This is for Tip. An oldy but a goodie. Originally started in 1978, revised in 1999 and polished a bit today. Hope you enjoy!
It was a cool night. The wind coming off the river chilled the air as it caressed Sawny’s skin. It felt good after all the hard work she’d put into clearing the cabin. “At least the spiders and the mice can live somewhere else,” she said to no one in particular.
Sawny had moved up to the cabin the week before. Pop’s death had turned up a lot of interesting paperwork; one of which was the deed to the cabin and seventy acres of land. No one knew it existed. Great-great Uncle Joshua built the cabin soon after the Civil War for his bride. As far as anyone could tell from family diary entries, Joshua left the cabin about 1910. He was a widower and moved back to New Orleans.
Sawny’s Grandma remembered meeting him as a child. “He sat by the window,” Grandma said. “It looked to me like he was dreaming of some faraway place.” Now that she was here on his land, Sawny thought she knew of where he dreamed . Over 140 years later, Sawny was cleaning out the cabin and dumping enough compost outside for three gardens.
It had taken Sawny a week just to find the property. The local county clerk was no help. Mrs. Vigil pointed to it on a map, but didn’t know if there was any access to it. It was a rural postman that showed Sawny the road. You could barely see it in the daylight, let alone at night. Sawny learned that the hard way. That tree she hit never had a chance. Good thing that she wasn’t one for worrying about how her truck looked. The wire and duct tape would hold the bumper in place for a while.
Seventy acres is a lot of land when it’s covered by trees. It was two days after finding the road that Sawny finally found the cabin. The maps showed it was next to a creek. She looked in what seemed like the logical places, but missed the creek. She could hear the water running over the rocks, and had to push through the willows and shrubs to find it. There were more bushes than water. Wading upstream for almost half a mile, the cabin just seemed to appear. Sawny had to laugh when she looked down the valley from the cabin. She could see her dusty blue truck in the distance. Had she walked right instead of left, she would have been on the rut up to the cabin and saved herself a long wet walk. Sawny laughed so hard she must have scared all the chipmunks and birds for a mile.
From the outside it didn’t seem much of a cabin. A nearly square affair with a deep front porch and a lean to off the back. Bushes crowded around the cabin and in some places looked like they were about to grow inside. Looking around she found a post that must have held a clothesline at some point and the garden plot.
Sawny set her tent up on the old garden plot. It was the flattest bit of ground near the cabin. She unloaded the supplies from the truck and made some dinner. Her camp stove was old but efficient. Sawny heated water for dishes after she served herself dinner. She wrote down an inventory on all the things to do on just the outside of the cabin while she ate. There was so much to do to rehabilitate the old homestead. She just hoped it would be finished before Autumn. After washing up the dishes, she crawled into her sleeping bag and fell asleep.
The next morning, Sawny inspected the inside of the cabin. The porch was fairly sturdy and the front door was still in place. It opened without too much hassle. The cabin itself was a two-room affair with a sleeping loft. The main room was a large open space. Pulling paper away from what little glass was left in the windows let in enough light for Sawny to take a good look around. Off to one side Sawny found the table and chairs. Most of them looked usable. She’d have to check them out better when she cleaned. Across one wall was a fireplace. It was made of river stone and big enough to roast a small ox. It looked solid, but she couldn’t see up the chimney. The mantle was a huge slab of wood, and the apron looked like sandstone. The floor was a bit bouncy in places, but Sawny was overjoyed to find it. She had been afraid that there was only a dirt floor. There had to be at least four inches of dirt on top of the planks.
The roof supports formed part of the loft floor. The spaces in between were filled with planks. At the back of the cabin there was a crude ladder-stair concoction that led to the loft. There was no handrail, just the steps. Normally ladders didn’t bother Sawny, but she made herself a promise that a rail of some sort would go up as soon as possible. The loft had a small window covered with paper. It let in some light, but not enough. The guardrail at the edge of the loft needed repair too. It looked like someone had cleaned the loft by shoving everything over the edge. This had damaged the railing. Standing at an unbroken bit of rail, it was nice to look down into the main room.
The second room was more of a lean-to attached to the original cabin. There under the garbage and half the roof paper was the kitchen stove. It must have been someone’s pride and joy, but right now it was a mess. Birds and mice had camped in it’s recesses leaving twigs, grass and other scraps. Sawny wasn’t sure what was holding up the roof, but she decided to tackle the kitchen after the main part of the cabin.
