Another chapter in the ongoing series from the book LIVING THE DREAM. Click on the image below for more info!
“I want one.”
Mark shook his head. He carried on pounding in the posts. I stood there and watched him work on the chicken run. “I’m serious.”
“And so am I. We’re not nearly ready enough for a donkey.”
“Two. They get lonely on their own.”
Mark shook his head and passed me the last post. He measured out another eight feet and started again. I helped in a sulky silence.
“But they’re only a year old, two siblings. Frankie is black and gray and his sister is more of an amber color. Franny. Their names even match Frida’s. You’d love them, Mark, honest.”
He sighed and looked at me. “No, not yet, that’s all I’m saying, Jenny. It’s too much. I’d end up having to take care of them as well as everything else, wouldn’t I? We still have too much to do before winter any way. There’s getting enough firewood, finishing the fencing, getting chickens, building an outhouse and another compost bin, closing in the deck, or at least making some kind of windbreak. When am I meant to build a barn? Don’t I have enough to do as it is?”
He shook his head as he tied the chicken wire to the posts. I said nothing. One layer at a time, we built up the sides of the run, up to six feet high. The roof area would need to be covered by something to keep the predator birds out, and the coyotes apparently, they’d climb up and in to get themselves some chicken. I shuddered at the thought.
We worked in silence for a while and the project wound up almost done. I put the tools away in the waterproof containers and stacked the extra posts out of sight of the bus. A tidy camp was more my style than his. I was the one to finish up, that’s for sure.
Frida followed him around quietly, aware we weren’t laughing and playing like usual. I was lost in my head. I raked a path and placed more rocks along the edge. I putzed for ages in the afternoon sun, pruning back junipers, and pinions, pulling away the dead cactus branches. I found large flat rocks and laid them out for the beginnings of a flagstone patio under the eastern facing bus windows. Frida loved this porch deck and spent most of her time watching Mark and I from her bed in the corner. Mark made us some lemonade and we sat in the shade, looking out at the sunset, still silent.
I sighed. It had been a long day. The morning spent at Graham and Anne’s had inspired me and I’d gone straight to the community garden in town and taken more detailed photographs. I’d come back and found Mark playing his guitar in the hammock and instead of joining him. I’d gone inside and printed out the pictures of the donkeys and the trees and the water tanks and everything. I’d gone online and researched what donkeys needed as far as shelter and water and still, I’d been inspired and not intimidated.
Mark listened to me babble as he strummed quietly, the same tune over and over, it drove me crazy. I passed him all the images and described each and every one of them. He knew to wait until the new infatuation wore thin before he pointed out the costs and the reasons to hold off. He drank more of the cold lemonade and ate some chips. Frida begged. I chattered away.
“So what’s Graham like?”
I stopped short. I sat back for a moment.
“He’s odd. I don’t know why I like him, but I do. It’s like hanging out with my younger cousins. He’s trying to impress me somehow but he’s like a big kid, and he can’t quite keep his stories straight. He told me all about the home and the bricks and the gardens and all of this stuff and how he did everything, and only ten minutes later Anne tells me how she did most of the work with her friends because he was laid up with a bad back or something. It’s laughable really.”
Mark nodded. “So I don’t need to be jealous?”
He shook his head, “not really, but you gravitate towards him whenever you can. It made me wonder.”
“Do you want me to step back from them?” I put my glass down.
Mark shrugged uneasily. “No, they’re new friends and we don’t have many to pick and choose from, do we? You could invite them both out here sometime for a grill? What do you reckon?”
He scratched Frida’s back. She rolled belly-up and farted. She sat up in surprise, then realized she must be thirsty and wandered off.
“Yeah, let’s get them over here. Our first official visitors, right? Anne can help with some of my questions; you’ll like her. She’s full of the best stories and information. You can tell she grew up in New Mexico, it all makes sense to her, you know? It’s natural and easy. She even offered to help us if ever we throw a work party for some project around here. She said she’d bring Graham’s teenage boys up to help us out.”
Mark stretched out his long toasted legs and sighed to himself. Frida wandered over and lay down next to me, resting her head on my bare and probably smelly feet. The clouds drifted overhead but no storm was heading this way. I finished the chips and stood to get more from the bus. My tee shirt stuck to my back.
