Every night, she collected Cu from whatever farmer had hired him for the day. Every morning, she dropped him somewhere on the way to school.
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 electricity 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. She dressed warmly and 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 is 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 have 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.
The farmer rolled down his window. Cu did not move. 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.
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 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, all the rough youngsters who had not been trimmed enough to know how to cooperate nicely were trimmed. 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 where I 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 will not work for him again."
"What did you eat?"
"That is 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 is 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. She knew that story would circulate rapidly, complete with the housing arrangements. Now that a lot of the men knew how well he worked and how skilled he was, she hoped she could 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 was a bit further from her normal route to school, but she did not mind that. She wanted the assurance that he'd be well fed and well-paid. She didn't trust him to come up the hill to eat anything at all if she wasn't there, no matter how hungry he was.
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 is using the back bedroom. I could ask him if he would mind if you stored some stuff that was getting mouse-eaten in the machine shed, then you could just mention that he was free to use it while it was there. You could say what a shame it was 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. Despina did NOT add what she was thinking.
Soon, 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.
Thanksgiving 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? My people need you." He stared at her face intently, seeking to fathom her expression.
Pasting a smile on her face to hide behind, she thought furiously. "Doing what?"
Surprised, he gave her his typical one word answer, "Teaching," as if that were the only possibility in the world.
"How do you know they need a summer school teacher?"
"They always need teachers," he explained in a veritable geyser of words for him.
Last updated 1/26/02.