Wednesday, August 19, 2009


Silver pepper mill
To begin reading this sci-fi novel or for background information, go to my Chapter One post here. To read about the background of the first novel, read my post here, which will also direct you to appendices.

For more detailed information, posted elsewhere on this blog are:

Pya Dictionary from Skenish to English (complete up to present chapter), with some cultural notes included
Pya Cast of Characters (complete up to present chapter)
Map of Pya with Description of Each Island
Map of Skene (but not Pya)
Map of Saya Island and Environs When Pyosz First Arrived
Skene Character Lineage at Start of Pya Novel
Skene, Chapter One (With Cultural Notes in Links)


When Pyosz woke up, she stretched to turn off the alarm and was immediately aware of how very good her body felt. Her waking mind tried to name why this was so: Muscles finally developed, good weather, more massage, no wait, the hot spring ... And then she remembered about Maar. And Abbo.

She rolled over onto her back, momentarily stilled. With no rain or wind, she could hear the dawn chorus as if it were inside the room with her. She wondered what Curds was making of this, realizing for the first time that Curds had never heard birds before, not these kinds of birds. Not real birds.

The original colonists here, in addition to generating owls and turkeys who at least had a functional purpose Skeners could understand, had also baffled those who read the Pya exploration reports by having introduced 39 species of songbirds to the woods and grasslands of Pya. What upset most tillagers on Skene is that not only did the songbirds have no apparent use in the balance of things, they were actually competing for fruit and grains with humans.

Some folks had speculated that these small birds were there to provide a food supply in locations where shu were kept at bay by successful owl predation, keeping owls from starving. The botaniste and a couple of biologists pointed out how very good birds were at controlling insect numbers, although beekeepers and silkworm growers retorted that was no plus in their eyes.

When Pyosz was very small, waking up to the diverse, utterly alien sounds coming from the trees outside had frightened her. That first visit, her habibi Qen had been along, and Pyosz had gone downstairs in the dark, crawling into bed with Qen and crying from the strangeness of it. Qen had soothed her, saying "Oh, but listen, they're talking to each other. And it's more than talk, it's also song for the sheer joy of singing. Let's see if we can imitate some of them, shall we?"

Pyosz had played along, and gone back to sleep that time, but on every visit since, she'd been slightly rattled by the first dawn chorus. She was glad Skene had vehemently banned the introduction of all Pyan birds to their own set of islands. She liked the sound of chickens in the morning, and emma making eggs, and abbas puttering in the tillage, but nothing more.

Yet here she was in Pya now, with woods full of small, swift creatures whose names she mostly did not know. She had a book Yoj had given her, well, a booklet really, with pictures of the 39 species and a description of each, including their calls. She decided to pull it out and learn more, instead of lying in dark ignorance.

Her thoughts turned back to Maar against her will. One of the bird cries, which had a forlorn whoop to it that rose at the end, repeated itself over and over. She began crying, not knowing quite why, as memories of the previous night replayed themselves, up to that dreadful moment by the lighter when Maar had said "Me and Abbo..."

She let herself cry for five minutes, then savagely wiped her cheeks and said "Well, nothing's really changed, you've just stopped being darkly ignorant about one thing, that's all." She swung out of bed, and the paperback fell onto the floor. She tucked it under her mattress, still open where she had stopped reading. She got dressed quickly, trying on her otos and discovering they no longer pinched in the former blister zones. She decided she had used her breakfast time in crying, so she gulped the last of the milk right from the pitcher and ate a small apple on the way to the barn.

"Hello, my lovelies!" she cried out as she swung open the barn door. "It's going to be another sunny day, and we will have a clean home by sunset, you'll be amazed." She moved efficiently through her milking, no longer having to remind herself to not squeeze or tug -- the trick was to use the muscles of her fingers and thumb to sequester milk in the teat and give it no place else to go but out into the pail. Both hands, in rapid succession, until no more was coming, then a gentle bump at the back like the forehead of a kid asking for dinner, coax out that last bit more, and presto, done as the doe finished her ration of grain.

She had time to liberate the katts, release and feed the chickens, on her way to Koldok. A group of teenagers were up and about on the wharf, wrestling with each other and pretending they were going to push each other into the water. Two of them came over to help her with her cans, straining in surprise at the weight. She pretended to teeter on the edge and almost fall in, as a reward for their conviviality, sending them into raucous laughter when one earnest youth lunged forward to save her from her fake peril. She clapped her rescuer on the back and said "You're a good citizen, your reflexes must serve you well in kickball." Which clearly scored.

