Eidetic Sunshine

Eidetic Sunshine

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Chapter 3


Long after the last drunk had been sent home Danny trudged out to the RV that she had called home since a massive solar flare had knocked the world on its butt ten years earlier.  For a moment she just stood looking at it.  The peeling and faded paint.  The rust.  The taped over cracks in the glass repaired inexpertly with whatever could be found, including her own homemade glue.  The missing tires that were long ago turned into raised plant beds.  The ramshackle greenhouse attached to the side of the RV, built during the chaos of the year of the flare as they tried to save all of Momma’s plants.  The sagging bump out that was so decrepit that it was supported by limestone boulders pushed in place to keep it from tearing away from the main part of the RV.  She snorted.  Home Sweet Home.  If an RV could look like a haunted house the one that she and the other kids had lived in for the last ten years surely did.  She tried to be quiet getting in but found Tito still awake and waiting. 

“Why aren’t you in bed?!  You’ll never make it tomorrow,” Danny hissed in a worried whisper referring to an introductory course that he needed before entering the militia training academy. 

Tito shook his head.  “Mr. Hunter said class will be cancelled tomorrow, and probably for the rest of the week too.  Something big is going on and all of the instructors are getting called in for active duty.” 

Some of the fatigue vanished in Danny as an adrenaline rushed sang through her blood.  “So, that’s what they meant.” 

“Who?” 

“Those regular military men that came in with that convoy this afternoon.  They said they were ordered to remain here for another night.  The Coal Barons aren’t happy but they can’t do much about it.  Looks like something big is about to go down between here and Tampa.  Maybe those two guys this morning gave up some information.” 

“Maybe.  Is that what kept you so late?  Getting an extra night out of that lot?” 

“Sort of.  Lotta little things, mostly in the form of expectations that needed to be met.  You shoulda just gone to sleep.” 

“Couldn’t.  Need to talk to you about Nita.” 

“Oh Mother of God, what now?” 

“You shouldn’t blaspheme Danny.” 

Danny sighed and nodded, “You’re right and I apologize.  I’ve just got no patience for her right now.” 

“Did you really tell her that you are going to take her out of school?” 

In complete honesty Danny recited what she had told their little sister hours earlier.  “I told her if her grades didn’t improve by the end of this term that I wouldn’t throw good money away so she could sit in school and do nothing.  That I’d sign her up for whoever would apprentice her.  That I would then take that money and send Joey to military school with you when you go to the training academy.  And I mean every word Tito so don’t bother trying to talk me out of it.” 

Sadly the boy shook his head.  “That wasn’t very nice Danny.” 

“Oh like I’m supposed to just say it is ok that she thinks her life would be so much easier if I’d just get some man to pay me for sex.” 

“She did not,” he said shocked. 

“Might as well have.  And get this … you know how we thought that Joey was just blowing smoke about Nita wanting to bleach her hair?  Well she all but admitted that it was true when I called her on it.  Tito, I don’t know what to do anymore.  If she starts hanging out with boys … you know the rules and how strict they are here in the district about underage sex.  One of those decency committees will snatch her up and she’ll wind up in the reformatory until she’s eighteen and you know what will happen to her there.  Nita isn’t as tough as she thinks she is … that place will kill her, if not in body then in spirit.”

“Madre de Dios.” 

Danny started taking off her worn apron and work shoes.  “She threatened to write to Delia but I’m thinking it might not be such a bad idea.  What do you think?” 

With all the cynicism a fifteen year old boy can muster he responded, “What’s Delly going to do?  She didn’t answer a single question last three times you wrote to her.” 

“What if … what if this time I send the letter with Father Brannigan.  He’s going to a farm the church owns up that way.  He’s going to work in the apiary and the farm isn’t too far away from where Delia mails her packages from.  If nothing else at least the Father will be honest and let me know what he sees.” 

“You still think something is going on?” 

“I … I don’t know what to think.  But better to know than sit around wondering.” 

“Yeah.”  Then in typical young male fashion Tito made a face and said, “Nita sure would look like an idiot with blonde hair.”  He shuddered. 

Danny smiled tiredly and then handed him a small bag.  “The night’s tips were better than normal.  Hopefully they’ll be close to that tomorrow as well.  If they are we’ll pay off the layaway early and save the interest.” 

Then Tito gave a proud smile and said, “I paid off the layaway tonight.  Got the redeemed slip and all we have to do is go to the warehouse and pick it up.” 

“Wait … you what?  How?!” 

“Mongo and I stopped a horse thief.  Mr. Gifford sent his son Cody to the militia office and Mr. Hunter himself came.  The guy had a price on his head put there by the Tallahassee office … they branded him and everything.  He tried to wear his hat low and his hair combed over.  The way he did it was a dead giveaway.  We knocked him out and caught the horses he was making off with.  Mongo thought that Mr. Gifford would get the reward since we were working for him at the time but we got fooled … seems that Mr. Gifford thinks that rewards go to the catchers, not the reporters and he told Mr. Hunter to make out the slips to us.” 

Danny nearly slid off the old vinyl covered bench she’d been sitting on.  “You’re kidding me.” 

