Thursday, July 5, 2007

Twenty Nine

Alone at the mines with the young men gone, the girls grew restless. Diana chafed at being banned from town for no reason she could see. The lack of snow meant she and Sachi could still give riding lessons, but there were days when the wind blew so harshly that they preferred the shelter of the tunnels.

With long, dull winter days on their hands, they prepared their gear for spring.

When they ran out of feathers and shafts for making arrows, they huddled around the cooking fire and used spent bullet casings to make arrow tips and shrapnel for bombs. When the casings ran out, they repaired bridles and rubbed tallow into saddles and harnesses.

When the limits of these possibilities had been reached, they settled in with wool and knitting needles, or set to work softening hides from the fall hunting. Pepsi, who could never get warm enough, stitched rabbit pelts into her jacket, while Tiffany and Ikea carded wool and spun it into yarn with their drop spindles as they sat at the open mouth of the mine, gazing out at the winter landscape and speculating on spring, spies, and when the boys would be back.

"How long does it take to build a bridge, anyway?" Ikea asked.

Diana was knitting a scarf while she helped Macy with her reading. "I suppose it depends on a lot of things, but as long as they don't run into any problems, I bet they'll be done soon."

"I'm glad I'm not out there working all day in the cold," Pepsi said. She hit a tough patch of hide, forced the needle through, and succeeded in stabbing her finger. She frowned at the spot of blood and stuck her finger in her mouth. "These mines may be smoky, but they're warm."

"It's not the mine keeping you warm," Ikea said. "It's all that fur. You're starting to look like a great big rabbit."

"Whatever works, right? Besides, fur is what rich people used to wear."

"And now it's what poor people like us wear.” Diana examined her scarf. "Auntie says only rich people used to wear cashmere, but we have no trouble getting it, now that we know where the right goat farms are. I wonder what else we have that only rich people used to have."

"Horses," Sachi offered. "Clean air."

"I’d gladly trade all that for an old-fashioned house in town," Pepsi said. "Then I could have light everywhere, heat in winter and cool in summer just by touching a few buttons."

Some of the other girls nodded in agreement.

"Electricity every day, just like Grandma used to have. That would be nice."

"Hot water whenever you wanted it, right out of a faucet."

"Hey," Tiffany said, looking up from her wool, "Maybe we could listen to the radio while we work. I don't think Harley is using it this afternoon."

"That's a good idea," Diana said. "If we hear any coded messages, Macy can write them down."

Macy looked up from her book. "Don't count on me to write down anything important. We'd all be dead before I could figure out what punctuation marks to use."

"That’s easy," Sachi said, setting aside the cap she had been crocheting. "If it's urgent, use lots of exclamation points."

While Sachi and Tiffany got the radio, Macy resumed her reading, with Diana looking over her shoulder. Amalia had picked up a copy of Aesop's Fables on one of her visits to town, and they were reading about the fox and the grapes.

Macy giggled. "Boeing acts just like that fox."

"We need to find you a proper boyfriend," said Pepsi.

"I'm not the sort of girl boys settle down with," Macy said with a sigh. "I'm going to try to be more like Diana and not need a man."

"Every girl needs a man eventually," Tiffany said.

"Besides, Diana does too have a man," Sachi added.

Diana frowned. "What are you talking about?"

"Will, of course."

"He's my brother. He doesn't count."

Sachi raised her eyebrows and returned to fiddling with the radio, trying to pick up a signal.

"I thought you had a man, anyway," Ikea said, looking at Macy. "I heard Coyote gave you a box of chocolate before he left to work on the bridge."

"When a man gives expensive presents, it's because he's been up to no good. I ain't stupid. He's got himself a town girl, but wants me to stay available."

"I wouldn't be so sure about that," Pepsi said. "None of the boys ever seen him go off anywhere, with or without a girl."

"Then why does he go to town so much? Just to drink?"

"Doesn't do much drinking, either."

"Then what...?"

Pepsi shrugged, embarrassed to find all the girls looking at her. "I don't know what he's up to, but they say he has big plans."

Diana frowned. "He's not a spy, is he?"

"No," Macy said. "I can tell you that for sure."

Pepsi agreed. "He's no spy. But I hear he wants to buy a house or start a business."

"What's that got to do with going to town at night?" Diana asked.

"Poker. They say he's good and wins a lot of money."

"Then why does he always ask me for credit?"

"And who's this 'they'?"

Pepsi blushed. "Before he left to work on the bridge, me and Aguilero used, after riding practice."

"I wondered how you could spend all that extra time at the practice field, but never get any better.”

"Be careful," Sachi said. "If he's not willing to marry you, it's not worth it to have his baby." She bent over the radio and turned up the volume. She had finally located a frequency that wasn't all static. It was only a weather report out of the valley, but the girls moved in to listen, pleased to hear a voice from the outside world.

After the weather report, the announcer gave the local news: births, deaths, weddings, train schedules and shipments due.

"Doesn't he have any real news?" Diana asked.

"He must be a neutral," Tiffany sniffed. "They never say anything useful."

"And don't forget the big fiesta Friday night," the announcer said. "...honoring Elvia Mendoza-Smith, who turns seventy-five this Friday. Happy Birthday Elvia! If you know her, or even if you don't, come on down to..."

"Hey," Diana said. "That's a good idea."

"You want to go to a party for some old lady we don't even know?"

"No, but we can have a party of our own. It's something to do, right?"

"I guess so," Sachi said.

"What would we celebrate?" Macy asked. "Is anyone having a birthday?"

"I don't know. Let's say it's Sputnik's birthday. I'm sure he had one sometime."

"We can say that about any of us."

"Can he make it all the way up here?"

"No," Diana said, "We'll have to go there, to town."

"I thought your aunt didn't want you going to town," Sachi said. "Are you sure the Varamendi woman won't mind?"

"She can join us. It'll be fun for her, too."

"We'll need gifts," Tiffany pointed out.

"He can have my chocolate," Macy offered. When the other girls stared, she added, “I can't enjoy them, since I don't trust Coyote's motives for giving them to me. It's better to give them to someone else."

"You could give them to us," Ikea said.

"Sputnik will share," Diana said. "What else should we take?" She looked around, as if the bare, functional room might hold treasures she had previously failed to notice.

"I'm almost finished with this scarf," she finally said. "I guess I could give it to him. My old one works well enough for me."

"Think he could use a cane?" Pepsi asked. "I found a nice branch last week that looked to be just right for that sort of thing."

"How long would it take you to get it ready?"

Pepsi looked out the mouth of the mine toward the gray winter sky. "If it stays too cold and ugly for riding practice, I could sand it down in a day or two. It's nearly perfect as it is."

"I found a brass handle in one of the tunnels," Ikea offered. "We could use that on the cane, couldn't we?"

"I'll paint it when it's finished," Tiffany said.

Sachi pondered. "I'll cook some empanadas."

"Make those ones with the raisins and piñon nuts," Diana said. "Everyone likes those."

The other girls chimed in to agree, and soon they had a plan.

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Alice Audrey said...

Sounds like harmless fun. I take it that isn't the case.

Ann (bunnygirl) said...

Other than ruining her life for the next year, sure, it's just harmless fun.

If the slow build-up is boring you, feel free to skip ahead to the Birthday Party chapter.

Alice Audrey said...

No, no. I'm good.