Out of the Badlands: Part 10:
Don’t hate me, please. I named the kids Wanda and Iggy—yes, I know you just groaned—because they either could not or would not tell me their given names and we couldn’t keep calling them ‘kid,’ ‘girl,’ and ‘boy’. The boy didn’t react to any name, and the girl, who began clinging to my side like a parasite, didn’t seem to care what I called her as long as I fed her and interposed myself between herself and Faustus.
Faustus, having laid in enough wood to keep us in fuel for a while, went out daily, rain or no rain, to catch a wild lamb to butcher. It was no easy hunt, because even a week-old lamb can outrun a man in a sprint, and it took a lot of his time and energy. He did it anyway, though, because Wanda needed to put a great deal of flesh on her bones before the baby was born. She was having trouble eating, sadly, as her teeth seemed to be loose, so I cooked the meat for her very soft and even mashed it. I learned to milk the ewes, too: she needed calcium in a bad way. I wished desperately that I knew how far along she was, but she couldn’t or wouldn’t tell me, and the boy was no help at all. He still did not speak. We put him to work splitting wood for the hobo stove. He seemed to enjoy it and would do so unsupervised for hours without apparent boredom. As a side benefit—one might have argued as the primary benefit—it kept him and weapons of destruction at a distance from the house and the rest of us. As a further precaution, Faustus locked up everything else with an edge, from machetes and chisels, to kitchen knives and even the sheep shears. He carried one key in his pocket, and gave me the other to wear around my neck like a chatelaine. “No point in taking unnecessary chances,” he said.
I caught him sharpening a kitchen knife, testing the edge repeatedly until it was, quite clearly, razor- or scalpel-sharp. The phrase ‘I don’t know nothin’ bout birthin’ no babies’ kept echoing in my head. He was clearly preparing for a worst-case scenario. I tried not to think about it. It was all I could do to make enough food to keep the girl fed, and because she insisted on sharing half of whatever she was given with Iggy, it felt like an all-day effort, going from preparations for one meal to the next with scarcely a break in between.
The rains abated again; the dooryard dried out, and we were able to let the sheep out to graze. Iggy seemed at home with them, so we turned him out with them, letting him play at being a sheepdog. Wanda’s gait became a waddle, and even I, who had never really spent any time around pregnant women, knew that things were getting close.
I didn’t know what we were going to do for diapers, to be honest. When society had been functional, most people seemed to use disposables: use once and throw away; let the nice garbage truck come and carry away the evidence, end of problem. We were going to have to make our own, not to mention wash them. I already felt overwhelmed.
I never asked Wanda how she got pregnant. I’m not stupid, I didn’t want to upset her, and what did it matter anymore? The father—whoever he was, or had been—wasn’t around, and it seemed unlikely he would find us or be welcome if he did. I made her help me go through the linen closet, cutting up most of the towels into diaper-sized pieces. I had no idea what to do for a diaper cover beyond ‘cut up the shower curtains’ because there didn’t seem to be anything else on the property that could be put to that use.
Meanwhile, Iggy spent most of his waking time with the sheep. I was a little worried on his behalf, but when I said so to Faustus, he just shrugged.
“The kid survived two years without us. I don’t really think he counts as human anymore, and if being with other animals makes him happy, that’s the best place he can be. Anyway, he’s helping to pull his own weight.”
I couldn’t argue with that. I was glad Iggy was proving useful, since he hadn’t said anything I could identify as a word of English or any other language since the first time he warned me away in the stall. He growled, hooted, babbled like a baby, and imitated a Kookaburra bird so realistically that he never failed to startle me, but he spoke no words and made no discernible attempts to make them. Also, I was run off my feet all day. I didn’t have time or skills to try to play language therapist to a feral child, so every morning I sent him out, armed with the splitting-hatchet and dressed in clothing and shoes several sizes too large, to watch the sheep.
Wanda continued clinging to me, waddling from room to room and staying as near me as she could. Finally, wanting her to make herself useful too, I said, “Is there anything you can just sit quietly and do? Can you sew? You could start hemming the diapers. We’re going to need a lot of them.”
“Don’t know how? All right. I’ll show you. I’m sorry we don’t have a sewing machine, but there are always needles and thread.” I sat down with her, got her started, and left her with a pile of fabric rectangles to hem. Somewhere along the line, I’d become quite motherly, or big-sisterly, or something. It wasn’t quite what I’d been hoping for when I set out to find another human.