Fiction Friday, my way of forcing myself to write outside my comfort zone of non-fiction, by backing myself into a corner every Thursday night.
By Monday morning, word had gotten around the village and whispers had turned into assumptions which had quickly become pure fact, as is the way with small town gossip. Jess was bored out of her mind, having spent all day Sunday playing Where’s The Toothbrush, a one player game invented by the equally bored toddler who’d planted himself in her life. She’d finally found it in the back of the pan cupboard beside her reading glasses and a box of feminine products, several of which he’d stuck to the kitchen table earlier in the day.
To say the boy had some energy would be a tad of an understatement. A herd of Elk during mating season had caused less turmoil. She’d not been out of the cabin in two straight days, other than taking scraps to Rex, who’d hightailed it out of there upon the small boy’s entrance and refused to come back inside.
By six a.m. they were both up and ready. She’d stripped him down Sunday afternoon, washed his clothes and scrubbed him under the armpits, which brought out the first noises he’d made since slamming into her Saturday morning. When she opened the door now, to the blowing snow, he buried his cake smeared cheek against her chest and grabbed the back of her neck once again. She stepped out into the dark and called to Rex as she headed across the quiet morning towards the narrow air strip on the far end of the village.
As winter drifted across the mountains from the north and October came to an end, the sun dipped low in the sky earlier and made its appearance later, each day. Blustery winds pushed against the pair as they walked the short distance, weaving between the few cabins and shacks that made up most of Sherman’s town center. Sherman had come to life a hundred years before when the gold hounds flooded in from Canada and the south in search of that sparkly vein of wealth. Before that it was home to the Eyak tribe, of which May descended. What remained were a small handful of natives and a population of fisherman watching their industry being slowly regulated to a point where they wondered where the fuel money for their boats would come from the following season.
Few lights shown in the houses as she passed. Only the slight glow from the airstrip shed told her the plane had arrived, bringing with it the social services worker. She hustled closer, eager to unburden herself of the thirty pound package nestled against her chest. She slammed open the door to the tiny building, waited for Rex to saunter in but he looked at the boy, looked at her, and plopped himself down in the snow. She sighed, and quickly closed out the cold.
Mathew Barton leaned back in the only chair, boots kicked up on the desk, a mug of coffee half way to his mouth.
She stomped the snow from her feet and shook off her hood. Arms, soar from packing the boy, held tight to her load.
“What the tater tot are you doing?” he asked, his brows curled together as he stood.
“You’ve got a kid wrapped around you! I’m not going to let profanity fly around some kid.”
“Manners? From you?”
“Yea right, you should judge someone’s manners,” he said. “Focus, Jess…what are you doing with a kid? I know he’s not yours. You’d have to stop spitting poison long enough to make one and that’ll never happen.”
Jess turned in a circle in the small room with nothing more than a worn wooden desk and woodstove in the middle.
“Where is she?”
“The lady you brought with you!”
“Honey, I just came from bed. If I had a ‘she’ in there with me, I’d have known it.”
“You didn’t just bring the mail?”
“In this weather? I’ve not left the ground since Thursday. I’ve done nothing but sleep and eat for days. Most rest I’ve had since spring. Though your lady idea would have been a bit more fun.”
“Kingston told me a caseworker named Megan Brighton was coming out this morning from Skagway to pick up this little urchin! I’ve got a trap line to run, and cabins to prep for winter. I can’t keep Bo hanging from me like a spider monkey!”
“It’s what I call him.”
“Isn’t that the last dog you had?”
“I couldn’t call him Rex. It would have been too confusing for the pooch.”
“So you really didn’t fly in this morning?”
“Nobody’s flying anywhere. We’ve got a class A storm breeching. Your radio batteries dead?”
“Bo hid them somewhere. I’m still looking.”
“You going to tell me where he came from? Who’s kid is he?”
“How the Hell should I know?” she spewed, starting to get riled up.
“Mouth, Jess, the mouth.”
“Oh, shut the Hell up,” she said and slammed back out the door.
Six minutes later, exhausted from dragging the kid around, she pounded on the door of Trooper Kingston’s place until Margo, looking like the dead had raided the liquor cabinet, arrived wearing nothing but a questionable pair of pajamas. Questionable, because they were really too small to be considered a ‘pair’ of anything.
Jess stared Margo up and down and debated fleeing the scene. She really didn’t think she had it in her not to punch Margo in the teeth. She couldn’t really even put a finger on why she detested her so much. It’d been going on since birth, she was sure of it, and she’d never been one to fight tradition. And with the frustration she felt, the only thing saving Margo at this point was that Jess needed both arms to keep Bo from falling and the fact that she desperately needed information.
“Gone. Since last night. He had to take Buster to the vet.”
“He went to the city? Are you kidding me?”
“It was a last minute thing, hon.”
Jess hated the way Margo called everybody ‘hon’ as if she were from the south. She’d not stepped more than two feet out of Alaska her entire life. She probably couldn’t even pick south off a compass.
“How’d he get out in this weather?”
“He took the vessel.”
“He used the official trooper vessel to take his cat to the vet? He hates that cat.”
“I told him if he didn’t take her, there’d be no more hoochy-mamma time.”
“You whored yourself for your cat?”
“What are you doing to that poor little boy, Jessica. Now hand him over before you break him.” Margo grabbed Bo’s arm to take him from her and he let out a howl to wake the dead. Margo jumped back, her tiny gown gaping in the front as she moved, exposing Roy’s last Christmas present to his newly-well-endowed wife.
Jess had reached her limit of nice. She turned from the door and set out again, across the snowy town.
She threw open the door to the airport shed minutes later. Matt had retaken his chair. Jess walked over to him, pried Bo from herself and plopped him down on the desk, feet dangling from the edge.
“I’ll be right back. Stay here,” she spoke in a robot voice as if that would make the child better understand her.
“Hey,” said Matt, shooting off his chair. “Where the Hell are you going?”
“Mouth, Mathew….the mouth,” she said as she opened the door to leave.
“You can’t leave him here!” he said, pointing to Bo, who’s bottom lip began to quiver.
“I’ve got two days of work to do and I can’t check my traps with him. I’ll be back.”
Jess turned, the sun beginning to emerge behind her through the storm. “Watch him,” she warned. “He’d steal a quarter from a blind man. Don’t be fooled by those eyes. You’ll never see your wallet again.”
And she closed the door behind her as she left. Rex looked smugly back at the shed as he trotted behind her through town.