At the djostiker's, Kolm said "I know it's soon to be asking, but have you noticed your milk volumes going up? Because my log is reflecting a slight increase."

"I hadn't worked the data yet" said Pyosz, pleased. "I bet it's the new feed. And the pasture is still very green."

Kolm said with a grin "I bet that's not all of why."

At the grocery, Gitta said "We sold out of your bread and pastries by early afternoon yesterday. I know there's a limit to what you can do, but we can sell more if you make it. And for Roku, Market day, could you do at least a double batch?"

"Wow" said Pyosz. "Yeah, I'll try. One problem is the size of my stove, but I could stagger rising and baking if I had more pans."

"Then go see Taamsas and tell her to give you bakeware free -- here, I'll write a note you can give her. We'll count it as part of doing business" said Gitta. Pyosz bought a dozen oranges and a shank of mutton on sale, briefly thinking "No Maar with fresh fish tonight." Gitta said "We got some of the first blueberries of the season in and I gave five pounds for you, thought you might have a recipe using those."

"Absolutely" said Pyosz. "And is that rhubarb I see?"

She went from the grocery to the allotment center, adding to her stock of flours and oils. When she went in the mercantile, she was carrying an armload of hoes, shovels, pruners, knives, and scissors. Taamsas said "I hope you're not the advance wave of an insurrection!"

"No, just unskilled at sharpening my own blades. Is there any way you could do this now?"

"Sure" said Taamsas, taking them from her. "The grinding wheel is in the forge, will you look after the store while I'm out there?"

Pyosz selected baking sheets, loaf pans, muffin tins, pie and cake pans, stacking them on the counter. She found a hoof trimmer that looked much more functional than the ancient pair hanging in the barn, and she cut 12 lengths of slender rope to make new tethers. She added a sack of limestone for freshening the privy and a gross of sealable plastic bags to package her breads and pastries. She waited on two customers in a row, making neat notes of their purchases in Taamsas's log. Taamsas returned with gleaming and oiled tools that Pyosz loaded in her cart before making the rest of her purchases. She was able to pay with the small but growing store of coins she'd already earned from Gitta.

As she was returning tenth-eks to her pocket, Taamsas said in a confidential tone "I hear you have books to lend."

How very gossipy this place is thought Pyosz. "I do. A steady flow. But my family is already making a line to read them."

"Well, if you could add us, my household, to the rotation, I'll give you a permanent 10% discount on all your purchases here" said Taamsas. "We're all serious readers, and we can't get our hands on enough."

"That's extremely generous" said Pyosz. "And the truth is, when my family is done, I'd planned to donate some of the volumes to the local library anyhow where you can read them for free.'

"Some, but not all? I mean, if you don't want to hassle with it -- " began Taamsas.

"No, it's no hassle. My abbas will be extremely happy to know their books are traveling this far. It's a deal, which you can rescind at any point, of course" said Pyosz. "What sorts of things do you and your family like to read most?"

She left her order of drying rack dimensions with Taamsas, to be picked up the following week, and headed for the cartagen's.

Naki looked over the design Pyosz had painted to create labels for her goods. "This is beautiful!" she exclaimed. In each corner was a different item, a bee hovering over a flower, a rosy apple, a gold loaf of bread, and a goat chewing her graze while looking inquisitively at the viewed. Pyosz had used Spatter as the model for that one. Above it all was an elegant owl, wings outstretched. The legend read "Product of Saya Island, Pride of Pya", with a blank line to be filled in with the item name and price. The letters were bright blue on a muted orange background.

They decided on a size for reduction, and Naki said she could print them onto sticky sheets right away. While the printing was running, she also printed Pyosz's latest disk of photos. Pyosz shoved them in the envelope, wanting to look at them in privacy. Naki leaned on the counter and said "As for payment...I hear you make extraordinary pies."

"Well, I like 'em all right" grinned Pyosz.

"I work here half-days and doing records for the hospital the rest of the time, when I'm not taking photographs" said Naki. "My partners both work for the ejida, and we have a house full of kids who are always hungry. We just don't have time to make more than basic meals. I'd much rather take pies in barter than cash from you. That is, if it won't interfere with your arrangement with Gitta."

