Chapter 44: The Three Sisters
Claude left shortly after our conversation. With little else to do, we bedded down for some rest. Given the circumstances, we tried to get comfortable but found that a blanket did little to soften the packed earth beneath. Hours later when the camp began to rouse once more, we were among the first to stir from our uncomfortable rest.
Shortly after awakening, Rick retreated to the edge of camp and sat atop the ridge, staring out over the land in contemplation. I knew the revelations of the night before still bothered him, so I said nothing as he departed. A sharp glance ensured Bobbi made no snide remarks at his expense.
In the absence of anything better to do while waiting for the ritul, Bobbi and I decided to make ourselves useful. As there were few other options to help out, Bobbi and I headed to the large pavilion tent which served as both kitchen and mess hall. The interior looked completely different than it had only hours before, when we had eaten our fill. It seemed darker and more somber within than we expected. The back half, which had been covered with a sheet earlier, was now thrown wide and held open with twine. The view revealed very meager materials for food preparation. There was a large stone pot, numerous smaller pots, utensils and a trio of fire pits. Numerous grates and grills were scattered around the walls of the tent, presumably to facilitate whatever purpose the sisters had planned for the meal.
Flitting about the tiny, makeshift kitchen were the three women from the previous evening. The larger of the trio, still wearing her bright orange dress, leaned over one of the three fire pits as she prepared a large pot of boiled vegetables. She quickly and carefully chopped the food into smaller chunks before dropping them into the cook pot. The tallest of the three, her long blonde hair pulled back away from her thin face, stood next to a table across the room and slowly chopped apart what looked to be a trio of large turkeys. The final of the three sisters, while pushing her wild hair from her eyes, tended to another fire pit and placed a large grate across the flames with gentle precision so as to not burn herself in the process.
When we entered, I was shocked at the trio’s silence. The sound of cutting and preparation hovered unchallenged in the air of the large tent. As each sister finished a particular task, they set about the next without any hesitation or question. It was almost as if they communicated on some deep and silent level. I found myself uncertain what to make of the situation, and doubted I should even interrupt their work.
I stood there, dumbfounded for a long few minutes. Bobbi finally had enough of my inaction and chose to act instead. “Oi! Ladies!” All three women immediately stopped dead in their tracks and looked up at us with a shocked expressions.
I looked at Bobbi, horrified. I had intended to attract their attentions sure, but not like this. She had taken the initiative and that itself didn’t bother me, but she had also done so in a far more brash and brutal way than I had intended. Now, I had to do something to smooth out the situation. “Uhm, my apologies…” I glanced at Bobbi. “She’s kind of the impatient sort…”
“That’s fine.” the orange woman smiled lightly. “Nothing to worry about.”
“Is there anything we can do for you?” The blonde woman asked with cautious expression.
“Dinner won’t be ready for at least another half hour.” The wild-haired woman was guarded and defensive. She practically glared at Bobbi and I.
“No, no. Nothing like that. We were just wondering if you wanted help. We have nothing else to do while we wait for the big event. So, you know…” I smiled gently and shrugged, hoping to smooth the already disrupted situation.
The three women turned to look at each other and discussed in a quiet murmer for a brief of moment. Finally, after a short pause, they turned as one to look at us once more.
“You.” The orange woman pointed to me. “Grab an armful of veggies and come on over. Help me make my stew.”
“You.” The Blonde woman pointed to Bobbi. “Come help me cut up these birds. Need to get them cut up quick, so they can go into the stew.
Bobbi and I glanced briefly at each other, before heading over to our respective sisters without a word. I went to a nearby table, grabbed any vegetables that I found along the way, and threw them under my arms. When I got there, I set them down and stood there, looking between them and the stew pot. I must have looked kind of helpless, as the orange woman chuckled lightly and stepped behind me.
“Oh, dear. Don’t look at it like I’ve asked you to build a rocket.” She grabbed a knife off a nearby table. “Take this. Then grab some veggies and get to cutting.”
“Um, I’ve always been more of the canned food kind of person. I’ve never cut up vegetables before.” “Don’t think so hard about it. It’s not complicated. Take the knife, cut a chunk off a veggie, drop it in the water. Lather, rinse, repeat.” She handed me the knife, handle first, and nudged me slightly.
Cautiously, I picked up a potato and cut off a chunk. It was uneven and blocky, causing me to glance up nervously at the woman, who merely smiled as she lightly smacked my hand, causing the chunk to fall into the stew with a plop.
