The Cabin: Misery On the Mountain, CHAPTER 1 preview

She dropped the match with a yelp of pain. Flame danced to life in the oil lamp, pushing the black night further beyond the window. She fancied that the dark shadows lay in wait for a chance to invade the cabin once again.

Annabelle moved about the kitchen and prepared for the long day’s chores, piling wood chips and pages from an old Sears catalog into the belly of the stove. Scraping a farmer’s match across the potbelly’s iron door, she held it to the paper. It caught fire—burning her only window on a fantasy world of beautiful people—and ignited the wood chips. She added wood, watching as the fire burned stronger, and basked in its warmth.

The faded dress Annabelle wore covered her huge frame, the uneven hem falling slightly above her ankles. Her hair was knotted back in a bun, and frizzy strands had escaped from the hairpins, making her look like Weezie in the Snuffy Smith cartoon.

She left the close warmth of the fire and grabbed her old standby sweater that hung from a spike nail. Like hard-featured handicraft, the spikes protruded from the walls throughout the cabin, serving as closets. Annabelle shivered as she plodded to the woodburner, her oversized slippers making slapping sounds as she went. She started the fire in the woodburner so she could cook breakfast. Working at the stove warmed her front, but her back stayed chilled.
Gazing beyond the window above the woodburner, Annabelle watched as the outside world slowly brightened, banishing the dark night. The snowflakes fell from the sky so thick she couldn’t see the outhouse right out back.
She bent over to choose a few sticks from the wood box. She threw them into the woodburner and added more to the potbelly stove, endeavoring to warm the kitchen to a comfortable temperature. Warming the other three rooms was impossible. With a flip of her wrist she threw lard into the skillet to make the gravy. She had enough flour left to make biscuits for the next two days. It wasn’t her wish to send the children to school with only biscuits and gravy for their breakfast and to feed them the same thing again for supper, but chicken was a dinner of the past, and the cow was nowhere to be found. Annabelle thought longingly of the old cow, which provided much-needed milk. She knew the cow would eventually wander back—if she didn’t lie frozen in some distant ravine.
Annabelle sighed, shuffled into the bedroom where her sister wives were fast asleep, and shook the bed. “You’uns get up an’ help get th’ youngins off to school.”
Daisy pulled the quilt over her head and moaned.
Daisy was the third wife. Annabelle was the first, and Rose, who was asleep beside Daisy, in spite of the sudden shake of the bed, was the fourth. The second wife had died while giving birth to Patty, who was like Annabelle’s own now.
The women usually slept, all three, in the large four-poster bed. But when their husband was home, he slept in the bed with the wife of his choice, leaving two of the women to make their beds on the floor with their quilts and mats.
Daisy was reluctant to climb out of the warm bed onto the rough, splintery floor boards. They weren’t fitted together well enough to keep the cold air out. Annabelle left the room as the women scrambled out of bed. Getting out from under the quilts in the unheated room was miserable and the women dressed quickly, anxious to warm themselves by the potbelly stove.
Rose pulled her feedsack dress over her head. Like Annabelle’s, the hem of her dress was uneven and fell to her ankles. She grabbed a sweater from a nail, pushed her hands through the arm openings and buttoned it, not realizing she had started the top button in the second buttonhole. Daisy was dressed much the same, but unlike the others, she took time wanting to look neat and pretty. She peered into a mirror. Its finish was unevenly worn, distorting her reflection as she moved it from side to side.
After they dressed, Daisy and Rose hurried into the children’s room to wake them for school. “Get yourselves up, so you’uns can get breakfast an’ get off to school,” Daisy ordered.
She and Rose helped the twins dress while Joe, Sara, and Patty dressed themselves.
The four-room cabin allowed for no privacy. One interior door in the kitchen led to the living room. The door to the right in the living room led to the women’s bedroom. From the women’s room a door to the right led to the children’s room and through that door to the right led back to the kitchen, making a tight circle. The cabin was a square log building, divided into four smaller, equal squares, with a doorway on each of the four inside walls. There were no hallways. Dusty, tattered curtains hung at each of the doorways, a vain attempt at privacy.
The three older children dressed as quickly as possible, scurried into the kitchen, and sat at the rough wood table. A bench was attached to each side. The unfinished wood often left a splinter or two in the children’s legs. The twins were dressed in overalls that belonged to Joe, who was now wearing old overalls that had once been his father’s. Sara and Patty wore dresses handed down from the older women. Each of them had a sweater and jacket.
