It was a dark and stormy night, well, actually, it was a bright sunny day. But it felt like a dark and stormy night. The day had started without any sign of the mess to follow. However, I should have known as soon as I burnt the biscuits at breakfast time that I was not going to have a nice day.
The bear wandered into the yard as I scraped the char from the least burned biscuits and I cut my hand on the knife. I know, don’t run away from a bear, it kicks in the charging instinct and besides, I didn’t really run. I backed up in a hurry to the porch, stumbled over the stick of firewood I had dropped earlier, sprawled up the steps and skittered on up them and through the door into the house. So, technically, I didn’t run. However, the bear did. I must have scared it half to death with all my backing away and the smell of blood from my cut hand didn’t act as an enticement either. Maybe it was the conversation I was having, too. The bear probably never heard an almost middle-aged woman ranting to herself about the way the neighborhood was going to pot and using a large serrated knife to accent the conversation with scraping sounds and an occasional yelp as I missed the biscuit.
Now people were moving in a couple of miles down the road. That would make 8 people living within a 20 mile radius. It is getting positively crowded around here and I can feel the changes coming. First they will want the roads kept plowed and trash hauled away and phone service and electricity by just flipping a switch instead of starting a generator or whatever. I still haven’t figured out why people move out into the wilderness to get away from it all and then start immediately trying to drag it all out with them.
After I got settled down and cleaned up the breakfast mess, a huge SUV pulled into my yard, totally ignoring my subtle signs at the turnoff by the main road. The “Private Target Range, Hellooooo Targets” sign, the huge “Stop” sign. Of course, it is my new neighbors. The driver jumped out immediately as the vehicle stopped moving, a large man that would fit right into the Monday night football lineup with little problem, just starting to get a little lardy around the middle and jowls. He gets my dander up as soon as he opens his mouth and bellows, “Howdy Little Lady.” He finishes putting his foot in his mouth when he continues the bellow with, “Is your Old Man around?” First, I am not little and few have ever accused me of being a lady. Second, I bought this bare land, built my road system and my buildings, mostly by myself, no Old Man. Not even a Young Man. Once in a while help from a friend, male or female.
This man seems to know exactly all the buttons to push to really make points with me. He has not stopped to let me get a word in edgewise yet and just keeps lowering himself in my esteem. Now it’s “I brought the Little Woman along to keep you company while your Old Man and I discuss the road maintenance around here.” Uh-huh, next he will mention trash, bet on it.
The woman getting out of the SUV looked exactly like I figured anyone living around this guy would look. I know she must not have always looked like a shadow, but that was my first impression of her. Slender and fluttery, I hated the way she ducked when he swung towards her, motioning towards the house, telling her to get on in there with me while the men talked over the important stuff. Not the first time a guy was going to be disappointed that I wasn’t a guy.
I’ve always wondered if guys think the additional weight of a pair of boobs on a woman’s chest made thinking impossible for a woman. I know I have seen men stop thinking entirely when confronted with said appendages, few could ever tell what color my eyes are or even if I have eyes. They seem to carry on their part of any conversation with my chest. So, living down to his expectations, I flapped my hand vaguely toward the outbuildings while stepping back to allow the “Little Woman” into my home.
As soon as the door closed, she seemed to gain substance and character, introducing herself as Shari. I told her my name is Maxine, most call me Maxie.
Shari and Will had only been married a couple of months, having moved to Alaska from the Midwest somewhere. She was very vague about actual background and I was doing my best imitation of a non-snoopy person and didn’t ask more than she volunteered. This was a very jumpy woman and I felt that she would vanish if anyone asked something she didn’t want to answer.
Soon the thumping up the steps announced the arrival of Will at the door. He seemed not to be amused by the search for a guy through the outbuildings as they only consisted of an outhouse, a smokehouse and a small storage shed attached to a woodshed. Light seemed to be penetrating as he actually looked around the room, noticing only my jacket hanging with his wife’s by the door, only my boots by hers, under the jackets. I didn’t volunteer information so he finally asked if I lived here alone. I told him I did and asked if he would like some tea or hot chocolate or I could make some coffee but wouldn’t vouch for it as I don’t drink it. He settled for tea and I set out a plate of homemade cookies while we positioned ourselves around the built-in table/bench set I had made.