“No worries. Most folks don’t even look in their stew before they eat it. No need to fret over looks. Cut, chop, drop.” She winked, picking up another knife and starting to cut her own vegetables. “So. What brings you here?”
I glanced up with a raised eyebrow before answering. “I was worried that my companions and I would be bored waiting these last few hours. Especially since we don’t have any other place to sleep.”
“No, dear. I meant why are you here, in this camp? Why did you come here to the Dakotas?” She was smiling enigmatically, looking me directly in the eye. Her hands never hesitated, never slowed their slicing pace in the meantime, though her attention was clearly focused wholly on me.
“Well, I heard Kadmon’s call, in a vision…” I trailed off, knowing full well that I wasn’t fooling her.
“You know, my sisters and I are much older than we look. We’ve been around a while. We have fed more mouths in more places than you could probably imagine. We’ve met people of every race, creed, color. We’ve gotten very good at noticing when we’re being fed a line.” She smiled and winked at me in such a way I knew there wasn’t any malice between us. None yet, that is.
I said nothing, at first. I simply continued to slice my oddly shaped chunks and drop them into the stew. I acted as if I hadn’t heard her. She acted as if she hadn’t said anything, waiting for me to reply. Finally, I knew what I needed to say, what she wanted to hear. “I want to make a difference.”
“Close. Probably closer you’ve come in years. But, still not right.” She smiled and pointed down at the stew. “Do you see this pot?”
“Of course. This pot, it is not unlike life. Especially, life in these strange times. Life is full of variety. Potatoes, corn, beans, squash, turkey and many others. Just as variety flavors the stew, events flavor life.” She paused, silent for a moment. “You’ve always sought the approval of others, haven’t you?” It was so abrupt a statement that I froze. While I wondered how to respond, she grabbed a large spoon and began to stir the pot. I couldn’t draw my eyes away from its swirling contents, but I finally found my voice.
“I suppose so, yeah. I wanted to help people. I wanted the approval of patients, teachers, bosses and everyone else.”
“And you got it in spades, did you not?”
“Yeah, I guess I did. I was very good at attracting the right kind of attention.”
“But in looking for approval, you didn’t make a life for yourself. Only the life that others expected of you, am I right dear?”
“I guess so.” I was about to say more, but my gaze was interrupted by the sudden apearence of a large wooden board and a lock of pink hair. I glanced up and looke Bobbi in the eye for a long moment. Nothing was said, only a smile was exchanged, but I knew she was likely having a similar ‘discussion’ over on her side of the tent. Whether wanted it or not, this ship was now being steered by these three women. Bobbi only paused long enough to drop a large pile of turkey chunks into the stew. They tumbled into the pot and she disappeared, retreating back to her place alongside the blonde woman.
“Now, the turkey is a sudden change. An outside force that disrupts the whole.” I saw ripples course through the stew, disrupting the gentle spin that she had been creating with her spoon. “It’s something new, something unexpected but also now part of the whole, whether we were ready for it or not. With a bit of care, it joins the rest and makes things better. /Without attention however, it sinks to the bottom, burns, and ruins everything…” She elbowed me lightly pointing at the small pile of remaining vegetables. “Cut up more vegetables. We almost have enough, but a little extra never hurt anyone.”
I started cutting more vegetables. My mind was wandered as I did so, thinking back to when everything changed all that time ago. “But, what if you can’t? What if the new things are too much? What if you can’t add in something to keep everything from exploding out of control.” The metaphor was difficult to turn around, but I hoped she understood my question.
“Ah, see there’s the rub. There’s nothing to be done. When the world turns on its head, and changes the stew so much you can’t even recognize it, you must sometimes start fresh.” She smiled broadly. “That is why you’re really here, aren’t you? To make a fresh start?”
“I guess so. When I heard about this place and Kadmon’s plan to save the world, I knew I had to come. I guess I wanted to find a way to go back to the way things were. I think I always kne though… Not even saving the planet would be enough to change things back. Nothing will ever be the same, will it?”
“Probably not, dear. The world is a complicated place, even before all this mess. Now that things have gone all topsy-turvy, I would guess that the world won’t be back to anything resembling normal for quite some time. Maybe someday though, if we work hard. I will feel lucky if my great-grandchildren live to see the world truly healed.”
“Yeah…” I drifted into silence for another long moment. “Uhm… I’m sorry. I just realized that I never caught your name.”
