and have fresh milk to go with their boiled eggs for breakfast. Robert wished they could stay here forever, pretending there wasn't a war that was dragging on and on, living on rabbits and milk. It would be a fine, simple life, but he knew Jane needed to have other people close by so he agreed to live with neighbors only ten miles away.

The smell of smoke died away as they ate their supper and then drank the tea Jane had brought with her, to help them sleep. She knew without it she would lie awake all night, waiting for a soldier in blue to leap from the tree line, yanking her up and away. She'd never lived during a time of war and she hated it. She hated how people suffered, died and how she was afraid all the time.

Robert and Jane made a nest of blankets on the ground and laid down like spoons for warmth. With the combination of the tea, Robert's body heat and the rhythmic sound of the cow chewing her cud, Jane slept.

The next morning upon waking, Jane built a fire with the kindling Robert had gathered and made them tea before milking the cow. They ate boiled eggs and drank milk for their breakfast after which Robert walked into the woods to set snare traps for rabbits. While he was gone Jane washed their dishes in the creek, neatly stowing them in a flour sack. She folded their blankets and, now done with her morning housekeeping, she settled down with the small embroidery project she had carried with her.

Was it a necessity? No, but neither she nor Robert were comfortable with being idle. She enjoyed the stitching and it would help pass the time.

As the day passed, they filled it with the small chores of walking the trap lines, sewing, gathering more firewood and listening for the army approaching. Although they were miles from the farm, the sounds carried very well and they kept their ears open for gunshots and shouts.

As dark was coming on, a cracking of branches brought both of them out of their own thoughts. Robert reached for his rifle, making sure it was cocked. He held it up to chest level. They both waited, the crackling coming closer.

A few moments later, Tabitha, the smartest of the Marsden girls came into view, riding one of the high steppers, her mother riding pillion. Her mother, of course, was sitting sidesaddle clinging to her daughter who rode astride as she understood this was not a casual, easy ride to show off one's latest riding habit. Behind her came her sisters, also riding double, on the other fancy horse.

Tabitha reined in her mount and slipped down to the ground. "We heard gunshots and screams. I think the army was still far away, but the wind was blowing in our direction and they carried. I told mother I was going to let the horse find you myself if she wouldn't come. You told me you would leave a path of broken branches and trampled underbrush to follow. And here we are." Tabitha looked plainly at Jane and Robert. "I have brought blankets, all the food we could carry and our stick matches. We still have over a hundred, but I understand we need to use those as little as possible. Mother and my sisters insisted on bringing the ball gowns, but I think we'll be using those for rags soon enough."

Jane smiled "I'm glad you left. Come and make your camp, what food have you brought? We'll have supper."

Mrs. Marsden suddenly blurted out "Aunt Sadie and Uncle Toby are coming behind us on foot. We can wait for them to do that. "

Jane looked up at the woman. "I am quite accustomed to preparing my meals Mrs. Marsden. And you must be tired and hungry, why don't you and the girls wash at the creek? I know it will be uncomfortable for you, but the water is sweet."

Mrs. Marsden, Margaret and Alice, her other two daughters went in the direction Jane pointed as Tabitha opened the bundle that contained their supplies. Jane was proud to see the blankets were thick and the stick matches wrapped in a piece of oiled cloth should they need to keep them dry.

"Did you bring any of your valuables?" Jane asked quietly.

Tabitha nodded "My mother and grandmother's jewelry. Father's pistol. I buried grandfather's Revolutionary War sword in the manure pile, although I don't doubt they will dig that up. We had a rider after you left, he told us the army was ripping up gardens, looking for what the owners had buried there. I left things in place so they wouldn't look too hard for the things I hid. As long as we live we'll be alright. I thought a night in the open would be better than watching the Yankees rip up our home."

As she spoke, Tabitha handed Jane a number of boiled eggs and a plucked and gutted chicken. "I know I oughtn't have killed it, but I thought it would be a long time before there would be chicken or eggs again. I would rather eat it than the army use it to sustain themselves. I made Aunt Sadie show me how to pluck and prepare it. I would like you to show me how to cook it. Aunt Sadie will need my help. She keeps trying to do all the tasks the house workers did. She can't possibly do it on her own. I need to talk with her about what we need to do now as our life is going to change."

"Did you butcher the bird yourself?" Jane was impressed at Tabitha's taking on the responsibility of leading her family to safety and thinking of their survival rather than comfort.

"Uncle Toby did it, but I watched. I think I will be able to do it myself before long. I am going to practice with the hatchet on small branches. We are going to need to gather firewood upon our return, the house was cold when we started out."

"You have done well by your family. I am proud that you became matriarch."

Tabitha smiled shyly. Jane also noticed that Tabitha had shed her corset and had donned the simpler, wider dress her grandmother had favored later in her life. The old woman had still worn her corset, but she was larger due to birthing ten children and the rich food and drink she enjoyed as a woman of means. It appeared that Tabitha had gone into her grandmother's armoir, thinking that being able to draw a deep breath would be beneficial in their travels.