I don’t think his eyes settled anywhere as they darted over the interior of my home. I was rather proud of it although it would not win any prizes in Home Beautiful. I built it for comfort and with what I had on hand, scrounging at the dump, picking up old materials anywhere I could find them. I did buy new insulation and new insulated chimney, but very little cash outlay was visible in it. I added on as I had the money and it is getting to be a very comfortable home. The storage areas under each seat and bench help keep the clutter down a bit and all the walls have bookshelves at least halfway up them, with my artwork above. The bear head wearing a do-rag and granny glasses seemed to startle a chuckle out of the man and Shari started to relax a bit also. Will didn’t relax to the point of suddenly becoming chums, but there was a dim possibility of at least being civil to each other, maybe…..
Will sat there a few minutes, drinking his tea and eating several cookies before he cleared his throat and hemmed and hawed a couple of times. Finally, shifting around on the seat, he resembled a guppy, but found his voice and offered a bit of an apology.
“Ummm, sorta stuck my foot into it when we first got here, didn’t I?”
“Just a few toes, I answered.
“Maybe we could start over a bit? Pretend I didn’t just assume a whole lot?”
“Ah well, you know what they say about assuming…” and he surprised me by bursting out laughing.
“So, did you actually do all of this?” He was slightly incredulous, but willing to listen.
“I did have a helping hand once in a while, but for the most part, yes, I did do the work here. I have a firm belief in only building what I can afford and waiting and saving for the next improvement.” I told him.
Will and Shari were both looking at me like I had something stuck between my teeth.
Shari was the first to react, “But how do you live, here in the wilderness, with no man around to help and protect you?”
“Protect me from what?”
She was at a loss, flapping her hands to encompass everything, but no words to express it. I honestly didn’t know what to make of her. Will hugged her to his side and murmured softly, soothingly to her and my first impression of him made an abrupt about face. The man obviously cared deeply for her and wanted to shelter her from anything that upset her. He could tell I was at a loss as to what was bothering her, so he murmured something else softly to her, she first shook her head no, then stopped and nodded yes.
“I’m sorry, we should explain a bit about ourselves. I first met Shari when she was married to someone else, down South. Her first husband was a good old boy to the other good old boys. But the first time I was invited to their home, she had a black eye, puffed lip, a sprained ankle and could barely walk. Fell down the steps, they said. The next time I stopped by, her other eye was swollen and turning purple, she had a cast on her arm and was favoring her other side when she walked. Fell down again, they said. I may be a bit slow, but not entirely stupid. She was scared to death of him and with good reason. She was from good family and had never been exposed to the likes of Rod. He was good looking and could pour on the charm when it suited him. Once he had her inheritance in hand and her under his thumb, he ruled with an iron rod. I really believe he would have continued until she was dead, if I hadn’t sorta stole her one night when he was passed out drunk after beating her to within an inch of her life. I drove all night and got her to another state and into a hospital. The police were all set to arrest me, thinking I had done it to her, but she woke up long enough to say it was her husband and that I wasn’t him. She was in and out of consciousness for several days before they were sure she would make it.”
Oh Geez, now I had to rethink my opinion of him entirely. He might have some antiquated ideas on woman’s place in the home, but if she was good with that, that was her problem. They looked like it suited them fine.
My morning bear must have gotten curious about the smell of charred biscuit still lingering around outside and made an appearance near the woodshed, slowly peeking around the edge. By this time the Jays had carried off all possible crumbs, so I didn’t have to worry about the bear finding anything to eat, but was thinking it was getting a little too accustomed to people. I think I about gave Will and Shari heart attacks though, when I stepped out the door and shot the bear.
I guess Will hadn’t noticed the handgun on my hip. Shari about climbed his frame, so guess I should have said something first.
I took care of the skinning and butchering, bringing in the meat and stacking it on the table. I started mixing up some brine to cure the hams and shoulders to smoke later. My visitors watched wide eyed and very little comment. Shari finally asked what it would taste like. I told her if I did it right, it would be very similar to pork. The bears in this area are usually fattening up on berries, so fairly good eating as bears go. I offered them half the bear and they were trying to be polite and not green around the gills as they declined. Bear isn’t my favorite meal either, but I try not to waste anything. After I had the meat in the brine, I started fleshing on the hide, to get it ready to tan. Like I said, I try not to waste anything. When I had the hide fleshed fairly well, I salted it and rolled it up to finish tomorrow. My guests had stayed for the whole thing.
Shari was a little pale and Will was hovering, again. I asked if they would like more tea and I was going to fix sandwiches, if they would care for some, with homemade bread. Maybe the idea that I had just killed and butchered something had a bit to do with their refusal, But that was okay, I figured I would see quite a bit of them, around here.