She moved the bits of furniture out onto the porch. One chair was beyond help. The rest of the bits while old were probably usable. She still had to puzzle out the wood bits from the loft. She kept them together off to one side. Grabbing the shovel and the broom, Sawny began to remove the dirt. She started with the loft. Working the dirt to the edge with the shovel and then the broom, it cascaded over the edge near the broken rail. With no cross breeze, the dust seemed to hang in the air for ages. Sawny took the scarf off of her hair and put it over her nose. The dirt from the main part of the cabin scraped up in a matter of hours. It went out the front door and off to one side of the porch. Sawny swore she wouldn’t need steps on that side.
By this point, she was so grungy that she headed for a shallow pool formed in the bend of the creek. Originally she had started washing her dishes there. Then she realized that if she added a few rocks, that the pool would deepen enough to use as a bath. Cold water, but better than nothing. Stripping off, she stepped into the pool. Goosebumps raced up her legs. Using her washrag, she slushed water up to rinse off the dirt. Last to be washed was her hair. By the time she finished, she had an ice cream headache with no ice cream.
The next day was much the same. After a quick breakfast of tea and bread rolls with a bit of cheese, Sawny took the broom to all the spiderwebs and dust on the walls. The logs had caught a lot of the dirt that had swirled around the day before. After a few buckets of water, even the fireplace looked good. She didn’t try to mop the floor, but threw buckets of water across the planks and swept the remaining mess out the front door. Then she cleaned the furniture.
After two days work, Sawny had a table, three high-backed chairs, a stool, and a bed frame. Those bits of furniture and a few cupboards were all that was salvageable from the cabin. The table was crooked and the chairs wobbled, but the bed was the challenge. It had looked like a pile of wood up there on the loft floor. No mattress, no supports, nothing. Only after cleaning the grunge off of it was Sawny able to recognize that it was a bed frame. It was one of those rope and board contraptions. She’d have to find someone to help her reassemble it.
Dinner was canned chili and cheese sticks followed by another dip in the creek. Sawny took her sleeping bag and pad out of the tent and placed it in the corner where the bed had been. It felt nice to actually have a clean enough corner to occupy in the cabin. Curling up in her new bedroom, Sawny was so tired that she was asleep in an instant.
Sawny woke to the sound of something moving in the bushes outside. It was early morning, and her first thought was Bear! The locals had been teasing her about becoming lunch for one, and here she was wondering if it was to be breakfast instead.
Sawny got up as quietly as she could. She grabbed the broom from the wall and headed for the door. Peeking out the front door, she could still hear the swishing of bushes. There was nothing to be seen. Not even a chipmunk. Feeling a little silly by now, Sawny stepped out and started around the corner. Nothing. She kept going, and realized the noise was coming from near her tent and supplies. Sawny came around the corner with the broom held high to hit what was making the noise. What she saw was a man bent over her camp stove.
“What the hell are you doing in my things?” she yelled. Sawny startled him and he moved away from the stove as she came at him with the broom still raised.
“Hold on a minute!” he said. “I didn’t mean to scare you, I was just starting some water for tea.”
She stopped and saw that there was water just beginning to boil. Curiosity getting the better of her, she decided to find out what the hell he was doing here before she hit him. “Who are you and what are you doing on my land?” she asked.
“I’m Ian MacKenzie. I came up here in response to your notice in the paper,” he said. He reached slowly into his pocket and pulled out a ripped section of newsprint, and held it out to her.
Sawny took it. It was the ad she had put in the paper over a week ago. Oh, did she feel stupid. “I’m sorry,” Sawny stammered. “I had forgotten all about that. I,… umm… I’m Alexandra Hawke. Most people call me Sawny,” she said as she put down the broom and held out her hand.
His hand covered hers and he shook it with a firm grasp. “Sawny?” he asked with a puzzled look on his face.
“It’s what my brother called me. He couldn’t say Alexandra, so it stuck,” she said as she tried to get the circulation back in her fingers. “You gave me one hell of a scare. I thought you were some wild animal rooting in my stuff.”
“Hence the broom,” Ian said looking at her weapon of choice. He turned to the stove and took the water from the heat. Then he poured it into cups. “You might have stopped them with the broom, but the sight of those legs might have provoked them again,” he said as he smiled.
“Shit!” Dropping the broom, Sawny ran back towards the cabin and her jeans. She had forgotten that she had slept in just a tee-shirt and panties. Her face burned red as she got dressed. “Men! He would just stand there and stare,” she thought. Sawny combed her hair and braided it back fuming as she flicked strand over strand. She kept thinking of what she would say to him. The lecher, ass,… so rude. Then she stopped and realized how she must have looked to him and started to giggle.
“I’m glad to see you have a sense of humor,” Ian said, his voice floating in the front door.
