Never Again, Forever
Charles Dickens be damned: Rose Stanton knew she was living in the worst of times. "This wasn’t supposed to happen. For years we were told, promised, that the world had learned from past mistakes, that it would be impossible for this to happen. They keep saying ‘never again’. When the hell is ‘never again’ going to really mean ‘forever’?"
She balled up the shirt in her hand, wanting to crush it, then threw it against the wall. "How the hell long will we be living in a house of cards? How could they let this happen when everyone saw it coming?" Pressing her back to the wall, she slid down it until she sat on her haunches, staring blankly as she fought another round of tears. Barney tilted his head, watched her, whined in reply. Allowing a love smile to poke at one corner of her mouth, she reached out for his head, held it, kissed him between velvet ears. "So much for all those smart people, right? The one thing I know for sure; there will always be laundry to do."
The laundry was in three piles. At one time, Rose would have separated by color, by weight of the material, by the amount of dirt in the clothes. Today, she filled the laundry sink with water, added a spoonful of soap, and dropped the boys’ work clothes in to soak. The second pile she slipped into the washing machine, set it for a cold water quick wash, and checked her watch before she pushed the ‘start’ button. The third pile she gathered in her arms and carried to the table.
The kitchen door slammed shut.
"Boots!" she shouted across the room. "Get them off. I don’t have time to be washing floors today." She held up a towel, examined it, and folded it, adding it to the growing pile.
Todd stuck his head around the corner, a sheepish grin on his round face, then lifted a socked foot up as proof he had complied. Rose grimaced as she saw the hole. He tried to hide it by curling up his toes.
"Is it lunchtime yet?"
She smiled back, giggled at the predictability of the question, and stretched to kiss her son on the cheek. "Almost. Did you get the work done outside?"
With a strong, confident step, Todd strode to the fridge, grabbed the pen dangling from a worn piece of ribbon, and scratched some numbers on the pad of paper stuck by magnet to the door. "You don’t have your laundry times down here yet."
"Twenty-six minutes for the load that’s in right now. The next one will be thirty-eight." She knew the look he threw her. "The clothes were really dirty. They were your work clothes and they need the extra time. Don’t worry. We won’t run short."
"It’s just that the generator only stores so much, and we don’t want to run short when the wind goes down."
"I know, son. I won’t run anything else today, other than the fridge. Thank God... and you... we still have a fridge."
Todd hung his head, shuffled to the sink to fill the kettle. "Sorry, Mom. I know you keep track. It’s just…"
"I know, too, Hon. It’s an adjustment for all of us." She folded another towel. "The biggest adjustment is going to be for Grant to remember that towels don’t need to be washed when they’ve only been used once. The same with his regular clothes. He wears them for an hour and throws them in the hamper. It has to stop." She stared at the towel in her hand, lost in thought, chewing on her bottom lip.
"I’ll remind him, Mom. You don’t always have to be the one to make us toe the line. We’ll figure out the laundry thing."
She beamed her pride at him. "We will. Make sure you put the kettle back on the wood stove. We’ll need more wood in, too."
"I’ll take care of the firewood. Don’t I always? Now… lunch?"
The door slammed again.
Amid a string of muttered oaths, one heavy boot thumped onto the floor around the corner. "Where the hell do you want me to leave these clothes? They probably should be washed right away, or rinsed anyways."
Rose gave Todd a curious frown, dropped the shirt she was folding, and headed towards the door. The sight of her oldest son made the blood race to her feet. Her hand clamped tight to her mouth, either stifling a scream or containing a tsunami of nausea. She felt Todd’s hands on her shoulders, knew he was standing behind her. His breath was warm, reassuring on her neck. "What the hell…?"
Each movement deliberate, Grant unbuttoned his shirt, pulled it off and dropped it to the floor. His t-shirt was also blood-soaked. His trousers dripped crimson. He was an old twenty-two-year-old, his jaw set, teeth clenched, eyes piercing. "I need to get a clean uniform, then get back to work." He looked into his brother’s face, defiant, then to his mother’s and softened slightly. "I tried to stop him. There were rumors running all over town, so I was trying to keep an eye on him." He shrugged. "I just couldn’t be everywhere at once. As soon as the call came in, I knew.
"Oscar Brownleigh’s been struggling. His store went tits-up, the bank was foreclosing on him, and his kid, the youngest one…."
