Out of the Badlands: part 2:11
They made a pen, cobbled together from old wire found in the rafters of the workshop, some wooden lattice, and an old doghouse, cut on the side to install a couple of nest boxes. Since Boomer lived inside the house with us, he didn’t need the doghouse, and we needed a place to collect eggs without having to defend ourselves with an umbrella.
I would have preferred the hens forage on their own, because they would be self-feeding. As it was, until they managed to raise a young cockerel—ideally a less aggressive one—to replace Alarm lock as flock protector and egg fertilizer, we were stuck with penning them up. I couldn’t risk one of us being badly injured. The idea of a deep puncture wound from one of his nasty, dirty spurs was enough to make me willing to part with grain.
We went to bed that night with the birds safely installed in their new, if a bit hodge-podge, residence, and of course that was when Faustus began the interrogation I’d been dreading.
“What really happened?”
I didn’t want to tell him, because I didn’t want to think about it. Was the attempted rape—you might say it was successful since the guy impaled himself on my device—worse than the beating? Was the beating worse than what would have befallen us if we hadn’t fought them off? Were either of those worse than seeing Sheila completely lose control and stab Greyback over and over, or hunting down a half-blinded and horribly burned Pigpen and executing him without mercy? But of course I had to tell him.
Bless him, he didn’t press for the gory details. He merely wheedled out the gist and the timeline, and when it was over, he said, “I’m sorry. I wish I’d been here. If I’d known, I would have come back sooner. Damn the loss of telephones. What I’d give for a carrier pigeon!” He drew me into his arms and held me. He didn’t ask me to make love, which was just as well, because I really, really wasn’t in the mood. It was good to curl up with him, though. I’d missed him so much.
The following morning, I couldn’t bear the thought of coffee. I wanted to—I made some of the instant, and the aroma filled the house like brown heaven, but every time I went to have a sip, I wound up putting it down again. I finally pressed it on Kurt, overriding his protests that it was mine, not his, and I shouldn’t be wasting it. I said if he didn’t drink it, it would be wasted, because I couldn’t make myself drink it for some reason. I think he drank it to humor me. I kept the jar of instant around on the counter for another week, but after that it went into the cupboard.
The two men grated on each other. It happens that way sometimes, even now when you don’t have the choice of seven or eight million other people for companions. Within that first week of Faustus’s return, they argued volubly several times. I never heard the beginnings, just the endings. Frankly, I think people back in town could nearly have heard the endings. When this happened, Sheila and I took turns consoling Bobby, who found the shouting frightening.
It became increasingly clear to me that Kurt and Sheila were attracted to each other. I thought this should end the tension between the two men. After all, if each man had his own woman, there wouldn’t be even the suggestion of competition. There shouldn’t have been, of course—Faustus wasn’t interested in Sheila, as he’d made abundantly clear—but when it comes to pairing off, I think our primate side rears its head. Some primates live in harem groups. One male, many females. Even gorillas do this (or did—I’m not sure they survived the Terrible Day. They’re close enough to us genetically that maybe whatever destroyed most of humanity destroyed them, too). It’s one thing to say, “Hey, I’m not interested,” and another for the potential rival to actually believe it. Ugh. Humans are so complicated.
Finally, as one argument achieved a level of volume hitherto unrivaled by anything smaller than a jet engine, I carried the shrieking Bobby into the middle of it and thrust him into Faustus’s arms. I’d been feeling vaguely ill for several days, not to mention inexplicably exhausted, and them making him scream was about to break the last straw of my ability to cope. I bit their heads off for about two minutes and marched away, leaving them in stunned silence and followed by Bobby’s unrelenting screams. Things got better after that between them, they had to, because I got sick, very sick, and even though it was for a good reason, it still meant they had to join forces and take up the slack of what I could not do.
The other thing that happened is that Kurt moved into the house and into Sheila’s bed. That was her idea. Apparently they’d been rolling in the hay—literally—but that’s a lot less comfortable, and a lot more dusty than it sounds—and she began making the argument for him moving inside. Faustus told me he didn’t really want the guy to live in the house—not because he had been part of the attack by the other two, but because he hadn’t come to our aid when it happened—but in between bouts of throwing up, I told him that if we are going to be civilized, we couldn’t have one out of four excluded and living in an old horse-stall. He couldn’t disagree with that. It was his argument, after all.
Now we’re going to have to fast-forward a bit, because a couple of months kind of blur for me. I was so sick that if there’d been a hospital to go to, I’d have been in it with IVs and everything. The monsoons came, and I didn’t care. The cistern filled and spilled back through the overflow valves; the dooryard was a pond, the sheep stood in bedraggled, miserable clusters, Bobby learned to walk and say even more words—which every parents wants to see until it happens, and the kid who could crawl across a room and out of sight in a moment’s time can now do it in a fraction of an unguarded second—and I didn’t care. I was cocooned in my own special brand of misery. Just remember: they call kids ‘a bundle of joy’ for a reason: to get you through the bit that’s less fun. And boy, was it less fun.