|Oct/Nov 2005 Nonfiction|
'Trico hooked up with some students at Sac City College who were doing an Independent Study project, a back-to-the-land experiment in communal living in rural northern California on a piece of land outside of Yreka, just this side of the Oregon border, known locally as Bull Meadows. The original guy who homesteaded the land had tried to set up a dairy farm up there on the mountainside, a beautiful 140-acre spread right on the snow-line, but had gradually gone broke as his cows threw way more male offspring than females, bull after bull after bull--which is what the whole story sounded like to me, but that's the way it was told.
Bull Meadows had an old A-frame original homestead cabin, one large room downstairs and a small loft above, knocked together out of rough, hand-hewn lumber which had slowly twisted over the years. Cracks and gaps in the walls and floor and roof had been filled with cloth stuffed in and covered with tar and pitch. The place was a real fire-trap but had an incredible view of the 50 acres of meadow spreading out down the hillside below. There was a larger cabin, one room downstairs, three rooms upstairs, halfway down the pasture, that had fruit orchards and grape arbors all around it. There was a five acre garden and a half a dozen outbuildings including a shitter with a view of the pine forests above that made going to the bathroom a restful and refreshing experience despite the smell.
Various members of this commune had attempted to erect a tipi in the meadow between the cabins, but that project had fallen by the wayside, so that only the tripod poles stood, a monument to the imagination if not the ability of the people who came and went. The big house had a huge old-fashioned wood-burning cook-stove that must have weighed a ton. I was told by some old-timer in a bar down the road one night that the floor had been built, the stove moved in, crawling up the rough track in a flat-bed wagon pulled by mules, and manhandled into place by six stout lumberjacks, then the rest of the house built up around it. I believe this story because the stove was way wider than either of the doors into that cabin. This stove had a firebox big enough to put whole logs, two feet long and a foot wide, right in, no problem. It had four burners, thick cast iron circles that one pulled into and out of place with a steel spring and cast iron handle about two feet long. Believe me, levering those burner lids in and out was a heavy chore and built up some efficient wrist muscles in no time. The stove had ceramic plates on the oven door and enamel and brass trim, and it was a beauty. It had a water-tank built into the smoke stack that heated the water by passing it through an endless copper tube that wound around and around the stove pipe and ended in a sweet little ceramic handled spigot on the far right hand side of the stove which delivered instant steaming hot water. There were two warming ovens above the griddle stove top which were ideal for raising bread, warming plates or keeping food hot while finishing off the gravy or getting the potatoes mashed.
Can you tell I fell in love with that stove? It was a New Home brand and must have been built sometime in the late 1800's, when women still cooked and packaged food hadn't quite caught on yet, when kitchens were still the center of homes, remember, hearth and home? The first time I saw that stove I had a flush of excitement that I can only describe as sexual but deeper, deep, deep, deep, somewhere down in the marrow of my bones, like a connection on a molecular level that said, "Hey, there, remember me?" And, I did. The first time I touched that stove I felt an electrical current running back and forth between the cold metal and heavy squat essence of that entity and me, my hands and my head. "Where have you been all my life, Baby?" I thought, as corny as that sounds.
"Nobody can figure out how to work that damn thing." the head dude, a squeaky bookwormish fellow named Mick, known as Slick Mick for his ability to get the college to fund and give credit for this "class," said. "The damn thing smokes up the whole house and spits flame out the firebox and won't burn steady. We've been cooking on that camp-stove but the fuel costs a fortune. Actually, meals are the biggest part of our problems out here."
He nattered on and on, filling 'Trico in on details of the past three months, the trials and tribulations of trying to get upwards of twenty diverse individuals to be able to function together towards their common goal which was to return the land to working condition, a real challenge as most of the students had never lived in the country and were entirely unfamiliar with manual labor. I just kept touching and staring at the stove, feeling the thingness of it. "Have you tried working the dampers?" I asked.
"What?" Mick replied absently, "Dampers?"
"Yeah. The dampers, the vents. See here, on the stovepipe, and back here, on the top of the stove, and here, in the oven, this handle. Have ya opened and closed them, to make a draft on the firebox?" Honest, I had never messed around with a wood stove, never to my memory, but it seemed I remembered someone, musta maybe been Dad, telling me about dampers and drafts. The words just popped into my head.
