A Girl Called Jack Cover Photo

A Girl Called Jack Cover Photo

Monday, September 7, 2015

Chapter 9


“Fourteen Feet by six feet.” 

Desi looked over his bowl of grits the next morning and asked, “Huh?” 

“That’s the size of the truck bed we have to work with.  Fourteen by six.  The bed is twenty inches deep without the camper top.” 

“And the topper adds?” 

“Near the cab it adds another twenty inches of height.  At the tailgate it adds thirty-six inches.  Seems like it should be a lot but now that I’m filling it …” 

“We’ll work it out somehow.  Unless you need me for some lifting I’m going to start wrapping the mattresses.  Uh … you sure about …” 

“Dezz you said yourself that the cellar is a good size but it isn’t the Taj freaking Mahal.  The girls will just wind up in the same bed anyway so we take the full size for them to share.  We take the king sized mattress off my parents’ bed so in case all four of us have to be in the same bed for warmth.” 

“Yeah … but what about …” 

Quietly Jack said, “You aren’t Don.  And … and the rest of it will work itself out.  Just don’t … make things complicated.  Not unless we get ready for complicated at some point and both want it.” 

Just as quietly Desi asked, “You sure?  I know I was complaining about the mattresses but … I … I didn’t mean for it to sound like it came out.” 

“You need to stop worrying that I’m going to go off like a Tallahassee bottle rocket.  I’m not the women in your family.” 

“Yeah well … it is taking some getting used to I admit,” he said with a small grin.  “But you know what I mean.  It seems like this is getting more complicated than I ever thought about it being.  Then there is that Josh thing.” 

“There is no ‘Josh thing’ so just drop it.  He left me and never looked back.  The jerk had the nerve to say it was for my own good that he was setting me free.  Like he was doing me a giant favor or something.  Ass.  I thought we were working on forever.  Apparently he was just working on what was easy.  I’m done with him and if I never hear his name again it will be too soon.  Got it?” 

“Got it Chica.  His loss is my gain.”  Upon saying Desi winced.  “That didn’t come out right.” 

For about a second and a half Jack looked outraged then she just looked tired.  “Don’t worry about it.  Let’s just keep going.” 

“Ok, but when I’m finished wrapping the mattresses and getting them tied down I’m going to take a quick creep.” 

Jack looked at him sharply.  “Dezz …” 

“I know Jackalene.  Still, I wanna look one last time.  I also need to make sure that the gates at the back of the subdivision haven’t been blocked off or chained or something.  I doubt they are but I don’t want to drive out of here and suddenly find a hitch in our plan before we’ve even gotten on the highway.” 

It was smart, Jack admitted it to herself, but all she did was nod and try not to watch when after about an hour he told her he was finished with the mattresses and heading out for “wood.”  The girls wanted to know if they were leaving that night why they needed more wood. 

“Because your brother likes to be ready for just in case.  Concha that box isn’t even half full.  Look through the games and books again.  Remember this is all the toys and stuff we are going to be able to take and all you’ll have for a long time.  Lena start bringing me the rest of that stack of Mom’s cookbooks and recipe boxes.  I’m taking these even if I have to tie them to the hood of the truck.” 

“What about all the pictures?  Is there room for them?” 

“Yeah.  The ones from the wall will have to come out of their frames but we’ll squeeze them in.” 

“Even the pretty silver frames?” 

“Would you rather save the pictures or the frames?” 

Lena merely sighed, did as she was asked then went to help Concha pick through some of the books and toys.  “Can we take movies?” she asked a few minutes later. 

“No Lena,” Jack asked on a long suffering sigh.   

“But you’re taking all the family movies that Daddy took?  Right?” 

“That’s different.  There isn’t going to be a tv or electricity to watch them on and they’ll take space we don’t have, but the family movies are … are memories … for down the road.” 

“What about movies for later when the ‘canoes are over?” 

