Out of the Badlands, part 2:13
Never get between a pregnant woman and food. That’s pretty good advice. If you don’t know any pregnant women, then just take my word for it. In my case, it wasn’t merely ‘food’ I wanted, but protein. I craved protein. I suppose that makes sense, since I was building a whole new person. Back when I’d been waltzing my Matilda all over the outback alone, I’d often been hungry. Sometimes I hadn’t eaten anything significant for days. I thought I’d known what hunger was like. I’d had no idea.
We still had the problem of no refrigeration, and honestly, mutton doesn’t make very good jerky. I’ve never learned to like mutton fat, no matter how much I crave the calories. So, that meant that despite having a continent full of sheep, we didn’t eat them. Kurt became especially adept at hunting small things like lizards. He trapped feral cats and even live-trapped rabbits with the intention of establishing a warren near the house. That last didn’t work, and we wound up eating the rabbits instead, because the last thing you really want near your nascent attempts at farming is competition for the plant-based food you want to eat—and while we could have fenced the rabbits in, all of us preferred making sure the chickens were suitably fenced, especially Alarm Clock.
Oh, and we had eggs! We only had four hens, so we couldn’t have a lot of eggs, and the moment one of them went broody we made sure she got as many eggs under her as she could cover, but for a while it seemed like sure unadulterated heaven. Scrambled eggs, light and fluffy and perfect. And full of protein too, I might add. Faustus gave up his daily egg to me, when one was available. I didn’t feel the least bit guilty eating it.
Now we have to skip a few more months while I went from ‘puking my guts up’ to ‘walking human house’. On the animal front: the hens produced several clutches of chicks; we picked a couple of young cockerels to replace Alarm Clock at the earliest opportunity, and we ate the rest as soon as they began trying to crow—oh bliss! Whole roasted chicken! Bitsy settled in and became a house dog, sleeping with Bobby and shadowing whoever was inside at any given moment in time.
Bobby became Velcro Boy, jealous of the attention my belly was getting. He could talk more, now, though his diction was a bit unclear. We couldn’t decide whether this was because he was a toddler, or because his face and mouth weren’t, uh, standard issue. It was very hard for three people who never had kids back before all the bad stuff happened, and who never really hung around with them, to know what was normal for a baby—even one who looked like an ordinary kid, but at least we could usually understand him. If he couldn’t say a word clearly, he could always point and grunt. It worked.
Before the baby was born, Faustus went on another shopping trip. He took Boomer with him for companionship and protection, leaving Kurt to watch over the house. He said it made him feel safer, since bad things had happened the last time he’d gone away. It made me feel safer, too. Faustus took the sheep-cart with him, and when he returned, it was packed to the bursting point with more hens, a bunch of new towels and bedding, kid-sized clothing, dry foodstuffs, and seeds scrounged from somebody’s garden shed. The packets were several years old, but we didn’t need all of them to grow. If even a few grew—and if we could protect them from marauding sheep, roos, escaped chickens, and other vegetarians, that would be good enough. We’d save seed.
He also brought books—a Reader’s Digest home health hardback, an Illustrated and Annotated Encyclopaedic Grey’s Anatomy, a pile of cowboy westerns and tawdry romances, and a ‘how to fix absolutely everything’ type of spiral-bound book. There were also a handful of kids’ books that looked like I was not going to enjoy reading them a gazillion times, based on the saccharine nature of the huge-eyed anthropomorphic animal characters on the covers. Yeesh. Why not just make stories about clowns in outlandish, ridiculous clothing and giant honking noses, so far removed from Commedia dell’Arte and even the early hobo-themed clowns that you wouldn’t know they were related or why they’re supposed to be funny? No, I’m not afraid of clowns—although even if I were, there aren’t any anymore, so I win—but really? Polka dot pants? I really wasn’t looking forward to reading about the Brumbly Wumblies and their Rumbly Tumblies. Maybe we could teach the kids to read using the Grey’s. At least they’d have good vocabularies.
So yeah, we had books, and new options in food, and it wasn’t going to be long before the baby was born. The bigger and more ungainly I got, and the less I was able to sleep at night, the more I looked forward to just getting it over with already. I knew it was going to hurt, with no option of gas, epidural, or so much a good solid belt of booze, but it was only pain. I’d felt pain before. Pain wouldn’t kill me. That’s what I kept telling myself. That’s what Faustus whispered in my ear at night with his arm draped across my belly, feeling the sporadic kicks from the outside as I felt them from the inside, reminding me that I was strong, capable, courageous. That’s what I clung to, because my three birth attendants were working from a Reader’s Digest health book, which was more than we’d had when Bobby was born, and yet it didn’t seem like nearly enough.