Chapter Six

Robert awoke to find it was mid-morning, and wasn't sure if he was grateful or annoyed. The extra sleep was welcome, but somehow he didn't feel rested. He had dreamed he was on a train that never reached its destination, and Diana was on it somewhere, but he couldn't find her. Feeling out of sorts in spite of the sunshine streaming in his bedroom window, Robert dressed and went to check on Sophie. Finding her bed already made, he went to the kitchen.

Amalia was washing a few dishes, with evidence of a late breakfast still littering the table and countertops. "Good morning," she said. She paused to wipe her hands on a towel. "I hope you don't mind we let you sleep in."

"For today, it's all right." Robert looked around. "I saw Sophie wasn't in her room. She's had her breakfast and gone to check on Bandera, I take it?"

Amalia nodded. "I didn't think you'd mind."

"Of course not. She's used to being able to come and go as she pleases, as long as she's home for meals."

"That must be nice," Amalia said. She reached for the coffee pot, keeping warm on the stove, and poured Robert a cup. "When I was young, that kind of freedom was a thing of the past."

"You grew up in Albuquerque, though, didn't you? City life was always a little more dangerous."

Amalia grabbed a cup of coffee for herself and joined Robert at the table. "You're right, of course. The valley was safe, though. Hidden away like it was, and hard to get to, it was a difficult adjustment for me and my sister, but the only danger we ever faced was a little hard work. That is, until..."

Robert nodded. The government raid on Valle Redondo was legendary and was the inciting incident of New Mexico’s secession. "CastaƱo was safe as well. Maybe a little too much. Even today the residents keep to themselves and try not to let on what they have."

"You and Sophie will be safe there." Amalia agreed, frowning over her cup. "But are you sure the isolation will be good for her? They don't even have a telegraph, let alone a phone line."

"Perhaps I can persuade them to begin rejoining the world. I am a local, you know."

"I wish you luck with that, but I think..."


Amalia stood up. "It's not important today. What would you like for breakfast?"

"I'm not a very picky eater," Robert said. But when Amalia gave him a knowing look, he added, "I've been craving chiles for months."

"Huevos rancheros, then?"

"That will be perfect."

While Amalia cracked eggs into a skillet, Robert went back to his room and took a leather satchel out of one of his bags. He had been planning to give this to Amalia later, but now was as good a time as any, since Miguel wasn't around and he wanted her to have a chance to look at it alone.

She registered no concern or curiosity when he returned and laid the satchel on the table, but when she set a plate of eggs and red chile in front of him, her eyes grew suspicious.

"It's for you," he said, motioning her toward a chair and nudging the satchel her way. "I found it among Diana's things. It seemed like something you should have."

Cautiously, she opened it and withdrew a battered leather book, its pages falling out and other pages wedged between the covers, all of it bound with a strip of leather, grown stiff with age.

"It's the diary she kept on her journey to Kentucky, and for a little while after she arrived."

Amalia's fingers picked at the leather cord. "I had no idea."

"Neither did I." Robert turned to his breakfast with the grim determination of a soldier, barely noticing the much longed-for chiles and spices of home. "She must have put it away before I arrived, or very soon after, because I didn't find it until I was sorting through the last of her items, trying to decide what to give away and what to keep for Sophie."

"This should go to her, too."

Robert shook his head and reached for his coffee. "Not now. Diana never said much about that journey, but I picked up enough over the years to have a pretty good idea that Sophie doesn't need to be reading that diary until she's a little older."

"You haven't read it yourself?"

"No." He took a long sip of his coffee and set the cup on the table. "It isn't that I think she might've had a romance along the way. I've often suspected she did, and I'm not jealous. And it isn't that I would be angry or upset about whatever scrapes she got herself into. That was just Diana's way, and I loved her in spite of it. Or maybe because of it. It's just that..."

"Too soon?" Amalia had opened the book and was examining a photograph wedged inside the front cover.

"It will always be too soon."

Amalia put the photo back inside and closed the book. "I know you think that now," she said. "But time is a funny thing. It softens the hard edges and can sometimes make us more curious than sad about the people we've lost."

"That's a nice thought, but I don't see it happening." Robert said. "Take the book. Otherwise I'll have no choice but to burn it."

"I'll keep it," Amalia said, putting a protective hand on the cover. "For Sophie and for you. Just in case, of course."

"Of course." He bent back over his eggs, now cold, and dispatched them quickly.

"Would you like anything else? More coffee?"

"No, thank you." Robert got to his feet. "I think I'm going to walk around outside a little. After so many days on the train, it will feel good to be out in the sunshine."

"I bet it will."

With a guilty look around the kitchen, Robert paused. "Can I help you clean up? You must have things to do around here besides play kitchen drudge."

Amalia laughed. "You're a guest, Robert. Go relax. I have plenty of help around here if I want it. You can rest assured that at my age, if I'm in the kitchen working, it's because that's where I feel like being at the moment."

1 comment:

  1. Him saying he's a local is about like people who have sold their family homes coming back a decade later and expecting a tour of the place.