That stopped Jack and she didn’t know exactly how to answer that “later” might be not be until they were too old to even want to watch the movies she wanted to take.  Instead she said, “We’ll have to figure that out when the time comes.  For now let’s just do the best we can.  Though … look, bring over the zipper book that Mom was going to organize the game console stuff in.  No Lena … no way can we take the game console but if you take the games out and put the DVDs in there then … then maybe at some point we can have them to watch.” 

“Down the road?” the little girl asked hopefully. 

“Yeah Squirt, down the road.  Just stick with the Disney’s first, then the Classics, and … and then we’ll have to see how many slots there are and how many we can find room for.” 

A couple of hours later the girls fell asleep after helping to move some of the lighter boxes and totes for Jack to pack.  The temperature was starting to drop and Jack was trying not to worry about Desi being gone so long.  She added a couple of pieces of wood to the fire and set a pot of hamburger soup close to it so it could simmer and be ready to get dumped into the lunch box thermoses that were lined up there as well.  Jack went back to loading things in the truck; if she hadn’t she wouldn’t have heard them. 

“C’mon dumbass.  Help us and we’ll go easy on the chicklets.  Don’t help and we’ll use ‘em long and hard.  Up to you.”  There was the sound of flesh hitting flesh.” 

Then another voice came jogging up.  “No way we’re getting in that front door.  Metal in metal.  It’s this one or a window.” 

Someone trying to sound in charge snapped, “Told you asshats I didn’t want to break any windows yet.  Might draw the neighbors and give ‘em time to organize against us like across the road.  That’s why York ain’t with us no more.” 

Creepers.  Jack was about to count how many when she saw a chisel wedge its way between the frame and side door.  Jack almost cussed but instead grabbed the fourteen pound bulldog sledge hammer she had been trying to find a place for and brought it down on the head of the first creeper through the door.  She heard his noggin pop like a melon.  She kept swinging until Desi grabbed her and said, “Whoa Jack … alto bebe’, alto.  They’re all down.  Stop Jackalene.” 

Jack was breathing hard.  Desi’s arms were around her from behind and his hands were on hers trying to control the swings she was still taking with the sledge hammer.  “It’s ok Jack.  Let me take the hammer.” 

Slowly Jack let go and then ran into the house but was relieved to find the girls had slept through the whole thing.  She turned only to stop in shock.  Desi was covered in blood and at least some of it was obviously his.  “Oh god,” she mouthed without letting a sound passed her lips.  She ran over to him and pulled him into the utility room.  “Did I hit you?!” 

Desi leaned on the washer and asked, “You saying it would take a sledgehammer to take me out?” 

“I’m saying … saying …”  Then she stuck her head down the utility sink and started puking.  She heard Desi grunt in surprise but she couldn’t find the wherewithal to be embarrassed.  All she could do was puke and shake. 

Forty minutes later it was cleaned up … Jack’s puke, the mess she and Desi had made of the creepers, and getting rid of the bodies by dumping them down into the flood way that was running fast and mean from the hard, dirty rain that had started to fall. 

“Dezz …” 

“I’m fine Jackalene.  It’s over.” 

“Then for gosh sake why go back out?  You said all the abandoned houses had been broken into and about half of them trashed.  No telling when the rest of their creeper gang is going to be back.” 

“This was the day crew.  Next crew won’t show up to clean up until almost daybreak tomorrow, if then.  I wanna see what they have stashed in that trailer.  They owe us.” 

“They owe us what?  They’ve already paid with their lives.” 

“Pain and suffering.  They went too fast.  If there hadn’t been so many of them …” 

“Dangit Dezz don’t go all male machismo on me.  You took on six guys with a freakin’ box cutter after they hit you from behind and took the gun.” 

“I got it back.  I wasn’t gonna lose your dad’s gun.” 

“It could have laid there and rusted for all I care!  You … you …” 

“But I didn’t.  You didn’t.  We kept the girls safe.  Sucks for the bad guys but they got what they went looking for whether they knew they were looking for it or not.  But this just means we really gotta get out of here tonight.  They have the whole neighborhood mapped.  They know about you and the supplies.  They said it was Vern that gave you up.  Do you understand what that means Chica?” 

