Her long auburn hair swirls around her as she dashes to her husband's side, knocking him sideways.
Reflexively, he grabs her as he falls. She lands on top of him.
The gunshot echoes above the traffic noise on the busy street.
He feels her body shudder from the impact. Her blood splatters him.
Other agents start toward the lone gunman, guns drawn.
Rolling over, he flees for his life.
-- from Despina's Infamous Green Journal, 1/1/02
The night was far from spent, but she had awakened again, palms clammy, heart thudding. Vague wisps of dream clung to her mind.
I'm sure I've never been to a hotel with that type of convention hall before. I thought dreams were supposed to be made up of real events, just redeposited... My hair has never been long, and I'm SURE I'd remember if I'd ever had a husband... especially a knock-out like him!
Afterward, she lay sleepless, wriggling around in a futile hunt for a more comfortable position, as if creating the right "nest" among the sheets, blankets, pillows, and comforter would bring the bliss of a dreamless sleep.
Focus your thoughts on something, someone, or some place serene and peaceful. Imagine yourself in that place, with that someone, doing that something, or using that something, whenever you feel anxious.
"The modern mantra to replace counting sheep," she thought cynically, squirming into yet another, equally unrestful, position.
Don't knock it until you give it a fair try.
"Okay. I will. I'll dream up the perfect lover, and take him to bed with me each night I can't fall asleep," she resolved as a way to end her inner dialog. She dropped off before she got him created.
It is the dawn of the computer age. A British computer sends an old adage to its Russian counterpart as part of the calibration process.
"Out of sight; out of mind."
The Russian computer dutifully translates the message into Russian, then sends the Russian language version back to the British computer.
The British computer runs it through its translating program and prints out, "Invisible and insane."
-- Anonymous joke circulated heavily in the early days of computers.
She was driving Baby Blue Ram, her old beater of a pickup, east on Highway 2. The windshield wipers intermittently batted at the spittings of snow decorating the glass.
"A hitchhiker? Mid-November is no time to be out seeing the country on foot!" she thought.
Never pick up a hitchhiker. They might turn out to be a serial killer, and you might turn into their next victim," her conscious niggled her.
"That jacket sure looks short. And a bit worn. It probably isn't much protection from that wind."
You're just an old softy. See a stray dog, and nothing would do but you had to bring it home, even though you KNEW how your father hated dogs in the house!
"But, this is a human being, not a dog. He can't curl up in a snowbank with his tail protecting his nose," (assuming the smattering builds up to a bank... it is too hard and cold a snow to create a comfortable drift.)
"He's not even trying to hitch. He's just walking along."
Phew! Finally out of sight.
"Out of sight; out of mind."
Translated into Russian and back into English as "Invisible and insane."
"Rats! It is INSANE to be out walking along, not dressed for the weather, on a day like today."
You have to live with yourself.
She slammed on the brakes and did a U'ee right in the middle of a deserted flat stretch.
Appalled, she eyed the pile of feed she had laboriously drug helter-skelter onto the floor and seat, plagued by second thoughts. She watched him grow and grow in the rear view window as he did a tired jog up to the passenger door.
It would be helpful, if one decides that one just MUST pick up a hitchhiker, to have ROOM for him before making the offer. Now that I've GOT him, WHERE am I going to PUT him?
Motioning for him to open the door, she leaned across the alfalfa pellets, rolled oats and cracked corn to raise the lock button. She would have had to move a good 600 pounds of feed to reach the handle from where she sat.
If we put those sacks in the back end unprotected, the snow will weaken the paper, and some of it will get spilled before it gets unloaded. The grain up against the wet sack might mold. I can't risk losing a horse to moldy feed like that gal in Georgia did.
As he drew closer, he loomed even larger.
Swinging an exceedingly small pack into the bed of the truck, he prepared to hop over the side into the back.
She rapped sharply on the window, motioning for him to come up front.
