The snow had fallen thicker around the cabin. Mother knew it wouldn’t last. At least the moisture will help with the drought. As they’d rounded the last bend in the road, the sight of the cabin, just where Jacob had said it would be, had opened a spigot of dread that had drained from her, flushing the tension she’d felt for weeks.
“What do you mean?” Sister stops next to her mother. “I thought you’d said you’d been here before.”
“I know.” Mother traces an index finger down her daughter’s jawline. “That was a lie, honey. I wanted you to feel secure in our future.” All the lies we tell to protect loved ones, parents’ lies.
“I’m not a child. You’re going to have to trust me.” Sister gently grasps her mother’s hand, kisses her palm and holds it to her cheek. “What else should I know about?”
“Well,” Mother hems. “You’re adopted.”
Sister tries to bite her mother’s hand. “You take that back.”
Mother snatches back her fingers, just out of reach. “Alright, alright. No more secrets. What I know, you know.”
“I’ve got secrets of my own.” Sister steps back in line behind Father. Midge and Parker are dawdling, the trip having exhausted them.
“I’m sure you do.” And one that would kill you to learn I already know.
Father waits at the top of the rise that meanders down to the substantially sized cabin. “I better check it out.” He holds up a finger and waves it. “You four stay put while I make sure it’s safe.”
The family nods as one. Midge spies a bench across the drive that continues up the mountain. She brushes it off and sits. “Is this our new home? Are we gonna stay here? Are there other children around? Can…”
“Easy there, kiddo.” Mother sits beside her and hoists Parker onto her lap. “Let’s just see what’s what, for now.” She cups Parker’s tiny, frozen hands in her own, brings them to her lips and blows them warm. “Remember our motto?”
“One day in the sun. One night with the moon.” Midge’s flat tone fizzles her enthusiasm at seeing the cabin. “But we can stay for a while, right?”
They sit restless, watching Father’s flashlight pan across windows, flit from room to room. After far too long, he emerges and trudges up the hill.
“Well?” Mother says to his silence.
“It’s safe enough. It’s been ransacked though.”
“To be expected.”
“Still. Double damn.”
Sister grabs Midge’s and Parker’s hands. “Let’s go see what Uncle Jacob has left us.”
The five stand silent in the dimly lit kitchen, the worst hit of the rooms. All the cupboards yawn open, empty save for dishes that hadn’t been pulled out and dashed to the floor. The shards crunch as Mother inspects the damage.
“There’s nothing in the pantry but light bulbs and paper towels.” She tries the faucet. “No water pressure. But I knew that.” She steps cautiously into the dining and living room. “But they left the furniture intact, mostly. What about the bedrooms upstairs?” She lifts a dining chair upright and scoots it beneath the table.
“Everything’s there.” Father sets his pack on the table and rights the other furniture. “We’ll need to inspect it all, the beds and such, to make sure they’re safe.”
Midge and Parker look stricken. They stand close together and shuffle around taking in the mayhem. Midge stops at the dark pantry. “No food. No pancakes or peaches or tomato soup?”
“No pweanut butta?” Parker’s voice wavers.
Father rushes over, kneels and draws them close. “We’ve had it worse, you remember.” He pulls a bag from inside his jacket and hands them each a strip of savory jerky. “Let’s help clean things up and then we’ll get a meal going. Alright?”
The children nod hesitantly.
“I guess I cursed us.” Sister divests her pack next to Fathers, fetches the broom and pan from the floor and begins to sweep. Though she can barely see, she strokes swiftly, her lips tight. “If I hadn’t wished…”
Mother stops her odd stomping about the cabin and comes to halt Sister’s frantic motion. “Oh, no you don’t. Fate is made not endured. We’ve learned that much.” She grips her daughter’s shoulders and steels her gaze. “We’re not that naive. And neither was Uncle Jacob.” She continues her tapping with her boots. As she nears the hallway that leads to the garage, the floor echos hollow. “Ah, ha.”
She finds the pivoting slat and lifts the trap door. It arcs open revealing a set of steep stairs and a musty basement smell.
Sister pokes her head around Mother. “Now we’re talkin’. Father? Can you pass me your flashlight?”
Father and the children gather at the top while the two women descend on treacherous stairs. They see the light move back and forth under them and hear a sharp call from Sister.
“Are you OK?” Midge cries, bending down. Father grabs the back of her coat.
No reply comes until a hand snakes around the staircase presenting a large, red-lidded jar. “No, I’m not OK. I’m great!” Sister exclaims in triumph. “Thank you, thank you Uncle Jacob.”
Parker leans too far and starts to tumble into the dark. “Pweanut…”
Mother comes out of nowhere, reaches across the stairs, dives and cushions his fall. They tumble to the cold cement floor. “Oof,” she says, as he lands on her chest.
“Sorry, Momma.” He scrambles to his feet and bends back down to touch her on her forehead. “You OK?”
“Yeah. Just one more for the tally.” She rolls to her knees. “For every time I catch you, I expect you to catch me when you’re older.”
“I catch you next time.”
The hidden larder contains a good three months’ worth of food. Longer if they’re careful, Mother considers. But tonight, they’ll feast.
Father fills two lanterns with clear fuel, and when lit, they glow incandescent, illuminating the whole lower floor. The propane stove still works and they get a pot of bottled water boiling.
“Pasta and sauce with tangy green beans,” Sister announces, busy with preparation.
Parker strolls about holding the jar of peanut butter. He’s wandered upstairs where Mother is cleaning and preparing their sleeping arrangements: they’d all sleep in one room, mattresses pulled to form a single nest—they hadn’t slept separately since leaving home.
Sister promised him that once dinner was finished, she’d start some bread dough but that it wouldn’t be possible to bake for hours. She smiled when he said he’d wait but needed to hold onto his treasure for safekeeping.
Dinner was delicious, declared Father.
When it arrived, Sister’s bread, low and dense, provided all the means to satisfy the boy’s desires. “I love pweanut butta,” he said around a mouthful as dessert.
Lamps extinguished, sleeping bags all nestled together, the family lay in the master bedroom overlooking the moonlit field. The snow still showed in patches. It would be gone within days, the warming spring weather reason enough for Mother to feel hopeful. “Excellent dinner, ‘Sis.”
“We can go back tomorrow and collect the car.” Father said.
Mother nodded. “We’ll have to figure out how to get around the washed-out bridge.”
“One night with the moon.” Sister says, sleepily. “Tomorrow will bring what it brings.”
Parker and Midge, bellies full, have fallen asleep. They don’t hear the mournful howling as it begins and rolls across the hills. One voice then many, a chorus of wolves, the sound close enough to identify individuals.
Father grumbles. “Still think they’re curious?”