“It means … it means that if Vern was picked up by the National Guard then some of the guards or local cops are probably in on this.  There’s no way it could have gotten to the creepers that fast otherwise.” 

“Good.  You see it.  The who’s and why’s don’t matter though except we gotta go as soon as we can pack up and head out.  But I’m gonna check that stash.  We deserve that much.” 

“But geez Dezz, where are we going to put it?” 

“Depends on what it is.  You just keep packing.  I won’t be long.” 

As he jogged away holding his side where he’d been sliced and kicked by the guy he’d taken out with the box cutter Jack muttered, “That’s what you said last time.”

Chapter 8



 A couple of hours later Jack and Desi were both tired but satisfied they’d made progress.  It was Desi that said, “The trick is going to be getting this stuff packed so that it will fit.” 

Jack agreed and said, “It’s gonna be a jigsaw puzzle that’s for sure.  I know you want to go through some other houses but I don’t know if it will do any good.  We probably still have too much to take even after we finish breaking things down.  I think I’ve got a way figured to make more room in the cab.  We’ll squish the two girls into the center – they’ll stay warmer that way anyway – and then on either end of the back seat and on the floor beneath their feet we’ll fit all that stuff from Dad’s shop.” 

“Yeah, I was thinking the same thing but I want to take one more walk through some of them.  There’s things you brought up that I never thought about.  Cleaning stuff and … er … girl stuff … are only two of them.  And I put another tub of matches I found in the garage on the kitchen table with the other ones.  Did somebody collect matches or something?” 

“Dad.  Sorta.  It was one of the few things he didn’t think you could ever have enough of.  Matches, nails and screws, toothpicks, and those lighters you use with an acetylene torch.” 

“Well he had a point with those lighters.  And the barbecue lighters we’ve found will be useful too.  And what were those things you’re momma put in that hurricane supply box?” 

“Solid fuel tabs.  They’ll boil a small pot of water real fast.  And we’ll need to bring the eco-stove from Dad’s shop some way.” 

“If you’re talking about that rocket stove we will, even if I have to strap it on top of the cab.  I went to visit my mother’s family one time and that’s what they cooked on every meal.  I mean it looked a little different …”  He stopped, obviously thinking.  “I wonder if they’ve cleared away the debris from that house fire.  If they haven’t it is probably full of stuff that I can use … bricks, cinderblocks, just lots of stuff.” 

Before Desi could get wound back up Jack said, “The girls are asleep.  I haven’t asked before now because … well because we’ve had other stuff to focus on.  But that cut below your eye is getting puffy and the one across your nose is too.  They need cleaning.  If I do it will you tell me what happened?” 

“You don’t need …” 

“Yeah Desi, I do.  Like we told the girls, we’re throwing in together.  You mean to do the safety stuff … security I guess … and you came up with the idea of a place that we can go.  You can’t do the job you picked for yourself if you get sick.” 

Put like that Desi let Jack clean the cuts out and told her what had happened.  “You sure the girls are asleep?” 

“Yeah.  Listen.  I can tell when they’re faking and this ain’t faking.  They’ve been at it too long.” 

“Ok … it was that homeless guy.  He tried to track us.  He wanted … wanted Concha.” 

“Geez.  A pervert.  That kind of crap we don’t need on top of all of the other crap.  Where did you leave it with him?  Did he get the message?” 

Desi gave a one shoulder shrug and said, “He slid down into the flood way.  I didn’t see where he came out; the water was moving fast where he went through the ice.  I needed to get back to Concha or I would have taken care of it.” 

Jack heard the hardness in his voice, but it didn’t bother her.  She’d heard the same hardness in her father’s voice when some gang members had started to hang out at her bus stop and he had gotten tired of the cops doing nothing.  He’d set ‘em up.  The gangbangers had taken a fall.  ‘Nuff said. 

“Ok.  Next time though don’t wait so long to clean cuts out.  It isn’t like doctors are that easy to find now, I have a feeling they’re going to be doubly hard to find where we’re going.” 

