Thursday, July 19, 2007

Forty Three

A week later, Will, Aguilero, Amalia and Diana set out for the McCrary place. Diana sat sullenly on her mare, wrapped in a gray wool blanket. She had made no further protest about the journey and sat passively, moving only enough to stay in rhythm with her horse, and speaking not at all.

They traveled under a leaden sky that grew darker as the morning wore on. Around mid-day, snow began to fall. Abandoning any thought of stopping for lunch, they continued across barren meadows and down rocky forest paths, their clothes becoming dusted with snow, which they shook off to keep from getting damp and chilled.

Only Diana seemed oblivious, and Amalia had to remind her, "Shake the snow off that stupid blanket you're wearing." Then Diana would make a token effort at brushing herself off, only to have the snow pile up again a little while later. By the time the sky cleared in late afternoon, the blanket was frozen into a light crust around her body.

As they set up camp for the night, Amalia chided her. "Are you trying to freeze yourself to death?"

"I'm sitting here in front of the fire, aren't I?"

"Only because Will took you off your horse and put you here."

"What does it matter how I got here, as long as it's what you want?"

Amalia was about to say something else when Aguilero walked over with some damp branches for the fire. "How about I sit with her while you look for wood?"

The request startled her. As senior member of the party, she made the rules, but something in Aguilero's face gave her pause. Amalia nodded, poked a couple rocks out of the fire and wrapped them in scraps of flannel. "I was going to take these to Will, anyway, so he can warm his hands."

As soon as she was gone, Aguilero eased his lanky body onto the ground beside Diana. "I've been wanting to talk to you alone. What happened wasn't your fault, you know." When she didn't answer, he added, "Pepsi was never any good on a horse, and you did try to teach her. It's not your fault I distracted her from practicing."

"Would've mattered if we hadn't gotten lost."

"That wasn't because of you."

"Oh, what do you know about it?"

He toyed with the bracelet on his wrist. "I know you did as much to save her as anyone could've done."

Diana mumbled something and looked away.

"Well, that's what I think, and no one's going to convince me different. Besides, Pepsi thought highly of you. She would've been the first to say it was her fault, not yours."

Diana was about to make a caustic comment, when Aguilero removed his jacket and pulled up his sleeves. His brown arms were crisscrossed with cuts, some of them fresh, others nearly healed, some deep enough that they should've had stitches. One was so raw it was still oozing. "Where did those come from?"

"I did it. I don't know why. I like to use her knife. It distracts me and makes the rest a little easier to deal with." He looked at her solemnly. "You're doing the same thing, just on the inside." He rolled down his sleeves and shrugged back into his jacket. "It's a stupid thing to do."

"Then why do you keep doing it?"

"Why do you?"

Diana didn't answer, and after awhile Aguilero went to help Will build shelters for the night. When Amalia returned with more firewood, she found Diana setting a pot of water to boil so they could have hot drinks. Wisely, she said nothing about this first foray back into usefulness, and Diana did nothing else that night but nibble a bit of pemmican and turn in early. But they all thought perhaps some progress was being made.

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1 comment:

Alice Audrey said...

I'd like to think it was some progress too.