Part 8: What did I dream?
What did I dream?
I do not know;
The fragments fly like chaff.
Yet strange my mind
Was tickled so,
I cannot help but laugh.
Life and the cogs that turn it never stop moving. Oh they feel like they’ve stopped but in reality so long as you are drawing breath the wheels of your life are in motion. The hope I found that day that Capt. Tag’s puppies had delivered the supplies bolstered me and seemed to restart a part of my brain that had fallen into a coma out of self-preservation. With my awakening came the recognition of the challenges we faced but there was also that hope … and faith … that if I wasn’t up for the job that Someone Greater would lend me some of His strength and I would be able to do what needed doing.
And boy, were there challenges. The weather was colder than I ever remembered it being at the end of November and beginning of December. Oh sure, we’d had the occasional early frost but this was completely different, this was that change in weather patterns that Capt. Tag had warned me about. Gardening the old way was going to be impossible so I pulled out one of the books that someone had given my mother years ago, when I was too young to appreciate what it was about.
There was this man named Eliot Coleman and he may not have started the idea of year-round gardening but he did have a hand it making it popular almost to the point of being a fad at one point. Normally in our part of Florida the growing season is 356 days a year. You could grow something or harvest something year round. But with the cold weather bearing down as I’d never experienced before I knew that I couldn’t take it for granted, knew that I would have to change the way I did things or all of my previous efforts would be for naught. I gave that book a reading all in a single day and realized that more than likely I could make things better if I could find the supplies I needed.
I had rolls of plastic sheeting and floating cloth in the barn. For the “frame” I realized with a little effort I could probably scavenge from the fire damaged area. It wasn’t easy by any stretch but since I didn’t have any social obligations to distract me – and yes that tongue in cheek thought was my humor reviving along with my hope and faith – I had nothing but time on my hands to get the work done. But better yet I also had the tools to do what I wanted to do, and the know-how of how to use them. When I brought all of the tools back from the Trask’s workshop one of the things that I had debated on bringing was an electric rebar bender. I had known what it was because my father had rented them before as he couldn’t afford to own one; they cost several thousands of dollars. There were manual pipe benders but they took strength to operate, and since I had neither I used what I did have. My big problem was that the mechanism was electric.
I refused to let it deter me. First I gathered the rebar I could from the burned over area. The stuff was all over the place but I didn’t take but the best and least twisted. I wanted the rebar bender to have to work as little as possible to create the curved pieces I needed. What I would do is last thing at night I would bend the rebar until the batteries ran out. I would then hook the batteries back up to the solar charger and go inside for the night. Next morning I would get up, create what frames I could using the pieces I had bent the previous night and usually by the time I couldn’t go any further the batteries would be charged enough for me to bend more pieces. This continued for days.
Only once or twice did the weather not cooperate and charge the batteries quick enough to keep up with what I needed. On those days I would build more raised beds. I didn’t necessarily get to plant anything in these beds because I didn’t have time – or compost – to fill them yet but they would be there when I needed them later. Eventually the entire back yard was full of either covered rows or “pods” in places where rows wouldn’t work. The rows looked strange enough but the pods looked like black igloos.
As the weather got still colder I started to worry about my citrus and other fruit trees. I knew the pears could stand some cold, the other deciduous trees could as well and might even be better for it since they required more cold hours than they normally got, but my citrus was going to be toast if I didn’t do something. So as Thanksgiving passed and Christmas approached I salvaged more building supplies. I built little huts over the trees that were short enough for me to do this with. I did have some citrus in large planters and those I simply moved inside; the end of the family room where the French doors were started to looking like a jungle but I was to the point that food was far more important that décor.
The “huts” were built with scrap wood that came from wherever I could find it, including the interior walls of some of the abandoned houses; it was pressure treated and that gave me some confidence that the huts would last a little longer than a single season. On the “frame” I would nail plywood about half way up and then over the plywood I would nail shingles or roofing paper, anything dark that would absorb heat. The other benefits to doing this was that one, it helped me to square up and stabilize the structure and two, I didn’t have to use so much plastic to finish the greenhouse with. But even with that strategy I was quickly funning out of plastic so I started thinking smarter; I used windows when I could find them whole and in their frames. When I couldn’t get the windows out I would take the glass itself and then frame over the edges with wooden trim that I pulled off of baseboards and door frames. I always built in a door so that I could walk or crawl into the huts plus I needed a place where the insects could get in once … if … the trees bloomed.
