Out of the Badlands, Part 7:
He’d been right about the trolley, unfortunately. What had seemed a good idea in the store had not taken into consideration that the thing was meant for concrete sidewalks, not rocky, pitted earth. I struggled along with it for a day after we left town, able to pull it only with my left arm because the right was still trying to heal from the bites, and swearing under my breath every time it caught on something and jolted my arm and shoulder. When we broke camp the day after that, I left the trolley behind. He didn’t say anything. Smart man. I guess he figured I’d learn the lesson myself, no lecturing or “I told you so” needed.
Both of us seemed to heal from the bites unusually quickly, without infection. You couldn’t complain, of course. I was inordinately grateful. If anything had gone badly wrong, the best either of us could have hoped for was a quick and merciful death. Amputation? Not an option. Systemic antibiotics? Maybe, but that’s a roll of the dice and would have meant a trip back to town anyway.
The rainy season was coming. I wanted higher ground before it came. I hadn’t enjoyed sleeping in the houses, but the truth was, I really wanted something like a house when the rains came. I didn’t want to live in town, but I was tired of being a nomad. The idea of waking up and not having to check every item I owned to make sure a scorpion wasn’t hiding in it some crevice—the thought of having a tub in which I could, if I wanted to cache or carry that much water, bathe myself or wash my clothes—was tempting. I longed for something resembling my old life.
“Faustus,” I said as we trudged along, aiming for a ridge in the hazy distance, “What if we could capture some lambs and pen them up?”
He glanced over his shoulder. “And feed them what?”
“I don’t know. Don’t they feed themselves?”
“Maybe,” he conceded, after a while. “Do you know how do to anything with wool?”
I shook my head. “Never tried it. There are lots of clothes in the towns. We’re not going to run out of clothes. We could at least keep enough wool off sheep to keep them from smothering under the weight of their own hair.”
“I’ll think about it,” he said. We continued on. The rains started a week later.
If you have never lived where monsoons happen, it’s hard to appreciate how the skies suddenly open up, and for about a week at a time, rain falls in buckets, torrents, sheets. The parched landscape can’t absorb it all. Humidity is a hundred percent. I’d like to argue that it’s higher than that, because of all the falling rain that hasn’t evaporated and hasn’t hit the ground yet. On the one hand, you can finally drink as much as you want. You can even get a shower. On the other, you can’t dry off afterward. I’m grateful for the invention of plastic, let me just say that. And hills. In the intervals between the rains, you make sure your gear doesn’t mildew, enjoy hot meals that weren’t cooked under the shelter of a tarp while you endured the smoke, and weed out any food supplies that have gotten wet and discard them. You get a break of about a month between the rains, and if you’re lucky, the floods don’t come.
We huddled in a tent on a rocky hilltop under a tarp that had been weighted down on the upwind side with rocks all around, with all our worldly possessions—that is to say, his pack and mine—and listened to the wind gust and the rain beat down. Really, there wasn’t anything else to hear but those things. We could hardly talk unless we wanted to shout, and I didn’t feel like shouting. Cooking was nearly impossible.
You might think that, crowded together like that in a tent, man and woman, it would lead to the inevitable. It didn’t. He respected the deal we’d made, even when we had to spoon together to stay warm.
When the skies cleared, we laid our gear out to dry. I said, “Next time this hits, I want to be in a house. Let’s find a ranch house somewhere and move in for the duration.”
“How did you survive the other times?”
“In pain, despair, and misery. Once, I’m pretty sure I got pneumonia, but I got over it.”
He gave me a speculative glance. He said, “That was lucky. How’s your arm where the dogs bit you?”
Now that he mentioned it, it did seem odd that I’d gotten over pneumonia. At the time, I’d just been grateful when I stopped feeling like death warmed over. I examined my arm. The tears in the flesh weren’t completely filled in, but they were better than they should have been after only a week, especially after the primitive first aid treatment we’d given each other.
He interrupted my thoughts. “I know where there’s a place. It will be a long walk, though. Are you up to it?”
“If it keeps us out of the flood plain and under a real roof when the next rains come, I’m up to anything.”
He nodded. “Pack up, then.”