The Adventures of Dirty Rachel
Mary Fallon Fleming
“Oh, my gosh!” Jamie gasped as he broke through the bushes into the haven of their copse. Rachel ran into him from behind as he stopped suddenly.
“What’s the matter?”
“Just look at that,” he said, “look at our camp.”
Rachel came out from behind him. The lean-to had been torn down, there were cigarette butts around their fire pit, and the bucket was nowhere to be seen. “Are they gonna find us?”
“No,” Jamie shook his head. “These are just some drunks camping in the woods. But I’ll bet they stole every twig I gathered for that roof we had.” He looked down at his feet and kicked at the dirt. “Now we don’t have a hope of staying dry.”
Suddenly Rachel felt lost as a motherless kitten. She blinked back her tears, because she wanted to appear to be a big girl in front of Jamie. Her throat felt tight. She swallowed. “Can’t we build another one? I could help,” she said.
Jamie scoffed and shoved his hands deep in his pockets. “Yeah, I guess we’ll have to do something. But I had to steal that wood. You yourself said what happens to people who steal.”
At the thought of it Rachel’s throat grew even tighter. It was dangerous lives they were living, that one thing was certain.
“Come on, we’re not going to do anything about it tonight. Doesn’t look like rain. Shouldn’t be too cold. We can sleep on the ground and cover ourselves with leaves.”
Rachel’s lower lip began to tremble. She put her tiny tight fist to her eye and squeezed her eyelids shut. “But I’m hungry! I want my dinner!” She took big, deep breaths to hold back her tears. Jamie turned with his hands on his hips and looked at her ruefully.
“Look, it’s you got me into this trouble! She was after you, not me. But look, I stood by you. Now let’s not hear all that girly yammerin’.”
He was pointing his index finger straight at her. Dirty Rachel wanted to scream with fury. She wanted to throw herself on the ground and kick the leaves and pound the moist forest floor with her balled-up knuckles. But instead she grit her teeth and calmed herself.
“Can’t we go back to the cathouse? Althea would have taken such good care of us.”
“I don’t know, I don’t think it’ll be safe for a week or two. We’re gonna have to fend for ourselves for a while.”
Rachel looked at her feet. In a small voice she asked, “Do you think we can do it without stealing?”
Jamie shrugged. “I don’t know,” he said. “How much fish can I catch, and how much fish can you eat?”
Rachel was insulted. “Jamie, of course I can eat fish. I’m not a baby!”
Jamie laughed. “Well, good. Come on, we might still get us a chance to catch a fish for dinner.
* * *
Another marvelous dinner under the stars, and Jamie cooked as usual. Rachel watched him, fascinated. He knew just how to gut and filet any fish in the Seven Seas. Then he pierced him with a stick and roasted him on a hand-hewn spit and a fire of his own making.
Say,” Rachel said. “Did your pa teach you all of this?”
Jamie looked intently into the fire. “Yeah, he did,” he said. “He used to always take me fishin’ and huntin’, until Ma died.”
Rachel paused for a moment, respectful of her friend’s sudden silence.
“Is that when he started drinking?”
“Yes.” He frowned. “Come on, you, eat your supper and then it’s time for bed. We don’t want anyone to track us by this fire light after the sun goes down.”
One cool, dry night passed after another. The skies were clear between the tree tops, and here and there above the majestic silhouettes of the pines you could see the twinkling of a star. The spring breeze whispered in the trees. Somewhere, not too far away, a hoot owl hooted out his melancholy four-note song.
Dirty Rachel faithfully went behind the bushes and changed into her warm night gown every night, and then into the blue dress in the morning. It wasn’t long until both the fine blue dress and the nightgown were filthy. Mud encrusted their hems. Crumbled leaves and spots of earth clung to them everywhere. Dirty Rachel eyed her brand-new clothing with sadness.
“What’s the matter with you?”
Rachel bowed her head. “All my nice things are ruined.”
“Naw, they’re not ruined,” Jamie said, surveying the damage. “They just need a good laundering, that’s all. One of these days, when we get back to the cathouse, Althea will take care of it for you.”
“So when are you ever going to take me back?” She almost hollered the words.
“Hey there,” Jamie said. “What am I, your husband or something?”
Dirty Rachel only had the slightest idea of what a husband even was. “No!” she cried. “Don’t make fun of me!” She balled her tiny fists up and shoved her chin out at Jamie.
“Woah, woah! What are you gettin’ so riled up about?”
“I can’t help it! I wanna go where it’s warm and we have lots to eat!”
“Shush, shush, keep your voice down! I’m tellin’ ya, they can still find us out here.”
Rachel covered her mouth then and stifled her sobs. Jamie came up behind her and put his hand on her slight shoulder.
“Aw, come on, kid. Don’t cry. It’s gonna be OK, you’ll see. Come on there.” Then he grasped her by both of her small shoulders. “Say, you’re not half bad, for a girl. Do you know what we could do together? Don’t worry. We’ll cool out here in the woods for another two or three days. Why, we’ve already been out here for six days. Then we’ll go back to the cathouse, don’t you see?”
Dirty Rachel felt her composure returning. She sniffled. “Do you mean it?”
“Of course,” Jamie said. “Now come on, let’s go catch ourselves a fish.”