I couldn’t protect all of the trees and watched in helpless frustration as some of the biggest and oldest succumbed to the shock of freeze after freeze after freeze. It broke my heart to watch those trees die and as the citrus fruit was finally ripe enough to pull – the freezing forcing the sugar into the fruit faster than normal – I saved all of the seeds I could vowing that I would figure out how to grow new ones to replace them in the coming years. And yes, I was again thinking in years rather than months, weeks, or days.
It was good that I had my covered rows because without them there would not have been a garden. In November I planted beets, broccoli, spinach, strawberries, cabbage both regular and Chinese, carrots, cauliflower, celery, collards, kale, kohlrabi, lettuce, mustard greens, onions, parsley, English peas, radishes, chard, root turnips, anise, and nasturtium. Cauliflower and chard weren’t really my favorites, and neither was kale, but beggars can’t be choosers and I needed to grow enough to feed us and that meant using all of the seeds I had not just the ones that I liked. I had already learned that the hungrier you are the less picky your taste buds and I used that same common sense to plan my garden beds. In December I planted more of the same and prayed every day that God would bless us with a good harvest.
The cold weather challenged me in other ways as well. I had to trim back the giant prickly pears that were there when Mateo had originally bought the house. They had made a fine barrier along the fence line between our property and Gerald’s but the freezing winds were killing the tops out. I was careful with the pieces that I cut because I had plans for them. The tender pads I kept for cooking. The older ones I laid in growing medium hoping to start new bushes with them that could be potted or replanted when the weather returned to what it should be. The “pears” from these huge bushes I cleaned and cooked up into dishes and preserves that provided something different at our meal times, adding calories and texture that were much needed.
Christmas was Spartan compared to years past and even Nydia realized it. She nearly broke my heart when she said that it was OK if Santa didn’t come for her but she hoped that he would still bring something for Neeno. How do you explain to a child … I just couldn’t do it, I couldn’t take one more bit of precious childhood magic away from her so instead I told her that this year we were going to be like the Magi and follow their example. I read the Precious Story to her and for a treat I made a small batch of bean fudge with some of the cocoa that I had squirreled away. I also made a warm punch using a couple of boxes of lime jello. And to make our feast as special as I could I used one of the last canned hams that I had in storage.
I tried to do something special each day of the week between Christmas and New Years Day, even if it was just something very small. It seemed important to do this; in gratitude, remembrance, as an example, to try and replicate the Event … I’m not sure, it just felt like the right thing to do. And it was precious. Nydia would color me a picture, make collages, give me a rock that she had colored to “look like Neeno’s head.” The most precious thing she gave me was what she said was a family picture. There was me, Neeno, and herself in the foreground and then standing behind us was a man with very long arms all wrapped around us in a big hug and then behind the man was another “man” with even longer arms wrapped around us and the man who had his arms around the three of us.
“See Nonny? That’s Neeno. I know he looks like a potato but he wouldn’t hold still when I was trying to draw a picture of him. Then there’s me and there’s you. And that is Poppy giving us hugs. And that big man is God who is hugging all of us.”
I am not ashamed to say that I cried, but not where she could see me. She so rarely brought Mateo up I would wonder if she had started to forget him but then she would do things like that and I didn’t know whether my heart was breaking in sadness or in joy.
The New Year arrived and with it some viciously cold weather. This was Florida and our wardrobes reflected it. I fashioned a long coat for Nydia using one of my old ones but I was forced to resort to layering and getting my outside chores done as quickly as possible. It was so bad on most days during that month that I pulled out my family’s old dome tent and set it up in the family room. I layered the back and top with some of the blankets and bed spreads that I’d salvaged from the Trask place and put several layers on the floor as well to keep the cold from creeping up from beneath the children. I faced the open side of the tent towards the fireplace and it would capture the heat and keep it so that it couldn’t float towards the ceiling. As a matter of fact I eventually made sleeping pallets in there for all three of us when it became too cold to sleep without some source of heat in any of the bedrooms.
Having enough wood to keep the fireplace going 24/7 became another challenge. Small diameter wood was easy enough to collect since I’d become confident enough to go around the neighborhood to bring back all of the fallen tree trash but I had long ago used up the wood that Tag had had her men cut for me from the tree that had fallen in front of the gate. Not only did I need wood to bring warmth but I needed it for cooking as well and while I could do most of the cooking on the fireplace I couldn’t do it all that way. I often dug a pit and cooked beans for a couple of meals in my cast iron Dutch oven but for that I needed hot coals. The search for wood that I could burn in doors seemed never ending.
