Experiment #250

The Gentleman of Steam Part 3

When I drove the cart up next to the barn, Mama came out of her shop.

“Whacha doin’, Lizzie?” she asked. A piece of lace stuck out from under her shirt in a way I wasn’t used to seeing. She had a grin I’d only seen on the Cooper girls’ faces when they were talkin’ ‘bout a boy.

“Where’s Rolland?” Mama asked.

Then her eyes drifted over to the wagon. She let out a scream that startled the Price’s chickens a mile away. She started barking orders like a sergeant on the battlefield.

“Grab our biggest pot and fill it to the brim with water, then get it boiling,” she said.

She pushed the cart into the workshop. With the rope and pulley system she used to lift tractors, she got Rolland onto her sturdy oak work table. I ran to the house to get the water. They say a watched pot never boils, but it takes till Doomsday when a hurt friend’s waiting for it.

Finally I got it boiling and ran to the barn. I sloshed some on my dress and burnt the sarsaparilla out of my legs, but I didn’t care none. I got through the door and handed the pot over to Mama. Then I saw him lying there. His parts were scattered on the table and around the floor. And Mama was there workin’ on him. Reminded me of when Papa came home with that wound after going huntin’ with Auggy Winkle at the Prices. She stitched him up, but life is pretty fragile. I never saw Papa after that.

Mama thanked me for the water, but shooed me out the door and back to school.

She hadn’t come in by the time we walked home from school or suppertime or even by the time the cows came home. We were used to her long nights in the workshop. We weren’t used to it without Rolland rattling away somewhere nearby. The porch felt silent as a grave.

The next morning we found Mama asleep on the floor in the parlor. Then we heard that familiar rattle and shake and ran outside to greet him.

“Rolland!” We shouted and ran to him, but stopped ourselves short. His chest and arms were spattered with mud and soot as if he’d been hauling hisself through a forest fire. His eyes were empty too, like lumps of coal on a snowman. They didn’t shine like Papa’s…like they used to.

Rolland hotfooted it into the barn without so much as a look at us.

A few hours later the sheriff arrived with a posse, weapons at the ready.

“Louise, you better give up,” Sheriff Codger shouted from his horse. “I’ve already called in the marshals, best come along quiet now.”

All of us came out on the porch to see what the fuss was about.

“What’s she done?” Sarah yelled. She was always the first to find her tongue.

“Now you girls stay out of this,” Sheriff Codger said. “What your mama’s doing there with that thing is unnatural and it’s gotta be stopped.”

To Be Continued…

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