I turned around and Mick and 'Trico were just looking at me with kinda Cave-Rock looking faces, sorta stupid and blank, though, rather than surprised and pleased. Tell the truth, I was bit shocked myself. But, I went out the back door, to the woodshed, like I'd lived in that house my whole life, and found a lot of little pieces of wood scattered around, and picked up a bundle and carried 'em back into the house. My hands knew exactly what to do, no second thoughts, as I opened the little door to the firebox and shook down the ashes and took out the remnants of the firewood in there, green and wet and greasy-looking, that had never really had a chance to get going to burn. I filled the firebox up with a load of that dry tinder and lit the damn thing with my Bic and closed the firebox door and opened the draft on the stovepipe. The fire roared up the second that air hit it and in sixty seconds we had a fire going in there. "Go split up some wood," I said, and they did, still looking like dumb boys, caught telling a lie.
That kitchen was stocked with one of everything that a person would need to cook for and feed a tribe. Ten and twenty gallon soup pots hung from nails on the rafters over our head. Bread tins, cake pans, cookie sheets, broiler and roasting pans were nested and stacked in the drawer beneath the big oven and in a box behind the stove, all sticky with grime and covered with years and years of dirt and dust and spider webs. Ladles and spatulas and long handled spoons and tongs were hung on the wall and all exactly where I would have put them if I were gonna set a kitchen up for convenience. I kept having this eerie feeling that I had done this before or seen it all in a dream, deja vu, big time, but instead of being spooky it was just a comfortable Well, It's About Time feeling.
'Trico took off with Mick up the hill to the spring house where the men-folk were standing around in a circle trying to figure out the gravity-fed water line that ran down to the big house. People had been hauling buckets of water from the spring and walking all over the line, breaking it in several pieces. They had tried twice to set it up but the pipe and hose were so old and corroded and brittle that it just split and disintegrated every time it was touched. 'Trico had been raised in the wilderness most of his young life, his father working as a park ranger in Montana and Wyoming and he immediately took off to town to get new hose and fittings. By sundown, the water system was up and running, I had cooked a pot of split-pea soup, corn bread was coming out of the oven and 'Trico and I were adopted and inducted into the clan.
Split-Pea Soup, Fresh from Real Scratch
The strangest thing, most every kitchen in the Western Hemisphere has got a bag or two of split peas tucked away somewhere, like everybody buys the things but no one cooks 'em. The funny part is that most everybody likes pea soup so how come it's some kinda lost art to make the stuff? It isn't hard. Get a soup pot and put in three times as much water as ya got peas to cook up. Again, and always, its better if ya can start with broth, even just vegetable broth from scraps of this and that, but sometimes ya just don't have it. Put that pot on to boil and when it gets going, skim the starch foam off the top that will rise and roil around as it begins to cook. Ya can put this in the dog food, they like it. You could ignore it and let it cook back down into the soup, too. Why do we ladle this stuff off? Tradition. Some woman did it once and we've all just been doing it the same ever since. Probably in Leviticus, somewhere it says, "Skim the scum." and we just follow blindly along.
Turn the heat down once it's boiled good. You can soak those legumes overnight in water and cut down on the cooking time. Take a small square of cheesecloth and put a handful of peppercorns, a couple of bay leaves, some dill seeds and a piece of dried orange rind into the center, fold it up like an envelope, tie it with a piece of string good and tight and toss that into the soup. It's always nice if ya got a ham-hock or piece of smoked pig like a bacon rind to throw in there to add flavor, unless you are of the vegetarian bent in which case it is unnecessary. Add chopped onions, sliced carrots and celery after those peas have started to disintegrate. Ya gotta be careful to stir this brew and keep it on a low heat or it will stick to the bottom and scorch and that would be a sin. I sometimes add a cup or two of rice for the last hour of cooking because for some reason I like split-pea with rice soup. I've gotten some strange looks but try it, you might be surprised.