It was still cold in February but I carried on as usual by planting seedling I had grown indoors of beans, melons, corn, cucumbers, eggplant, peppers, sweet potatoes, pumpkins, winter squash, tomatoes, potatoes, more turnips, more beets, carrots, celery, more collard greens and kale, and more kohlrabi, lettuce, mustard greens, peas, radishes, and chard. But I was learning that with the cold weather came a lack of insects to pollinate when things bloomed which meant having to do it all by hand.
The only exception to this caught me completely by surprise and after I got over my fright I promised to never again curse the ingenuity and perseverance of bees and wasps. I was working in the yard and because it wasn’t too cold I had Nydia outside to get some sunlight. Neeno was in a sling across my chest bundled as warm as I could keep him. I could tell he enjoyed being outside but he didn’t like the occasional wind that took his breath away so he kept his little face turned towards my chest most of the time. Suddenly Nydia gave a pain-filled scream and we ran towards each other. It took me a few moments to sort out what had happened.
I carefully approached one of my citrus huts and heard to my amazement buzzing. Somehow or other a wasp nest had gone undetected by me in one of the trees and it was so warm inside the hut that they were buzzing like it was the middle of summer. They were frantically collecting nectar from the blooms on the tree and I realized that God was indeed merciful. If none of the other trees made at least I had hope that some of the citrus trees would make as I found that that tree wasn’t the only one that had wasps and bees doing what such creatures do. We’d always had problems with such insects around the house and I had routinely destroyed the nests out of habit and dislike of being stung. The only thing I can think of is that the cold had made them so sluggish that when I built the huts over the trees that I didn’t notice their hives and since I rarely went into the huts, being too busy with the garden that needed more tending, I hadn’t seen that not only was there a hive in the branches but that it was thriving and growing. I knew eventually I would have to allow them out but I told myself not until the weather was warmer.
By the end of February I was very glad that my plan for the covered rows and pods had worked because the wild edibles that I had hoped to harvest weren’t to be found. There was no poke shoots, all of the plants were still frozen back to ground level. While my loquats were not wild strictly speaking they were a tree I really didn’t have to do much to for them to perform but the ones that weren’t in huts were either frozen back dead or their blooms had been burnt by the frosts and freezes and never made. I did harvest a few tropical apricots but barely enough to be worth drying despite the fact that I had tried to pollinate the blooms by hand. The herbs that were planted directly into the ground were still dead above the dirt line and I could only pray that the extra mulch I had managed to put on them protected what was below the ground enough that they would eventually come back.
The beginning of March I briefly gave in to the old depression and worry. It was still much cooler than it normally was. The sun barely made a dent in the clouds that seemed to feel the sky without end. It was also drier which meant I had to water more by hand … but without the aid of the swamp which was nearly empty. The water went so low in the ponds in the area that I saw gators fighting for the bits of mud so that they could hibernate or whatever you call what large reptiles do when it grows so cold that their metabolism slows down. Our food stores were also getting low again; not dangerously low but some of the variety was beginning to disappear. Because of all the clouds it made it difficult to have enough energy to run the well and charge the batteries. And I was hungry for fresh meat.
Don’t ask me where I got the nerve to do it, it almost ended in disaster, but in one of the canals there was a medium sized gator sunning itself high up on the bank. It wasn’t the only gator in there and I’d heard more than one fight go on as they fought amongst themselves. The one on the bank looked like it had been the one sent packing. As I gathered wood I watched it make its way a couple of yards at a time heading for another section of what used to be wetlands. Suddenly I got in my head the picture of my father making alligator jerky and my mother canning stewed alligator. My mouth watered so much spit was running down my chin before I even knew it.
Even though I had Neeno in a sling and Nydia helping to pull the wagon for picking up wood I decided that it was worth it.
“Nydia, cover your hears.” Her eyes grew wide when I pull the Keltec PF-9 out of my coat pocket. Normally I carried the LCP but that day I had put the Keltec because the LCP needed to be cleaned where I had dropped it in the sand the day before. I don’t know if the LCP would have done what I wanted it to do but I knew the Keltec would because I had listened to Bea’s brothers tell hunting stories and how they had a gator try and climb in their canoe one time. They had been jobbing – hunting frogs – and had a rifle and a .308 handgun; the rifle had gone overboard so all they were left with was the .308 and to make a long story short it took two shots to the head but the gator was history.
