Book Excerpts

FROM HUACHUCA WOMAN

Our lives cycled through the seasons of Mother’s vegetable patch and the comings and goings of the hands. One year, Francisco come back from Mexico with a donkey cart and a wife. Him and Manuela moved into the old lean-to ‘cause we had a real house by then. An adobe two roomer. That’s the one where me and William Ebert slept up in the loft of the main room.

    *   *   *

I was getting on about nine years, small to my age, when I met Geronimo. Happens it come about this way. Winter of 1885-86 was bitter cold and bitter long. Seemed like it was one skin eating blizzard after another in our mountains that had the cold reaching over the high desert plains to our place. Manuela and Francisco moved into our house to save on fuel and to keep him and Papa from losing themselves going back and forth to tend stock.

Come a thaw and a band of Chiricahua Apaches come to the edge of the barnyard. They was a scraggly bunch, more’n usual. Five men, three squaws and a passel of scrunched up kids. Anybody could see they was near starved. Mother and Manuela set to making a batch of biscuits and thinning down our pot of beans to stretch.

Papa and the leader palavered a while, smoking a pipeful. Francisco stayed back a ways, Papa’s Winchester cradled in his arms and aimed right at Geronimo. If things went bad, he was to get the worst of it. His men stood alongside, but the women and kids hung back, quiet and solemn like.

Well, now, William Ebert and me got tired on waiting for the grownups to settle their business. We hadn’t seen no kids since autumn provisioning in Bisbee. We edged around the men to where the kids seemed to be of the same idea as us. Two boys about my brother’s age and a girl maybe some older than me. Their moccasins was shredded and their blankets looked thin as baby’s breathe. The girl reached out to touch my hair and the bones of her wrist was skinnier than a lizard’s eyebrow.

“Josephine, you young’uns git back here and help with the serving,” hollered Mother.

I sidled over to Papa and Geronimo with two bowlsful. William Ebert carried spoons and Mother’s biscuits. The leader ate only after he saw that his women and children were took care of.

*   *   *

I watched him careful like. He wasn’t as big as Papa but you knew he was the one in charge, sure enough. He didn’t dress so different or wear anything special. Just tall moccasin leggings, a deerskin breechcloth, a townie’s old black coat with a rag wrapped around his long haired head. He moved different from the others, like Papa out working the hands. Boss like.

“Yellow Flower,” he said, and smiled at me. He reached out to touch my head and I heard Mother gasp, way behind me. I just smiled back up at him and moved closer to Papa.

 

FROM BY GRACE

Albany 1898

Grace intended to shut her eyes for just a few minutes when she put her head down on the desk. Hours fled by when fatigue won out over intentions. Spilled ink matted the long golden hair and puddled on the ledger entries.  Fanciful doodles along the border of the page had not gone untouched by the spreading flow. Her pen nib was crushed beneath one foot. Bills and invoices lay scattered on the floor around her chair as though tossed by a whirlwind. Frost clung to the window above the desk, encouraged to form by the now dead fire in the Franklin stove. The kerosene lamp flickered and went out.

“Gracie…Gracie. Please, Grace,” sounded a voice from the next room.

She stirred ever so slightly. Fingers twitched against her will.

“Gracie,” now came stronger.

Eyelids fluttered and opened. Grace Elizabeth Pelham drew offending fingers to her nose and scratched roughly. She stifled a groan on spying the muck of hair and ink.

“Gracie, we must talk.” Her father’s weak voice melded into a series of coughs, each increasing in volume and strain.

“Coming, Daddy. I’m coming.” Grace pulled herself to a sit, held the long strands of ink-dyed hair at arm’s length with one hand and, with the other, massaged her sore neck. She pushed away from the desk and made her way to the kitchen sink. A ragged wet towel caught up much of the ink when she swiped at her hair. Grace quickly twisted the hair atop her head and hoped the clip would hold it all in place, hiding the damage from her father’s seeking eyes.

“Here, I am, Daddy.” Grace entered the fetid bedroom, trying not to gag or wrinkle her nose at the smell of decay and death that hung in the little room. She dipped a rag in the basin sitting on the marble stand next to the bed and wiped her father’s brow. “Rest a bit from your cough. We’ll talk when you catch your breath.”

Her father pushed at her hand and its’ rag. “Now, talk,” he whispered feebly and went into another spasm. Grace knew better than to press him or he’d struggle harder. She sat down in the old captain’s chair, remained still and looked out at the city of Albany spread below her. Dawn was just breaking to the east.