Sawny looked towards his voice and saw a hand holding out a cup in the doorway. Ian hadn’t stepped in yet. The cup was an olive branch. As she walked towards the door, the anger melted away. Sawny took the cup. “Shall we try this again?” she asked.
He smiled. “Yes, Ms. Hawke. I’m here looking for work. You seem to have more
than enough to do around here. Do you want a hand?”
She sat down on the porch and waved him towards a seat on the planks. “I certainly could use help. Tell me about yourself, and you can start with how you found this place so readily.”
He didn’t look like he had been hunting for long. The creases were still in his shirt, and he hadn’t even broken out in a sweat. His brown hair was pulled back into a neat ponytail. Ian rubbed the light beard on his chin with one hand as he sat on the edge of the porch. Ian laughed. ” I grew up around here. Most kids come to the ‘haunted cabin’ to prove how brave they are. Some of us even know that it’s old man Ross that haunts it.”
Ross was Uncle Joshua’s last name. Sawny was just beginning to understand how much of a joke some of the people in town had been having at her expense. Her cheeks began to burn again.
“Haunted cabin eh?” She took a sip of tea. Damn, he even had the right amount of honey in it. “I guess that everyone in town is having a good laugh at my folly,” she said. The look in his hazel eyes told her the truth of it.
“Well, not everyone, just some of them. They’re okay once they see that you aren’t from Texas, or that you’re really serious about the land and staying on it,” he said. Ian sipped his tea and stretched out his legs. He must have been 6’2″ or more Sawny guessed.
“Texas?” Sawny didn’t think anyone visited down here, let alone Texans. The puzzlement must have shown on her face as Ian was trying not to laugh.
“Yes, Texans. They come up here and have been trying to buy up all the land.
Summer homes and winter playgrounds. It drives the local ranchers and farmers nuts,” he said. “They even tried to annex this part of Colorado and New Mexico since it was Texas a long time ago.”
Sawny nodded, remembering looking at old maps of this part of the country. This part of the state was so odd anyway, she felt as if she had stepped back 50 years if not more.
Ian sat there cup in hand. “Well, I guess you want to know what kind of a rogue I am, and if I’m qualified for the work,” he said.
“Umm, yes,” she said trying to remember what she had for food that would quiet her growling stomach. She bet it was loud enough to hear. Ah, the bread rolls! “Would you like a roll to go with that tea?” she asked as she got up and moved towards her food sack. Ian nodded as she got the bread out of the bag. Sawny handed him a roll and sat down with hers. As she began to devour it, he took a bite and after a moment began to talk.
“My family runs a ranch a couple of valleys over from here. My brother’s the boss. I do just about whatever comes to hand. It’s a bit noisy what with all the nieces and nephews here this summer. So I was looking for some work to get me out of there.” He smiled and ate a bit more of the roll. “What do you have in mind?”
Sawny swore that as he said that, it wasn’t carpentry he had on his mind. She took a sip of tea, counted to ten before she replied. “I need help repairing the cabin properly, not just a patch job. The interior needs a lot of help and the roof needs a bit of TLC as well. Then I want to fix up the garden and scrape the driveway to get rid of the ruts. I need to cut the bushes back too.”
He nodded, stood up and moved past her into the cabin. “You’ve done a bit of cleaning I see,” he said as he looked around. Walking towards the loft he looked up at the underside. “Good workmanship here, but that guardrail needs replacing.”
“I know. So does the ladder,” she said. Sawny ate the last bite of roll and finished her tea. He had finished as well, and handed over his cup. “Where did you learn carpentry?” Sawny asked. She didn’t want just anyone fixing up the cabin, although she might not have much choice. Ian was the only one to answer the ad.
“The ranch, and school. I went to University of Northern Colorado,” he said.
“They taught carpentry there?” she asked, trying not to laugh. Sawny caught the expression on his face, and realized that she had made a mistake.
“No,” he answered rather gruffly. “I majored in English Lit and European History. I had planned on being a teacher. I did carpentry work on the side to pay my tuition.”
Feeling her face start to glow Sawny stammered an apology took their cups and headed for the door. Out in the morning air, all she could think about was how screwed up this day was already. Moving around back, she went over to the stove where there was still a bit of hot water. Sawny got the cups washed and set aside. She put away the camp stove and tried to figure out what on earth she was going to say to Ian McKenzie. Just as she had her thoughts in order, the quiet was shattered by the rumble of a truck. Walking around the cabin Sawny could see the plume of dust heading off down the mountain. Damn! He had left. She must have really screwed things up. Frustrated and mad, Sawny sat down and cried.