Desi looked at Jack for a surprised moment then nodded finding dealing with her a lot easier than most of the females that he’d dealt with in the past.  But just in case he changed the subject.  “How long do you think it will take us to get this stuff packed?” 

“I’m going to start on it tonight.  Gonna line the truck bed with blankets and moving pads.  Line the back of the cab where the girls are going to be the same way.  After that comes necessities starting with the food so pick your poison with those foil packets; everything else is getting sealed up.” 

Desi said, “If you got important papers, especially IDs, put them in a backpack and keep them up front with us.  Anything you can’t live without do the same thing in case we have to … to bail out of the truck for some reason.” 

Carefully Jack asked, “You think it is gonna be that bad?” 

“No … but better be prepared just in case anyway.”   

A few hours later Jack was sitting in the dark of the kitchen trying to hide from her anguish and depression.  Desi found her there anyway. 

“You … you ok?” 

“Yeah.” 

“Is … is it going through your parents’ stuff?” 

“Yeah.” 

“Uh …” 

“No.” 

“You don’t know what I was going to say.” 

“You were going to offer to find a bigger truck or a trailer or something like that.  So … no.  If we went to go live with any of the family we’d have to do this.  It’s just getting through it and then Lena crying ‘cause … ‘cause she didn’t realize how much was going to be left behind.  We’ll deal with it.  There isn’t time not to deal with it.” 

Hesitantly, worried that he was pouring salt on an already painful wound, Desi said, “You think you could be ready to leave tomorrow … late afternoon, early evening?  After the Troopers get called in off the road?” 

Jack looked up and saw that Desi was very serious.  “Did another one blow?” 

“Not yet but … but they said that the geysers in Yellowstone are acting funny.” 

Jack’s mind blanked for a few seconds before going into overdrive.  “We’ll be ready one way or the other.  How long is it going to take to get to this place?” 

“Between four and five hours is what it would normally take.  It depends if they are using north bound lanes for south bound traffic.” 

“You sure we’ll have enough fuel to get there?” 

“Yeah.  Maybe just, but I’ve got the reserve gas cans full.” 

“You went out creeping again,” Jack accused.  “You told me it was for wood.” 

“It was for wood.  Then I saw the Mortensens leave.  Their son, the one with the eye patch, came and got them.” 

“They could come back.” 

“Naw.  He had a trailer and they were loading it to the gills and I heard him ask a dozen times if that was it because they needed to go and weren’t coming back.  Mr. Mortensen told him that what was left wasn’t going to be any use to anyone and if it was then the creepers were welcome to it.  I didn’t go in the house … you could smell where they used to have all them cats.  I glanced in the shed and found these cans of fuel.  One of them diesel, other two are regular gas.  I’ve already put Seafoam in them to let it evaporate any water in it.” 

A little reluctantly Jack said, “Fine but we won’t be able to strap those to the outside.” 

“No so we’ll need to leave room near the hatch so we can grab them if we need them without unpacking anything.” 

Jack inserted that into her mental plan and stood up.  “I’m going to leave a tub out for each girl to fill with their stuff.  That’s one of the things that will have to go at their feet.  And if Lena gets to be too much for Concha let me know.  She’s taking this sister thing pretty serious.  She won’t even let the poor kid go to the bathroom without her.” 

Desi shook his head.  “I was gonna say the same thing to you about Lena.  Don’t worry about it.  It’ll work itself out.  Right now it seems to be helping them and keeping them out of our hair so we can work.  Concha was scared all the time and just the little time she’s been with Lena … she’s started talking again.  Not much but some.  Makes me feel better.” 

Jack made a face.  “Lena wouldn’t stop talking.  It’s like she had to fill up all the empty space with sound.  It was driving me crazy because I couldn’t think and listen to her at the same time.  She’s finally started calming down.  Yeah, they’re good for each other.” 

Jack started to walk back to the garage but Desi took her arm.  “Things will work out Jackalene.  Maybe they won’t be like they were but, they’ll be ok.” 