Mrs. Marsden and Tabitha's sisters returned with clean but damp faces. As soon as they arrived at the camp they wrapped themselves in blankets and looked both horrified and mortified while Jane taught Tabitha how to cook the pullet.

Soon after, Aunt Sadie and Uncle Toby came into the clearing, with expressions on their faces to match Mrs. Marsden's. They were houseworkers, unaccustomed to being outdoors. Each of them carried a box, which turned out to be filled with the girl's ball gowns.

Jane fed everyone, being sure to give the servants their fair share of chicken, although they protested and Mrs. Marsden sniffed. Jane knew she made everyone uncomfortable, but she would treat all human beings as human beings.

She showed Tabitha how to arrange the blankets to provide padding on the ground and explained that they needed to sleep together for the warmth. She had Margaret and Alice bundle with their mother, Robert doubled up with Uncle Toby, who looked sick at the idea and put herself with Tabitha and Aunt Sadie. Jane gave them all her tea to help them sleep, brewing it strong for the ones new to camping.

And, so they passed the night. In the morning, Jane continued Tabitha's lessons showing her how to milk a cow. She explained that once a cow began to be milked, they had to be milked at the same time every day. When she gave Tabitha a drink of the warm milk, the girl's eyes lit up at the deliciousness of it.

"If you have milk, you can make cheese, which will keep a very long time. We will begin on gardening when we return home." Jane hesitated, unsure if she should push on to ask a rude question. "Would you like me to come stay with you and help run the household until you feel you can handle things yourself?" Jane was ashamed she had invited herself, but the family needed knowledge, and quickly.

Tabitha looked at Jane, "I should appreciate it ever so much. Please, do come and stay with us."

The two of them brought back the milk for breakfast. Mrs. Marsden ate a boiled egg, most likely because she was hungry. The girls nibbled theirs daintily, dabbing at their mouths with their handkerchiefs.

After everyone had eaten their fill, they started out towards home. The slow ride again took all day. Jane opted to walk with Aunt Sadie and Uncle Toby, tired from her days of being less active than she liked. She continued to lead the protesting cow, who wanted to settle and chew her cud.

Jane had told Robert she would be staying with the Marsden's until Tabitha was capable of feeding the family, then she would return home. Only ten miles away, she could easily come home on Saturdays, returning on Sunday afternoon. Tabitha was a quick study and should not take much time to teach her what she needed to know. She was already thinking differently, asking Robert to show her which plants could be eaten, if he would teach her to trap rabbits to breed for food and other questions.

Robert was glad to answer her, he liked people who took initiative and wanted to learn. As they neared the Marsden plantation they were all relieved to see the house was standing. The chicken coop had been torn apart and the small garden had been dug up, but the house was standing. Then they saw smoke from the west, Robert and Jane's farm. Jane quickly shouted to Tabitha that she would come to them once she had seen her house then allowed Robert to pull her up behind him before they took off a gallop.

As they rode up to their land, Jane saw the barn standing, but the house was nothing but a pile of smoking rubble. The Yankees had burned down their house. The chickens had returned and wandered around the yard, pecking at bugs.

Then Jane saw her trunk sitting in the exact middle of the smoking beams, covered with ash but completely intact. She burst into laughter.

"Well," she said to Robert wiping away the tears that rolled down her face "I guess we'll both be helping the Marsden's"

Robert joined her laughing as he went to the barn to find a shovel so he could fetch Jane's trunk.

Sunday, March 15, 2015


Jane and Robert saw the girl on the front steps before she saw them. It was cold and the girl was wearing a coat, but sitting oddly with her legs somewhat apart. Most people sat with their knees together in the cold. Her head was bent, her arms crossed in front of her.

Jane started up the walk, "Um, hi?"

The girl looked up. It was the girl who had called Jane the devil's whore, she was crying. "I'm sorry about your house."

Jane realized this girl was the one who had been spray painting the house. "It's okay." Then she waited.

The girl said "I don't have anywhere to go."

"What do you mean?"

Then she stood up. Her bulging stomach proceeded her. Water was running down her legs, pitter-pattering on the concrete of the front walk.

"I think the baby's coming."

Jane thrust her hand out and felt the top of the girl's swollen abdomen. Jane closed her eyes, feeling for the ripple. The skin under her hand tightened slowly but strongly. The girl moaned.

Jane opened her eyes and looked at Robert "Started now." Robert nodded, looking at his watch. Jane closed her eyes again.

"Ow! Ohhhhhhhhhhh. I huuuurrrrrrrts! Ahhhhhhhhhhhoooowwwwww!" The girl was bending over almost double. Jane struggled to keep her hand where it was.

Jane absentmindedly said "Don't say ow, say 'oof'. Like you're trying to pick up something heavy. Don't fight the way your body wants to breathe."

The girl gasped in a big breath and moaned on the exhale until she was totally out of air then gasped in a big breath again.

Jane felt the muscles she was feeling relax. "Okay, that one's over."

