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Nevada Barr - Bittersweet.docx
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Imogene was in high spirits as she loaded the last of their things into the wagon. “Sarah,” she called, “are you ready?”

            Lutie came out carrying a box covered with a dishcloth. “Something to take with you.” Imogene pulled back the cloth and laughed at the wealth of food Lutie had packed.

            “We shan’t starve on the crosstown drive. Thank you. I’ll bring the box back as soon as we’re settled in.”

            “Never mind.” Lutie waved her hand in a dismissing gesture, and gave Imogene a hug. Sarah came down from the porch and Lutie patted her cheek tenderly. “Are you sure it’s not too soon? Who’s to get Sarah’s lunch?” she demanded.

            “I’ll get it for myself,” Sarah replied. “I can, Lutie, it’s just that I forget.” Lutie hugged her and both women looked a little misty until Lutie laughed and reminded herself they were moving less than a mile away.

            Nate Weldrick jumped down from the wagon as the three women approached. Unobserved and uninvited, a fourth woman was coming as well. She weaved unsteadily across the road, thin graying hair falling around a heavy face mapped with age and broken blood vessels. A boy, scarcely two years old, was clutched under her arm and jounced against her fat middle uncomplainingly, his square dusky face grave, his straight black hair tumbled over his eyes. The woman rounded the end of the wagon and grabbed Nate’s arm.

            “Hey! I’m talking to you, Weldrick.” She fell against the side of the wagon. The little boy wriggled free, landing on his round behind in the dirt. He didn’t cry, and as soon as the scuffle of feet permitted, he pulled himself up with the aid of a wheel and toddled off. “I ain’t been paid!” The woman jerked Nate’s arm like a pump handle until he pulled away.

            “Hattie, get away from me. Go on. Git. You’re drunk. You been paid.”

            “I ain’t. You want that half-breed kid of yours looked after, I got to have more money. He eats more’n any three white kids.”

            “Wolf ain’t eating it, you’re drinking it, you old cow.”

            “You watch who you’re callin’ a cow! I got better things to do than look after your half-breed brats.”

            She was hanging on the front of his shirt as much from instability as from anger. He pushed her away and turned to Imogene and Lutie. “This ain’t no kind of scene to be having before you ladies, and I’m sure as hell—begging your pardon—sorry.” He turned viciously on the hag still plucking at his elbow. “Hattie, get that damned brat out of here!” He dropped his voice and shot another embarrassed look over his shoulder. “Get that kid out of here. What’re you thinking, bringing him here?”

            Hattie hadn’t lost her head of steam. “I’ll bring him anywhere I want,” she retorted. “I got to spend my own money on that kid. You ain’t give me enough—”

            A gurgling laugh, a rich, high sound Imogene hadn’t heard in a long time, turned her attention from the argument. Sarah was sitting on the porch steps, her skirts falling into the dirt on either side, laughing and playing pat-a-cake with the baby. Wolf lifted his pudgy little hands to mirror hers, playing the game with solemn intensity. The child was dirty, his hair and clothes ragged and unkempt, but his eyes and skin were clear and the flesh firm over his stocky frame.

            “I’m sorry about this,” Nate said to Imogene’s back, and pulling out a leather purse, he turned on Hattie. “You get that kid away from these people,” he hissed. “I’ve told you before.”

            Hattie eyed the closed purse blearily. “I want four dollars.”

            “What you want ain’t necessarily what—”

            “Mr. Weldrick,” Imogene cut in.

            “I’m sorry, ma’am. I’m holding you good folks up.”

            “Is that your child?” She looked to where Sarah and Wolf played on the steps.

            Nate’s face reddened. “Wolf! You get away from that lady, you hear me? Wolf!” Imogene shushed him as Sarah looked up. Wolf, ignoring his father’s orders, sat down promptly and began playing with the hem of Sarah’s long skirts.

            “Never mind, Sarah,” Imogene called. “Mr. Weldrick, is that child yours?”

            “Yes, ma’am,” he admitted.

            “And this woman cares for him?”

            He nodded.

            “Four dollars—” Hattie began.

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