Sighing Jack said, “Things are never going to be like they used to be and that’s not just because the earth is having a major case of acid reflux.  I’ll deal with it.  I’ll be ok.  It’s just going to take time.” 

Desi wondered just who she was trying to convince, him … or herself.


Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Chapter 7




Jack sat down so she would be on Lena and Concha’s level.  “Girls, it’s very important that we be able to trust you.  The more we have to worry that you won’t follow the rules, the longer it is going to take us to get done what we need to get done which means the longer we have to be away from you.  The longer we’re away from you the more we’ll have to worry and the longer it will take.  Get the picture?” 

Lena sighed, looked at Concha then back at her sister before saying, “Yes Jack.  We get it.  We’ll stay in the tent.  We won’t mess with the fire.  We won’t make anything fall over.  We won’t lift the blinds and look out the windows.  Nothing.  We aren’t babies.  Just hurry up and come back already.” 

Jack nodded then got up and waited by the door while Desi told Lena something in Spanish that was too fast for Jack to understand.  When Desi came out he was strung tight.  “What’s up?” she asked him getting slightly suspicious. 

“I wish you didn’t have to help, that you could stay here with the girls.  I don’t like leaving them.  It cut my heart out every time I had to leave Concha before.  Leaving her this time isn’t much better.  You should stay and …” 

“Don’t go muy macho on me Desi.  What should be isn’t and what has to be is.  Let’s just get this done and come back and eat some stew.  The color of the sky is weirding me out.  This is the reddest it’s ever been.” 

Desi tried to hide it but he was just as disturbed as Jack was.  “Yeah, there’s more crap in the air than there was,” he agreed.  “This can’t be good.  It’s making it hard to get a signal on the radio.” Then as they made their way quietly across the neighborhood it started to snow.   

Desi reached out and caught some and then rubbed it between his fingers.  He nodded but didn’t say anything until he’d boosted Jack into the side window of her former boyfriend’s house and climbed in after her.  Jack waited and finally he said, “Snow is dirty.  I think it is pulling down all the junk in the air.  Makes me worried what the girls are breathing … what we’re breathing.  It reminds me of the stories Abuela would tell about when she worked in Coast Rica for a rich coffee farmer and Tarrialba erupted.  Let’s find something to tie across our faces before we do anything else.” 

Jack thumped her forehead with the heel of her hand.  “God I’ve got a serious case of the stupids.  Here, try this.”  From the fanny pack she had at her waist she pulled a couple of surgical masks.  “They aren’t perfect but at least we won’t suffocate.” 

With both admiration and surprise in his voice Desi proclaimed, “This is good.  This is real good.  Where did you find these?” 

“Vern.  They were in one of the boxes of supplies that I traded for.  I think he ripped off some emergency response convoy or something.  You saw some of that food … foil packets that you just tear the top off of and eat it right out of the package with a little wooden spork thingie that is taped to the outside.” 

“Yeah.  We’re going to be living on Spaghettios and Beanee Weenees for a while.  Wait, I didn’t mean …” 

“Relax.  I know what you mean.  But we aren’t.  At least hopefully not for long if you are right and there’s really still food buried where we’re going.  But Lena … and Concha too from the look of it … thought it was real cool food.  What I figure is I can fix breakfast and a good mid-day meal and then we can have a tea and then light supper if anyone is still hungry instead of three big meals.   Big Sunday dinners are going to be out of the picture for a while.” 

“They were never in the picture at our place.  I know the way people used to think but … it wasn’t that way.  The way Abuelita – Uncle Ray’s mother in law – cooked it was basically a free for all.  She cooked a big pot of something and a dump truck full of tamales or tortillas and rice and then she walked away and let everyone fight for their share.  First time your Mom brought sandwiches to the store I thought it was crazy how she kept asking what I wanted and making sure my plate was filled.  I kept looking at your dad to see why she was acting so weird.  Only it turns out it wasn’t your mom that was weird but the crap going on in my house.” 

