Out of the Badlands: Part 13:
From all of this, you’d be justified in thinking that nothing good ever happened to me. I was eating grain meant for animals—plus assorted bush meat, and occasional lamb or mutton—and working what felt like twenty-four hours a day. I couldn’t sleep at night because Bobby woke me up every couple of hours, and I felt a nagging guilt about the absence of Wanda and Iggy. All bad all the time, right?
It wasn’t, though. For one thing, somewhere in all the exhaustion, I wound up sleeping in Faustus’s room with him. I’m sure I had a reason when I started, but my memories of the time are patchy at best. I really liked the comfort of sleeping against him, though. It made me feel less alone against the world. Somewhere along the line, in all the snuggling together and enjoying the simple human contact, we became lovers. Before you ask, no, I wasn’t wearing my protective condom with teeth—I had stopped wearing it shortly after I started traveling with Faustus, because I didn’t feel threatened by him and it didn’t warrant the discomfort. Yes, I was vaguely concerned about getting pregnant, but after seeing Wanda, a little malnourished wisp of a girl with hip bones not eight inches apart, manage to give birth to a healthy infant without having to resort to the Really Sharp Knife, my fears were lessened. Also, somewhere in the back of my mind was the thought that it wasn’t right for Bobby to have to grow up an only child, perhaps the only child anywhere.
So, yes. That’s all I have to say about that, except that it was more comforting than I could have guessed—when no work was pressing, and Bobby was asleep with a tummy full of rich sheep’s milk—to occasionally retreat to the privacy of the master bedroom for an interlude that had nothing to do with survival. Faustus worried about me falling pregnant, of course, but I noticed that he never worried quite so much as to refuse the new small light that shone in his life.
There were other moments of pleasure, too. Bobby was a source of endless antics. He learned to smile and then to laugh; the top of his fuzzy little head was the sweetest smell I knew, and it was easy to forget that he was mine only by chance.
We acquired a dog somewhere along the line. How he survived without humans I have no idea, because he wasn’t of a wild type. When we first saw him, he looked like nothing so much as an ambulatory mop. He was desperately thin under the mats of hair; we enticed him in with scraps of meat and took the sheep-shears to him the first chance we got. I’d like to say it made him look better, but unfortunately it just made his staring ribcage more visible. He seemed to feel better, though, and we found in him a handy dispose-all for anything we didn’t want or couldn’t eat, like the offal from animals Faustus brought home. He must have thought he’d died and crossed the rainbow bridge into heaven.
Between the dog, which we named ‘Boomer’ despite his utter lack of resemblance to a Roo, and the baby, we had as much entertainment as we could have wanted. If there hadn’t been a television in the house—perfectly useless, of course, except to pile things on like a sort of mini table—it would have been possible to forget that such a thing had ever existed. Certainly it no longer seemed rational that I, and everyone I knew, had spent our lives in front of it, absorbing endless news, sports, movies, and the complicated lives of imaginary people.
The last wave of monsoon rains came and went, leaving lush grass and flowers in their wake. The ewes and lambs grew fat without the need for grain or the old, miserable dusty hay. I went out and cut grass with an old-time sickle, hoping to put grass aside for the winter. It was slow, miserable work. I wished for an old-time mowing machine, pulled by an old-time horse. Sadly, we had none of the above. There were just Faustus and me.
Faustus went out and, with great effort, brought in a ram to breed the ewes. It helped, I suppose, that by that point the ram was carrying about eighty pounds of wool. Merino rams aren’t very big, and even a big strong ram can’t run any marathons if he’s saddled with that much weight. Faustus simply outran him, got a rope around his curling horns, and wrestled him home to meet his new ladies. You’d have thought we weren’t doing him any favors, the way he protested. I also divested him of his wool, which made his life a lot easier. The lanolin in his wool was the most valuable thing about it, to me: it was the best-burning oil we had. In rooting through one of the storage sheds, we came up with a glass lantern with a wick and chimney. Kept safely out of Bobby’s reach, it yielded a wonderful light. I had never thought of sheep as being useful things, unless one wanted a wool sweater. Now they were the sustenance of our lives, our meat, milk, and light, like Lapplanders and their reindeer. It gave me an idea.