Esther May’s cheerful Arizona sunrise shifted from soft pink and orange to accusing blue-white daylight glaring solely at her. She may as well stand on a stage with footlights erasing every shadow and exposing every movement.
The tribe already knew of Esther May’s sleeping arrangement last evening.
And Abuela said that Snake Bite and Chews Loud were coming for her. Each brave was determined to steal her as an Apache wife in the time-honored fashion of a raider.
Esther May clenched her fists. “How can they know what I do, Abuela? For that matter, how do you know they know?”
The Talking Trail
Abuela nodded toward one of the women at the boiling laundry pots. All three went about stirring in clothes and dashing them with wooden sticks, acting as if Esther May and Abuela weren’t there.
Esther May was sure they heard every word.
“Tesahay (Tes-a-hay) doesn’t stay here. She goes to her son at night,” Abuela said. “She brings talk from the village.”
Esther May stared at the woman’s back as she worked at the pot: poking, stirring, poking, and lifting garments up at the end of the stick to hang on a clothesline. “Does she also take talk back to the village?”
Abuela swatted the question away with a flick of her hand. “Perhaps. But the tribe has many eyes. Even now, they will know we talk.”
“But we speak in Spanish. How will they know what we say?”
The gray-haired Apache woman smiled, but her eyes held a sad distance that put an ache in Esther May’s chest. “You think I’m the only savage that knows more than one tongue?”
“Forgive me, Abuela. I didn’t mean for it to come out that way. Let’s speak so anyone listening won’t have trouble hearing what we say.”
Abuela cocked her head in question.
Esther May switched to Apache. “Perhaps Tesahay would bring her son here. I would give him words to tell at the evening fire.”
Abuela and all three women laughed.
The Reason Is …
“Tesahay’s son is still bound in rabbit skins,” Abuela said, waving her hands around her waist.
Esther May got it. “He’s still in nappies—a baby?”
Abuela nodded, and Esther May laughed too, feeling the tension release from her tight stomach. “I’ll be right back.”
At the buckboard, she pulled out a sack and emptied some of the contents into three handkerchiefs. The corners she pulled up, tying them into small bundles.
She gave the fist-sized presents to the laundresses. “Here’s sugar from Riding Woman. You can give me a gift too. I’d like to know when anyone thinks to take me.”
Following the deep stillness of the desert, where the only sound was boiling lye-water, Tesahay said, “Chews Loud and Snake Bite left for their power ceremonies this morning. They will be ready tonight.”
And The Patrol Leaves
Orders barked out, and Esther May turned to watch Company K march toward Aravaipa Canyon. Lieutenant Charles Bodkin looked at the tent near the sycamore tree, then at the buckboard.
Esther May waved, but he failed to see her. “You’d better come back tonight,” she whispered.
The sun crept low on the desert hills beyond the San Pedro River. Esther May had bathed in the lieutenant’s tub and donned clean clothes.
Afterward, she strolled to the tent by the sycamore tree. Her skin tingled, and she hugged herself. A thought crossed her mind bringing a smile. Was the sensation caused by lye soap more than anticipation? If she had a dress to wear, the question would have tipped in favor of seeing Charles.
Esther May lingered at the tent, combing her damp hair with her fingers. She had waited all day, but Lieutenant Charles Bodkin wasn’t back.
Change of Plans
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a shadowy figure slipping between the trees. Her right hand dropped on its own to draw her pistol—the one she’d left in the buckboard.
Should Esther May scream or run? Don’t forget to leave your comment.
Thinking of Tesahay’s baby brought us to an interesting article on childbirth. Here it is.
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