If ya got a meat bone in there, haul it out towards the end and chop the meat up fine and return that to the soup and give the bone to the dog. The slower ya cook this, the better, on the back of an old wood cook stove is best. Whatever, it will take about three hours. Make sure ya pull out the packet of spices before you holler "Supper" or some poor soul will get this shroud right in the middle of their bowl and give ya the look. Some purists like to puree the peas at the end and add a wallop of cream for a smooth hardy soup. Others of us prefer it rough and chunky. Either way, bake up a big batch of corn muffins and serve with jam and butter. This is a bowl-licking meal.
You remember that joke from way back in second grade?
What did ya have for breakfast? Pea soup.
What did ya have for lunch? Pea soup.
What did ya have for dinner? Pea soup.
What did ya do all night? Pee soup.
I've got a junk drawer in my brain that holds all this stuff. I probably would have had room for my multiplication tables if I didn't have all this other shit floating around in there.
We sat around the big old table after supper, smoking and rapping, and laughing about everyone's stories of perplexity and frustration trying to do something they didn't know how to do. Pruning the orchard and apple trees was an ongoing project that had been and continued to be much debated. Books had been hauled home from the local library but no one could even agree what manner of trees they had there, let alone what method ought best be used. One young woman sure enough knew more what she was talking about, but the men couldn't seem to hear her. I noticed she would make a suggestion and they would talk and talk and talk and then an hour or two later some one of them would make exactly the same suggestion and they would all get excited and seize on the idea as if they had just invented it. Her name was Sarah and her face got bright red every time this would happen. She had white blonde hair, chopped short and ragged around her plain freckled face. She looked young, I would have guessed seventeen. Later on I found out she was fourteen which shocked the shit out of me. Sarah was a runaway, had been a biker chick, worked a year as a topless/bottomless dancer at a sleazy strip club in Sacto and had come up to this commune on a whim with a fellow who had left five days later.
Sarah had been raised on farms and in communes of every color and description by her crazy mother who had a half a dozen kids scattered from one end of California to the other. She told me that when she first left home she stayed in a chicken coop, then lived on the river bank, then climbed on the back of a Harley and never looked back. She said she had made money hand over fist when she was stripping and had phony ID her boss got for her that said she was 21 but he kept trying to bang her and turn her out into prostitution with the customers. "Dancing was bad enough," this little girl told me, "All the geeks pawing at ya and tucking dollars into yer g-string and giving ya 20 bucks for a table dance like that was some kinda big fucking deal. I had to stay so whacked out to be able to get up there every night. I spent every cent I made on dope. Stupid. The last thing I want is to end up tricking. I'm a musician," she said, proudly. "I gotta sax and a clarinet and I play a little guitar. I just picked it up, it comes to me natural."
Well, music had never come to me natural, I always had to wrestle it to the ground and make it holler uncle. But, apparently, wood cook stoves come to me as natural as can be so I sorta knew what she meant. "I'd like to get a band or play with one, do blues and driving rock. I can pick out any tune I hear and I gotta OK voice. Loud, anyway." We laughed about that and got our guitars out and sang up every song we knew between the two of us. People sang along and the pipe got passed. Sarah, a girl after my own heart, rolled bomber after bomber and when she got finished she blew that sax as sweet as could be and really tore into a bluesy number, improvising around and around on Moon Shadow.
The next six weeks or so went along pretty much the same. Patrick ran back and forth between the homestead and Suckapimento with Mick who was doing a graduate paper in Sociology as part of this project. Bodies came, bodies went. Sarah pruned the orchards, with much bickering and mega group discussions. I admired her because she would leave the group and go out and just do it. She reminded me of the Walt Whitman poem "The Song of the Open Road, the lines that went,
Leave the teachers at the lectern, teaching.
Leave the preachers at the pulpit, preaching.
She was the youngest member of the group but seemed more mature, certainly more self-contained. She was a hard worker, too, and avoided getting caught up in the dramas and petty-ass bickering that sprung up constantly. Sarah had been living in a tent but moved into the little cabin up on the hill when no one else wanted it. It was a bit of a hike through an often marshy pasture and she liked the privacy that afforded. I took to spending a lot of evenings up there with her, talking, getting high, playing our guitars and laughing. Oh, how she kept me in stitches with stories of her unorthodox upbringing. She was not bitter but took a cynical view of the battering and incest and poverty she had escaped from. She called her Mom "the Beater" and her step-father "the Master-beater"; sometimes she called them Baiter and Master-baiter. "When they got tired of wailing on each other," she said, "they took turns wailing on us kids. Master-beater was doing my sister from the time she was ten and started trying that shit on me when I was eleven. That's why I bailed out." she stated, matter-of-factly. "He stunk. She acted like he was King or something. Someday someone's gonna stick him with a knife." I wondered if she meant herself.