He opened the door in an economical continuation of the same motion he'd started to climb aboard. His eyes grew slightly wider as he took in the jumble of sacks, then, placing one hand on the roof, he lithely moved onto them, curling into a human knot to get his head and shoulders below the roof line. Folding his legs in a roughly lotus position, he deftly shut the door.
She could see NOTHING past his body.
As big as all outdoors.
Noting his bluish, gloveless hands, she cranked the heater as high as it would go.
"I can drop you in the next town. I have to pick up some bags of salt." She bit her lip. Drat! What did I have to say that for? Where would four 50 pound sacks of SALT go?
"Where're you heading?"
"I see. Well, now that we have the "You Tarzan; me, Jane," bit out of the way, where're you heading?"
"I'd settle for someplace warm in exchange for honest toil, at the moment."
"Well, would you like to stop at the Chinese restaurant for a bite to eat while we figure out where you can find your ideal soft landing place?"
"What? Oh, yes, I need iodized salt for the weather vane feeders."
Silence. Finally Despina spoke again, "There are other restaurants if you don't like to eat Chinese."
"Anyone local hiring? I'd rather work outdoors."
Alarm bells went off inside her head. No money for a meal... but unwilling to take charity, she decided.
"I don't know of anything off hand, but I can sure use some help unloading this feed if you'd consider trading the labor for lunch. It will put you off on a side road instead of in town, however," she finished helplessly.
Whatever ARE you up to? You don't know anything about him. If you take a drifter home, what does he have to lose? He'll be warm and fed, and you'll have a hard time putting him out afterward if you couldn't even drive by him.
"I don't think I've ever eaten a Chinese. They're quite small, aren't they?"
Her quick sideways glance caught the smile that briefly tugged at the corners of his lips. Her own answering giggle sounded quite nervous to her ears. He didn't need that to make him devilishly handsome.
"Where're you from?"
"Arizona." His voice and eyes hardened.
"You were heading east."
"I'm coming from Kansas."
"Arizona is southwest of Kansas."
"So it is," he acknowledged, the humorous glint returning to his black eyes.
Surreptitiously checking her cash as they entered and were escorted to a booth, she decided he'd have to become acquainted with the hors d'oeuvre platter later.
She headed to the rest room after the meal, not spotting him when she went to pay. She felt curiously let down, instead of relieved.
Maybe he's in the john.
When she exited, he'd re-stowed the grain sacks. The four bags of salt should fit, leaving him with as much room as he'd had before.
Unloading had never gone so rapidly. He set off across the creek with two bags of salt, one on each shoulder.
I wonder if he's a weight lifter. He makes those 50 pound bags look about as substantial as sacks of potato chips.
She headed up to the house to make a few phone calls to see if anyone needed a good hired man.
Maybe I can deliver him someplace safe before dark.
A soft rap on the door announced the end of the unloading. She waved him in as she continued her conversation with a local cattleman who needed a shed re-roofed following a recent wind storm.
Lowering the phone, she inquired, "Do you roof?"
"Tin and wood, shingles or shakes."
"Sounds like some interesting new dance steps to learn." Playfully, she offered him the phone, but he shook his head. Get a grip. You're not dating him. Briskly, she spoke into the phone, "When would you like him?"
Intense black eyes. Obsidian. Holding his gaze, she asked, "Is 6 a.m. too early for you?"
"Do you have the supplies on hand?" ...
"Would you be willing to help him haul hay?"...
"Can you drive a tractor?"
"He'll be there." She hung up, then looked him over. Long black hair was gathered into a pony tail that had been hidden by his coat.
"Would you like to shower? I can wash up your things while you get cleaned up, if you'd like." My nose will be ever so grateful if you say "yes". She was embarrassed to feel her nose twitch, and watched, appalled, as his eyes glinted with humor as if he'd read her thoughts.
She pointed down the hall. "Third door. Just set out anything you'd like cleaned."
Instead of starting down the hall, he opened the outside door, quickly returning with his pack. Soon an impossibly large pile of clothes appeared outside the bathroom door.
Wherever did he have all THOSE stashed?