“Everybody has their own version of weird in their family.  You had yours.  I had mine.  And I guess Josh’s super nice and normal family wound up not being so … so normal and nice after all.” 

Desi heard the crack in Jack’s voice and said, “Josh was no man.  I wouldn’t never … I mean family is family but you two don’t have no guy around to help.  They coulda … shoulda … made room.” 

“No offense Desi but … but I’m just taking it for what it is and moving on.  If Josh could do this the way he did it – family or not – then he wasn’t the person I thought he was.  At least not on my side.  He made a choice.  I’m living with it.” 

Desi who was more used to volatile females kept waiting for Jack to blow but she didn’t and eventually he found that to be a thing to be thankful for because toting all of the stuff they decided to go through back to her house, in the dark, took all of the energy he had.  As they made one more walk through the house he watched Jack paw emotionlessly through the belongings of Josh’s two younger sisters.  Finally he said, “Watcha doing?  Concha has clothes.  From the looks of it so does Lena.” 

Jack nodded in the dark house that was only lit by the faint light from her head lamp that was set on its lowest setting.  “They have clothes now.  If we really are going to have to stay in that hole in the ground for a year then having some things in a bigger size will be important.  We’ll also need things in larger sizes in case we have to layer clothes because of the cold.  Stuff will wear out as I have to hand wash them.  Maybe for guys its different but for girls … going commando is not an option that I want to have to deal with.” 

Desi just looked at her then grinned.  “You’re alright.  I knew you’d be good for Concha ‘cause of your momma.” 

Jack turned and looked at him and said, “Not just the girls.  You need to go through Dad’s stuff and I’ll go through Mom’s stuff.  Dad has a snow suit in the cedar closet from where he would go deer hunting; it should fit you.  And I’ve got the fleece and wool that Mom was going to make blankets out of for the women’s shelter that I can use to make jumpers for the girls.  I just hope that I can find something for me in Mom’s stuff.  Only thing is she lost a lot of weight and my butt might not fit in her clothes.  I know the tops won’t fit.” 

“Er …”  Desi made an odd noise and Jack turned to find that Desi was so red he practically glowed in the dark. 

Jack snorted.  “You think that is embarrassing then stay out of the tub I mark ‘Keep Out’ on or you’ll pass out.” 

It took Desi a moment to figure that one out before blanching and saying.  “Tape it shut.  I had to listen to my cousins running their mouths all the time about PMS and cramps and stuff I don’t ever want to know about.  Thank god Concha is too young for that.” 

“You better hope she is.  You know there were girls in their class at school that were already … maturing in that way?” 

“Uh uh … no way … aw … er …” 

“Breathe.  I got it covered just in case.  Mom was worried about Lena though I don’t think it’s going to be the same for her as it was for me.  I was nine.” 

“Holy crap,” Desi muttered while he tried to fend off knowledge he didn’t want. 

“Yeah.  And they’re both eight.  But they’re small for their age and neither … well you know how it was.  They hung out together because they were still little girls that liked little girl things.  They didn’t get what some of their friends were already into like being boy crazy, make up, sexy clothes.  I was always glad they had each other and … well I wasn’t exactly sorry to see you all go as I thought you were going someplace better to be with family but I was sorry because of Lena … I hope you know what I mean.” 

“I do.  Your parents were why I headed back this way when we got left at the Orlando airport.  But when we showed up there were all these people at the house … and … well I just hid us out instead.  When I figured out what happened I decided to stay hid.” 

“Might have been a good thing you did.  Some of the family isn’t … well …” 

“Yeah.  Don’t sweat it.  Let’s just finish this up.  I didn’t think it would take this long.  I was only going after those tubs.  I didn’t think nothing about looking for cleaning supplies and stuff.  We might need a trailer after all.” 

“Maybe not.  The way Josh’s mom had that food packed has given me something to think about.  Instead of wasting space by leaving food in its original packaging, I think we can put things in Ziploc bags and combining bulk items into tubs – like a tub full of rice, a tub full of beans, that sort of thing – and put soft, squishable things like blankets on the bottom that can be weighed down by heavier things on top … we’re still going to have to leave a lot of things behind that I’d rather not, but there’s no other way.  The thing I need to know though is … mattresses.  We won’t need the whole bed or frame but it will be warmer if we don’t have to sleep right on the floor.” 