Mick and 'Trico had a who-can-piss-higher-on-the-wall sort of buddy-buddy relationship that Sarah and I both laughed about all the time. If one of 'em cut down a tree, the other would cut down a bigger tree. If one repaired twenty feet of fence around the old meadow, the other would go out and repair forty feet. I just stayed high and cooked and started embroidering blue jean scraps for a quilt I was gonna make. That stove taught me everything I never knew I needed to know about cooking. I made bread and cookies and cakes and pies. Sarah showed me how to dry berries and apples; we had cases of them that someone had brought up and abandoned when they split back to the city. We built a rack that hung over the stove so that every time we fired her up to cook, we were also dehydrating pounds of fresh fruit that otherwise would have spoiled.
Sarah also found a root cellar under the house that held hundreds of bottles and jars of preserved foodstuffs, some of them dating back to the '30's, a lot of which was still, amazingly, good. There were cases and cases of home-made wine down there, too, only a few bottles of which had turned to vinegar. We drank that stuff like it was mother's milk and shared some horrendous three day hangovers. It was nice and cool down in the root cellar, a hole dug under the house, with a bare earth floor and shelves of sorts knocked together along the length of either wall with free-standing shelves down the center. It was just tall enough for us to stand upright in and not tall enough for any of the men so we decided that it had been built by a female, for females, and declared it a male-free zone. No females seemed to stick in Bull Meadows although a lot passed through. There was, however, a woman named Suzi down the road at a farm called Fat City and a woman named Missy squatting way up in the woods, which was National Forest land, both of whom came often to visit. Suzi had a husband named Jon and a seven year old daughter, Jenny, and although they were hippies through and through, they were a self-contained family unit. Missy, on the other hand, was living with a crazy man who blew his brains out with a .22 rifle one morning during their breakfast oatmeal and after that she always had a different fellow with her.
We drug an old carpet into the root cellar and candles and cushions and had many a fun tea party with a little sign hung on the trap door that said, "No Boys Aloud" (Sarah was a terrible speller but I adored her unintentional pun and kept that sign for years afterwards, losing it to a house fire in Alaska in 1984). We wrote a song called "No Boys Aloud" which was very funny in a mean-spirited sorta way and sang it, loudly, when working in the garden or pruning the trees in the orchard. Missy showed us how to companion-plant pumpkins with the peas, beans up the cornstalks, onions with the tomatoes to keep the bugs out. I had never had the gardening experience before and was fascinated with the breadth and depth of folklore to which I had not been privy. They talked about the phases of the moon and when to plant what and why and I often asked, "How come no one ever taught ME useful stuff like this?" I thought about our ratty lawn at Arrowhead Trailer Park that never grew and that poor bedraggled cottonwood sapling that had hung in there all those years, dying for a little loving attention. When we had finished our chores, we would retire to our den of iniquity and joke and smoke and plan bigger gardens with longer rows.
Summer ended and most the hangers-on and passers-through went back to the city, to school and their real lives. Sarah stayed. Missy stayed. Mick finished his paper and disappeared in a puff of smoke. 'Trico was running back and forth between the homestead, San Francisco and Sacramento. He was running dope and most likely doing some petty-ass burglary on the side. He got his parole changed to Yreka and only had to check in once a month with his new PO, a wizened old woman who knew from nothing about big city dope fiends. He starting banging dope again as soon as it dawned on him that she wasn't gonna UA him.
Well, it rained like hell comes to your house that autumn and when the river rose and washed the bridge clean out the next afternoon, we were all down there, debating whether the bridge would drag out that portion of the bank when it went. It did. The bridge washing out was the biggest happening in the country since the big fire back in '56 and everybody came from miles around to watch it, on both sides of the bridge, and cheered when it went, standing out there in that rain that just jackhammered down on our heads. It became a great celebration, with neighbors talking to neighbors and everyone cheering and tossing their hats up into the air when that span of steel and concrete finally twisted away from the bank and collapsed, in slow motion, into the rising torrent of muddy yellow water.