Using cold water so he didn't get a nasty surprise when he showered, she started the load with double the normal amount of soap, then dug out some of her father's baggiest pants and a black oversized sweatshirt she generally wore with a good six inches of sleeve rolled up, and deposited them outside the door.
He exited while she was loading the dryer. The legs of the pants she always thought were so big hit him mid-calf. She burst out laughing. His long black hair hung loose around his shoulders, and the sleeves were just slightly too short.
Eying him appreciatively, her wayward tongue commented before she could stop it, "You sure clean up nice."
"Clothes make the man."
A startled bark of laughter burst from her. "So I've heard."
He could play the lead in a movie, even in rags. It's a wonder he's such a hard worker. Most good looking guys are pretty good at getting others to do their work for them.
"Where'd you plan to spend the night?"
"Do you have a plat map?"
Rustling around, she produced last year's edition. "Oh, now what did I do with the new one?"
"Is he in this one?"
"Yes. He lives on a century farm."
Quizzically raised eyebrows greeted her remark.
"When one family has owned a place continuously for 100 years, the owners can get the designation century farm.
Holding out the book, he said, "Show me."
As she discussed the distance and landmarks between the two farms, the dryer dinged. "Your clothes are done."
Unbidden, he headed into the utility room and removed his possessions, returning to the bathroom.
Definite star quality. I've got to get him out of here.
Returning, he said, "If I leave now, I can make it to work by 6," giving her a wry smile.
Her mouth formed an O of dismay. "I was just so tickled to be able to find someone who wanted to hire you, I didn't think about how long it would take you to get there using shank's mare."
Turning his body the directions he would go the same way a honey bee dances directions to its hive mates, he repeated from memory the route she'd showed him in the plat book.
It looks like a tribal dance, Despina thought as she watched him wide-eyed.
"Uh, I wasn't following the route; I was just admiring the scenery."
Impulsively plucking her body from the chair, he began the dance again, holding her at arm's length before him, facing the same way he was, turning her as he recited the land marks.
Her heart thudded so loudly she couldn't concentrate on his words.
Flustered, she pulled away. "I guess I wouldn't make a very good worker bee. I'd never find the flowers."
Ducking past him, she headed down the hall to the spare bedroom. "I'll take you, I guess. Let me clear off the spare bed."
She stopped, turning slowly to face him, raising one eyebrow in question.
"Who lives in the old house down by the barn?"
"Nobody. It doesn't even have water or heat."
"Who owns it?"
Picking up his pack, he slid it on, opening the door. "May I?"
Mother, May I? Frowning, she silently nodded her head. His feet would have hung out over the edge of the bed, anyway, I bet.
Every morning, she dropped Cu somewhere on the way to school. Every night, she collected him from whatever farmer had hired him for the day.
He would not sleep in the heated room. He did not set a new LP tank on the blocks behind the old house, even though she offered to sign for one for him. He did not hook up the telephone. He turned down her offer to move the bed down there. He did not get any furniture. He did not have her fix the freezer on the refrigerator when she offered.
He did pay the electric bill. He did continue to use her washer, dryer, and bath tub. Once a week. Presumably, the farmers' wives stuffed him adequately at lunch, as he rarely ate the volume she thought a man his size should need when he ate supper with her. He would not eat breakfast with her. The disgusting old kitchen carpet did get burned. The broom got borrowed. A cat moved inside, and he did buy it kitty litter and a litter pan.
She smiled, thinking he was an "animal" person underneath all the gruffness.
"Mice," he justified, in what qualified as a talkative streak for him.
"No rats?" she inquired, remembering Pounce, El León de Pandemonium, laying his first rat, nearly as long as he was, across her chest as she slept, then rubbing against her face until she awakened, expecting praise for his hunting prowess. He was a very bright cat. He placed future conquests under the chair she sat in for breakfast.
Typically, Cu did not confirm or deny the invasion of rats.
I hope his choice of kitten proves to be as good a hunter as Pounce was.