“Now, if it had been a big ‘un over seven feet we wouldn’t be here today but it was a shade over five feet and the .308 was enough.”
Every time they told the story it got a little more harrowing and the gator got a “shade over” something bigger. Since the gator in front of me didn’t measure quite five feet I figured I was safe. And since I didn’t have to worry about it running at me since it was in slow mo because of the cold weather I figured if I missed with one shot I would certainly be able to get it with the next … or so I thought.
Boy did I feel stupid … scared first, stupid later … when I found out that adrenaline can overrule cold weather for at least a few moments. After one shot that gator all but flew at me. I squeaked like a girl and turned to run when out of the bushes came … well I really wasn’t sure what they were at first. What they eventually resolved into being were two kids about the ages of 8 and 10 though it was hard to tell. They had bats in their hands and they went to wailing on that gator’s head in a way that made me nearly sick.
When the gator was dead – and I knew it was dead since it did not have much of a head any more – they took one look at me and then grabbed the gator and started dragging it away.
Then an older boy … a teen but I wasn’t sure how old … stepped out and in front of the kids. “Does that belong to you?” he asked them sternly.
The kids got very disgruntled looks on their faces and then dropped the gator and stepped behind the teen. They started to walk away when something made me call them back, “Wait! Look, they did do most of the … um … work. Just … just leave me some and you can have the rest.”
The teen looked at me suspiciously and the kids just looked at me blankly. “Why would you do that?” he asked.
I shrugged, “It seems like the right thing to do.”
He looked at me and then out comes this huge knife. I stepped back in front of Nydia gripping the gun in my hand but the teen just steps over to the gator and starts to skin it. The two children are practically prancing from foot to foot in anticipation and that’s when I got a good look at them. One was a boy and one was a girl, both were extremely dirty. Neither one had yet to make an intelligible sound, at least not one that I understood.
“You know, you should make your brother and sister wash up before they eat.”
The teen briefly looked up at me and then looked over at the two kids before saying, “They aren’t my sibs.”
I asked, “Cousins? Friends?”
Still working on the carcass he said, “Naw. They just started following me around. I didn’t have anything better to do so I let ‘em.”
“Do you know anything about them?” I asked alarmed, the former teacher in my kicking in hard.
“Our parents all died at one of the refgee camps in Virginia.”
He looked at me again and rolled his eyes. “Ref-YOU-gee. It was one of those places they sent you when you didn’t have any place else to go. Our parents went out on a work bus but never came back.”
I must have made a sound because he shrugged again and said, “It happened. A lot.” He shrugged again before saying, “When I decided to take off on my own and get out of that place before I got sent out on one of those buses that never came back they just sort of … followed me I guess.”
“How long have you been on the road?”
“Long enough that we got ahead of the worst of the cold weather. Hey, you got something to put this in?”
I grabbed a couple of bags out of the wagon and handed them to him trying not to gag at the smell of the gator’s tripes that he had carefully removed then thrown down into the canal where things were fighting over them.
“Where are you staying?” I found myself asking before I thought about it.
The teen got suddenly suspicious again. “Why do you want to know?”
This time I rolled my eyes. “Look, I used to be a teacher OK. It is second nature for me to … look, have you got a place to stay or not?”
“Oh,” he said. The next he said not exactly disrespectfully but there was a lot of cynicism in there. “You’re one of those.”
“Excuse me? One of what?”
“A do-gooder. Just you worry about you and I’ll take care of us.”
His attitude made me want to smack his mouth but at the same time he reminded me of some of the kids I used to teach. They had their guard up so much of the time they were difficult to reach. The problem was that they had every reason to be suspicious and have their guard up.
I just kept looking at him and I guess some skills never die or the young man wasn’t quite as hardened as he tried to appear. In short order he hunched his shoulders and said, “Look, my brother lives in Arcadia. Last I heard he was alive and that’s where we’re heading. My brother tried to spring me before but the people running the camp wouldn’t turn loose of me. He said if I ever did get out I was to come straight to him and that’s what I’m doing. He drew me a map and gave me directions and everything so I wouldn’t get lost.”
“Um … you … you know about the bomb, right?”
“Sure I know. Right after that is when my brother tried to spring me. That’s why he gave me directions for how to get to him without going near where it came down.”
I relaxed a little but not much. “And he’ll take those two?”