"Just one exception won't bother her" said Pyosz. "But don't spread it around, okay?"

As she rode the ferry home, she thought her pie credit at Naki's might be enough to also print out some of the books Yoj had on disk. I'll ask abba to send me copies of volumes she thinks might be popular here.

Curds was waiting at the top of hill by the dock. "I keep coming home with as much as I haul away" Pyosz called out to her. She parked the wain by her kitchen and began frying bacon as tea water heated. She went to the tillage and pulled parsnips, potatoes, onions, and the last of the golden beets. After scrubbing these and cutting them into chunks, she sliced the mutton shank into two-inch wedges, rubbing it with cayenne and salt. She made herself a bacon sandwich which she ate with one hand while searing the mutton on all side in the bacon fat. She dumped this into a thick pot with the vegetables, water, and more seasonings, and set it to simmer on a back burner.

"That's my ejida-worker-style supper" she thought, refusing to miss Maar. But her brain continued on, trying to make sense of the past week. The truth is, Maar is not available because of Thleen, first and foremost. She's not even able to Abbo, honestly. I guess if you want sex and company without having to make an emotional commitment, Abbo is a logical choice. This thought was not much of a comfort, and seemed to her an excuse to insult Abbo, an excuse she didn't need to indulge any more than she did.

She made a pitcher of mint tea into which she sliced two oranges and set it in her coldbox. She ate two oranges with her hot milky tea, sitting down at the table and starting a list of chores for the day on her writing pad. She stopped this list before finishing and started two new ones, labeled "Short-Term for Saya" and "Long-Term for Saya", each on its own sheet. At the bottom of the second sheet, she write in small letters to herself "MY commitment is to Pyosz, first, and Saya, second. I'm not available, either."

She filled both pages and felt better. She started two large sponges, and as they were rising, she cut fruit, mixed fillings and rolled out pastry to make pies. She used brown rice syrup and pecans to fill fried pies, along with the blueberry-soft cheese recipe she'd promised Gitta. She baked as much as she could fit into her oven while her bread rose a second time. She washed her hands and sat down with the logbook to create a line chart for milk totals.

Suddenly she remembered the envelope of photos in her carryall. She pulled them out with a racing pulse. The first five she'd taken: One of Arta Island from her southeastern cliff, brilliant in yesterday's sunshine. Another of Koldok to the east, and a third of Teppe to her northwest, uninhabited and wild-looking. A side view of her kitchen where she planned to draw in the outline of the owl as it had appeared, blocking the light. A group of kids frolicking in the pen. The only flowers blooming on this end of Saya, a cluster of peonies at the base of a filbert tree. The next one made her gasp out loud. It was the one Maar had taken of her making a sandwich. The f-stop made the image a little grainy, and the cone of light pouring down from her overhead metal shade in the kitchen looking almost liquid. Pyosz was grinning with a visible dimple and half-closed eyes, an expression of complete happiness. Beyond the cone of light, nothing at all was visible, as if she existed in a void.

She thought it was one of the best photographs of herself she'd ever seen.

She braced herself for the next one, which was of her and Maar with their cheeks pressed together looking into the lens. It was slightly off-center, but the happy expressions matched. She tucked it behind the others quickly, and burst out laughing at the next one. Maar had photographed her wain with the flash, and the flare of light made the orange look fluorescent. "A ghost wain!" she said out loud.

The next shot was behind her cabin, looking at Ember in the window. Ember's eyes glowed yellow, and her silhouette reflected the daily brushing she was now getting. The last photograph was in the barn. Maar's hand was visible at the left, extending carefully toward a goat whom Pyosz instantly recognized as Molars. Molars' neck was yearning toward Maar's hand, her lips curled back to reveal teeth about to snap. Pyosz cracked up completely, saying out loud "You must've jerked back as you clicked the shutter, to avoid those jaws."

The bittersweet mix of appreciating Maar and not understanding why she hadn't been forthright with Pyosz swept into her chest. She looked at the clock and decided it wasn't too late to call her emma. She dialed on a private frequency, and was surprised when Lawa answered.

"Oh, I'm so glad to hear your voice" said Pyosz. "I've been missing you and haven't talked with you yet since I got here."

"I'm sure missing you, little potato" saw Lawa. "You caught me by chance, I came over to borrow some butter for breakfast tomorrow, we ran out next door and Qala won't eat toast without butter. I hate to tell you, your emma is still down at your abbas' Manage, she went there for dinner. She'll have a fit when she hears she missed your call."