The first week passed. A cold snap made the outdoors a very inhospitable place to work, especially in a totally inadequate light jacket. She inquired if he had enough set aside to get a "real" coat, and offered to take him to Centerville, again feeding him at the Chinese restaurant.
Instead, he snatched her Eddie Bauer Catalog and returned to the old house.
Soon he was back, money in hand. Carefully, she copied his choice into the order blank, added her check and sent it off, praying for warm weather until it arrived.
On a trip to the local lumber yard to get some materials to repair the leaky roof, he exited with a cap with ear flaps and heavy work gloves. He hardly looked Indian at all in them.
One evening in early December, he knocked on the door to wash his clothes while she was playing a CD by Inti Illimani, a Chilean Indian group originally from the Andes Mountains. He had never heard of these people, but their music spoke to his soul. Early evening turned into concert time, as he listened to one of her tapes or CD's before withdrawing into the cold of the old house. When he had heard each CD and tape once, she coaxed him into staying long enough to get through a movie. She started him off with The Gods Must Be Crazy. Work on her book suffered, but she didn't mind.
One Saturday morning, a farmer arrived in her yard, honked repeatedly, but did not get out. Dressing warmly, she headed out, half tempted to ignore him for his rudeness and head down the hill to check on the horses instead.
He opened his truck door. "Where's that pesky Injun?"
Standing stock still, she thought furiously. They think he's living with me!
"Did you try his house?" she asked pointedly, turning away to head down the hill.
The truck turned around and roared down the lane, parking at the bottom. Cu was standing on the walkway, peering up the hill.
Don't work for that jerk. He might not pay you, she thought at him, as if that would do any good. I've no idea if he's getting paid regularly, or not. I don't know if he's earning the going rate, especially since he's such a hard worker. I DO know he's in steady demand.
Despina paused on the trip down the hill, intently watching the drama taking place below, even though she was too far away to hear a word of the conversation. The farmer rolled down his window. Cu did not move.
Soon, the truck roared off. Cu came toward her through Debut's stallion pen instead of going around it, as someone not accustomed to animals might have.
"We need to cut the feet of some of these horses. I saw nippers in the back room, and have them cleaned up and oiled now." He held up some ancient red nippers.
"They probably aren't sharp enough to even cut through the toe on a colt, much less those with hard black hooves," she warned.
Testing the one tapered edge with his finger, he showed her that, indeed, it was now horribly sharp.
"No farrier I've ever hired keeps a knife edge on his nippers. One ill-timed jerk, and he'd lose part of his hand."
A rare smile flitted across Cu's countenance. "Incompetent handler?"
I do believe he just teased me.
By noon, they had done all the rough youngsters who had not been trimmed enough to know how to cooperate nicely. She really appreciated the rapport he had with the animals. Rarely had she seen such gentleness when that was required, coupled with just the right amount of force when that was necessary.
Pleading hunger, she led the way up the hill. Her feet were frozen through. He turned down two other offers that came in over the noon hour, saying he was already busy and suggesting that they call more in advance if they were interested in hiring him.
He's not shy about using the telephone any more.
While they were working on one mare who was noted among her regular farriers for her ability to rip her hoof out of their grasp at the worst possible moment, she realized that most of the older mare's feet were already done.
"When did you trim the older mares?"
He ignored her question, filing away rhythmically.
Surely not after dark when he left after supper. He's been where I've dropped him every night, and all the places are too far for him to walk to, much less back from, not to mention do anything in between.
"Mr. Horn Honker brought me home for lunch on Friday. He didn't come get me until just shortly before you showed up to pick me up. I won't work for him again."
"What did you eat?"
"That's NOT enough lunch to fuel your body in this type of cold. If that ever happens again, come up to my house and get a real meal." She was incensed on his behalf. "Did he pay you?"
"Half," he admitted.
When he'd left after supper, she called the first farmer she'd talked to, getting his wife. Out came the whole story, the rude honking in HER driveway instead of stopping at Cu's house, the lack of a decent lunch, the short pay. She finished with some satisfaction, "He's a good worker, and gives an honest job. He turned that fellow down flat this morning, staying and freezing me clear through trimming the horses' feet. It took me nearly two hours to get the whole story out of him. He's not one to complain. Have the rest of them been feeding him?"
