Nulba goes out into the field and the sweat makes runnels between the cords in her arms and her back. She sees the tall figure that is Pualan coming, sees it only out of the corner of her eye. She pulls the weeds in vigorous motions and does no listening for hours until Pualan recedes and Renneyah comes out of the house – she’s not solid like Nulba but she still has a full round look.
Nulba shifts so that Renneyeh can get at the same clump of weeds.
“You showin’ all your face.” Nulba’s mouth is over-full; she spits to the side and it is soaked up almost instantly.
He come to eat and lay here an’ there, an’ never lift a finger. Thick roots make the ground split as Nulba tugs.
By evening Renneyeh’s daughters return to the house, and the first daughter is laughing over-easy so that Nulba watches her closely. But there’s nothing that night and Nulba takes her sleep alongside Renneyeh’s warm, comfort flesh just as always, that comfort that is unlike the sun.
The dawn is a sometime friend of theirs, Nulba getting up with a stern jaw while Renneyah yawns.
Nulba goes into the frontroom and Renneyeh’s hand stays on the warm spot on the floor left behind. They’ve kept it Nulba’s spot without a word said. Pualan belongs elsewhere; he is a sometime-interruption that Renneyeh, surrounded by daughters, welcomes without saying, while Nulba looks aside.
There are nights that Nulba wonders, How many like me be lookin’ aside? How many like her be feeling the truth that once there was more Murca men?
Next thirdday after sitting on the porch, Nulba doesn’t catch sight of any shadow on the road. Renneyeh comes back out into the sun and she is resigned between the rough furrows until her daughters surround them again at sunset, eating their fill of maize cakes. Nulba has eyes like an eagle but no one can see that which hasn’t yet come.
Midmorning of the fifday following, slope-backed Gebi comes by with her pannier and her bone-bleach hair.
“You been downriver these days?”
“Haven’t,” Nulba replies shortly, wiping her face with her kerchief. The riverbed is always dry come spring-end, no water to be had there now, and nothing fruitful to be had of Gebi’s tellings, either. But Nulba is listening, sending a glance down the field to where Renneyeh works out of earshot, because the school is downriver. There’s forever a hook in Gebi’s words to keep you dangling.
“Been down there quite a bit, brick-baking. Now I’m off an’ root-digging. Wandering all over, up an’ down the road.”
“So. I seen Pualan wandering too. ‘Tween yous house an’ the school, ways off the road, of a certain time of day.”
Nulba puts her hoe down, head sunk into the earth so it will stand straight. She’ll leave it and leave Renneyeh be as she goes down the road.
“Going?” Gebi asks.
“Just as you told me.”
“Welcome, sure.” She raises a hand up to her tan temple, dark against the bone-bleach. Her grimace could be malice or sympathy.
Nulba goes down the road, which is no more than a track pounded intermittently by feet and carts. Once in a moon or two there’s one of the heavy, self-moving trucks. She steered a truck once, when her aunt was dead and before someone noticed and came to take it, someone maybe as broad and firm as Nulba is now. Nulba’s kerchief is lying back in the field and her head is boiling as she hurries down the road under the sun.
Renneyeh’s first daughter is a ways out in the empty acres of scrub and dried grass that lie between house and road and school downriver, but Nulba’s eagle eye can spot her. Tight on the ground, red marks on the arms. There are no brackens in her fist. Instead there is blood.
Pualan, he been irregular of a thirdday for this reason.