That next day, in search of understanding, I flew to Ruski to haunt the streets, and only returned to the first setting of my story, the produce farm, a few days after processing the additional data from town. I roosted in the rafters of the cottage without the knowledge of the occupants and listened to the creaks and whines of Bragi’s bed in the night. He muttered in his sleep, but I filtered out the frequency of his voice, preferring to honor the privacy of his dreams, which he had not meant to reveal, and that content did not appear in the story I downloaded at the Atheneum.
He woke early, and I heard him pissing in his jug. Hidden in the rafters, I shook my feathers to free and align them, lifted my hackles, and stretched a leg, testing bodily functions. Everything worked, and I imagined Bragi doing the same with a less satisfying result.
At first light, I flapped through Tanuvia’s open door to perch on her footrail. Still sleeping, her blonde eyelashes lay gentle on her cheek, and her freckles made her seem a child. Just like this, Bragi must have crept some mornings to watch his little girl sleeping. No more. She woke slowly with a flutter of lashes, rolled with a hand to her head, blinked, and looked again.
“Do you have other raven visitors?
“Um…no. G’mornin’.” She twisted to peer at the light above her headrail. “Oh, it’s late. I better help Da.”
Tossing aside a thin coverlet, she swung her legs over the edge of her bed. Naked and thin, she smelled of man’s issue, another swain, if not more, in the few days I had digested the information from Ruski. Dashing on clothes, she headed barefoot to her father’s room, and I followed, but only to the table. Pausing at his doorjamb, she peeked in.
“May I, Da?”
His permission was silent, and she returned with the jug of piss, which she took back empty to her father.
“Let me help, Da.”
“I can get out myself. Just bring me breakfast.”
He was grumpy, which wasn’t surprising. The sum of his sleep intervals was a mere three hours, fourteen minutes plus some odd seconds, and the wave patterns I had monitored lacked sufficient REM.
“And you smell….”
“I’m sorry, Da. I’ll wash.”
More frightened and hopeless than angry, he said, “You can wash all you want. It won’t come off. It doesn’t come off!”
She came out with an armload of clothes and tossed them in a basket by the front door, then went to pump water. Taking soap and towel to her room, she shut her door, presumably to muffle her sobs. Decibel levels indicated Bragi could hear. Self-inflicted unhappiness haunted this house. Were Tanuvia’s trysts so pleasurable she preferred them to their peace? If she could have handled the mathematics, I could have quantitatively explained the irrationality of her actions.
She prepared breakfast. On one hand, she balanced a tray piled with food and, with the other, carried a pail of water.
“Coming in, Da! Breakfast! I brought you warm water for washing.”
He ate without comment, except to say the ham and toast were fine when she asked. When he was done and Tanuvia took his tray, Bragi lifted his chin with a jerk, and his eyes, a dark shade of gray like slate in the rain, went steely. Both of them wordless as rocks, Tanuvia helped her father from his trousers and handed him the wet, soapy cloth. At his side, his daughter waited to assist and washed the nether regions his disability prevented him from reaching. Finally, Bragi’s trousers were slid back over his withered legs and his feet propped on a cushioned stool. He had done as much as he could himself, but the man had limits.
Tanuvia’s work for the day was only beginning. Quickly, she washed dishes then took a copper bucket to the barn while I shadowed her chores. She milked the cow and took the milk back to the house to pour into a churn, which she carried to her father’s door.
“Da, you want to do this?”
“Ai, bring it here, girl.”
Setting the churn beside his heavy chair, she watched him churn for a moment. “Thanks, Da.” She smiled, and he smiled back, releasing their tension from the bath. “You’re welcome.” In a rush of emotion, she kissed him on his hairy cheek and skipped out.
The cow was released, then back Tanuvia went to haul water and throw hay from the loft for the horse, Mazy, the gray. She raked the mare’s stall, shoveled the muck, then spread fresh straw. Back again to the house, this time to check on her father. No one could ever say Tanuvia slacked.
“I’m putting together a wagonload for town, Da. I’ll get the butter and see what you need before I leave.”
I rapidly determined Tanuvia’s most likely experiences in town were uninteresting to my story. She would meet a grocer or other distributor, haggle over prices, sell and unload her vegetables, and return. The same trade occurred in Ruski several dozen times a day, and I had just come from there. I decided to stay with Bragi and watch him churn butter. Of the two activities, butter was more interesting.
When Tanuvia left with a full wagon, I flapped to the footrail of her bed, hunched my shoulders, and set my mic to monitor Bragi’s room, alert for changes requiring care. There were none. When I reviewed the audio, I deduced he had finished churning the butter, slept a brief time, pissed in the jug when he woke, struggled mightily to reach his basket with knife and wood, finally arranged his work in his lap, and carved for the remainder of the afternoon. His time alone proved to be uneventful, industrious—and peaceful. I liked the man.