“No I’m not.  Even splitting it 50/50 there was enough to pay off the layaway with some left over.  Danny … if … if …” 

“How much left over?  Is it enough to pay your registration fees?” 

“Almost.” 

“How much do we still need?” 

When Tito told her Danny almost fainted … not from fear but from happiness and relief.  She ran to the box that was hidden under her sleeping area and quietly counted out what was in there.  Tito blinked upon seeing all of the scrip and coins.  “Danny … where did that come from?” 

“Tips.” 

“That didn’t come from tips.  You … you count out your tips every night.” 

Danny shook her head.  “Not those tips.  Tips when I … when I used to pass along the odd bit of information to Father Brannigan.  There would have been more only …” 

Outraged as soon as he figured it out Tito said, “Only Eddie and Delia took it … didn’t they?  That’s how they …” 

Danny put her hand over Tito’s.  “Yeah, they knew.  And yeah, they took what there was back then … but … but look, it was Eddie who started it, his idea.  I’d put two and two together and he’d … sell the information.  It was the only way to make ends meet when they started asking for payment for schooling and all of the other things that it cost to keep us all together.  When he left Delia said we wouldn’t be able to make the rent if I didn’t keep doing it.  It was her way of trying to keep me in school I guess.  And when she left she didn’t take all of it like Eddie did.  She could have but she didn’t.  She left a note saying she was sorry but that she just couldn’t do it anymore and … well it doesn’t matter; what’s done is done..” 

“Yes it does too matter.  We had to quit school.  We had to go to work doing …” 

“So?  We’ve studied by ourselves and you passed the academic entrance exam nearly at the top even without school.  We didn’t need no stinking classroom or special teachers to show us how to think.  We did our best and even though it’s been tight there’s always been enough … and been enough to pay people to look the other way too, rather than having them get in our business and bust us up and send us to different orphanages when we were all underage.  That’s worth whatever I had to do.  I’m the last one to talk but try and have faith Tito.  It’s almost over with.  You’ll take this and tomorrow you are going to pay your registration fees.  You’ll be able to start on your 16th birthday instead of having to wait a couple of months and miss the early term.  Between now and then I think … yes I think I can even come up with the money to send Joey with you.  He’s already passed the test and with a letter of reference from Father Brannigan, his teachers at school, and one or two other people he’ll get right into the academic program.  You two just need to train for the physical test.  Nita … well she’ll either be in school or she’ll be an apprentice.  I’ll still write to Delia … as a back-up plan maybe.  I just won’t count on anything coming of it.” 

“What … what about you Danny?” 

Danny felt her chest tighten.  Tito was the only one that seemed to care about that part.  He’s the only one that ever seemed to care about that part.  “Don’t you worry about it.  I pretty much knew what my road would be when Eddie left.  I’ve never had stars in my eyes like Delia or Nita.” 

“But …” 

“But me no buts Hermano.  I’m eighteen … too old for school, too old to apprentice, and too grouchy for any man.  You know me, I like my own way and I’m not about to change just to make folks think I’m on the market.  Besides, someone has to pay for Joey to stay in military school – it isn’t free – and no matter where Nita goes she’s still too young to support herself.  Then I’m sure you’ll need …” 

“What about what you need?!” Tito griped.  “You gonna just keep on working in your garden and living in this old RV until it falls apart around you?  It was old when our parents rented it for the vacation.  Ten years Danny … the plumbing don’t work, all the tanks leak and so does the roof every chance it gets.” 

“Only up around the old driving area.” 

“You mean where you sleep.  C’mon Danny, if we do this then let’s do it right.  You and Nita … or just you … come to Gainesville with us when we leave.” 

“And do what?  I’ve heard jobs are just as hard to come by there as they are here.  At least here Maddox let’s me keep all my tips.  In Gainesville you have to turn them all in and they get split evenly between all the serving staff after the district offices takes their 10% for the protection fund.  Plus there are age restrictions at the bars there … they follow the old-style twenty-one laws.  Believe me, I’ve thought about and checked the rules.  It’s not like I want us to all be separated.” 

“Why do you have to work in a bar at all?” 

“Because it is all I’m trained for Tito.  It’s my one and only skill.  And I’m a heck of a bar maid.” 

“You can cook.  You run the kitchen as often as you deliver drinks.  You make more from your garden and trees than you do working in the tavern during certain times of the year.  You also help Mr. Maddox in the distillery.” 

“Shhh.  You want Mr. Maddox to get in trouble?  All we need is some federal inspector breathing down our necks.” 

“As soon as the Free Market Trade Law goes into effect all of that stuff will stop.  Them federales are messing in things that are none of their business.” 

“You know it.  I know it.  Even the federales know it.  But until that law goes into effect they are going to flex their muscles and get as many tax dollars as they can.  And if that Compromise don’t work then more than likely it is going to mean civil war.  And I’m way too tired to get into it Tito, things are what they are.  I just want to be happy for you … and for Joey getting a chance too.  Now if we can just get Nita straightened up and settled on a course.”  

“But Danny …” 

“No buts Tito.  Just focus on what can be changed and stop worrying about what we can’t.”

 

No comments:

Post a Comment