"Well, it's our turn, me and you" said Pyosz. "That first aid kit you gave me has literally saved me, abba. I'm wearing my otos again today, no pain at all, and the liniment has restored my muscles. Plus I'm living in these gloves." She looked down at beside her plate right now.

"And the milking, is it getting easier?"

"Like I was born with the ability." Pyosz chuckled. "Which, in a way, is true."

Lawa laughed with her. "Have you seen Tu yet?"

"No, but I will on Shmonah for sure" said Pyosz. "The whole family will eat together."

"Tell her I miss her like the dickens" said Lawa. "What else is going on?"

Lawa was not the kind of abba you went to for a shoulder to cry on. She liked things she could fix, preferably with her hands. If you needed to construct a clay volcano that would erupt red-colored lava for school, or go fishing for crabs at the pier, or needed to make a present for your emma, then Lawa was your best choice. But a child grieving left her helpless. Pyosz dodged several topics and said "I know you're not the historian like Yoj, but I wonder, did you ever hear anybody say if the first colonists here were mostly related or unrelated to each other? I mean, I know there were some children, right?"

"A few" said Lawa. "Which means a few partners. I remember Yoj or Qala saying there was one pair of sibs, and a couple of cousins. But mostly I think they just worked together. Why do you ask?"

"Because I was thinking about what it must have been like, discovering you'd never see your family or loved ones again, all you'd ever have were the few people you could see around you. I don't know how they could bear it" said Pyosz. To her dismay, she began crying softly.

Lawa said, in acute distress, "Ah, honey, are you that homesick, then? What can I do to make it better?"

"It's not homesickness, abba. It's -- other things. I don't mean to be mysterious, I just can't talk about it yet. I promise you, I'm okay. Although yes, I am homesick. When I woke up, I was missing that thin little song you whistle when you're in the tillage right after breakfast, you know which one I mean?"

Lawa repeated a bar, and Pyosz giggled through her tears. "Yep, that's it."

"Well, I'll tape a copy of it and you can play it when you're having breakfast" said Lawa. "Are you bowels moving all right?"

Pyosz giggled again. "Regular as rain."

Lawa was on the hunt for a solution. "Are you alone most days?"

"No, I go into Koldok every morning and folks there are already starting to feel like friends. And somebody comes to see me every day, seems like." But that brought up Maar again. "Not to mention two katts sleeping in metal closet with me each night."

"Is Curds still in shock?" asked Lawa.

"She hates the goats but she and the other katt aren't fighting any more, and I think she likes having so much territory to explore" said Pyosz. "Listen, abba, you can repeat any of this call to the others but don't tell 'em I cried, they seem to go crazy about that. Except Qala, Qala is sensible like you." And Qala will be able to explain, maybe, what's going on with me thought Pyosz.

"Well I'll try, but I don't have much luck keeping things from Prl" said Lawa.

"I'm in good shape, and getting better" said Pyosz. "Now I need to go clean a stinky barn and bake -- " The line went into static. She hadn't told Lawa how much she loved her. Well, at least her letters would arrive today, and Lawa had one of her very own. How lucky I am, to have them all loving me.

This made her think of Maar again, who had so very little in the way of people to love her. And Thleen, who had only Maar as a lifeline. She didn't want to feel sorry for Maar, she wanted to be angry with her.

She checked on her pies and pulled them out to cool, making rolls and loaves to put back into the oven. She stirred her mutton stew and hauled her wain to the barn, hanging all the newly sharpened tools except the large shovel. She hated to fill her bright wain with rotted manure, but there was no alternative. She opened the door wide to allow the wain to follow her and began shoveling.

After the wain was half full, she stopped to test her weight against the handle and decided this was as much as she could pull. She was removing two to three inches of almost sopping debris from the barn floor, and it was heavy as liquid. At her compost area, she started a new pile because this stuff would have to dry out and be mixed with other material before it could be used in the tillage; otherwise, it would burn roots. She kept working for two hours, stopping only to scrub her hands, remove one set of loaves and put in another to bake, and drink a tall glass of cold tea before returning to moving shit, as she thought of it.