"Thirty seconds." Robert looked at Jane. "We should take her inside."

"Wait a second." Jane put her other hand inside the girls coat and felt along the bottom of her baby bulge. The girl smelled like a basket of fresh strawberries, sweet and ripe. When she exhaled her breath smelled of honey. Jane's hands felt the baby's position, definitely descended, ready to come into the world. The muscles were twitching, getting ready to contract again.

"Oh yeah, you need to come inside. How long has this been happening?" Jane helped her new friend up the steps to the house. "Please come inside."

"It started early this morning. I'd hoped it wasn't really happening but it is. I didn't know where to go! I... I... I....." then she burst out sobbing.

"It's okay, we're going to take care of you. I'm Jane." She was taking the girl's coat off. It was soaked through the back as were her clothes. Jane fished a handkerchief out of her pocket and blotted up some of the liquid. The color was clear, good, no blood or brown.

"I'm Rachel." She bent over and began to moan again.

"Okay, we're going to call an ambulance, they'll come and take you to the hospital."

"No!" the girl shrieked. "No! Don't! No one can know! They can't! Please!" She breathed in again and then panted until the contraction passed.

"Rachel, it will be alright. Women get pregnant. It's what our bodies are designed to do. You're about to give birth, like Mary." Jane ran her hand along the girls face.

"No. He'll take the baby. Remember when you asked me if someone was hurting me? Yes, he was. He said I'd be his wife in spirit but I know he lied to me." Rachel swiped at her face.

"Okay then. We'll just have to deliver the baby here. Bobby, I'm going to need a bunch of towels..."

Robert interrupted "hot water, soak a scissors in boiling water, put the birthing stool in the bathroom. See? I pay attention." He grinned and loped off.

"Let's get you to the bedroom. I'd like you to walk as long as you can, the gravity helps. We're going to do this a little differently than what you think." Jane gently led her to the bathroom where Robert was putting a short, wooden stool with a wide top next to the toilet. "Now, I'm going to have you squat. On this stool, lean on the lid of the toilet with your arms. If you think you have to throw up just lift the lid. First, we have to get you out of your wet things."

Jane helped Rachel undress tossing her sodden shoes and tights in the trash. Rachel put on the cotton jersey robe Jane gave her. Jane usually advised women to labor naked, but she suspected the girl would want to be covered up. The robe would be open on the bottom so Jane could catch the baby, but would cover up her back so Robert couldn't see. They stopped three times for contractions.

Rachel squatted and leaned. "Now, I need you to let me look between your legs." Jane laid down on her stomach so she could see what she was doing. She waited until the next contraction and saw everything bulge slightly.

"Very good. You're doing great. The baby is going to come very soon. The contractions will probably not hurt as much. But you're going to feel one that burns like fire. Like nothing you've ever felt before. That's the baby coming out. You won't have to tell me when you feel that because it will make you yell. "

Robert slipped in with a pile of towels. He'd heated them in the oven so they were comfortingly warm. He set aside a hooded baby towel. He left the room, then reappeared with a glass measuring cup containing steaming water, scissors resting there, points down. He pulled a ball of kitchen string from his pocket.

Suddenly Rachel blurted out "I need to push!"

"Then push. You're body knows what to do. Let it happen, don't fight it." Jane wasn't surprised. Rachel had probably been clenching against the contractions and dilation all day. Jane suspected she'd dealt with the transition stage on the front steps, sitting there all by herself in the cold. This girl was one tough cookie.

"I'm too hot!" Rachel shook off the robe and sweat began to run down her face. “Does it have to be so light in here?” Many women who labored wanted to be in the dark so this didn't surprise Jane.

Jane wetted a cloth in cold water and wiped the girl's face. She was about 16 and very pretty. Hopefully, she'd taken care of herself so the baby wouldn't need any emergency care. Jane could deal with minor things, but if the babe was premature or had a very low birthweight they'd need to go to the hospital. And taking the baby out in the cold worried her.

Suddenly, Rachel screamed and tensed up. The baby was crowning. Jane grabbed a towel and saw Robert peeking through the door. He loved watching babies being born. He said it was a priviledge to witness the miracle and he never missed an opportunity. Jane had suggested he become an RN specializing in labor and delivery, but he currently preferred website design. His face was intent and solemn, he took new life coming into the world very seriously. It meant the world was going to contiune to go on. The zealots were wrong. The end of the world wouldn't come with fire and brimstone, it would come with barrenness and women who couldn't quicken. There would simply be no more children.

Jane laid down on the floor as Rachel gave a tremendous push. Her son came sliding out into Jane's waiting hands, felt the cold and began to cry. Rachel burst into tears. Robert grinned with tears running down his cheeks. Jane wrapped the baby boy in the hooded towel and handed him to his mother.

Rachel had slipped off the stool onto the floor. She stared down at her baby.

It's a boy.” Jane told her. “See? Just like Mary. When she gives birth, every woman becomes a holy vessel, bringing life into the world. Rachel, you are blessed among women to be a mother.” Jane longed for children of her own, but that didn't happen for her and Robert it was just the way of it.