“I wish we had a proper shower.”
He grinned up at me. “Next project? Make a small wooden bathroom with a view of the mountains? The old hippy style?”
He reached for me but I stepped away slightly. I stripped off the sweaty shirt and stood in front of him.
“Well, what are we doing tomorrow?” I dropped my shorts. I stood closer still. “More importantly, what are we doing tonight?”
Mark handed me a glass of red wine, well, a mug of merlot to be exact. Frida curled up between us, finally allowed back to her favorite place in the bus. She snuggled into my armpit and groaned as she wriggled and curled up into a small little lump of fur. I sipped the wine and sighed. This was the life for me. Mark sighed and lit a candle for his cigarette. No moon tonight and the black sky intimidated me. Mark took a swig and refilled his glass before placing the bottle on the floor beside him. The back emergency exit was propped open for the breeze to cool us down. Frida grunted once and fell fast asleep. Mark dozed and daydreamed. I lay happily under the sheet and looked around.
The bus had become a home. My shirts hung off a couple of pegs at the left of me, along with all of Marks. Our shorts and jeans and that kind of thing filled the four drawers. Under our bed, suitcases of underwear and tee shirts were all within grabbing distance. Shelves held a few books and more candles. I’d put up a couple of framed photographs of my family. Mark didn’t want his parents to look down on us in bed so he’d refused to give me anything. The curtains I’d made hung off the southern window, the only one we’d needed to cover. It was the full moon we kept out, not the neighbors’ prying eyes for once. Mark loved to stride around the land buck-naked but for his baseball cap and pair of boots. His lean body shone like toast and butter. Good enough to snack upon whenever I liked.
I nudged him and tried again. He slowly opened his eyes and half smiled. I’d finished the glass of wine and had been thinking. I sat upright and poked him again.
“I’ve been thinking.”
“About what?” His voice was soft and sleepy, nighttime wasn’t the best time for any kind of conversations with him, but I persevered.
“Money. I’ve been doing the budget.”
Mark groaned and turned his back to me. “Not now, Jenny. I mean it, not now. I’ll get a job, I will. I’ll get a job, but can you leave it alone for tonight? It’s getting old and I’m having some sweet dreams about my girlfriend and I don’t want to spoil the mood.” He squeezed his foot between my legs.
He kicked me, gently, but he meant it.
“Okay, okay, not now. But we need to talk about it sometime soon.” I told him firmly.
He kicked me, more of a caress this time, sighed once more, and fell asleep, just like that.
I wriggled out from under the sheet and got dressed in a small dress, more of a huge tee shirt really; it covered me to my knees and kept the bugs off. I climbed over the two sleeping beauties and picked up the rest of the wine and walked outside.
The incredible never-ending stars lit the deck, and I crept quietly to my favorite armchair. The wooden pallet screen to the west side kept the breeze off my legs and I curled up in place. We did need to talk. I’d done the budget in my head and money was flying out too fast. My three shifts at the coffee shop weren’t enough, even here with the land paid off. We still had insurance, gas, food, phone bills, all of that. I was worried. How on earth would we have the money to build a house? Or even finish the other projects first? It seemed everything we did cost money. And I didn’t have enough. Nor did Mark. Not that he cared. He loved being the househusband, writing songs, practicing, and when I was around, working on the place. Something had to change. I sipped the merlot and picked at a scab on my calf. The trees barely moved in the night winds and I relaxed back into the corduroy chair. Frida shuffled out to find me. Her ears perked up as she bounced up onto my lap and curled up in her usual tight ball, the ginger fur bright in that half-light. She grunted once and fell asleep. I drifted off.
“What the hell?”
Frida woke me with a squeal. She quivered and whimpered. I started at the sound. I knew it instinctively. A rattle. A freaking rattlesnake. I looked around, desperate to see where the thing was. I found it fast. In front of us, coming onto my deck was a three-foot rattlesnake. We’d disturbed its plans and it wasn’t too happy with us. It slithered up and coiled itself, staring in my direction, rattling hard and fast. A warning.
“MARK. Get out here NOW.”
I screamed at him, but quietly somehow, low and impossible to ignore, I did it again. Mark stumbled through the bus, flashlight it hand. He almost fell out the door when I stopped him short with a yelp of fear.