By the time she was done, all the bread was cool and the barn floor was scraped clean. She felt giddy with accomplishment. She peeled off her shati and washed her entire upper half in the sink, putting on a clean maillot but not a shati, it was too warm. She made a fresh pitcher of orange tea, threw a load of laundry into the cistern to soak, and sat down to eat a late lunch of cheese and tomatoes on a warm roll, with a chopped cabbage and carrot salad. She crossed through "Clean barn" on her list. As she ate, she pulled out the photos again and looked at the image of herself, then her and Maar, leaving them on top.

She did her dishes before bagging pies and bread, filling in the labels as she went. She stored her bounty in the larder and checked her list again. While it was still sunny, she haul sand from the small beach north of the pasture, to mix with barn muck and hasten soil-making. She hauled her wain and shovel through the kissing gate, drawing curious goats from the other end of the pasture. A whole line of them were behind her by the time she reached the beach, including all the kids. When she let down the wain's back gate, three kids leaped in and a rowdy game of territorial jousting began. She threw sand in at their feet and they ignored her, slipping occasionally but never falling.

She stopped when the wain was midway full and used her shovel as a prod to get the kids out of it. They scampered along beside her, ready for another game. At the slope up to her end, she decided to open one side of the kissing gate before pulling up the wain. With a major test of her new muscles, she got the wain on relatively level ground between the two gates, but could not close the first gate before opening the second. She shooed back the kids, opened the second gate, shoved her wain through as quickly as she could, and was about to step back to close the first gate when a familiar voice said "There she is!"

She wheeled around, see Tu and Pank coming toward her from behind the barn. She shoved the second gate toward its latch and broke into a dead run toward her cousins, flinging her arms around them in turn, shouting "Hurrah, hurrah, I didn't have to wait three more days to see you!"

Tu, tall and slender as Halling but with lighter skin -- what Halling called "me with milk added -- had curls that were entirely white now. Pank's bronze face was a fascinating arrangement of deep wrinkles. Pyosz realized her abbas and elder kin must all have been good-looking as young women but they were knock-outs now.

"I talked to Lawa this morning, she asked after you" Pyosz said to Lawa's siba. Pank had turned to look at the wain, and said "I'd heard about this paint job, but it's better in person." The jubilant note in her voice dropped a notch as she said "Uh, oh, goats on the loose", pointing toward the back of a kid streaking around the barn.

"Oh, lev!" yelled Pyosz. She yelled at Tu "Will you close the gate?" and ran toward her kitchen. As she passed the open door of her cabin, she heard Curds shriek and she skidded to a halt, darting into the cabin. Curds was on the windowsill, three times her normal size. One kid was standing on her unmade bed, and a second was on its knees trying to get at something under her bed, which she realized must be the chamberpot. She scooped up one under each arm, somehow holding onto them despite their frantic kicking and writhing. She loped back to the kissing gate, where half the flock was now massed between the two gates, thinking it must be early feeding time. Tu helped with the gate as Pyosz shoved the two kids through, then her own body, pushing goats back into the pasture with brute strength and finally getting the first gate shut as well.

She ran back toward the kitchen, and stopped in horror when she saw Molars standing on her table with the silver peppermill in her mouth. "No!" scrasmed Pyosz. Molars calmly shat on the table and continued chewing. Pyosz picked up her broom and swung at Molars with all her might. Molars took the blow but decided, on casual thought, to leave the kitchen, taking the peppermill with her. Pyosz jumped on her back and reached around to pry open her jaws, finally getting the mill away from her. She tossed it toward Tu, who had followed, and dragged Molars to the kissing gate.

Pank was leaned against the wain, helpless with laughter.

Pyosz went on a search for other fugitives. She found one kid in the barn, standing on the feed box, and a second eating the peonies by the filbert tree. A final kid was trying to get the privy door open. Once her end of the island was clear again, she went to the kitchen, cleared her papers to the counter, swept Molar's pellets to the ground, and scrubbed down the table with hot soap and water. Tu and Pank joined her. Pyosz sank onto the floor beside her larder, sweat streaming from her face, and Tu said "Can I get you something to drink?"

"Cold tea in the box" said Pyosz breathlessly. "Help yourselves."

Tu poured them all glasses and sat in one chair, Pank taking the other, still laughing. After a couple of gulps, Pyosz stood and removed a blueberry pie from the larder, one she'd saved back for herself. She put it on the table with plates and forks, moving her papers back to one end, and sank onto the ground again, grinning and saying "Life with goats."