“That’s because I never threw it, dear. You can call me Alanna. Or Al for short, everyone does.”
“Thanks, uh, Al.” I took a deep breath. “Can I ask you a question?”
“You just did, dear.” Her chuckle was soft and endearing.
“Don’t worry, I am just messing with you. What do you want to know?” “Just some advice, I guess. Do you think that I’m being a fool in trying to make it home? See, that’s what this whole trip is about. I’ve been charging forward, dragging Bobbi and Rick along from the very beginning and I never really asked them to do much of anything except follow.” I paused, having chopped my last vegetable.
“I started out comforting myself by planning to put Rick’s problems to bed first, then to help Bobbi after I check in at home. Except, Rick never did find his family and I kept dragging him along after we found what we left of his home. I convinced myself it was in his best interest, but I didn’t really put any thought to his wants and needs. Bobbi’s…”
I glanced over to the pink haired woman, who was engrossed in chopping the large slabs of meat that were placed in front of her into smaller cubes. “She’s become a casualty, all because I wasn’t careful enough… She wouldn’t have even been in trouble if I hadn’t drug her along for my own selfish needs and now she’s never going to be the same.” Bobbi stopped and turned to smile lightly at me, as if she sensed my gaze on her. She meant well, but that smile unwittingly reminded me of the scars on her soul which bore my name. “Al… Am I a bad person?”
The silence following my question seemed to stretch for eternity. Each ticking second brought more anticipation for terrible admonishment and chastisement. However, all I received in response was a simple, “No.”
“No? I’ve been dragging people along on a crazy quest to go home. I’ve lied about what’s waiting for me there. I’ve lied about why I want to go back. I’ve lied about anything to keep them following me. How am I not a terrible person?”
“It doesn’t sound like you ever forced them. You asked, and they followed. How could that be your fault? Sure you might have bent the truth, broke it even, but we all do that. Even if we hate it about ourselves, we still do it.” She paused before adding, “You needed them, and they needed you, even if none of you realized it.” She smiled and stirred the pot, moving around faster and letting it spin as she removed the spoon. “As for your goal, well a goal is merely something that keeps us moving forward. In the end, isn’t it the journey that matters, not the destination?”
“Yeah, I guess. We’ve all hear that at some point or another, but no one really believes it.” I sighed. “I just have a feeling that Bobbi and Rick will be angry as hell when we get there. They seem to expect some big homecoming or something. We’ll be lucky if there’s even a home to return to…”
“It seems to me that you are not giving your friends enough credit. Have any of your plans gone off without a hitch since the Event?”
“Have you arrived at a destination yet, that hadn’t been replaced with something unexpected?”
“Well, no…” “Then how can anyone know what they will find at their destination?”
“Then why would you think that your friends would be upset if your destination isn’t exactly as you left it?”
“I guess so…”
“I know so.” She smiled and leaned forward, taking a sip of the stew. She smiled and held up the spoon for me to try a sip, as well. It was delightful in its simplicity. There was little seasoning, but the flavors of the vegetables and the meat had combined into a wonderful combination. “Stew’s pretty much ready, so why don’t you move on. You can help Beatrice set up the serving tables.”
With that, I was shooed out of that makeshift kitchen and into the front of the tent. There I found the wild-haired woman and Bobbi, already preparing the tables. After a beat, I stepped forward to help and was immediately met with a sharp look from the wild-haired woman, presumably Beatrice. She walked briskly up to me and gave me a curt smile. “You done in there?”
“Good. Tables are basically good to go. Go grab our dishes and start piling them up on that table.” She pointed to the far end of the largest table.”Don’t forget the silverware. Just pile it next to the dishes.” Then, without another word, she went help Bobbi place the last of the tables in the exact right place.
I spent the next ten minutes busying myself with dragging dishes, silverware, cups and all sorts of minor things out from the kitchen with barely a thought or word. Each time, Beatrice would drift over to watch me and would meticulously watch me place each object to ensure proper placement. Once every non-food item was finally in place, not a moment before, Beatrice called out to her sisters to finally start bringing out the food.
Beatrice continued to flit about the closed tent with a determined flutter, ensureing that each dish and pot was place exactly where she wanted it. Finally, after nearly 5 minutes of meticulous and minute placement variations, she stood back and nodded to her sisters. They both smiled back in turn with a bit of a nod. Without another word, the three women approached the flaps at the front of the tent and threw them wide, drawing them aside with a flourish, and tying the entrance open with a call of “Soup’s On!”