I discovered that day that everyone loves a natural disaster, especially if it only damages public property. The men were all pleased because they figured this would mean a lot of work available to put the bridge back in and replace the damaged road. The women were probably happy just because it was a break in routine. We shared thermoses of hot coffee and nips off bottles of brandy and stories about other storms and floods and wash-outs.
Sarah and I got drunker than skunks that night at the local roadhouse, much to 'Trico's disgust. By local custom, women didn't drink in bars in that neck of the woods so Sarah and I stood out like sore thumbs. Our bad-ass barroom attitude didn't help and running the pool table was the final insult to Malehood and the established order of things. There were probably three other females in the bar that night, sitting at tables towards the back, with their husbands. These wild hippie chicks who bought their own drinks and called their shots and danced together were quite a floor show. Hey, live entertainment.
While half the guys, the bachelors, thought it was an interesting novelty and probably harmless, another dozen or so kept giving 'Trico the business, telling him to get a handle on his female-folk. The wives were venomous, one cornering Sarah in the john and saying, "You're acting like a slut, you know."
"Well, that's OK," Sarah replied, "I pretty much am a slut."
This went over like a lead balloon and when the two of us started necking at the bar, 'Trico came unglued. Sarah had gotten her hands on some acid from one of the lumberjacks and she and I had both dropped and were coming on behind the shots and beers we'd been sucking down. 'Trico picked me up and plopped me on a chair at a table and told me, "Jesus, act like a lady. Don't sit there with your legs apart like that and keep your hands off Sarah. What the fuck is the problem with you?"
I started to stand up and he pushed me down into the chair again. Sarah jumped off her bar stool and onto his back, hollering, "Keep your fucking hands offa her!" and the brawl was on. 'Trico smacked Sarah to the floor, a nasty roundhouse that put her down like she'd been poleaxed. I shoved a chair up against him and pinned him to the bar. Some fellow was pulling me off 'Trico while Sarah was climbing on THAT guy's back and the lumberjack, who it turned out was named Fisher, tried to pull her offa him.
The bartender rousted us all outside into the parking lot, in the rain, where 'Trico and I got into a knock-down drag-out, with Fisher holding Sarah back. A couple of guys were trying to stop the fight and a few were egging us on. I got 'Trico's thumb in my mouth and crunched down with my teeth to the bone. Blood was flying all over the place. He punched me hard right in my face, blacking both my eyes, it turned out, and splitting my lip, so now I was bleeding, too. Somewhere, somehow, I got my hands on a polanski, a brush-cutting tool with a pick on one end of the head and a blade on the other, which I was swinging wildly. I was hell-bent and determined to kill that man. How DARE he imply that I should be a lady!?! At about the same time that Fisher got the polanski off of me, Sarah jumped into 'Trico's parent's rig, fired it up, popped the clutch and drove it straight off the eight-foot embankment onto the old highway below the bar parking lot. Sarah smashed her head through the windshield, so she was bleeding like a stuck pig. She took off wildly into the woods across the highway where she got tangled up in a tumbled-down barb wire fence, tearing the hell out of both of her legs. Fisher rounded up all the wounded warriors and talked the bartender into pouring whisky onto all our wounds and no one called the police. 'Trico and another guy got the half-smashed rig out of the ditch and hammered the front end out away from the wheels. Sarah and I danced and hollered and drank some more with the rest of Fisher's crew who thought this was even more fun than the bridge going out.
We were a sore gang that limped home around dawn, however, and when I saw my black eyes and split lip in the mirror later, I thought, "Jeez, Dad would be SO proud." 'Trico glowered and snapped at us for several days, but let me crawl puppy-like back into his bed. I don't know how he explained the wreckage to his parents. He returned with an old truck from his next run to Sacto. Life went on.
Sarah started keeping company with Fisher who was quite taken with this wild woman. She led him a merry chase, however, and we continued our baby dyke antics whenever we got drunk in public although we didn't much do that kind of stuff at home. Life was pretty quiet around the old homestead. As the snows deepened, visitors became fewer and fewer which was just fine with us.