If you decide to keep him or if you decide it would be best for another family to adopt him, you'll still be a mother. And you'll still be blessed for that.”

Rachel was dumbstruck. She gaped at the baby, who had quieted now that he was snug and warming up. Jane saw the cord was no longer pulsing. She tied it off and cut it with the sterilized scissors. It would need to be watched closely.

Rachel stiffened, closing her eyes. “Is it another baby? Oh no! Oh no!”

It's just the placenta, it will fall out on it's own.” It decended and Jane caught it, placing it in a bowl that Robert had left for her. He'd been so quiet bringing it in neither woman had noticed him.

She looked up at Jane. “We don't have anywhere to go.” Tears began to stream down her face. “What am I going to do? What am I going to do?” She rocked her new son and cried.

Why don't we try your church? I think you'll be surprised.” Jane had found that mothers would help other mothers in most instances. She'd known an old woman who would take offence to the word 'illigitimate'. She'd yell that it wasn't the baby's fault it was the parents that were illigitimate. Babies should be taken care of!

No! We can't he'll take the baby from me! I know he will! Please Jane no! Please, please let me just take him to the hospital, I heard they'll let you leave babies there.”

Jane hugged the girl, patting her wet hair, soaked with her sweat. “Why don't we just try? The worst that will happen is that we'll take him to the emergecy room where they'll take care of him and find him a home. But I'd like to try first.”

Rachel's body was wracked with sobs, but she nodded.

Now, why don't you have a bath? You'll feel better. Robert will give the baby his bath. Don't worry, Robert loves babies and has lots of practice with them. Jane took the bundled baby and passed him to a still crying Robert, who hugged him. Pressing his forehead to the baby's.

Welcome to the world little man. Welcome to the world. We are so glad you are here.” his tears fell on the baby's face. When he raised his head the boy studied him with and intense concentration. Robert turned to get him ready for his first wash.

There was only one Mormon church in town, Jane looked up the number and dialed.

When the phone was answered by a female voice she said “Yes, my name is Jane and I have a young woman at my house who I think is a member of your congregation. She needs some help. Her name is Rachel ---”

Did she have the baby?” the woman had cut her off.

Uh, yes she did.”

Is she okay? Is the baby okay? We were hoping she still had a couple of weeks. I wish she'd come to one of us. We've been telling her that sometimes things happen to people that aren't their fault and the people in their community help them. She's so ashamed. That poor girl.”

Jane was dumbfounded. Her mouth simply hung open.

Of course we'll help her. We've already talked about it, those of us who know what's going on. She can't go back to her parents, the jerks, so I'm going to take her in. It's God's will that I was answering phones today. As a matter of fact, I'm only watching them while my friend went to Starbucks.“

Two hours later a woman pulled up in front of Jane's house in a minivan, already equipped with an infant car seat. She walked up to the house with a small duffle bag. The windchimes sang her a welcome and Jane opened the door for her.

She was about 50 with fading blonde hair. She smiled shyly at Jane.

Jane held out her hand “I'm Jane. Welcome, I'm so glad you're here. Rachel did wonderfully and the baby is beautiful.”

Marcia.” She shook Jane's hand and followed her to the bedroom. Robert was sitting on the bed holding the baby. Jane heard the shower running and knew Rachel was cleaning herself up.

Hello, I'm so glad to see you. Young mister here has wet his pantaloons. Well, would have wet his pantaloons if he'd had any on. Instead, he wet me.” Robert said. This broke the tension and they all laughed.

Marcia unpacked the duffle which held diapers, baby clothes and blankets.
She expertly took the boy from Robert, got him dressed and then swaddled him with swift, confident hands.

My children loved to be swaddled. I didn't get any good at it until my last one. I'd come back to their cribs and they'd be waving their arms around looking confused.” Marcia laughed at the memory.

Marcia looked down at the baby. “Spitting image of this father. That son-of-a-bitch.” She shook her head. “But it's not this little one's fault his father's a no-good. He has a few half-siblings too. No need to worry. There are some of us who caught on and we're dealing with it.”

Jane looked at the woman, shocked. There was a statutory rapist in their community but they weren't calling the police?

I know what you're thinking. Why don't we turn him in? The mothers are all over the age of consent. And consent they did. He could convince a tea party member to vote for a hippie liberal.”

She looked up at Jane with a frank look, “Just because I'm Mormon doesn't mean I believe in polygamy and women having a baby a year until their bodies give out. And not all of us will just sit by and let a man take advantage of young women who's parents didn't give them all the facts they needed. This little chap's father will be receiving a call to a church in north Alaska quite soon.” she looked down at the baby “Yes. Yes, he will. Yes he will. And he won't bother your momma aaaaaany more. No he won't. No he won't.

Rachel came out of the bathroom with wet hair wearing Jane's robe. She stopped short when she saw Marcia.

Rachel. You and the baby are going to go stay with Marcia and her family.” Jane said.

