Authors: Jane Kirkpatrick
Tags: #Romance, #Erotica, #Fiction, #General, #Christian, #Religious, #Historical, #Western Stories, #Westerns, #Western, #Frontier and pioneer life, #Women pioneers
“And if I don't go?”
“I'm thirty-six years old, Maze. If I don't take aim now, I'll be angry with myself for however long I live for having missed this shot.”
“And my choice,” she said, “is to do the most foreign thing I can think of. Watch my husband walk away, maybe even my mother, or step out into a cloud of the unknown and hope I don't fall through.”
“You'll have your mother with you”
She swallowed a sob and turned her face to the down. Jeremy reached to hold her, but she pulled away “I don't understand why things need to change,” she said. “I don't understand!”
The dog stirred and came to the side of the bed, his face bumping against hers as he sniffed.
“Will you come, Maze?”
She couldn't answer—her thoughts too heavy, so choking.
They lay silent beside each other.
“I know what a beaver feels like now,” Mazy said as the night stepped aside for the morning. “Pushed into a trap. Its not the dying he fears. Its the change, made without choice. And knowing hell never see home again.”
His lips brushed her forehead. She stiffened and turned away
“You'll feel better when you're not so sore,” Elizabeth told her only child the next morning. She patted Mazy's still swollen fingers, exposed from the sling. “They look like little fat sausages. Maybe the bandage is too tight. I'll ponder that.”
“I'm too sore to think,” Mazy said. She sat on the side of the bed, dizzy.
The dog lumbered over, made growling and slurping sounds as he nuzzled Mazy's good hand.
“Even sounds like a pig,” Elizabeth said. “That how you named him?” She bent, scratched the dog's head.
“I just liked the sound of the word.”
“Words, words. So much readin and writin you got no time for grandbabies.” Elizabeth laughed.
Elizabeth frowned, irritated with herself for making light talk with her daughter who almost always wanted serious.
“I know you're grieved,” Elizabeth said, adjusting the bandage. “But change is part of living. Can't stop it no matter how you try. I remember when your papa brought me from Virginia to tend his big house in Milwaukee.” Elizabeth stood, held a sun-dried sheet with her chin, and started to fold it “The busde ofthat city, all the smells of people cooking and doing, woke me up when I didn't even know I'd been sleeping.” She
held the flannel to her breast, inhaling the memory. “Why, I might have gone my whole life without them moments if I'd stayed put just cooking. Worse, your papa surely woulda found another to love and marry. You mighta been born to a butchers wife instead of a tender doctors.”
She looked at her daughter, said softly, “You can either see what Jeremys done as opportunity, or spend your days pinching your nose like he's a polecat. You 11 get tired pinching, Mazy, but the choice is yours.”
Choice, what choice did she have? Take a job as a day lady or gather clamshells for the button factory, board herself out? Through the window, she watched her mother remove the rags from her tomatoes, placed to hold back the threat of night freeze. Elizabeth sang over the garden remains, sang over change. Mazy lay back down on the bed. What would people think if she sent her husband and mother off while she stood waving good-bye in her bloomers? Was she strong enough to stay? What then? Her eye caught the seed gourd she'd decorated with berry juice designs that now hung by hemp twine over the oak mirror. All that work of planting.
She wanted penance, that's what she wanted. Some payment for his not sharing what he'd been thinking about all those months, for excluding her from the most important decision of their marriage. All those evenings she'd watched his strong jaw profiled in the candlelight and thought he understood her while she talked about what she'd plant, how certain flowers would keep the gophers away, how she'd dry the tomatoes and imagined them deepening winter stews. But all those tender moments had been betrayals, wide breaches of faith.
The times he'd lifted his eyes, adjusted his round, wire-framed glasses, and smiled at her through moistened lips as she spoke of the eagle s flights or the area where wild daisies grew, he'd been thinking not
about what she said or what she hoped for, but about some far and distant place. She might have been talking of bloomers or bunions for all the difference it made. He hadn't trusted her to understand, to want to share his dream. He'd treated her like old ironstone that could be used and broken, or simply left behind.
She'd take that mirror, she decided, and the bench and the table and the plank rocker, heavy as a horse. She'd take them all, surround herself with familiar and defiance.
Jeremy looked over the furniture items Mazy marked to bring along. The round, oak table, the saltbox, her wooden mixing bowls, the doughboy with its residue of flour permanendy kneaded into the oak.
“The mirror stays. So does the chest of drawers, the bonnet dresser, the table and chairs—I'll make new ones. Don't want to kill the mules with replaceable things, especially oak. Way too heavy. Only take essentials,” he said.