“I figure he will. Him and his wife can’t have kids. She’s another do-gooder. I figure if nothing else she’ll clean ‘em up and find ‘em a place to stay. Here’s your part now we’re going and you better not follow us,” he said trying to sound menacing and only partially succeeding.
“Wait! Do you have water? And …”
“Lady, just leave us alone. We’ve taken care of ourselves this far and I don’t want no one telling me what to do. I’m not stupid you know.”
A part of me wanted to do something, anything, for those three kids but I couldn’t think what. “Hey!”
“What?!” he nearly snarled.
“Look, have … have you seen anyone else? Any other people?”
His attitude shrunk a little bit. “A few. Not many. And none you’d want to meet. Have … have you seen anybody?”
“No,” I answered quietly. “It’s been … months. You’re the first in … in a long, long time. Have you seen anyone in uniform?”
“You mean like the military or cops or something? Yeah, but not up close. No way do I want to be put in another camp. Now we’re leaving and that’s all you need to know.”
I watched the three of them disappear into the bushes and trees that bordered the burnt area and then looked down as Nydia came up and put her hand in mine that wasn’t holding the Keltec. “Don’t ever leave Nonny.” Just four words, quietly spoken but it let me know that Nydia was perhaps more perceptive than I gave her credit for being at her age. She understood that I was the one that stood between her and the fate those children had been dealt. Why God allows such things to happen I don’t know but I prayed thankfully that He had allowed me to continue to watch over my children.
The walk back to the house was quiet and as soon as we got there I cleaned and started cooking the gator meat. It had been inexpertly cut but all in all I realized I would probably have done just as badly a job as the boy had done. Some of the meat I fried but the rest of it we couldn’t eat in one meal I smoked on the grill and a couple of thin filets I experimented with turning into jerky. Since the weather was still so cool that is all that I would need to make the meat last a couple of more days without refrigeration and if I could figure out how to kill the gators more efficiently without squeaking and running I figured a couple of them would go a long way to replacing the animal protein that was quickly disappearing again from our food stores.
Two weeks later I looked with satisfaction at the newly filled jars on the shelves. Most of them were from the two gators that I was able to kill … this time with a rifle that had a scope which meant I could do it from farther away … but there was also some rabbit and squirrel there as well. I’d almost had a raccoon but it had snarled and snapped so bad that I finally just stuck a canvas laundry sack on the end of the live capture cage and then carefully carted the mean thing off towards the canal where I knew more gators were. Maybe I was being spiteful but it had scared me and I didn’t want anything that ferocious near the house. I spun the bag around then slung the open end so that the raccoon became airborne for a few minutes before falling into the canal where it began to frantically claw its way to shore. I left before seeing whether it made it or not but I haven’t seen it back around the house.
The meat wasn’t the only new things on our pantry shelves. My covered gardens were actually doing quite well, well enough in fact that I harvested more than we could eat fresh. The beets came in like gang busters though they were a little smaller than any I had ever planted before. All of the various green things did quite well too. Nydia and I ate a salad of some type at every meal, including breakfast, and they were very welcome both for their roughage and for their vitamins provided by their dark leafy green goodness. The eggplants were OK but I had to slice and fry them before either Nydia or I could really stomach them otherwise they just seemed slimy. I wished I had planted more carrots as well as they did. They were much longer and thicker than the ones that I had planted in containers the year before.
One of the best things though was that the tomatoes started coming in. I hadn’t really known what I was planting where so they were all mixed up together which was actually OK. Black Krim, Bloody Butcher, Mexican Midget, and more all with the strange names that some vegetable varieties had … they were all heirloom seeds and I had used a paint brush to pollinate them which meant that my crop was even bigger than if I had just left them to the wind and the insects. Towards the end of the month my peppers, cucumbers, and beans started coming in. And on the very last day of the month I actually harvested a couple of watermelons much to Nydia’s delight; and mine too if I admit it.
I dried what I could but I also managed to can some things by taking an old metal barrel I found and fabricating a kind of Franklin stove from it. That meant that I could use the pressure canner though it really needed watching closely so I could open and close the dampers so that it didn’t get too hot and from there build up too much pressure inside the canner. I still had nearly a case of canning seals but they wouldn’t last forever so I mainly used them on soups and stews and on the tomatoes.