Rachel blinked. “Th-Thank you Sister Marcia.”

Oh. It'll be good to have a tiny one in the house again. What are you going to name this little butterball?” The baby was plump for a newborn, at least 9 pounds.

I'm going to name him Jacob. After my grandfather.” Rachel said decisively.

Well, you get dressed and we'll take Jacob and his mom home.” Marcia stood up with the baby in one arm and hugged Rachel with the other. “And it's going to be fine.”

Jane went and sat with Robert. They held hands as they looked at the new family.

Friday, September 24, 2010

The craftsman house

“God, that gives me the creeps.” one of the teenage girls mounting the porch said. “Why do you make me come here?”

Here, was a well preserved craftsman style house, one of a hundred or so in the historic downtown area. Walking distance from the high school, many students either lived in one of the hundred homes or had relatives who did. That wasn't remarkable, the city wasn't that big. Big enough to support a university, the people who worked there and the businesses that provided them. It felt tiny to anyone over the age of eleven.

The well-preserved house in question was painted a dull shade of tan with green trim. The trim, a deeper green than the lawn, was chipped in places. Neat beds of flowers lay under the windows, the blooms reaching for the sills as if they wanted to peek inside.

The deep porch, with benches built at either end, was hung with wind chimes. Whenever a visitor climbed the porch steps the chimes would swing, creating a cheerful greeting. The chimes sang whether the wind was blowing or not. The porch floor was poured concrete, it didn't cause the roof to tremble. The chimes simply rang hello to guests, some of which found it charming. Others like the girl approaching the front door, found it off-putting.

The front door was standing open, but the screen was closed. An open front door meant that the lady of the house was happy to welcome company. A closed front door meant all was not well and best to head back to the sidewalk.

“I don't MAKE you do anything.” the other girl replied. “Go home if you want.”
A long sigh escaped her friend. “The chimes just creep me out.” She stuffed her hands in her jacket pockets. “Can we go to Starbucks when you're done?”

They waited. They heard bare feet on the wood floor before the woman appeared on the interior side of the screen.
“Hey-ya. What's up?” She could have been anywhere between twenty-eight and forty. She was average height and average weight with average brown hair pulled back into a ponytail.
Wearing jeans and red t-shirt, but over this she had put on an old style floral apron. The kind that pulled over your head and tied on the sides. Various things were sticking out of the pockets, a wooden spoon, a paintbrush, a wadded up paper towel. The unmistakable shape of a cigarette pack pressed out against the fabric. No filters, it appeared, from the squareness of the box.
“Hi. Um, you read my cards a while ago? And I was wondering...”
“Oh sure, Kirsten and her friend Annie. Come on in.” the older woman held open the screen for the two younger females. The girls stepped into the house.

A perfectly ordinary house. The two most exciting things were a Mac, open on a table in the breakfast nook and an easel set up in the second bedroom just to the left of the front door. There were oil paintings hung around the living room and dining room. Not very good ones. The lines were irregular, the backgrounds blotchy, what were supposed to be trees were simply blobs of paint dabbed onto the canvas with a brown line running vertically through them.

Light poured through the windows, which were free of any coverings. The drapes pulled back from the windows were blackout curtains, fully sixty-five years old. They were drawn most nights and turned the house into a solid brick of darkness.

On Halloween the house was left open and the woman who lived there sat on her front steps to hand out generous handfuls of candy. The children who knew her gave her hugs. Some parents made the sign of the evil eye as they steered their offspring toward safer begging grounds.

The woman walked over to the dining room table and began to pull things out of her apron pocket. Clothes pins, a hairbrush, a cordless phone, a gardening trowel, crumpled pieces of paper were all tossed into a pile. But still her pocket yielded more debris and the cigarette pack remained outlined sharply against the cloth.

“Dammit!” she cursed under her breath and disappeared into the larger bedroom to return with a plastic laundry basket. She swept everything off the table into it and dropped it in a corner. She held her pocket open and reached in again. The square disappeared. Her hand emerged holding not smokes, but playing cards. She took them out of the box and began to shuffle them.

“Hey, Jane?” Annie asked. “Is it okay if I go wait outside?”
“Oh sure. There's a fridge on the back porch with drinks and stuff, go ahead. We'll come out when we're done.”
“Is it okay if I smoke?”
“I'm not your mother.” Jane answered as she started to lay the playing cards out on the table.

Annie headed out back, away from the windchimes.

The backyard was different from the stark neatness of the front. The backyard was not much wider than the house but stretched for a hundred feet. In the corners farthest from the porch there were bee boxes, surrounded by yellow and red flowers growing wherever they liked.

A clothesline on a pulley had been strung between the house and a big oak tree. Sheets and dishtowels were waving the breeze, emitting the scent of lavender. Just past the big tree where the clothesline ended, a garden started. Plants were not in rows, but clumps. Clumps of tomatoes, clumps of corn and clumps of and clumps of peppers were growing along with other plants Annie didn't recognize.

