Out of the Badlands: part 2:12
I lost a lot of weight. I suppose if there’d been a hospital to go to, I’d have been admitted, hooked up to a PIC line and fed nutrients and fluid directly into my heart. I’d have welcomed it, if you can believe that. Well, never mind, after the fourth month the nausea finally began to ease off, and I began to feel human again—in the metaphorical way, I mean. We’ve already determined that I don’t think much of humans, even though now that I know what we can devolve into given a little nudge, I do at least like humans better than the alternative.
One day, when I was up and around again, Sheila came up to me and asked the question I hadn’t wanted to think about; from which my mind had continually shied like a sheep from a fluttering bit of fabric on a fence:
“Who is the father?”
“Faustus,” I said. I sounded defensive. I could hear myself; I’m not deaf.
“But how do you know? I mean—”
“He didn’t have a chance. The teeth got him on the first—”
Her lips pursed. “You know more about biology than that.”
“Faustus is the father because I want him to be. Even if he’s not. He’s the one who’s here. He’s the one who loves me, and he’s going to love this baby.”
She eased backward away from me, cautiously. People do that when you try to bite their heads off. “Sorry. I’m sorry, Tanya. I don’t mean to upset you.”
“I have a lot of work to do,” I said, which was not exactly an apology-accepted sort of reply. I walked away, and she was smart enough not to follow. Putting some oatcakes in my pockets, I caught the wethers and harnessed them. We were out of leather, so some of their harness now was made from old tires. It’s amazing what you can do when you have to. Desperation is the mother of invention. I think I’ve said that before. At least old tires are sturdy, strong, and unlikely to perish from heat. What the rubber did to the wethers’ wool was unforgivable, but we weren’t using the wool for anything useful anyway.
They were ready to pull a cart by that time, and between Faustus and Kurt—what with all the time they’d had to work together during the monsoons—a new cart existed. I led them to it, pulled the tongue forward, and hooked them up. It was empty. I’d have preferred if it were loaded down with about fifty kilos of something expendable, in case they went ballistic and took off.
To my surprise, they led quietly, like a dream. Maybe the gods had decided to smile on me for a moment. On a whim, I put the water buckets into the cart and led them, bumping and jostling, out to the little spring. We didn’t need water after the monsoons, but that wasn’t the point. Doing something useful was.
Something brown huddled miserably on the ground near the water cache. My first thought was ‘wild rabbit,’ followed immediately by ‘is it even alive?’ but as the cart drew near, the creature lifted its head, laid back its ears, and staggered to its feet. It was a dog, but so pitifully thin under its ragged coat that I was half afraid it might die from the exertion of trying to escape. It couldn’t help itself; it barked. It was so scrawny that the effort made it stagger. The sheep tossed their heads and blatted, stupid things. They were around Boomer all day. This pathetic excuse for a canine shouldn’t have bothered them.
“C’mere, pup,” I said. Of course, it didn’t come. It was hungry, though. I remembered the oatcakes, which I had brought along for me, because anymore if I let myself get hungry at all, the nausea would return, but the little dog needed them more than I did. I pulled one out and broke off a piece, which I tossed at some distance so it didn’t think I was trying to shy a stone at it. I turned away, only observing out of the corner of my eye as it slunk over to sniff and then eat the tidbit.
It took a while before the little thing would eat out of my hand. The oatcakes were nearly gone by the time I managed to slip a bit of string around its neck in place of a collar and pick it up. It ate the last bit of cake from my hand. Taking the wethers’ lead ropes, we headed back to the house. The poor thing reeked. I didn’t know what it had been rolling in, but whatever it was had been dead a long time. Between that and the usual smell of unwashed dog, it was almost enough to make me sick, especially since it had eaten the food I’d brought for myself. The sheep, at least, took the whole thing with their usual ovine equanimity. Once the dog stopped barking, they no longer cared about its existence. Their lives were simple. They followed where I led. I didn’t remember to bring back the water, but it didn’t seem that important anymore. I was still doing something useful.
Boomer cavorted out to meet me, followed by Sheila with Bobby on her hip. Boomer, scenting the little dog in my arms, began to leap about excitedly.
Sheila said, “What do you have? An off-season lamb?”
“No, no. A dog.”
“Oo! Boy or girl?”
“I don’t know. It was all I could do to pick it up. I haven’t wanted to try to take a look.”
Sheila set Bobby down next to her leg so he could cling there, and lifted the little brown dog from my arms with her hands around its chest. She gave a quick glance down to the furry belly and said, “Oh! She’s a girl! And she’s absolutely crawling with fleas. Just what we need. How about if I give her a bath?”
“I’ll be happy to. You know, if she hasn’t been spayed, maybe she and Boomer can have pups.” She carried her away, and I took Bobby with me to help me put the wethers away. Then I went to the house to get something to eat before the nausea overwhelmed me.
That was how Bitsy came to live with us. Bobby, Boomer, Bitsy. And Baby on the way. It seemed a perfectly reasonable progression, don’t you think?