"Tammy?" Rose’s could barely get the name out.
"Yeah, that’s it, Tammy. She was just diagnosed with lymphoma. It was too much." He shook his head, moved into the kitchen and dropped onto a chair. His hands rubbed at very short-cropped hair, a futile attempt to massage away the headache Rose knew was there. "We got the report of a gunshot. I knew. I just fucking knew." An oath worthy of admonishment, one her boys took care not to use in her presence, Rose let pass without comment. She knew Grant would hate himself for letting it slip, and it was extra baggage he didn’t need. If his father was still alive, then… if…
"I got over there, tried to talk to him. Kris and Tammy were already dead. I knew by looking at them. The two boys, though, Jackson and Philip… there might have been a chance to save them. He had already shot them, too, and they were bleeding like crazy, but if I just could have talked him down, we could have helped them all."
Rose pulled out a chair, slowly lowered herself to sit facing her son, held his hands in hers, ignoring the blood. "You can’t keep doing this, Grant. This is killing you inside."
Grant looked deep into her eyes. "Mom, we both know I have to keep this job. I’m one of the few who still has a regular paycheque. These people here need help. Things are going to get a hell of a lot worse before they get better. They need someone to help them, someone they can come to and trust. Who the hell else can they trust?"
He stood, loosened his belt and headed towards his bedroom. "I’ll get some clean clothes on. It freaks people out to have the local cop walking around like this. I’ll drop the dirty ones in to soak, and then maybe a quick bite?"
"There are already clothes soaking in the back. I’ll take care of them and get some water ready for these. They need to be on their own to soak, but I’ll wash them with the others." Rose pulled Todd’s head down to her level, planted a kiss amidst his wild, red hair. "Be a good boy. There is some soup in the cold room. Put it on the woodstove, then cut some of the fresh bread from this morning. I’ll be right back."
She trotted towards the laundry room, but stopped in the doorway. Pleading eyes turned towards both boys. "We can’t let this happen to us. We have to remember that nothing… nothing… is worth taking our own lives. It’s just money and possessions that are the problem. We can manage. Come hell or high water, we can manage."
"You know that old metal storage bin out back?" Todd asked. He ate half a slice of bread in one bite.
"That ugly brown thing under the weeping willow?" Rose fiddled with her spoon, dipping it into her soup but not eating any. She felt Grant’s critical eye on her and took a small taste, then smiled at her oldest boy.
"We need a place to store all the stuff from the garden, so I thought I could turn it into a root cellar."
Grant laughed, mocking. "It’s hotter than the hubs of hell in there in the summer, and it freezes solid in the winter." Patronizing and superior in voice, he shook his head and tacked a patient smile on his lips. "News bulletin: a root cellar is supposed to be in the ground, stupid."
Todd’s eyes narrowed. "I know that, dumbass, so why don’t you shut up and listen instead of being some high and mighty pessimist all the time. Everything sucks right now, and it’s a whole lot easier for you to sit there and pretend to have all the answers instead of getting off your ass and helping. We don’t need any more miserable crap around here. Oh, and news bulletin: that uniform doesn’t make you a bloody God or a genius, so don’t bother with the ego-tripping around here. It doesn’t work."
"Enough." Rose said it quietly. It was all the correction she would give. It was all that was needed.
Todd turned to face his mother, watching his brother’s reaction from the corner of his eye. "I use the tractor to dig into the hill at the edge of the property. Then I can use a come-along to pull the container into the hole. It’s on skids and should go pretty easily. There are those spare packs of insulation in the barn and I can put what I need into the storage bin then put the rest in the attic to help cut costs here. It may as well be put to some good use somewhere. It’s paid for so we should use it."
Grant stared at his brother, turned a surprised face to his mother, then dug into his lunch again as he considered the suggestion. "That’s actually a pretty good idea. We can put some shelves and bins in there to hold stuff."
"I can build them just with stuff that we have around here. The place would be mouse proof so we could store a lot of stuff in there, maybe wall it off half way or something, one side for produce and meat, the other side for general storage."
The attitude was gone from Grant’s tone. "I’m not sure how it would work for meat, although it would store it longer than just hanging it anywhere else in the summer. In the winter, we can just have a bin outside with a lock on it. It’ll stay frozen for sure, but the summer is an issue."