Desi blinked then nodded.  “Got some thinking to do but … maybe … hey, you still have any packing straps?” 

“Yeah.  In the garage.” 

“We’ll have to wrap them up real good but we could fill the truck bed then on top of the camper top we could strap down a couple of mattresses.  I don’t know about box springs though.  I can build boxes or some kind of frame for the mattresses to sit on once we get to where we’re going.” 

They each had a garbage bag full of stuff as they made their way back to Jack’s house.  Once inside the girls asked, “Are you going out again?” 

Desi answered, “I gotta bring in the last of the wood and then we’re done.  Concha, mind Jack and help.  We ain’t guests.  We’re all throwing in together.” 

Concha asked carefully, “Like familia?” 

Lena smiled and said, “Yeah, like family.  Isn’t that right Jack?” 

Jack looked up from where she was ladling the girls some soup into mugs and nodded tiredly.  “Yeah, like family.  So make like sisters, wash up, and get over here and eat before it gets cold.  After that you two need to play quiet in the tent because Desi and I have some serious stuff to do.”

Friday, July 31, 2015

Chapter 6


 
Desi had a surprisingly large “stash.”  He even had a refrigerator dolly to move it with.  Jack stood there looking at it and literally scratched her head at the problem she was facing. 

Behind her Desi asked, “You wondering where all this stuff come from?” 

“Yeah, but I’m not gonna ask.  Right now it’s enough that you have it.” 

Desi had been forced to take a break and get in front of the fire to warm up.  He had a warm jacket but that was it.  His gloves were basically just unlined garden gloves and his shoes were his runners and they were wet clean down to his socks. 

He gratefully wrapped his numb hands around the mug of strong, sweet tea that Jack had made and said, “People panicked when Lassen started rumbling and that nut from the USGS committed suicide in the middle of that interview right after saying that Yellowstone was next.” 

“Did you see it?  I’ve heard about it but with all the atmospheric callywumpus going on in the atmosphere the cable kept going out even when the ‘lectricity was on.” 

“Heard it.  Was listening to the weather channel on the radio and they were piping the show on there so more people could hear it.  I think they thought the guy was going to calm everyone down.  Had the opposite effect.” 

“Yeah,” Jack agreed.  “What they get for expecting things.” 

“True dat.  Like within an hour I saw people start to pack up and haul out.  They’ve continued doing that the worse things get. 

“They don’t want a repeat of what happened in Washington State.  Told everything was alright and a couple of hours later get swallowed up by those lahars, mudslides, and pyroclastic whatchamacallits.  Though where they think they’re going I don’t know.” 

“South.” 

“South?!” Jack laughed cynically.  “There’s not exactly a lot of ‘south’ from here.” 

“Enough,” Desi said shrugging.  “At least enough to make people think they’ll get their little piece of it. It isn’t land so much as all the other stuff … water, food, places to park people in for a long time.  From what I’ve heard it is worse than a hurricane evac down there now.” 

Jack shook her head.  She could only deal with the problems before her, she couldn’t do anything about the problems of snowbirds that didn’t have the sense God gave the ants.  “How much more of this is there Dezz?” 

“Not much.  And don’t worry about whatever it is you are trying to figure out how to say.  I know some of it is going to get left behind.  I’d like to try and take everything that was in Concha’s suitcase but it doesn’t have to be in the suitcase if you know what I mean.  The luggage don’t mean nothing and is pretty cheap.  But her clothes and the few other things she got to keep from … from our old life.  I’ll give up some of my …” 

“Easy Desi.  There’s things I want to take too that we’ll probably be leaving a lot of behind, especially if we don’t take a trailer.  Before we start saying what goes or what stays we should move everything in here and try and group it into categories and then go through it to see what we need and then see if there’s any space left for wants.  Kind of like Dad and your Uncle Ray did for job sight supplies and tools.” 