The trip to the outhouse each morning was uncomfortable. Annabelle tired of hearing the children complain about putting on layers of clothing only to reach the unheated structure and take them off again. The building was fifty yards from the back door and stood upon an embankment. The twins were not potty trained and too young to make the trip, so they were being trained to use the slop jar.
The twins had their father’s dusky brown eyes and rich brown hair. Curls framed Tammie Sue’s pretty face. Jimmie Bob had straight hair like his mother, Daisy.
They sat in their rough, homemade high chairs with gravy smeared over their faces. Jimmie Bob grabbed for his sister’s food and managed to stretch far enough to knock her tin plate to the floor.
A scream of displeasure issued from Tammie Sue’s wide-open mouth.
“Ya have to learn not to waste food,” Daisy scolded. “Food ain’t to play with, it’s to eat.”
“Ain’t goin’ to school,” Joe announced into the confusion of Daisy cleaning up the mess Jimmie Bob had made. “Ya girls go on,” Joe said. “I’ll go huntin’ an’ we can have meat for supper.”
“I knowed ya hate to miss school and all, but I’ll be glad ya did. I’ve no meat a’tall to cook for supper,” Annabelle declared.
After the children had gone, the women began their daily chores. Annabelle and Daisy drew water from the well to heat in the tub. The big tub also served as a bathtub, a kettle for cooking, and a canning pot.
“That good-for-nothin’ Jeb don’t care if we starve. You’uns knowed it don’t bother him to stay away for weeks at a time, while we wait an’ work to keep food on th’ table,” Annabelle complained, dragging the washboard from under the woodburner. “He’s hangin’ round th’ bar in Windin’ Ridge while we go without.”
“If you’uns wouldn’t nag him all th’ time I reckon he would wanna stay home more,” Daisy defended him.
“I ain’t th’ one naggin’ him,” Rose said. “I like for him to be here an’ take me in th’ bed with him.”
“Quit quarreling an’ get th’ chores done,” Annabelle demanded. “I just made my observation ’bout him not carin’ an’ don’t need no yak-a-d-yak back from ya all.”
Joe walked to a place he’d had luck before when hunting, and sat on a log whittling on a small branch. After an hour or so the limb began to look like a slingshot. His real attention was tuned to listening for a rabbit, squirrel, wild turkey, or any small game they could eat.
Standing, Joe stretched, put the partially formed weapon in his hip pocket, and moved on to a better hunting place. To his left he heard a loud crunching noise, and something moved rapidly in his direction. He turned at once and aimed his gun. Out of the brush came Tommy Lee Hillberry.
“Damn ya, Tommy Lee, you’re too dumb to knowed not to crash out of th’ woods that a way. Ya tryin’ to get yourself kilt?”
“Didn’t knowed ya was here. You’re supposed to be in school.”
“And I guess ya ain’t,” Joe said. “Get lost, Tommy Lee, I’m huntin’ supper for my family an’ ya just scaring everythin’ away.”
“Why don’t we go hang out?” Tommy Lee asked. “We can go hide behind th’ school an’ scare th’ girls when they come out for recess.”
“Since when do I hang out with ya?”
“Ya think you’re too good to hang out with me, don’cha?” Tommy Lee accused.
“I told ya to get outta here,” Joe said. “Your foolishness is wastin’ my time. And ya knowed damn well I want ya to stay away from my sisters. Ya just up to no good with them.”
“You’re uppity like ya pa. Them’s your sisters, not your girlfriends. I’ll go by myself,” Tommy Lee said and ran back the way he came.
“Ya betta stay away from my sisters or ya goin’ to be sorry,” Joe called after Tommy Lee.
Joe continued his hunting, mumbling, “I’d like to go after Tommy Lee an’ convince him with a few blows to th’ stomach that my sisters’re off limits to trash like him. But I got to get a catch to put on th’ table.”
“It’s gettin’ late. It’s high time we started supper for th’ youngins. Joe ain’t goin’ to get back in time for me to fix th’ meat,” Annabelle said in her bossy way.
“What are we goin’ to eat if we don’t wait for Joe to bring in th’ meat?” Daisy fussed
“Don’t have nary a thing to fix to eat. Meat an’ stuff’s ’bout gone. Nothin’ hardly left a’tall,” Rose complained.
“Hush your complainin’,” Annabelle said. “There’s taters to eat, there’s beans an’ peas to make th’ soup an’ dried fruit enough.”
“I’ll run out to th’ cellar an’ fetch th’ beans an’ peas to fix,” Rose offered.
“I sure would like to have some meat for supper,” Daisy complained.
“Well wasn’t ya th’ one sayin’ how good Jeb cared for us an’ how we was th’ ones ungrateful?” Annabelle asked.
“Ain’t what I said a’tall an’ ya knowed it,” Daisy spat.
Ignoring Daisy, Annabelle went out back to draw water from the hand pump that stood just outside the back door. She primed it as always, using hot water in winter, for between uses it tended to freeze. She carried the bucket inside, her huge bulk straining under its weight, and lifted it onto the woodburner alongside a large kettle of water ready for the pump and for their coffee, despite the fact that they’d been out of coffee for the past two days.
The back door jerked open and there stood Joe holding a wild turkey by its legs. Blood dripped from its neck where the head had been. He shooed the sleeping cat off the table and threw the bloody turkey in its place.
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