Out of the Badlands: 2:14 – The End
Back in the old days, people used to talk with surprise and respect about a woman who worked right up until the baby was born, often in the same breath with talking about ‘primitive’ native women who gave birth right in the field and went back to work. That latter might be an urban myth, but sometimes, you don’t really have a choice. Work needs to be done. Sometimes your survival depends on it. I don’t know what I’d have done about that if I’d had medical complications or even swollen feet, but I was actually healthy as a horse once the nausea went away. I just got bigger and bigger, dealt with the sore lower back, slept badly like most people, tried to comfort the Incredible Velcro Kid, and waited. When my pelvis went wobbly, I gave up trying to go up and down the steps from the house and thereafter limited myself to such domestic tasks as hand-sewing new diapers from some of the towels Faustus had brought back.
They used to say you never forget your births, but I’ve blocked most of the experience from my mind. Mostly, I remember pain, fear, and a sense of impending doom. I remember hearing the sound of my own voice grown hoarse from cries that sent Bobby into hysterics until Kurt—who didn’t really want to be in the hot bedroom where I was laboring naked, not that I could have cared less by that point—took the boy out and entertained him, out of earshot of the house. I remember the relief—the unburdening, if you will—as the baby was finally born, and how I was too exhausted to even feel relieved. It seemed so unfair. Wanda was smaller than I, and more slight.
Faustus cleaned the baby up and held it up for me to see. The little face was squashed, smeared, wrinkled—and human. Human, like his and mine. Human, not like Bobby’s. I’d have cried if I had anything left in me. I didn’t. I just looked at it. He put it on my chest, where it began to crawl by instinct toward one of my breasts.
“It’s a girl,” he said. “Tanya, we have a girl.”
I remember saying, “Oh,” and then passing out, or falling asleep, or something.
She was healthy, and she ate well. I made enough milk to feed a small village. That was the good news.
The bad news came a few days later, as the ewes began to drop their lambs. It never rains but it pours, eh? I remember thinking that at least we’d have a ewe to milk if we had to, for Bobby. At one point in the afternoon, I woke from the sort of exhausted sleep one can only appreciate if one hasn’t had more than half an hour of sleep at a time for several days, to the most awful screaming, incoherent and raw. It was Sheila’s voice, and it brought me up out of bed.
You don’t want to know the details, but you have to know anyway, to understand. The dingoes, drawn by lambs—No, I’ll just come to the point. The dingoes had grabbed Bobby right out of the dooryard, and there was no way in this life or any other we were going to get him back. Sheila had seen everything, and she couldn’t deal with it. She cried for the rest of the day, and then she made a one-time appointment with a piece of rope and a rafter. I couldn’t really blame her. Everyone has a breaking point. If I hadn’t had the baby to care for—but my mind won’t go there.
The pain snowballed, growing out of control and taking over. Within a day, Kurt and Faustus were arguing worse than they ever had, even in the beginning. The day after the two of them worked together to bury Sheila, they had a fight. I couldn’t help, because I was still not feeling up to doing much, so I didn’t see it. I only heard shouting outside that escalated, and then it stopped. After that, I heard nothing. I thought they’d worked it out. I thought they were just venting the awful grief and tension the only way they could. I wasn’t worried until they didn’t come in for lunch, and they didn’t respond to me calling them in to eat. I went out to see out what was going on. The silence terrified me.
I found Faustus near the door of his workshop, crumpled and unnaturally still. Flies buzzed. Boomer lay near him, his head resting on his paws, worry flattening his ears. Kurt was nowhere to be seen, vanished into the bush or on his way to town.
I knew before I touched Faustus that he was gone, and I was alone. I found the strength to pull him into the workshop, laid him out as neatly as his stiffening limbs would allow, kissed him, and thanked him for everything. I told him I loved him. I wish he’d been there to hear me say it. I’m not sure I’d ever said it aloud like that before. I didn’t cry. I was too numb.
I took tools from the shop that looked useful. I emptied the house of portable dry goods. I put water into containers. I fed and changed the baby, making a bed for her in the cart. I harnessed the wethers and hitched them up, and I turned the rest of the sheep loose, tying the gates back so they couldn’t trap an animal in by accident. I tied open the door to the hay storage, too. And then I lit the shop and house on fire. There would be no turning back, and nothing for Kurt and the men of town to find if they came back here, looking for me and my daughter.
I wasn’t entirely alone—Bitsy and Boomer trotted at my heels, and the baby slept peacefully, oblivious to the world and the odds against her, in her soft-padded bed in the cart—but I felt like the last person on the continent. I wasn’t worried about radiation or toxins anymore. I had bigger problems, more immediate ones—like staying alive, staying away from towns and the monsters who lived there—and staying human.
I walked into the badlands.