Rose watched her oldest boy reach for the last of the crackers. She wanted to jump up to get more for him, but knew that she couldn’t. She played with her soup some more. Once they were both gone back to work, she would return hers to the jar and one of them would have it tomorrow for lunch.
"This is good, though. I’ve been trying to think of how we can store meat in the summer, and this would help a bit at least. We have to do something with the cattle. I guess we just take them as we need them, and let them roam the fields otherwise. They aren’t putting on a lot of weight though, and even if we could get our hands on some grain, I don’t know that we could afford it."
Grant nodded. "We’ll have to feed them the scraps from the gardens, maybe cut back the chickens a bit and let the cows have more. But you’re right about the storage. I don’t know how much longer we can get away with running a freezer. It’s becoming cost prohibitive."
Rose listened to the discussion, moved her head from one speaker to the other, but remained silent. Her boys… her men… were stepping up to the plate, and she had to let them.
"Ben Franklin would be rolling over in his grave if he could see us now." Todd cleaned his plate, then drained his tea. "I got the idea from one of those old books in the basement. They’re all like a hundred years old, but there are some good ideas in them. They also have a section on water and wells. I’ll be looking at that later."
He stood to clear the table, resting his hand on his mother’s shoulder as she tried to stand to help. "It’s a couple of plates, Mom. I got it."
Grant watched his mother, a frown on his face. "Let me top up your tea, then let’s sit out on the porch for a minute." He grabbed her cup and walked to the stove. The old rotary wall phone interrupted his progress.
Rose forced a smile, hoping to stop the knowing, worried look he boys said crept across her face too often, especially when the phone rang. There was never any good news.
Grant paced, tethered to the wall by the coiled cord, his frustration evident. "I hate this old phone." He had hung up and was redialling. "How the hell is a person supposed to think when they can’t move? How can you get anything done when you have to stop everything to take a bloody call? It totally ties you down."
She smiled. "At least you don’t have to deal with party lines. We haven’t gone all the way back to the dark ages."
He rolled his eyes, completed his call and ran out the door, stopping to kiss her on the top of the head as he passed. "Don’t worry. See you at supper time."
Todd had most of the dishes washed. She grabbed a towel to do the wiping. She wanted the distraction. "I think they come out cleaner when we do them this way." He set another plate into the drip pan. "And it’s faster and a lot less noisy than the old automatic dish washer was."
She laughed. "I actually don’t mind it. It’s a simple job, not hard labor, and it gives you time to think or visit or chat… doing dishes together helps keep a family together, I think. It’s very therapeutic." She stared out the window, her eyes searching for those better times, for some sign of hope.
She knew Todd could hear her thoughts; he always seemed to be able to know what she was thinking. "He’ll be okay, Mom. Grant’s no fool. He knows why he’s one of the few left on the force, and I think that just makes him more determined to do a good job. He’s a good cop."
The plate in her hand was long dry, but she still swirled the towel over the surface. "I know he’s a good cop. That’s why they kept him on, not because he was the most junior and therefore the lowest paid. They kept Ward on as well, and he’s one of the most experienced they had. At least Grant has the best to mentor him and watch out for him."
Todd laughed. "Someone who can teach him how to use a phone!"
There was no smile on her face. "You have no idea how much I wish he had a cell phone or a radio or something out there. He’s so cut off from help without it. It’s not like doing dishes. We can manage this, but without having proper communication…"
The laugh softened, and a sudsy hand reached around her shoulders. "He’s gonna be fine, Mom. And the phone thing… it’s only for a few years. They’re predicting the magnetic field will stabilize in a couple of years. This is only a blip, a glitch for a couple of years, and then we’ll all be fine."
Hard eyes stared back. "That’s what they tell us. Of course, they also told us the stock market wouldn’t tank. They told us the economy was robust. They told us that global warming was caused just by us and that there was no way the world’s polarity could change. Then they’ll say never again. They always tell us never again, and they’re always wrong. Why can’t they just tell us the truth, instead of what they think we need to hear to be happy or what they think will scare us into agreeing with them, or what they think will get them elected to office? No, sorry Son, but we will be prepared for whatever happens and we won’t listen to what they predict or promise. You’re right… we will be fine, but it will be our own damned doing and no one else. The only ‘never again’ we’ll buy into is the one that says we will never again trust what they tell us."