“Sounds like you’ve been thinking about this for a while Chica.” 

“Yeah.  Uncle Merle put me on the path … not for the reasons we are doing it but because Dad’s life insurance policy had lapsed and Mom’s medical stuff had eaten up almost all of the savings they had.  I had no idea how bad things were until … until it was too late.  That’s why the trailer and tools got sold … to pay bills.”  Thinking about that too much came close to making Jack lose her “unfeeling” so she changed the drift.  “When you bring that stuff in, if there’s time before we have to go get the stuff from … from Josh’s house, maybe you could help me bring in the cases of jars that mom put in the guest bedroom closet.” 

“Jars?  For … for storing stuff in?” 

“No.  You remember that year your aunt taught those classes on artisan bread at the extension office?” 

“Yeah?” 

“When Mom took your aunt’s class she also started taking some other classes.  As a result she got into baking and cooking from scratch and also canning and preserving foods and stuff like that.  It started out being a way for her to help herself to get better from the first go around with the cancer but it turned into a major health kick for the whole family.  Then when I got laid off from the grocery store it was like the start of our downhill slide.  Dad wasn’t getting as many contracts for the store.  Fuel costs were going through the roof.  And then all of those stupid EPA and FDA rules hit us.  On top of it they started rationing electricity and whole blocks would get turned off at night.” 

“Yeah.  I was here for that.  Then the first volcano blew.” 

“Yep.  The crapstorm was just getting piled higher and deeper.  Mom decided we were going to empty the freezers here at the house and at Dad’s store rather than risk losing anything.  The grocery section was always a loss leader for the hardware store anyway but it attracted a lot of visitors from the lake … campers, fishermen, that sort of thing.” 

“I remember.” 

“Well maybe you didn’t know the health department said Dad couldn’t sell anything out of the coolers anymore – right around Christmas too – because they said the coolers weren’t up to code.  Dad was pretty upset because he’d just started carrying the frozen meats and stuff that people had been asking for and was stocked to the gills in the walk-in.  It was Mom who said ‘screw ‘em’ and she and I … and Lena helped some too … started canning and drying all that stuff.  Mom was a little crazy about it, talking strange, and I didn’t know what was going on but was humoring her because her yearly was coming up and I thought the wiggy-ness was about that.  Turns out she’d already had her yearly and the news was pretty bad.  She was stage 3 and heading fast and hard to stage 4.  Of course I didn’t find that out until after the wreck.” 

“Aw Jackalene … I … I didn’t mean to … bring up …” 

Jack shook her head.  “You didn’t.  Just explaining where stuff came from and how it is actually your aunt we have to thank for it in a way.  Strange.  Your aunt helped Mom back then and now you’re helping me now.”  Jack shook her head again like she was trying to shake off all the feelings that were trying to get some attention. 

“Yeah, well your Mom and Dad helped me out too.  Uncle Ray was a good guy in his own way.  Tried real hard most of the time.  But he wasn’t my dad and he had all his own kids and grandkids that needed a piece of him.  And Don caused a lot of problems.  It was your dad that got Uncle Ray to give me a chance working for him.  For a long time Uncle Ray kept thinking I was going to be just like Don.” 

“Don is the last person you are like.  I … I’m sorry … I don’t remember your dad much.  He just always seemed to be working.” 

“Yep.  Pretty much.”  Desi shook off his own feelings and stood up.  “I’m gonna go get the rest of my stash.  Thanks for the dry socks.  I mean …” 

“Dad wouldn’t like for his stuff to go to waste.  You know how he was.  You don’t use it, wear it, or eat it quick enough he’s going to try and give it to someone that could get some use out of it.” 

“I heard that.  I lost a hat that way by forgetting to come get it.” 

With a small smile Jack said, “Whoops.” 

Desi returned her small smile with a small one of his own.  Neither smile was totally real but it was a sign that they were trying and that meant they were doing better than a lot of people left in the area.