Instead, she pricked and scratched her hands and dropped half the berries.
Groaning, she stood, clutching her aching back.
It would take two more cups before she gathered enough berries for a pie and could stumble back down the hill: I’m not wasting all this effort for nothing, she thought.
Life was hard enough.
She lurched up in the dark, burned her fingers starting the fire, then threatened Horace with a whipping if he didn’t help his father gather the ox team.
Before the sun rose, she had nursed the baby, made biscuits, shoved them into the dutch oven, then fried bacon.
That morning, she had also burned her hand on the boiling coffeepot, which was precariously perched on the piled kindling, and mourned when she realized she had forgotten to wash her hands before flattening the biscuit dough.
I just won’t tell James and he’ll never know the difference, she thought.
After breakfast, she had to scrub out the skillet, repack the wagon, rock the baby back to sleep and begin driving the wagon while James searched for buffalo.
After changing, she would be forced to douse her hair with kerosene–buffalo fur crawled with lice–and she dreaded carrying the smell until the day she could wash her hair.
When the train finally stopped for nooning, Abby looked around and saw a hill where she could hide while emptying her aching bladder and intestines.
The miracle happened when she gathered up her dress, squatted and glanced to the side. The blackberry bushes appeared, to her, like a personal gift from God
So after rubbing her back she stooped to the bush, filled with fresh determination.
Sensing a movement, Abby turned her head and almost fainted.
The enemy walked over the hill and froze when she saw Abby.
The woman clutched a woven basket against her body and a big-eyed baby peered from a cradleboard strapped to her back.
Abby didn’t know what to do. It was hard to think.
Two months ago they passed burned-out wagons.
Men talked about Indians all the time and advised each other to “Hang on to your hair.”
Should she scream? Turn and run? Did the woman have a man with her, or dear God, the entire tribe?
It was so hot in the sun.
At that moment, Abby’s eyes wandered to the berry bush and the berries were still luscious; succulent, seductive, sweet.
She could taste that pie.
Before she knew what she was doing, Abby’s hand wandered to the bush, picked a berry and dropped it into her apron.
Abby couldn’t help herself. The berries shimmered in the sun and she could smell their acidic odor.
She kept picking.
The Indian woman’s baby yawned. The Indian woman’s hand reached out and pinched a berry, dropping it into her basket.
Carefully, the two women looked away and began picking more berries.
It was quiet. A meadowlark flew from the grass, singing.
One cup to go.
Soon, the women were only feet apart.
Abby looked down at her grimy dress, feeling her skin crawl–the men would not stop the wagon train so the women could wash–and compared it to the Indian woman’s clean buckskin dress.
“Name?” Abby asked, longing for the buckskins.
The Indian woman didn’t understand. She shook her head, careful not to stand too close to the White woman.
Abby pointed to herself and said her name, carefully, with two distinct syllables: “Ab-by.”
The Indian woman half-smiled, pointed to herself and said, “Kimani.”
“What tribe do you belong to?”
Kimani shook her head. Her braids fell to her hips, shining blue-black in the sun.
The woman shook her head. She pointed to herself: “Ne’we.”
“Ne’we?” Abby had never heard of them.
“More children?” Abby asked the woman.
Kimani shook her head, bewildered.
Abby pointed to the baby and flung her fingers out in a numbering gesture.
Oh! Kimani showed four fingers.
That sounds like work, Abby thought.
James called her name. He was at the bottom of the hill.
Abby pointed down, wearily smiling. “I have to go,” she said.
Kimani arched her back and rubbed it, frowning in pain.
She raised her eyebrows at Abby, smiling an inquiry.
Abby arched her back and rubbed it, smiling back.