Old toilets were set up along the west fence, all of them with herbs growing from the bowls. Wood lattice work was supported by the porch's pillars. The lattice was covered in roses that had been allowed to vine.

The rest of the yard was dedicated to grass that wasn't tended.

It seemed that every three feet there was a ceramic garden gnome of some kind. Gnomes, frogs, fairies, rabbits, even a big ceramic deer were scattered around and through the overgrown back lawn. They stood watch over the toilet planters and peeked out from the clumpy garden.

Three bird baths held water and bird houses hung in the three big trees that shaded the yard. There were Adirondack chairs set up in the deepest pools of shade with small tables next to them. One had an ashtray on it.

Annie took a Diet Pepsi from the fridge, which seemed to hold every kind of soda pop made, took a seat there and lit up.

Kirsten thought she was possessed. Their friend Madison had made a Ouija board a while ago and they'd all been messing around with it.

Kirsten had taken it home. She'd been playing with it by herself and started having nightmares. That made her work the board more, trying to get the spirit to leave her alone. Her nightmares got worse and she found herself wanting to use the board all day every day. Madison said she should burn it right away. But when they'd Googled 'Ouija board get rid of' they'd found a bunch of sites that said burning it was the worst thing you could do. So they'd decided to come talk to Jane about it.


Jane stared down at the cards on the table, frowning.

“That Ouija board you've been messing around with? If you want to stop the bad dreams just throw the thing away. You're the one freaking yourself out. There is no bad spirit following you around. It's a lot harder to make contact with the dead than you think. If you had one following you around you'd know it. And don't worry about how you get rid of it, just toss it.” Jane reshuffled the cards and laid them out in a different pattern.

She looked up at Kirsten. “You're dad's sick?”

Kirsten nodded. Jane nodded back. “Want to take him some ginger? Might help his stomach from the chemo?”

Kirsten's bottom lip trembled. “Is he going to be okay?”

“That's still hidden. If I knew I'd tell you. But once the plan for him is in place it'll happen before I can see it. I wish I could tell you something better, but I'd be a liar if I said yes.” Jane rooted around in her apron pocket and handed Kirsten a clean handkerchief. She headed into the kitchen to slice ginger while Kirsten wiped her eyes and blew her nose.

Annie saw Jane through the kitchen window and stubbed out her cigarette. She clomped up the steps and pulled on the screen door. It didn't open. Annie yanked harder, the door stuck fast.

She knocked.

Jane appeared at the back door with ginger root in one hand a knife in the other. “Oh, sorry!” she pushed the door open from the bottom with her foot. “Please come in.”

Annie walked into the kitchen and turned to re-latch the screen door. There was no latch. No hook and eye, no bolt, no nothing. Just the screen resting there in it's frame. Annie pushed. It swung open easily.

Kirsten brought the hankie to Jane in the kitchen. “No, that's for you.” Jane said.


“And here's the ginger for your dad. Put it in a cup of hot water so he can drink it like tea. “

“What do I owe you?”

“Whatever you think it's worth.”

Kirsten put a ten dollar bill on the kitchen counter and turned to find Annie. The windchimes sang them a merry good-bye.

Learning via Bob Ross

Robert walked his bike up the front walk. Jane's voice came out the screen door loud enough to be heard over the windchimes.

“Work you son-of-a-bitch!” a moment of silence. “GodDAMMIT. Come ON!”

Robert paused at the first porch step, waiting to see if she would slam the front door shut.

“Jesus. Finally!” Robert propped his bike on the porch and approached the screen.

“Hey Jane? Can you let me in?” he called.

“Hang on Bobby!” a second later Jane appeared, her apron streaked with paint. Paint was smeared on her fingers and her face where she'd brushed her hair away. A loaded palette was in her left hand, in her right she held what looked like a putty knife. She elbowed the door open. “Hey sweetie, come on in.” She leaned in to kiss his face, but he leaned away.

“AHH! Don't get paint on me. What are you doing this time? Dolphins?” he tossed his Danish school bag on the sofa and followed her into what she called the studio.

“Mountains with trees. I think I'm getting the hang of it.” Jane retreated to the second bedroom where she kept her easel. A metal TV tray stood next to it. On it were tubes of oil paint, squeezed in the middle and oozing from their uncapped openings. Drops of paint spattered the wood floor, the windows, the tray and a few spots clung to the ceiling. Her Mac had been placed on top of a dresser, far enough away to be safe from flying pigments. “Hit play for me will ya?”

“Weren't you doing mountains with trees last time?” Robert used his finger to move the cursor to the 'play' symbol and tapped.

Jane took her place before the canvas, putty knife poised. The canvas had been smeared with gray and black paint in a vaguely triangular pattern over a background of streaky blue and white. Green paint stuck to the edges in patches.

“I have to add the tree trunks.” Jane dipped up a generous dollop of black paint on her putty knife.

“, just lightly lightly draw in our friend's trunk.” The man on the computer screen with the curly hair seemed to just breathe his painting instrument down the canvas, leaving a perfectly straight line which faded out at the appropriate places and looked, in fact, like a tree trunk for an evergreen tree.