She remembered the peppermill, then. Tu pulled it from her pocket and handed it over. Pyosz wiped away spit on her kaidang ku and examined it carefully. "Lev it, there's teeth marks!" she swore.

"I guess they want more spice in their diet" said Pank, sending herself off into laughter again.

"That one in particular is a pain in my ass. Literally" said Pyosz. They talked goats for a while, and life on Mti. Tu said "Your tillage needs most or all of those raised beds rebuilt, they're coming apart at the seams."

"Yeah, it's on my list of big projects" said Pyosz, waving her hand toward the papers on the table. Tu picked up one sheet and Pank the other, reading them thoughtfully. They exchanged pages halfway through, but Pank pointed unotrusively to the bottom of the page she handed Tu and Pyosz remember, too late, about her statement of commitment. Oh, well, she trusted these women more than most.

"That stew smells about as good as this pie is" said Pank. "I wish we could stay for dinner."

"Oh, please, can't you?" asked Pyosz.

"We've got to catch a lighter back to Mti, they said they'd stop by here for us, in maybe half an hour" said Tu, looking at the clock. "But listen, if you can get the wood delivered, we'd love to come help you rebuild your vegetable beds."

"And inventory your woods, teach you how to care for your orchard" added Pank, looking at the list.

"That's too much to ask -- " began Pyosz.

"You'll do all the labor, don't worry" said Tu. "You got another sheet of paper? Okay, here's what you need to order." She began writing down lumber specifications. "This will make one bed, so multiply accordingly. We'll bring all the tools, but you need to get planks to make a couple of sawing stands. Are there ladders here?"

"One in the barn that's in sad shape" said Pyosz.

Tu wrote more. "Then we'll build a new picking ladder, they're easy. We'll come on Sju, you can feed us lunch and dinner, and we'll stay with friends in Koldok that night, go to Arta the next day. That way we can visit as much as we want."

"Speaking of feeding" said Pank, reaching into her carryall. "Here's a pound of good Mti sausage, our own blend. And a 5 lb. bag of charcoal."

Charcoal was extremely rare on Skene, used only in some industrial applications, but Pya had no restrictions on its production. "Wow" said Pyosz, standing to take the bag from her. "I don't have a grill, and Mill's warned me about the fire risk here -- "

Pank blew a raspberry. "You've got a water hose, don't you? You need an outdoor grill, with your stove so dinky. Before Sju, buy a bag of mortar and gather as many stones as you can from these cliff edges, we'll show you how to build your own barbecue."

Tu picked up the list of lumber again and added more. "She'll need a little canopy to go over it during rain" she said to herself. "Okay, now, fill me in on how Halling and Lawa are really doing." They had another ten minutes of talk before a lighter circled overhead. Pyosz gave them a loaf of bread and an apple pie before they walked to the jichang together.

"See you on Sju" said Tu, kissing her cheek, and Pank added "Remember, goats like pepper" with a second kiss. Pyosz watched until they were out of sight, waving with both her arms.

She climbed into the mow and dropped two bales of hay into the barn, cracking them open and raking them over the new dirt floor. She pulled her wain to the dung pile and scooped sand over the brown mess, but decided to save turning it for another day. She returned to the kitchen to stir her stew again, and realized the photograph of her and Maar was halfway out of the envelope, very visible next to her lists of tasks.

She washed her hands, beginning to feel like the day was extremely long. She decided to start milking early, and found her flock waiting for her at the gait. "Straight to the barn" she ordered, herding them vigilantly. They bunched up at the door, wary of the new straw, until Boulder led the way and the kids discovered it was an edible playground. It was alarmingly close to dusk by the time she finished. She rushed to the kitchen and found both katts on the table. "Are you following Ember's lead, then?" she asked Curds. She fed them in the cabin, brushing away dirt from the kid's footprints on her sheets, which reminded her of the laundry still soaking in the cistern.

She tended to the chickens first. The smell of the stew was driving her mad, but she ran the laundry through its cycle, rinsed it, and hung it in the barn before calling it day. It was full dark in her kitchen. She turned on the light, filled Ng's bowl with stew, and ate it with fresh bread dipped into its heavenly gravy with every bite. With Tu and Pank's visit, she didn't miss Maar at the meal.

She had a second piece of pie for dessert. She called the Lofthall and placed her lumber order with Jiips because Mill and Oby had gone for the day. She slid off her otos, turned to a fresh page on her writing pad, and began a new letter home.

© 2009 Maggie Jochild.