Gone Missing, can’t be found… Chapter 6

I stoked the woodstove and got it roaring. I peeled and cut the potatoes and carrots and set them to boil on the stove and added sprinkles of this and that from little tins lined up on the back of the stove, some were marked, some weren’t, but I hoped their contents would be tasty mixed together. This was not much for dinner but I couldn’t find much else to throw in. There was a small wooden ice box but it was empty, warm and dry inside; it hadn’t seen ice in a while. Hesitant to use anything from the cellar, I decided to go exploring. After checking all the exterior walls once again, hoping for a place I might fall through, I discovered a large garden out back, nicely fenced in and bulging with end-of-the-season veggies. Overgrown zucchini and tomatoes were obvious without even opening the decorative wire gate. The meadow beyond was wide open now, and between the house and the barn, which in my time were separated by trees and more distance than one would put between themselves and the barn, was another house. This one was newer, had a clapboard exterior, though showing signs of age with peeling white paint and faded blue trim. I hesitated and decided against exploring any farther. The next person to see me dressed this way may not be as accepting as Martha.
I went through the gate into the ripe garden and nosed around. I needed to go find a basket but picked a couple of fat zucchinis to take in. I wondered if the Petersons had ever made zucchini boats. Smiling over this I was totally unprepared for the challenging voice that stopped me cold.
“Okay, you’re caught, now c’mon out of there!”
I raised my hands, a zucchini in each of them, like I had a gun pointed at me. I turned to face my accuser. “I’m just getting veggies for dinner. The Petersons should be home soon. I wanted to surprise them.”
“I think you’re stealing what you can BEFORE they get home.”
“No sir, I’ve already got the stove going and potatoes boiling. You can go check.” That’s when I noticed the chicken.
Charlie had been startled too. He was so intent on chasing a mouse through the lettuce he didn’t hear this man’s approach. Now my good guard dog did his low, cautious growling noise. I wasn’t sure if it was directed toward the man or the chicken. The man carried the limp dead thing by its feet; probably only moments ago it was catching bugs in the tall grass somewhere.
“I saw you poking around, kinda nervous like. Didn’t want to get caught, I ‘spect.”
“I was just looking around, not poking. Do you live in that house?”
“If you knew the Petersons you’d know I’m Martha’s brother living next door.”
“Well, I don’t know her well, it’s a long story. And I haven’t met her husband but she did me a big favor and I’m just trying to repay her.”
By this time Charlie was going nuts over the dead chicken and the man was clearly getting annoyed. I set the zucchinis down and shushed Charlie.
“I’m Sally. It’s nice to meet you.” I offered my hand for a friendly shake over the fence.
“I’m Ray. If you want to be helpful and make dinner, take care of this.” He thrust the dead thing into my extended hand and walked towards the house. I hoped he didn’t see how shocked I must have looked. I didn’t have a clue how to clean a dead, fully feathered chicken.
*****
The Peterson’s wagon slowly came into view, coming from the direction of town on the dirt road along the tracks. I had more time to think during their slow approach. I was sulking a little bit, trying to stay out of Ray’s way. I finally had to ask about cleaning the chicken. He’d looked at me like I was from another planet; he had no way of knowing I kinda was. When I was done plucking and cleaning Ray said, not very nicely, “Now go fry it.” Once inside I did find a nice cast iron skillet and got the chicken cut up but didn’t know what to fry it with. Ray came in to read the newspaper at the table and figured out what I was looking for. He got up disgustedly and brought down a greasy looking can from above the stove and banged it down. Yep, pure lard.
I gathered salad fixings and had everything ready now, a nice, healthy, organic dinner, all except for that lard. Ray wasn’t interested in moving so I could set the table, so I went out to the front steps to wait. Charlie stayed inside. Though still leery of the gruff man, the smells and potential handouts in the cabin outweighed the risks.
I’d done everything I could think of to ingratiate myself to these folks. I was a little ashamed of this. Under these circumstances I had no choice. I’d do something later, out of the goodness of my heart, but now I needed help. I had $1.65 in my pocket, was wearing a man’s flannel shirt and L.L. Bean boots almost a century out of time. Besides Charlie that was the extent of my possessions. Just as Earl and Martha came into shouting distance Ray came out on the porch, Charlie ventured out behind him to see what was happening.
“I wondered if you’d be back.” Martha said as Earl brought the wagon to a halt. It was hard to read her expression.
“I promised I would. I wanted to thank you for all your help and return your clothes. I don’t know what I would have done without them.”
“And I see you got your Charlie back.” Ray stepped out to help Martha down and Charlie went right over and jumped on her. Just great.
“This is her, Earl, the woman I told you about.” Martha said over her shoulder to Earl, though looking straight at me. “Still figuring what her real story might be. Sally, meet my husband, Earl. I reckon you’ll be moving on now…”
“No,” Ray cut in. “She’s gone to a lot of trouble to make dinner for y’all, split wood, cleaned the cabin. I’m guessing there’s something else she must want.”
Charlie stepped right up to Ray, looked him in the eye, and commenced growling. Inside so was I.

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