Jane took her overloaded putty knife and yanked it down the canvas, adding a heavy black line at the beginning but scraping off paint near the end.

“Now then. We'll take a clean and very dry large brush. Now this is...” the rest of the video instructor's words were drowned out by Jane dunking her large brush enthusiastically in a jar of liquid and then hitting it repeatedly against the leg of her easel. Flicking turpentine and paint on Robert when she did.

“Hey! Watch what you're doing Grandma Moses. You almost got that in my eye. What happened to your paint knife thingie?”

“It broke. How was work?” Jane dragged the mostly dry brush along her painting, attempting to blend colors, but mostly making brush marks.

“Boring. I'm thinking of going back to school again.” Robert sat on the floor with his legs stretched out in front of him. “Maybe I'll be a vet.”

“You'd be good at that. Maybe you could do something about all the cats around here. Fix them so they don't have litters under the house.” Jane took up a smaller paintbrush.

“......we'll add in all the little grassy things that live right up in here. See? There they are. Use a light touch with this misty green....” the frizzy haired man said from the Mac's screen.

Jane stabbed at the canvas making big green dots. “What do you want to do for dinner? I put a chicken in the over but I can save that for tomorrow.”

“No, chicken's good. I'll be right back.” Robert headed to the bathroom. He closed the door halfway and heard Jane whacking at the canvas.

“...maybe a little path lives right in here. Just go back and forth with the fan brush....” he heard the man's soothing voice instruct. Whack whack whack he heard Jane pummel her picture. Then her voice softly, “Oh, shit.”

Robert wandered back into the studio. “I love plumbing. Have I told you that? Plumbing is amazing. “

“You tell me that every time you move your bowels.” Jane flung more paint on.

“Not EVERY time.”

In the kitchen, a timer started to ring, indicating dinner was ready.

Robert confesses

Jane and Robert were riding their bicycles to the farmer's market downtown. Robert on his mountain bike. Jane on her older bike with wide handle bars and a basket on the front. She'd strung pink streamers from the grips and they fluttered as she pedaled. Behind her she towed a trailer Robert had built for her filled with jars of honey in various sizes. All of them neatly labeled with price stickers on the lids.

Jane allowed herbs near the bee hives to spread and flower in addition to the garden. The bees feasted on tomato, basil, mint, geranium, peonies, squash and lavender. She called the honey “Herbal Blend” and sold it at the farmer's market every Tuesday. She kept some of the exact same honey in smaller jars labeled “Elixir” and sold them for a higher price. People in town swore to their friends in whispers that her elixir honey would cure everything from insomnia to impotence.

Robert once said she reminded him of the snake oil salesmen who sold bottles of alcohol as a cure-all. “Should I call you 'Doctor Good'?” he'd teased her.

“What does it matter if it works because it's magic or if it works because they THINK it's magic? It still works. And it doesn't eat out your liver like those bottles of hootch did.” She'd answered.

A very pretty woman in her early twenties was coming towards them walking a dog down the sidewalk.

“She was really pretty wasn't she?” Jane commented after they'd passed her.

“Who?” Robert looked confused. He pedaled backwards liking the clockwork sound the gears made.

“That girl with the dog. Didn't you see her?”

“Not really. I don't notice women much anymore.”

“A randy old devil like you? You're kidding me. I'm not going to be mad if you notice other women. You know I'm not like that.”

Robert rode faster, knowing she couldn't keep up towing all the honey. He arrived at her spot in the market and unshouldered his backpack to spread out the quilt they would use to display the honey jars.

Jane finally pulled up, panting. “What was that for?”

“I don't want to talk about this Jane.” Robert flipped the quilt into place and sat on it. He pulled a wad of ones from the pocket of his pants and stuck it into his shirt pocket, where it would be in easy reach. “Leave it alone.”

Jane bit her bottom lip. She sat astride her bike looking at the man. Finally, she swung her leg over and started to unload the honey, carefully setting it on the quilt. She blinked several times, trying to hold back tears.

“Look. I know you're with other women while you're waiting for me. It's okay. I'm not mad or jealous or anything. You don't have to shut me out.” She fussed with the jars. Rearranging the geometric rows into clumps, moving the elixir jars to the back where they'd seem hidden and special.

Robert sighed. “Jane. This is really embarrassing for me, can we just drop it please?”

“No. I need you to understand that I understand. I'm totally okay with you being with other women when we're not together.” she paused. “I give you permission to have sexual relations with other women when I am not of age. Do I need to be clearer?”

Robert heaved a sigh. “Jane, you are so far from what's bothering me it's comical.”


“I haven't been with another woman in one hundred and ten years. Are you happy now? You know my last secret. Now shut up about it.” Robert turned his head away from her.

Jane sat back on her heels, an astounded look on her face. “You haven't been with anyone else in that long?”

