Sitting in Susan’s kitchen that afternoon as the snowstorm swept over the mountains and began swirling its curtains of white between the greenhouses, filtering down on the quiet, still garden beds where they slept beneath their winter coverings of leaves and straw, Bud and Susan shared a meal of turkey sandwiches, hot oven-baked peanut butter applesauce and spiced cider after a long morning’s work repairing a damaged roof section on one of the greenhouses. Susan found Bud to be unusually quiet that day, wondered what might be the matter but knew he’d tell her in his own good time, if it was a matter for her ears. She was well aware that he’d been out for the past several days, wandering the high country with some faction or other of the search, saw from his swollen, purple lip that he must have been in a fight of some sort and she just hoped they’d all made it back with him. Didn’t particularly want anything interfering with the upcoming wedding, and was well aware of the occasional results--body count was pretty high by then, though apparently they had never so much as suspected his involvement in any of the incidents--when Bud and the searchers mixed. And those were just the incidents he’d told her about… Bud was staring at her over the edge of his half-eaten sandwich, seemed to know she was thinking about him and she looked away, smiling, pretending to be busy stirring another dash of cinnamon into her steaming cider.
“Saw Asmundson the other day.” So. That was it. She’d wondered.
“Ha! Yeah, that’s right, isn’t it? Guess she’s an Asmundson now, too. Just like you’ll be a ‘Kilgore’ here in a couple weeks…strange world, ain’t it? The more ornery and wild of the two, that’s the one I saw. The tall, scrawny one. Critter ended up stalking us down in the valley, spending a day or two staking out our camp before I finally caught him sleeping and walked up on him…boy, was he mad, too. Launched himself at me, busted my lip and woulda ground my neck into the dirt with a stick, too, if he’d been strong enough to do it.”
“Seems you two just can’t meet without some sort of physical altercation occurring, doesn’t it? What do you mean, ‘if he’d been strong enough?’ Is he still having trouble with his ribs?”
“Having trouble with ’em, alright. Trouble is, they’re all sticking out. Fella looks like he don’t eat more than a bite or two every week at best, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s sleeping out on the bare ground half the time too, by the looks of him. But when I tried to talk to him about it, kinda hold him accountable in some way, he just got all quiet like he does, eyes closed up and distant and I’d have liked to take an aspen club to him at that point because it’s really the only way to communicate with a fella sometimes when he gets like that. Can do him a lot of good. I’ve seen it. But seeing as I’d already done a pretty good number on him and he was having a rough time getting his breath, I managed to refrain. He never did answer any of my questions, the doggone stubborn-headed mule.”
“That’s pretty worrisome, with the baby coming…”
“Aw, I figure he’ll pull out of it pretty quick here, take responsibility as the baby’s time comes closer. He’s just a little lost right now. I get the feeling there’s a lot of things Asmundson’d never really stopped to think about for years and years, had spent most of his life pretty carefully avoiding them, actually…I know that’s at least part of why he came to us in Rhodesia, to get away from it--the quiet, the thinking, the memories; no time to focus on any of that when you're spending every waking moment drilling and training and running through the bundu like we were over there--to delay having to sit there and think about all the things he’d seen and done and gone through back there…a number of our boys were like that, running, even if they didn’t realize it themselves at the time…made some of our best fighters, too, with all the unfinished business most of them had left behind in those jungles to motivate them and keep ’em moving. Asmundson was no different, there because he believed it was a cause worth fighting for but also because it let him put off dealing with some stuff, I know for a fact ‘cause of course I was doing the same thing…and then when he came back here, guess he must’ve found ways to go on runnin’ from all that, and you know, it’s just been in these last few years I think, when he’s really running, that it’s all caught up with him. That can be hard for a fella to deal with, especially when it comes all at once like that, and with the stress of the search happening at the same time--well, it’s no wonder he’s having a bit of a rough time getting it all sorted out. But he will. He loves that kid, you can see it in his eyes when he talks about him, and that lady of his is the light of his life, though he don’t exactly say it in so many words. He’s dead set on doing his best by them, just sorta lost his way a little bit somewhere along in there recently.”
Susan nodded, could see the truth in what Kilgore was saying--had been through similar times with her husband Bill, but they had come earlier in his life, and after a few difficult years early in their marriage, things had settled down some--but Einar’s condition had greatly concerned her the last time she’d seen him, and if things had deteriorated since then… “With the baby coming in something like two months now, I’m just concerned about whether he’s going to be ready by that time to…well, to keep up with things, put food on the table and keep the place warm while Liz is adjusting to caring for the little one, because that’s a lot of work and responsibility in any situation, but doubly so with the life they’re living, and from what you described, he’s having a rough time just looking after himself, right now…”
“Oh, he’s a mess alright, all tore up about some of the stuff that happened over there and taking it out on himself to the point that he can’t hardly think straight anymore just for lack of nourishment, if nothing else, and I suspect there are some other things going on, too--the cold’s not helping any, seems to be hitting him real hard this time around and if he don’t watch out, it’s gonna sneak in and take him one of these nights--but you know, Asmundson’s a fella who’ll do what has to be done, he’ll find a way or make one, because that’s a habit that just doesn’t go away, and the more challenging the situation is, well, the harder he’s gonna try. I’ve seen that in him. They’ll be alright up there.”
Susan rose, began clearing the dishes. “And if not?”
“Well now, I’ve got that covered too, you know...”