Food got scarce. 'Trico was spending more and more time down in the City, on dope runs, and hanging with his pals from the pen. Sarah, however, was quite a clever girl and discovered bags and bags of cracked corn and horse oats out in the barn and we ate those, boiled, with our stock of preserves from the root cellar and the harvest from our garden. With that and the wine, we were quite content. Fisher shot a deer, illegal as hell, and gave us a half which we hung up out in the wood shed and ate piece by piece. Sarah was very adept with her knife, cutting hunks of meat from that carcass till only a bony skeleton was left. We then took the bow-saw and cut the bones up and supped on venison soup. I had nothing but admiration for her hardy nature and good-humored disposition.
I'm So Hungry I Could Eat (Like) A Horse
There is actually no reason why people can't eat the same as a horse. The difference is that most people would rather eat the horse. We found out that the cracked corn could be boiled up into an edible mash after it sat simmering on the back of the stove for a day or two. We also found an old hand crank food grinder out in the tool shack which after we cleaned it up would grind that corn up into a coarse meal which we used to make corn cakes, tortillas, corn muffins and corn meal mush which we ate both hot and cold. Fried cold mush is very good except when you don't have a speck of sweet to put on it.
We learned how to cook the cracked oats after pounding them in a sack with a hammer and then washing them several times to get rid of (most of) the hulls which rose right up in the basin and got tossed out the back door. The oats didn't cook up like oatmeal, however, we discovered, but like the cracked corn had to be slow-cooked a long, long time, like a couple of days, to get soft enough to eat. We drank hot oat water like tea, however, as the oats boiled away on the back of the stove. This was probably the healthiest I had ever eaten in my life and I had energy to spare that winter. We had a big bag of beans but they gave us the farts so bad we preferred the oats and corn. The beans were so farty, in fact, we kept 'em for special ammunition and fed 'em to the Fisher gang, laughing like to bust knowing those boys were gonna blow the bottoms of their britches out.
We ground the oatmeal up, too, and added it to all the bread we cooked and it was delicious. If ya been feeling weak and sickly, I suggest ya spend the winter eating like a horse and cutting and splitting lots of firewood to keep an old wood cook stove stoked up enough to warm a two-story house with lots of cracks for drafts. I guarantee ya that by the time Spring rolls 'round, you'll feel like ya could eat nails and spit tacks.
My hair had been steadily growing in the six or so years since my last trip to the barber and had become a respectable mop for a hippie chickie from the wrong side of the tracks. I usually wore it down long or in one braid down the back and I still delighted in sticking feathers and beads and bells in there to make a joyous racket. This winter, perhaps due to our high-fiber diet, my hair grew faster than it ever has before or since. Several inches past my shoulder blades, it began to creep down to the small of my back. Missy also had long hair and we took turns doing each other's braids. She took off to the City one weekend and came back a few weeks later with a concentration camp haircut and a new name.
"Call me Opuu." she gloated, "It means White Bird. Missy was my patriarchal slave name and I have shed it in a ritual of flame."
I must admit I found her new buzz cut wildly attractive, very clean lines, down to the bone. But I sorta missed her old name. "Missy! It's like a cartoon character. Itsy. Bitsy. And Missy. No more of that for me." Missy split back to the City. Apparently she had shed her woodsie image along with her mane and her name.
Sarah often took off for days at a time, too, leaving me to tend the home fires on my own. She would show up again, spectacularly drunk, usually with a stray male or two in tow. Once she brought a half a dozen Indian guys from Happy Camp, the reservation up the road, who were of the Yakima tribe, I believe. They all called each other "Coz," for cousin, and Sarah had become an honorary Coz. They were fierce looking fellows with feathers stuck in their black felt cowboy hats and they went on a rampage, really tearing up the town and road between Happy Camp and Yreka and all points in between. One night she came home and staggered upstairs and turned left rather than right at the head of the stairs, and passed out in the empty bedroom which was filled with tools and materials intended for an insulating job on the rafters that had never been completed. She wrapped herself up in a roll of pink fiberglass insulation, mistaking it for a sleeping bag apparently, and emerged the next morning with a hangover and tremendous thirst and rash from one end of her body to the other from rolling around in that fiberglass. For some reason we thought this was funny, even though her face and arms and legs and back were bright red and inflamed for weeks.
