Chapter One: Waiting for the Market

The farm was run completely free of technology. Nothing but the labor of Carlone's uncle, mother, and some seasonal workers who were always let go after harvest until the spring planting came again kept the place going. Carlone was a young girl during this time, not more than a child. Although she would often look back on those busy summer days with her mother as the best time in her life, there was much she tried to forget. Her aunt was a harsh, judgemental woman whom her mother frequently had to stop from berating Carlone for the tiniest of infractions. This aunt would remain in the main house the majority of the day with her two daughters, Kuli and Faya. Kuli was slightly older than Carlone, while Faya was a few years her junior, although she was very stout for her age. Kuli never missed an opportunity to remind Carlone or her mother that they were put out of the house to live in the barn's loft some time ago. Carlone remembered that night. It was after her mother returned from the farmers market late with their uncle. Her aunt was livid as she made accusations that her mother and her uncle were doing something they were not supposed to. Carlone was too young to understand the context of their argument. Faya later explained to Carlone that they could be sisters, something that Kuli slapped her for admitting. Since then they were no longer welcome in the basement to sleep. Their exile to the barn loft no matter how cold the winter became seemed permanent. Carlone's mother said she liked it better that way. Carlone did too.

Carlone and her mother made their few trips to the main house short and only when Aunty was at church with the girls. Carlone once asked her mother why they did not leave forever and go somewhere else. Her mother said that she would not leave her sister, no matter how difficult she was to be around. Carlone's last summer on the farm was her favorite. All of the blueberry brushes fully produced fruit, the pumpkins were already growing to a massive size and the peach trees had the sweetest peaches she had ever tasted. Carlone and her mother enjoyed delicious bacon celery soup in the gazebo with the other workers in the evenings. Her aunt and other family ate in the main house each night, something Carlone was pleased about as she did not have to politely endure her aunt's constant chiding toward her or her mother. The workers were usually young adults out on their own for the first time, or older men seeking some feeling of usefulness in their later years. They always were friendly toward Carlone who would pick the bugs off of the plants by hand while they did the more arduous tasks in the fields each day. They had tents and an outdoor kitchen they used by the stables on the far end of the property. Carlone's aunt never interacted with these men as she viewed it as beneath her to do so. Faya once tried to help Carlone carry a bucket of compost tea to the men as she saw her cousin was struggling, but her mother stopped her saying "Faya if you do a man's work, you will look like one soon enough!" Faya went back inside after that, shrugging toward Carlone, who felt sorry for her. Faya has to live like she was dying, Carlone thought.

For the most part, her uncle was a quiet and patient man. He tolerated his wife's neurosis with a grain of salt. After all, she was a frail, sickly woman who was alone completely without her daughters to accompany her. Faya was like her father in that way, very steadfast. It was Kuli that was like her mother, nearly always at the point of agitation without any specific cause. It was as if mother and daughter were waiting to be upset as if they were not able to interact with the world otherwise. Carlone's mother had learned to ignore them entirely as if they did not exist to her as they would insult or try to demean them. Kuli would always have something negative to say about Carlone's messy hair or her mother's sunburned skin from being outside with the other workers during the day. Carlone once cried some years before when they were left behind for the church's winter dinner that she had her heart set on going to. Carlone wept in her mother's arms as it was the one time she could wear the dress her mother made for her. She had put it on with so much pride at the embroidered holly leaves and the crocheted lace sleeves. Her mother said they were better off not going because now they could walk to the town and dance at the winter festive instead. It was then that Carlone realized that they may not want to be accepted by her aunt and her church.

The last summer was warm, but not too hot. The rain was always only in the nighttime and the workers all knew their job well. Carlone, her mother, and her uncle would make the trip to the market each weekend. The ride was only a half-hour, but it was far enough that Aunty would never venture to go with them. They were happy on those days, chatting in the stall. Her mother would go to the shops to look at the things her aunt said she had no place in owning. This was the rare time that Carlone had to sit with her uncle, just the two together. He was a good-natured sort. Carlone thought it was funny when he smiled because then his wrinkled forehead looked like the dog a farmhand had once brought with him for the season. Carlone's job was to try to sell the moonstone jewelry her aunt would craft. There were few takers, even on a good day. The jewelry was fine on its own in value, but the country had been in an economic downturn her whole life apparently. Her uncle said that the market used to be filled with buyers years ago. When Carlone asked what had changed he said different things every time she asked. Explanations of bad leadership, ongoing war in the Northern countries, even venous wolves were mentioned once, something Carlone understood to be a legend old widows told to scare children. Still, that was her time to enjoy, where she wasn't the bastard child her respectable aunt would admonish.

The final market day of the year had been the least profitable. There was news that a blood fever was heading their way. The shops were closed due to it and Carlone's mother went to ask for news of it while they were there. Carlone's uncle wanted to get in his last chance to make money in case the disaster struck for longer than they had saved for. The blood fever was a terrible illness. It surely would kill in a forty-eight-hour period. The sufferer would be in immense pain during that time as their organs would shut down and blood would seep out of their orifices. The few survivors were left impaired for the rest of their much-shortened life. The summer had not even finished, the farm had begun to have its best yield yet, and still, with only a hint of chill in the evening air, the year was done. Not a single moonstone necklace sold that day, and Carlone's uncle patted her head as if to say "chin up" when he saw her crestfallen face as she fiddled with the wares on the table. They were probably the last to leave that evening. The fever was the last thing on their mind, Carlone knew her mother and her uncle would be sad because it was their only time to be in each other's company, until next year anyway.