Trista led Dion into the cabin. She began working on rebuilding the fire again. She thought about how she had naturally slipped into the role of working in the house, cooking and cleaning. She had been working on peeling and smoothing a broom handle. She wasn’t sure what she would eventually use for the broom itself, but she would cross that bridge when she came to it. That is how I will have to do most of this life. I’ll just cross whatever bridges I come to, when I come to them. But there was one she was really not sure how she would cross it. As she worked on the fire, she snuck looks out of the corner of her eye at Gaelin, her husband. She was absolutely certain that the ceremony had been binding. She did belong to him, but she didn’t have to like it. A muscle in her cheek twitched and an odd feeling crawled through her insides like a snake in her belly at the thought of him in that bed. She knew what she must do, but her stomach hurt at the thought. She shivered, in spite of the heat of the flames a few inches from her hands. I’m not ready!
Why did he sleep on the floor last night? Was he just uncomfortable with the idea of sleeping with a girl he didn’t know? Ha, maybe he liked to wait until the third date before he started getting it on with his dates. Well, he will find that I am not so easy, even if we are married. Oh gods…Why am I resisting this? It isn’t like I am going to be rescued from this bizarre dream.
She brushed the back of her hand across her eyes as casually as she could while still quick enough to hide a sudden tear. She looked around, but Gaelin had silently left the cabin again. Dion was watching the crayfish in the pot.
His hand hovered over the pot rim, looking like it might try to touch the clicking, beady-eyed creatures. She let that one slide. If he got pinched, it wouldn’t be enough to really hurt him. Trial and error would be a sufficient teacher for now for what not to do. She would show him how to pick them up herself if she had to.
She realized that having Dion to take care of actually made her feel better; not so helpless. She sighed and tried out a smile. The motion felt strange on her tense face. She stood and stretched and smiled again. It still felt a little forced. Oh well. Smiling was never my gift anyway. At least, not that anyone had ever told her.
“Ok Dion,” she said. “Let’s put some water in the pot and put it on the fire.” She took the last of the water from the bucket and added it to the pot, enough to fill it halfway and cover the crayfish. They spun in the current for a second, but as soon as they righted themselves, they came to the surface and used the extra height of the water to reach the rim of the pot and begin pulling themselves out. Oops…
Dion yelled something indistinct and slightly panicked in her ear. She brushed the creatures off the edge of the pot, but after a couple seconds they were at it again. If she tried to cook them like this they would climb “out of the frying pan and into the fire.” Literally. Now she laughed as she pushed a renegade crawdad back into the water. Dion laughed too, this had quickly become a fun game and he crowed with excitement whenever she intercepted another escape attempt. She recalled Dion’s own attempt at getting past Gaelin that morning. Where is he anyway, maybe he could break this up. We are at another impasse at the moment; I need something or someone else on my side.
Trista’s eyes fell on the bucket and inspiration struck. She poured the contents of the pot into the larger bucket. The crayfish swam around on the bottom of the bucket but could not climb the sides. She pulled herself off the dirt floor onto a stool and watched Dion lean over the bucket, fascinated again. He ventured to reach in; he had probably been emboldened by how she had been touching the crawdads with her hands.
Gaelin choose this moment to re-enter the cabin. He looked just the slightest bit furtive, and she wondered what he had been up to.
“Do you know how to kill a crayfish?” she asked.
“Um, not really. I just thought you had to boil them.” he responded. He also went to look in the bucket. “What is the problem?”
“They can escape that small pot when there is water in it”
“Do we have a larger pot?”
“Yeah, but it is much larger.” She pointed out the pot in question, which was at least three times as large as the other, probably holding over two gallons. It would be good for many things, but it seemed like overkill for two pesky little crayfish.
Gaelin apparently agreed. He nodded and suggested, “Well, what if you put them in boiling water one at a time? You could keep them in ok and it will take less time for them to die if the water is already hot.”
She agreed to try it and he left to fill the pot at the stream, since the bucket was already employed as a holding tank.
He really isn’t all that bad. She mused. He is helpful and easygoing, even reasonably intelligent. Who knows if he is actually any good, but at least he hasn’t been a jerk yet.
The boiling water experiment proved successful. After the two crayfish had cooked for a while, they turned from grey-brown to a lighter, pinker color. She strained them out of the cooking water and set them on the table to cool. While Gaelin and Dion waited for their snack to be cool enough to eat, she began working on the real dinner. She knew she really didn’t have many options at the moment. There seemed to be no meat in the cabin and no oil. Truth be told, it looked like the only dish she could really make was oatmeal. At least her family, or whoever had stocked the cabin, had supplied rolled oats.
But she could at least try a few other things. She didn’t have oil, but she had found an old-fashioned hand-mill. She guessed that it was supposed to be used for coffee beans. They didn’t have coffee, but they could make wheat and corn flour with this. She set Gaelin to work with the grinder and a couple handfuls of wheat and a bowl. Meanwhile, she arranged the fire to produce an even heat and worked on her broomstick again. When Gaelin gave her the flour, she mixed it with salt and water and used a flat drying pan as a skillet on the low fire to cook her flat bread. Gaelin helped Dion pull the tail off the crayfish and crack the shells. The meat was white and firm (Trista took a moment from her baking to make sure the crayfish were cooked thoroughly), and Dion seemed to enjoy his portion.
It didn’t seem too long before dusk was beginning to fall and they sat around the table eating bread and drinking water from the stream. Dion sat on Trista’s lap and ate off her plate. This arrangement seemed to work best for the moment, as there were only a couple stools and they weren’t high enough for the three-year-old. It had been a fairly short day, but Trista felt tired enough to go to bed as soon as possible. Dion was also acting sleepy as the meal ended. He squirmed around until she sat him facing her on her lap and he put his head on her shoulder as he had the night before. She took him outside before he dozed completely off and helped him use the toilet, then brought him back and laid him in the trundle bed. She sat tiredly on the bed. Gaelin had disappeared again, but then she noticed that he had taken the dishes she had used with him. Washing them again? And after dark? Responsible of him.
He returned presently with the rinsed dishes and the bucket filled with more water. He set this by the fire and the dishes on the table. He straightened and came to stand in the bedroom door. Trista suddenly felt a pressure on her throat. Dion was asleep in the trundle bed already. Would he want to use the big bed? She would sleep on the floor, she decided.
But Gaelin wasn’t looking at the bed, he had come to watch Dion.
“He is a good kid, isn’t he?”
“Yes, a little quiet still, but a good kid. We could have gotten much worse.”
“Do you think he would wake up if we moved him?” Trista glanced at him questioningly. He explained, “I mean, I was going to sleep on the floor again, and I was hoping to use that blanket again.”
Trista felt a weight leave her shoulders. She wondered if relief showed in her voice when she answered. “I don’t think he will wake up.”
She moved Dion to the bed and Gaelin took not only the blanket but also the small mattress off the trundle bed. It was small, he explained, but it was a little better than the dirt floor. They settled in, and he bid her goodnight as he had before.
“Goodnight to you too.”
And the shadow of the new moon rose, a black disk in the midnight sky.