I whispered loudly. “Look down.”
Mark looked. Only two feet away the snake had focused on him. It shook and rattled and stared up at the doorway. Mark froze. The snake appeared dark skinned, the mouth was wide open, and the tail didn’t stop flailing this way and that. Its shadow danced on my deck in some parody of the Moscow ballet. Mark looked terrified.
“What am I meant to do?” he whispered.
I almost laughed. My boyfriend stood there naked but for a flashlight dangling uselessly from his one hand, and in the other he held his socks. He glanced over at me but only briefly, as he didn’t dare lose sight of the visitor.
“What do I do?” he whispered again.
“Can I get up? Is there another one?”
“Oh my god, I hope not.” He shone the light around, under and around my chair and across to the steps. “Can you make it? Can you carry Frida?”
We both frantically checked out the whole area. Nothing to be seen, but who knew what was hiding in paradise?
I had no choice. I stood up with the pup in my grasp. Frida stuck to me like a wad of chewing gum on a table. She wrapped herself around my neck with her little legs and wouldn’t let go even when I almost tripped on the sandals and shorts I’d left lying there earlier. Mark groaned in relief as I found my footing and reached up for him to take her. Frida shook as I passed her across and into his arms. I joined her there. The three of us stared at the snake together from our safe spot up the steps. Snakes can’t climb, can they?
Mark shone the light over the deck, checking for more. The snake had uncoiled and stopped its horrible warnings and the other night sounds resumed. The coyotes and the owls spoke up. The snake started to move slowly towards us. Mark kept the light on it. Frida jumped down and I heard her take a running leap on to the bed in the back.
Mark slammed the door. We stared at each other. He spoke first.
We closed all the windows and even reluctantly shut the emergency door by the bed. The bus heated up immediately. The wine tasted perfect. We drank standing up. Frida huddled under my pillow, and whimpered to herself faintly. I started to sweat. Mark put on his boxers and lit up a cigarette. I took a drag and coughed for five minutes. I drank more wine. Mark finally sat down and told me to relax.
“Relax. Are you crazy? You want me to relax? With that out there?”
He started to laugh, doubled up, barely able to catch a breath. I stood there furious with him.
“You think this is funny?”
He glanced up at me and started again, spluttering about the expression on my face with Frida desperately clutching onto me, and how I had my mug of wine held out of her way.
It was the wine, he said, over and over, the way you saved your wine under the pressure of facing down a rattlesnake. Who’d have thought it? He started laughing again, the tears streaming down his cheeks and onto his bare chest and suddenly I gave up. I sat down and cried. I cried and laughed and cried some more.
“What? Oh baby, it’s okay, it’s okay.” He stopped short and stared at me in surprise. He actually looked worried for a moment.
I punched him. “I’m fine, don’t be stupid, I’m fine, I’m just so relieved, I can’t stop.” I grinned up at him and we both began to giggle. I couldn’t stop sniffing and sniggering both.
Frida whimpered under her covers. Mark pulled her out and sat her on my lap, giving her a treat and passing me my wine.
“What do you mean?”
“It’s still out there, Jenny. What are we going to do about it?” Mark pulled on a black tee shirt and sat next to us both. He scratched his head and leaned back against the wall. “What do we do to get rid of it? What if there are more?”
I shook my head. “I can ask at the coffee shop in the morning and see what they tell me. I have no idea about snakes, what makes them come round or go away. Should I take Frida to work with me?”
Mark petted her and nodded. “Yeah, I’d hate for anything to happen to her. I’ll start by getting any trash out, clean up under the deck, find if there are signs of them making a home under us, wouldn’t that be the worst? Shit, I hope it’s just gone on its merry way. Far away.”
I finished the last of my wine. I set Frida on her corner of the bed and nestled back in myself. I blew out the candle. I tucked the sheets up to my shoulders and gave him a small nervous laugh.
“Let’s pretend it never happened, okay? No snake, no rattle, it was just a bad dream. I’m so tired. Come to bed, Mark. Come to me.”
He laughed quietly to himself, stripped down, and climbed in next to me with a happy groan. He curled up around me, covering me with his warm lanky legs and arms. He snuggled against my neck.
“Mmm, home,” he mumbled, “I’m home at last.”