One day she came home with a black kid, about nineteen years old, named Slack, who had attached himself to her down around Shasta City. Slack had mental problems, that was obvious, like he had taken too much acid and never come back to Earth, or something. He talked constantly about the Devil and evil and voodoo and curses unto the third generation and didn't make a whole lot of sense. He decided to stay on with us at Bull Meadows, making himself to home in the old chicken coop. Well, Sarah herself had lived in a coop for quite awhile, so this wasn't so strange. But, it gave her the creeps that he was convinced that her sax was demon-possessed, which was his favorite and after awhile his only topic of conversation. He kept trying to convince her that she should build a fire and burn that horn, which to Sarah would have been like making a sacrifice of her first-born child.
When he wasn't threatening to murder her saxophone, he was always trying to climb into her bed. He was convinced that Sarah had demons, too, which could only be exorcised by semen ritual and he was an eager and adamant volunteer. Just about every other night, this would result in a screaming match up at her cabin, with Slack climbing at the ready into her bed and her crawling, hollering, out. One morning ''Trico and I were asleep when we heard Sarah storm in downstairs in the big cabin and start banging around, rummaging through things. 'Trico slipped on his pants and ran downstairs, me close behind. Sarah was standing on a chair getting the .22 rifle down from where Patrick kept it hung on pegs over the front door.
"Is this fucking thing loaded?" she asked him.
"Always," he replied. "An unloaded gun is about useless, isn't it?"
"Well, how does it work?" she asked him.
He showed her the safety and pulled it off for her. Then it dawned on the dimwit to ask her what she might need it for. Bright, eh?
"I'm gonna get that Slack out of my cabin for once and for all!" she declared, and headed out the door. I stood in the doorway and watched her march purposefully back up through the pasture to her cabin on the rise. Her head was down and her shoulders were hunched up and she strode with determination, barefoot, through the frosty marsh.
"Jesus, Patrick, she's gonna shot that dumb fuck. Do something." I don't know what I expected him to do except head out after her, which is exactly what he did, me following behind like a runt pup. We got to her cabin in time to hear Sarah shouting and Slack's incoherent replies.
"Once and for all," she screamed, "Get the fuck out of my bed, out of my place, out of my life. And, keep your fucking hands offa my horn."
"The lady resists the power of salt and spray. Come to the master. Come and be clean again. Vent your venom on the dark one, not this innocent lamb. Pray and be free." he recited in a weird deep voice that didn't sound like him or anything human. He had her sax between his legs and his pants down around his ankles as he stumbled around, raising the sax above his head, then rubbing it around on his dark belly and into his groin.
"Out. Now. Go. I'll shoot you, I'm not kidding." she stated, flat and cold, pointing the gun at him and motioning towards the door and the trail.
"The demon speaks, not the lady. Begone, demon, I cast you out in the name of salt and sea." thus spoke Slack, in that same spooky from-the-grave tone, holding the sax way above his head and making as if to dash it down upon the floor. There was a popping noise and then another and Slack's legs went out from under him.
'Trico snapped to and pulled the rifle away from Sarah who sat down and started to cry.
"Why wouldn't he leave when I asked him to? Why wouldn't he leave my sax alone? I told him to leave. I told him a hundred times not to touch my horn."
"Bullet went right through his kneecap." 'Trico remarked, tending the fallen. "Other one missed and hit the floor here. He'll need a doctor to clean this, though. Looks like it tore the kneecap up. I better take him into town."
The last we saw of Slack he was gesticulating madly in the front of 'Trico's old truck, still talking away a mile a minute about demons and salt. Sarah was in shock all morning long and was subdued when the Sheriff pulled into the long driveway to our cabin around noon.
"You the little lady that shot that crazy nigger?" he asked by way of introduction.
Sarah's face flashed dark and deadly at that remark. "I didn't shoot a nigger!" she hollered at him, showing the first animation she had displayed since she had picked up the rifle five hours earlier. "I shot a sick man who happens to be black."