Robert kept his head turned away. “It doesn't feel right when I'm not with you. I miss you when you're gone. And being with other women just reminds me that I miss you and then I feel horrid. I dislike feeling horrid so I don't keep company while I'm waiting for you.”

“I wish we could have a child.” Jane said after a long pause.

Robert looked at her. “Now, you know that doesn't happen for us. It would have if it did.”

“I know. But I always wish a baby would arrive the way my trunk does. It would be nice to have a child with you.”

Robert leaned over and hugged her. “I know.”

Robert's story

A long, long time ago Robert had been granted a wish. There were still wishes to be had, but a person had to slow down to find them. The modern western world was in such a hurry they didn't see the magic around them. Robert could still spot a mystic creature. Jane could if he pointed them out to her, but she didn't have the attention span to find them on her own. She hadn't learned to watch for the subtle differences in lighting or the small colored dot in their eyes. There was a cat in her yard that could grant wishes, not that he'd told anyone about it.

Robert had been young. He'd not taken time to think before he opened his mouth and wished to be immortal. This had been a mistake for many reasons. But through many, many years of trial and error he'd learned to make the best of it.

Robert hadn't learned to read until the 1800s. He hadn't needed to. Public education was a new idea in North America. At one time, the majority of the population had been illiterate. He'd been taught out of the Bible.

As he heard the stories, it had taken all of his control to not laugh, especially at the New Testament with it's painted pictures of Jesus with blue eyes and long, blond hair. There had been many prophets at the time Jesus had been preaching. The writers of the Bible, whoever they were, had taken parables from all the prophets and credited Jesus. There were stories that Jesus had never told nor would he have thought.

Robert was old enough that he'd known Jesus the carpenter, his mother Mary and father Joseph. Humble people with several children. Robert was, however, surprised at how much in the Bible was right.

Jesus was a carpenter, like Joseph had been. He had had a group of disciples including Mary Magdalene, who had been a prostitute. The disciples of Jesus were not the higher echelon of society. The closest equivalent in modern times were people who worked at collection agencies. Robert had taken a meals with them a number of times. Simple, smaller meals of food that had been prepared that day. These meals, with such little food served, would go on for hours. Everyone lounging on the floor, leaning against rocks or trees, eating slowly and laughing.

Jesus had loved to laugh. His laughter was ringing and loud, the true sound of joy. He would throw back his head, crumbs in his beard, his teeth crooked and brown and laugh as if the only thing that mattered in the world at that exact moment was to laugh with joy. Then all of them, everyone covered in a crust of dust and sweat and stinking like days old meat, could not help but roar along with him. Robert had always been awed by Jesus' ability to find the joy.

Once, Robert had looked to where Jesus sat with Mary Magdalene. Sitting close together as they always did. Jesus had leaned over to her and said something in her ear. Mary's face had turned bright red.

That was how Robert remembered Jesus. The man who could make a whore blush.

Jane's trunk

Jane's trunk lived at the foot of her bed. It was quite old. It's brass brackets were pitted. The leather was nicked and scratched. But it was still solid, it's domed lid was not crushed and the sides would still withstand the jostling of travel.

Jane's trunk always arrived just after her nineteenth birthday. It simply appeared outside the front door. Once she'd opened it, her memories appeared in her head. It was not an overwhelming flood of new information. It was as if she'd walked into the kitchen, forgotten why she was there and then in the living room remembered she needed the scissors. They just appeared, comforting and familiar.

Inside her trunk were five urns. Each of them containing the ashes of a body Jane had inhabited in a former life. Each of these bodies had been adopted as infants. Each of these bodies had been female. Each of these bodies had been named Jane. Each of these bodies had loved Robert and waited eagerly for him to return. Each of these bodies had raised gardens and read cards and dispensed teas for sore throats. And as Jane was born again and again, she gained more and more knowledge.

She remembered how to weave cloth, butcher a pig, midwife to a woman in labor, make stained glass, keep accounting books, speak French and read Latin among her skills. This in addition to what seemed like a million recipes for dishes some of which contained ingredients that simply didn't exist anymore.

There were also photographs and drawings in her trunk. Rag dolls and ink pens and little china boxes were kept there along with many pieces of jewelry and her floral apron.

Once she and Robert had run into the woods in Georgia, fleeing from Sherman's advancing men. They'd returned days later to find the house burned to the ground, with her trunk resting unscathed in the middle of a pile of ashes.

The trunk had traveled with them in the Carnival train, residing in their train car. It had seen dust storms in Kansas in the 1930's.

Her trunk had gone with them from rock show to rock show, loaded on buses and planes and vans in the 1960's. David Crosby had laid out neat lines of cocaine on it while Robert had smoked cigarettes and looked disgusted.

She'd sat on her trunk in a theatre as Harry Houdini regurgitated a key and freed himself from shackles.

None of these bodies of Jane's past lives had lived past forty. Their bodies were cremated and ended up in the trunk that had belonged to them all. Where it went after that, she did not know. She knew that it found her the same way Robert found her. She was always so so happy to see them both.