Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Twenty Eight

Winter settled in with wind and bitter cold, but little snow.

"Looks like another drought year," the older members of the group muttered among themselves as they went about their camp chores. "No snow in the mountains means no runoff into the valley in spring."

The prospect of spring water shortages was especially worrisome to the townspeople, who didn't have the freedom to pick up and move on. Amalia visited with Señora Varamendi in her kitchen each morning when she went to nurse Robert. "I can manage okay with one or two dry seasons," the old woman said. "Unitas compensates me for my support, and I don't need much at my age. But some of the other gente in this town are not so well off. Tell your people that if the snow and rain don't come, we will be vulnerable."

Amalia knew she meant vulnerable to political pressures and not just to the hardships of starvation and water shortages. "I'll tell them," she said.

Robert was growing stronger on stolen antibiotics, milk thistle, and Cristela Varamendi's good cooking. His skin had lost its yellowish cast and he could sit up without pain. With the aid of a crutch, he could even walk a little.

Every few days, Diana came to town with Amalia to sit by his bedside and read to him or just talk. Sometimes they shared memories of their lives before Unitas. Robert seemed to have no end of amusing and wistful stories about his mountain village where everyone still tried to live like the wealthy ski barons they had been two generations before. “It’s a nice dream-world up there, but I worry that they’re becoming inbred,” he told her. “They all marry their cousins so they won't have to hear any new ideas. They’ve got enough hoarded wealth to last another generation, but after that, who knows? I think by then they’ll have lost their ability to live any other way.”

For her part, Diana shared everything she could remember about her family's Valle Redondo farm. She hadn’t spoken of her childhood to anyone since the day she buried her mother and grandparents. These conversations nearly always ended with her in tears. Robert would then dry her eyes with the edge of his quilt, and they would play cards or he would try to teach her chess.

She played with such a reckless lack of strategy that he usually gave up in exasperation after a while and asked her read to him instead. Sometimes after they had been silent for a long time, Amalia would peek around the corner and find them holding hands, not saying anything at all.

One day she walked in to find Diana curled on the bed with him as she had done so often with Will, talking quietly about nothing in particular, her head pillowed on his chest.

"You shouldn't do that," Amalia told her afterwards.

"He said it was okay."

"You don't want him getting the wrong idea."

"But Will and I--"

"Maybe you shouldn't. You're not ten years old any more."

"I know what I'm doing."

"You don't act like it. Are you in love with Robert?"

"What kind of question is that?"

"It's the question I'm asking you."

Diana refused to answer. Worried for her, for Robert and for Will, away helping build the new bridge, Amalia began finding excuses why Diana couldn't visit any more.

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Alice Audrey said...

Diane really is naive. Poor Robert and Will. I'm understanding Amalia's earlier reaction better, though I think instead she'd have been better off letting the guys see how simplistic Diane is.

Ann (bunnygirl) said...

It's true Diana is naive when it comes to romance, but consider the life she's lived and the type of people she's been around. Guys like Boeing aren't exactly subtle, and she thinks crude, direct come-ons are the normal way a guy indicates interest.

Robert is cautious, unwilling to wear his heart on his sleeve or make any kind of direct move unless he's sure he won't be rejected. Diana hasn't yet learned to recognize subtlety. There's also some denial of her own feelings going on here.

Alice Audrey said...

How old is Robert? I thought at first that he was Amalia's age.

Ann (bunnygirl) said...

Patton and Miguel are Amalia's age, but Robert is twenty-six.