The Sheriff eyed Sarah like maybe she was crazy, too. "Yeah, well, I just come up here to tell ya that he's wanted over in Yuba City for assault and that we ain't gonna press no charges against ya, little girl. He's in the hospital now in Yreka and soon as they get him sewn up we'll ship his sorry ass over to Yuba. He won't be back again to bother you."
I was glad to hear this as I wasn't too sure how to explain assault upon a sax or whether Sarah might not end up locked up, herself. Shootings were not that common, even in this rough and wooly neck of the woods. But the Sheriff looked like he was enjoying the hell out of this whole thing. "Next time any niggers come up here bothering you, you just let us know. We'll take care of 'em, all right." he said, pushing his hat back on his head and wiping his greasy brow.
"Why don't you go fuck yourself?" Sarah told him, squinting at him with that kinda black look I had learned meant she was about to go off on someone.
"Uh, thank you, Sheriff, for coming to check on us and we'll certainly let you know if we have any further problems." said the Lady of the Manor. Oh, 'Trico would have been so proud of me. "I am sure we won't." I added, trying to politely push him back out the front door.
"Well, next time, make sure you shoot higher. They oughta pin a medal on your chest, young lady." he said to Sarah, eyeing her considerable chest, and looking for all the world like Deputy Dawg, his eyebrows wiggling up and down.
Well, the Sheriff finally left without Sarah kneecapping him, too, which I viewed as a minor miracle as he just couldn't seem to get that this whole thing wasn't about race. But, for weeks afterwards, every time Sarah and I went out, rednecks from all over the valley wanted to buy us drinks and toast, "The little lady that plugged that nigger."
"Tried to rape ya, didn't he?" one fat old fart suggested, one night at the roadhouse, to which Sarah responded, "It was my horn, my fucking horn, he was gonna damage my saxophone, man. Can't you understand anything?" But, they couldn't. So far as they were concerned, Sarah had been defending her virtue, and nothing she could say or do could change their perception of the incident.
Fisher had quite a case for Sarah, even though she was nothing like the kind of female he ought to like. He took us out poaching twice that winter, bringing home a deer each time which he spotted with a powerful flashlight mounted on the hood of his truck. One of the deer he shot was a female, gravid with fawn. He got grossed out when Sarah and I both put some of her belly blood on our faces as we were dressing her out and the almost completely formed fawn slithered out with the rest of her guts. "Why’n the hell did ya do that?" he wanted to know. He couldn't understand when we told him it was to honor the female power she had given us with this gift of her flesh. We took the meat that night to a woman that lived down in the hollow, with five kids, whose husband had died that fall in a stupid freak accident. The next time we went hunting, he took the meat to his granny Fisher, a woman well into her eighties who cackled with glee and cooked us up a pan fulla liver.
"You're that girl that shot that black fellow, ain't cha?" she asked Sarah, but she didn't say it with the gleeful tone the men had used and Sarah wasn't angry.
"Yeah," she said, "I hope he's the last two-legged I ever have to blast, too."
Granny laughed long and hard and fired up her wood cook stove, saying, "This one's a keeper, if ya can figure out HOW to keep 'er." and she continued to chuckle and shake her head as she began to cook up that still hot liver.
Granny Fisher's Venison Liver
"Liver's only good fresh and most don't know how to cook it right. Ya gotta getcher pan hotter’n hell with a buncha bacon fat or lard. While it's heating, ya slice the liver like this, crosswise, holding her tight. Gotta be careful ya don't getcher own fingers, knife don't know no different, cha know? Make up some white flour with lotsa pepper and salt and roll them pieces around in there good till they're all coated thick. When that fat's smoking, ya put that liver right down in there. Go ahead and crowd 'em in there and keep that pan hot. Soon's ya got 'em all in there, startcher turning them over and get 'em good and crisp on both sides, but fast. Pull them pieces out of that fat and put 'em in a pie pan like this and set 'er up on the back a the stove to stay hot. Fry up a mess a onions and then put them with the liver, too, then putcher flour in that fat and brown it up good and add a couple cupsa water to make a thick gravy and stir it good or ye'll get all lumps in there. Now, this's liver. Eat that up with some bread and butter and maybe some ketchup and ya never had liver like that, I betcha. Gob them onions on there and pour that good gravy over it all and dig in."