Monday, February 25, 2008

Chapter Thirty-One

It’s been a little over three weeks since the night of the train derailment. Three blessedly boring weeks. No exploding propane tanks. No automatic gunfire. No humvees or military transports rumbling up and down the street. About the only excitement there has been is when the kids shrieked – with laughter – when Sissy made "green eggs and ham" omelets for St. Patrick’s day by adding green food coloring to their powdered eggs.

Easter has also passed, but more quietly than in previous years. That suited the Chapman family just fine. They marked the holiday with traditional practices like resurrection rolls and hiding brightly colored plastic eggs for Sarah, Bekah, and Johnnie to hunt. They talked with relatives online to catch up on family news and sent over a basket of plastic eggs for Barry Jr.’s little girls to play with. Barry Jr.’s oldest girl is finally out of bed for most of the waking part of the day. She still tires easily when playing, but at least now she doesn’t just watch her younger sisters from the sidelines. Her appetite has finally returned as well, but she is still rail thin. Their diets don’t have a lot of fat in them. From somewhere Barry’s wife has come up with some meal supplement drinks for kids; it was probably on the black market and Sissy doesn’t really want to know how much they had to pay for them. Sissy used up all of the supplemental shakes that she had stashed when her own family was recovering.

Scott and his crew have made a couple more runs and report that at least in the areas of town that they go, all is quiet. Enough of their jobs pay cash that it is worth the fuel, and enough pay in barter that they don’t have to spend all of their cash. Good deal all around for these times.

And then one night they hear some heartening news. There has been an important break through in the area of vaccines. A trial vaccine is being tested on humans and it appears to work. It is only proving effective against the main pandemic strain, but that is 70+% of current cases. It will still be months before it is available to the general public; manufacturing is at an all-time low. There remain questions about where the vaccine will be deployed first and for whom; but there is now a little more hope on the horizon.

The only cloud is the increasing concern about a terrorist attack. The worry is enough that statements are being issued by bi-partisan groups urging people to be vigilant in their communities and report any suspicious activity to local authorities. "Local authorities" think that is a good joke considering how over-worked and under-staffed they are. They can’t run around investigating every potential lead that comes in. A group of dissidents had been arrested outside of DC, and they did have a cache of illegal weapons, but whether they are part of an imminent attack is still unclear.

The UN, the WHO, and the CDC have formed an unusually united front in their discussion of terrorism. Several delegates have mentioned that there could be sanctions, including being moved to the bottom of any vaccine list, for countries perpetuating acts of terrorism or giving refuge and/or aid to terrorist groups.

On the home front, Scott manages to repair the bullet holes in their block wall with concrete patch. He even manages to paint the wall over with matching paint left over from the original paint job last summer. The patches show in a couple of places, but over all it is better than it had been which is a psychologically helpful thing for the family.

The vinyl fascia takes more ingenuity. Scott fills the holes and cracks with color-matched latex caulk. Up in the attic he patches the plywood side with wood putty. The worst damage though is where the bullets that had gone through the fascia continued into the roof. He uses the wood putty to fill these holes as well. After the putty cures, he paints over the area with some roofing tar. He also tars that area on the shingle side of the roof. Tacking the fence back up and reinstalling the gate hasn’t been that difficult. One of the gate hinges was bent but a hammer and some muscle fixed that. The repairs aren’t perfect, but they don’t look half-bad either and the house is back to being weather tight, which is what really matters.

Now that warmer weather is here, water conservation is even more important. Average rainfall in their area for the month of April is only 1.80 inches. By the end of the month daytime temperatures will average 90 degrees Fahrenheit. This will mean more sweating which requires more fluid replacement in the form of drinking water. This will be especially true whenever the utilities are down.

Watering all the plants by hand takes a lot of their stored water when the power is out. Even when the power is on they try to be frugal and only water when they absolutely have to. Scott tries to figure out an irrigation system, but he isn’t having much luck. For now they are making do, and it is working.

Sissy continues to harvest things from the garden including cabbages, onions, carrots, celtuce, shallots, peas, amaranth, radishes, and snap beans. They also plant cardoon and add consecutive plantings of snap beans, corn, tomatoes, and watermelons to get as much out of the growing season as they can.

James, Sarah, and Bekah have built some "cages" to go over the various plants because the raccoons are really getting bold. They have a couple of raccoons that are even coming out during the day time. Mr. D offers them parts of his old hunting dog kennel if they will help him strip the last of the citrus off of his trees. Sissy is going to preserve as many quarts of fruit segments of this as she can to help both families out. James is planning to rebuild the kennel over the top of the corn to keep squirrels out.

By the end of the month the citrus trees will have small marble-sized fruit. Some tropical colors are reappearing in the landscape. The hibiscuses are in bloom to replace the azaleas. The smell of confederate jasmine has replaced the smell of orange blossoms. And the bottlebrush tree and bougainvillea bushes are showing themselves to advantage. The mosquitoes are back with a vengeance. And since the pest control companies are not operating, people are beginning to have really bad problems with ants and roaches. That’s Florida for you, but it doesn’t make it any less irritating.

Sissy figures she is pretty lucky. She paid particular attention to the potential problem of insect infestations in her preps. She addresses pests in her garden with organic solutions. She tries to do the same with the insects in the house, but certainly doesn’t say no when Scott sprays with the professional strength stuff he uses at the apartments. Between sprayings, her primary defense is Borax.

They do have one problem that they aren’t going to be able to avoid much longer. Their kids are growing. Rose isn’t a problem, she reached her full size a couple of years ago and has a decent wardrobe that is still in good repair. Sarah and Bekah are still growing, but there are lots of hand me downs for them to use. Johnnie also has boxes of hand-me-downs and Sissy has patterns and material that she can use to sew if that isn’t enough. But James is down to one pair of pants, two pairs of shorts and a couple of his dad’s old shirts.

Scott has tried to find him something at the neighborhood market but anything available is either way too big or way too small. Scott says he will keep a look out when he is out and about. In the prepandemic months Sissy bought clothes for James that were a size larger thinking that would be enough, but he has already outgrown them. Her plan of last resort is to cut down some of Scott’s jogging clothes, but he really needs jeans for when he works in the grove or helps her with gardening and yardwork. After clothes will come shoes for Bekah and Johnnie, but that is a problem for another day. Sissy is hoping desperately that she can figure out a solution for James before she has to start cutting down clothes. She and Scott have had to make adjustments to their own clothing already. It’s one of the downsides to losing so much weight. Nothing fits anyone the way it used to. And hard work and harsh laundry practices are wearing clothes out more quickly than before.

One funny thing has happened. Mrs. Cleary has found a new use for raccoons. She had her husband and Mr. Jones catch and skin a couple that had been targeting the neighborhood garden. Then, following an old "receipt" from her grandmother’s diary, she fried it up and added the meat to the neighborhood stone soup. Some people were leery, but those who did eat it said it just added a mild, gamey kind of taste to the stew. "Meat is meat," was the most often heard comment.

Mrs. Cleary said the only tricky part was making sure all the glands were cut out the right way. "After that, cooking ‘coon isn’t any different than cooking chicken. And it’s a lot cheaper."

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