Out of the Badlands: Part 2:9
When he called it a ‘seep,’ he was right. Seeing it, I wasn’t surprised I’d never found it myself. We began immediately to try to figure out how best to take advantage of it. I tried to think of how people used to make spring houses, but what I know about that, or how to make a pump, ranks right up there with knowing how to build a cart: nada. Since there’s no internet anymore, and the people who owned this house didn’t happen to have an old encyclopedia set lying around—I’ve already said they weren’t big readers, and when was the last time you saw anybody with a set of encyclopedias taking up space on their shelves?—et didn’t seem very likely I was going to be able to self-educate. Still, water was water, and I’ve already told you how I feel about that. Gone forever are the days you can just turn on the tap. Or for that matter, turn on the news and see when the monsoon is coming.
I looked at the spring, warned them not to drink from it over Kurt’s insistence that it was fine, and took Bobby and the dog back to the house. If Sheila was willing to be alone with Kurt at a distance from the house, and wanted to work with him on improving our water situation, I was happy to leave them to it.
Fast-forward a couple of days. The two of them continued working together. They rummaged through every outbuilding on the property, and then carried shovels and assorted objects the distance, while I did everything else—watched Bobby, trained the wethers, brought in the hay, and cooked the meals. I saw them carrying buckets out. And then, like it had always been meant to be, I saw them coming back, each with a contrived yoke across their shoulders, a bucket dangling from each end. They were bringing water.
We celebrated by boiling the water and making some of my precious coffee. The rich scent of it filled the evening air. We didn’t care that the beans were years old, or that we had no sugar nor milk to put in it. Coffee reminded us of all the things we’d never have again, and the things we still had. Things weren’t all bad. We had water, and we had each other. We were civilized.
A full two weeks after Faustus left on his shopping trip, Boomer alerted me to the approach of someone to the house. Kurt and Sheila had gone for the morning water, a routine they’d begun as soon as they’d created a place for the water to collect, and the dog began to bark wildly before darting away—not in the direction of the spring.
Bobby on my hip, I followed, wary and worried. It hadn’t been Boomer’s ‘foreign intruder alert’ bark, but it had sounded very urgent. With hope vying with fear in my chest, I went looking to see what the problem was, prepared at any moment to retreat to the house and take up defensive measures.
I saw a lone figure in the distance, pushing some kind of wheelbarrow. I’d have known the set of those shoulders anywhere, even if Boomer’s frantic, curving dance had not already told me everything I needed to know. I couldn’t run with Bobby, but I could trot. Faustus put down the handles of the barrow, which was piled high with all manner of stuff, and came to meet me. Cue the joyous crescendo of music, soft focus, camera spinning around us in a circle. And then Bobby said, “Dada!”
Yeah. It made my day, my week, my month, my forever.
Faustus swept the baby out of my arms and swung him around, laughing and making him squeal. “Daddy’s home! Daddy’s home! How’s my boy?”
In case you were worried, yeah. Bobby could talk. Maybe his speech wasn’t very clear, but what toddler’s is?
We made a triumphant procession back to the house, Boomer leading the way like a guard of honor, and me pushing the barrow because Bobby refused to come back to my arms. I totally forgot to tell him about Kurt or the attack. I think it’s understandable. My bruises were almost totally gone by then, and he was home, and I didn’t care about the two losers whose bodies had—if there were any justice in the world—now converted efficiently into dingo scat, dried in the sun, and inoffensive even to the nose.
We unloaded handmade wooden slat crates full of chickens from the barrow, setting them on the porch in the shade and admiring their beady black eyes. We were especially admiring the rooster, a gloriously colorful reddish brown fellow with glossy green tail feathers, when approaching voices alerted us to the return of the water-carriers. Boomer barked and ran off, wagging furiously.
“Oh, Sheila and Kurt.” I paused. “I forgot to tell you about Kurt, didn’t I?”
He frowned faintly. “I guess you did. Was everything all right while I was gone?”
“Ahm, now that you mention it, we did have—”
Sheila and Kurt came into view, their wooden yokes over their shoulders, buckets swaying from ropes at the ends, pendulous and heavy.
Sheila cried, “Faustus!” and crouched to set her buckets down. “So good to see you back again! Did you know we have a new person in our mini-civilization? This is Kurt.”
Kurt waved uncertainly with one hand, while his other hand balanced the yoke. “Hi. I’m Kurt. I guess I’ve been here…a week and a half.”
“And what’s in the buckets?”
Sheila said, “Water! We’ve found a little spring, and we’re getting this much every day!”
Faustus moved uncertainly over to examine first the buckets, and then the yokes by which they were carried. In truth, it wasn’t probably even sixteen liters water, but as long as somebody was willing to lug that much weight, that was the amount we wouldn’t be using out of the cistern until the monsoons came again.
I said, “We’re boiling it, of course—taking all reasonable precautions.” I turned to Sheila, trying to dispel the odd tension. “Come see the chickens. There has to be a story about them. I’ll make some food, and then Faustus can tell us.”
Sheila made a happy sound and made a beeline to look, leaving the two men standing together, sizing each other up. I was briefly reminded of two roosters, facing off with hackles raised. Suddenly, the rooster crowed, and the two men turned to look. Faustus chuckled. “You better name him ‘alarm clock’ or something. He’s the reason it took me so long to get back.”
“I want to hear it,” Kurt said, and he looked like he, too, was anxious to ease any sense of conflict between he and Faustus.
“Let’s get the food out. I even have flour, if we want to try for flatbread,” Faustus said.
Kurt unloaded his two buckets, setting them and Sheila’s on the porch, and then he and Faustus went unload the barrow the rest of the way.
Sheila helped me stoke up the hobo stove and start water to boil. I saw her glance repeatedly toward the two men, her brows furrowed, but all she talked about was the chickens, and how much she was looking forward to eating eggs.