"I don't know, but he sure got his fill here," she assured Despina.
"You're not stingy, and are an excellent cook. I imagine Cu'd work for your husband full time, assuming there was enough work to keep him busy. I hate to see someone take advantage of him just because he's an Indian. A good worker is a good worker. They're hard to come by."
She smiled as she chatted. This story will circulate rapidly, complete with the housing arrangements. Now that a lot of the men know how well he works and how skilled he is, I'm hoping I can line up a better situation for him than piece work, always trying to learn a new farmer's ways, always at risk of being short-changed or underfed.
Not long after that, the phone rang with the hoped for offer of a full time job, Monday through Friday, from another farmer with a wife who was a top cook, and not one to stint on feeding the farm hands.
The place is a bit further from my normal route to school, but I don't mind that. I want the assurance that he'll be well-fed and well-paid. I don't trust him to come up the hill to eat anything at all if I'm not here, no matter how hungry he is.
Another call came in. "I'm not sure, but I think he's hired on already," Despina explained.
"My wife wants to speak to you."
"...No, the old furniture got burned after the last renter's cats used it for kitty litter."
"...Well, you heard right. It was a pig sty. The stench was overpowering. I picked up hard turds from cat and dog in every room that they had access to. It was disgusting. I haven't tried to rent it since."
"...No, he uses it as a friend, by choice."
I didn't reallyclaim that he was an old friend. I'm not responsible for folk's supposings,she rationalized as guilt struck her.
"...I offered him some furniture, but he wouldn't accept it."
"...Well, maybe if I ask him if he's using the back bedroom. I could ask him if he'd mind if you stored some stuff that's getting mouse-eaten in the machine shed, then you could just mention that he's free to use it while it's there. You could say what a shame it is to see good furniture go to waste... Maybe say something like, 'I'd love to see it inside a heated place, being dusted and cared for.'"
Maybe then he'll set an LP tank and let himself have the luxury of heat at night.
Before very long, Despina, Cu and Baby Blue Ram began the furniture run. It took three loads to clean out the machine shed's accumulation. Despina swore the pile increased between trips.
Just how many families are restocking that old house?
If Cu noticed anything strange about the situation, he kept it to himself.
Despina was disappointed that the hoped for LP tank did NOT get ordered. She was afraid that if she arranged for her friend to "visit her furniture", he'd give it all back. She pictured him huddled around the supplemental electric heater she had kept in the bathroom, but they never mentioned it again.
Christmas time drew near.
"Would you like to call someone special for the holiday? The rates are cheaper on holidays," she ventured at supper the night before.
"No," he said gruffly, picking up his plate and setting it in the sink, then heading for the door without waiting for the customary CD to finish.
Oops. Still a tad touchy about home.
The winter passed. When school was due to end for the year, Despina asked Cu if he had a valid driver's license, or would like to take the Iowa driver's test so he could drive himself to work and back once school was over for the year.
Instead of answering, he responded with a completely unrelated question. "What do you do during summer vacation?"
Well, a non sequitur is an improvement over being ignored when you ask a question, Despina thought. Aloud, she said, "Oh, I read some, work on my book a little, and 'horse around' a lot."
"Will you come to Arizona with me? You should not be facing any danger. My people need you." He stared at her face intently.
Pasting on a smile to hide behind, she thought furiously. Go with him? Not as a girl friend, nor as a wife... Not judging by his actions here over the past six months... Facing danger? Danger here or danger there? Danger living without a man around for protection? "Doing what?"
Surprised, he gave her his typical one word answer, "Teaching," as if that were the only possibility in the world.
Danger teaching? Gun toting tots to teach? Tomahawk practice at recess? Let's scalp Teacher today?
"How do you know they need a summer school teacher?"
"They always need teachers," he explained in what was for him a veritable geyser of words.
Last updated 7/16/04.