They stood like two dogs arguing over place. “We best get this
thing straightened out,” Mazy said. “If I'm going, I'm taking things that matter to me even if they don't to you.” The firmness in her own voice surprised her. “Don't you agree, Mother? Grandma's chairs come?”
“Oh, you two children best work that out.” Elizabeth turned back to the linen she sorted. “We'll all settle in together just fine.”
“Caged birds rarely settle, especially without a perch,” Mazy said. Her side throbbed, and she sat down on her grandmother's chair. “I'm taking the bonnet dresser and the bedroom set if we have to latch it to the side for the chickens to cackle at ” She crossed her good arm over her chest. “The china service goes, and we take the dining room table. Take it apart if we need to and double the floor with the boards I won't arrive without familiar things around me”
“You're so beautiful when you're giving orders,” Jeremy said. He reached to pull her to him, his hands tangled in the chestnut fall at the back of her neck.
“Nobody listens,” she said, felt her face flush.
He kissed her then stepped back beyond her reach. “You can't take the hickory rocker. Nor the chairs, table, or dresser. But the bed, all right.” He grinned. “The essentials.”
“We'll be risking our lives just to get there. West,” Mazy said in disgust. She and her mother walked the rows of what was left of her garden. Cows mooed from the corral. The pain in Mazy s arm made her lightheaded.
“You're exaggerating again, Madison. Something I was sure you'd outgrow.”
“Horace Greeley says, with the Indian trouble and all, it's criminal for a man to take women and children across the plains.”
“The Fox and Sauk Indians are quiet, I hear,” Elizabeth said. “Besides, everyone knows what to do and what not to. Most don't even hire guides, the trail's so well marked. It's a good year for families to go. It's a good year for adventure. It'll be no more trouble than getting from Milwaukee to here.”
full of surprises.”
Elizabeth looked into the hurt of her daughter's green
“We may as well have this out now as later.”
Mazy heard her heart thud in her ears. Sometimes her scoffing could take her where she didn't really want to go, jabbing with words but not getting too close. A serious conversation with her mother was a place she tried to avoid.
“The day Jeremy got to Milwaukee he said he was heading west,” her mother said, leading her to a pine stump, helping her to sit. “I
laughed, didn't seem like him, a man who's always rubbing oils on his hands to keep ‘em soft as a baby's bottom. But he was serious. I turned selfish when I pondered. I might not see my grandbabies—if you ever have any So I found a way to tag along.” She lifted Mazy's good hand and settled it in her wide palm.
Mazy felt the calluses on her mothers fingers, the firmness of her hold, and listened, watched as her mother fluffed at the lace collar on her gray dress.
“So I said I was going if you was. Jeremy laughed, told me it'd be easier to catch a weasel asleep than selling my home that fast.” Elizabeth leaned into Mazy. The scent of lavender leaned with her. “Well, I said that part about the weasel. But when I mentioned needing to sell my things, a buyer showed.”
“‘Wish Maze could act that fast,’ Jeremy says to me when I told him I'd sold the house, which had a few surprises of its own by the time it was settled.” She didn't elaborate. “But I tells him, you got your papa's ways—studied-like and loyal. He said the loyal part was something he'd be needing since he hadn't told you yet.” Elizabeth's blue eyes watered. “I was sad for that, his not sharing it with you. But then I pondered, well, I can't change it. But I never woulda held something like that back.”
Mazy sighed. “I couldn't have stood it if you had.”
“Oh, darlin, don't you know? If a body can't stand somethin it'll pass right out.” She laughed then, her wide, fleshy face blotched red, her blue eyes brimmed. “I looked for the good in it when I found out ” Elizabeth licked her lips. “Except for holidays and that short month visit here last year, we ain't spent time together as two married women, like we are now.”
Mazy nodded, touched her mother's chubby cheek with her finger, surprised at the smoothness. “I'm just…afraid,” Mazy said.
“I know it.” She patted Mazy's hand. “My mama always said fear's just a reminder to dress good as you can while you're wearing new circumstances”
“But then,” Mazy said, “Grandma hadn't heard of bloomers.”
The Bacons’ neighbors, such as there were, planned a gathering for them at the little log church in Cassville, to celebrate the changes the Bacons were making.
“It would be a salve to my soul to have a preacher there today,” Mazy said, as they rode the mules into town, “but it's too early in the year to see him.”
“I'll be needing salve somewhere else before this day is done,” Elizabeth said, rubbing her hip. “Always worse after I ride.”