Again that month the wild things that I was used to foraging for didn’t produce but I did manage to get a goodly number of limes and about a gallon of mysore raspberries. The raspberries were very welcome but the limes had me dancing a jig. One of the things that stuck in my head after reading a story to Nydia was the idea of scurvy. When I looked it up in a couple of the medical books that had belonged to my parents I realized that it wasn’t as unheard of as I had believed. The limes would go a long way to helping to stave that illness off, especially for Nydia whom I sometimes worried wasn’t getting enough nutrition.
Neeno was over six months old and still nursed exclusively much to both my consternation and relief. I knew what I needed to do I just wasn’t sure when to do it. I knew it was still too early to wean him but it would have to happen eventually. On the other hand one of those books that Mateo had acquired only He knows how said that some children nursed into toddlerhood. Um … I wasn’t quite sure if I would be able to manage that.
I almost don’t remember the month of April I was so busy gardening, both planting and harvesting. The rains finally started to fall again and when the rains came so did the bugs as the air warmed but it was still more like November and December than truly spring which is what it was supposed to be. As it warmed I would lift the sides of the covered gardens during the day to let some of the heat out; my goal was to safe guard against the cold, not cook the plants where they stood.
I was so busy in fact that I had to let some things slide and one of the things that I didn’t do was cut the grass in the front yard. I would enter the tree huts and pull the few weeds that dared to show their green faces there but once it warmed up enough that it stopped leaving frost on the ground and then the rains started to fall it was like someone had hit the on switch. I left the doors of the fruit huts cracked during the day so that the bees and wasps could get out and not roast and at night I closed them back up, both to protect “my” insects and to safeguard the trees they lived in. By the end of April the grass was up and well passed my knees. There were also several weedy bushes growing up in the mess and since I hadn’t raked or swept the leaves from the drive way in some time the entire front of the house looked quite abandoned from the road. Another tree had fallen across the road as well and its dead and dying top blocked the gate though it hadn’t damaged it any. As a result I simply left by a break in the fence in the back yard that I had cut that wound behind several houses including old Mr. Houchins’ place. The road didn’t mean much to me any longer as I had my own paths that I took that were shortcuts to where I needed to go.
The children and I had been out all day picking up wood and had actually had to take refuge in the old Houchins place to wait out one of the frequent thunderstorms … another sign that the weather was completely out of whack. We finally made our way home but the children were both extremely tired and as a result very quiet. I thought I had heard something but the wind kept whipping the sound away. I was to the back door when I realized it was crying.
My first thought had me flying back to my memories of those kids that I had not seen since they disappeared. I took Neeno’s sling off and handed him to Nydia and pushed them both in the house.
“Nonny … don’t,” Nydia said pleadingly after she too had heard the crying. “It’s … it’s the boogerman.”
“Boogeymen don’t cry love, at least not like that. Now I want you to stay here in the house. You know what to do.”
I didn’t give her time to object further and she did know what to do as we had gone over it numerous times. She was to go to the bedroom and stay there until I got her and to open the door for no one but me.
I took the rifle and carefully made my way around the house. The sound was coming from just on the other side of the gate and front wall. It was going from crying to wailing. There was another voice but I couldn’t tell what they were saying. Dusk was setting and the crying continued. I couldn’t stand it, the sound was heartbreaking … and perhaps a little mad as well. No one sane could keep up that level of grief for long.
I nipped back through the cut in the fence and then made my way around to where I could see who it was before they saw me. There were two people sitting on the ground. I thought it was a couple at first until I realized they were both men. The one that was wailing was rocking and pulling his hair and the other … he’d lost his leg below the knee and looked in little better shape though a sight saner than the other one. I saw no guns but I did see what looked to be a spear and a couple of machetes. Neither man had had a haircut in who knows how long and they were dirty though not filthy, a detail that I found a little reassuring for some reason.
I cleared my throat and then a second time when neither man reacted to the first. The second time they did hear, boy did they hear. The man with the amputation tried to move quickly but I could tell he was very weak as he fell back cracking his head on the wall. The other man stopped his noise and then just stared at me. I looked at the two of them. They were emaciated and both had seen recent and prolonged depravations. Their clothes, such as they were, hung from them in little more than tatters tied together more for warmth than for modesty. Then as I continued to stare the breath started to leave my body.
A voice I never hoped to hear again said in raspy, sepulcher tones, “Mi corazón, mi vida, la respiración en mi cuerpo, you have come … come to take me to Heaven to be with you …. Forgive me … please forgive me. I have been searching for so long. Finally we have found each other again.”