Chapter Two- Penny for Your Thoughts
"What are we going to name her?" Aluitte asked as she fumbled her way down the stairs from her loft. Her father looked up from his seat at the table with large bags under his eyes. Aluitte knew he had been crying that night, but decided not to embarrass him over it. She knew she had never really experienced the loss that he went through. She just needed to keep her father distracted in any way she could. If it meant not knowing about her mother, she could always wait.
After Aluitte seated herself next to her father, he answered with a shrug, saying "I hadn't really thought about the kid since we left it with its mother yesterday. I've been too busy tending to the rest of the merino herd. Why don't you name her?"
Aluitte smiled. She loved it when her father let her name the animals. He never thought it was very important, but Aluitte knew that names were the key to life. Forget respiration and blood flow and growing and eating. If you didn't have a name then you were no more than a rock. Names had to be careful too. If you got the wrong name, it would be like labeling a human as a chicken. Aluitte took naming very seriously.
Considering all of this, it only took the girl a few minutes to find the perfect name for the young kid. "We should call her Penny," Aluitte decided. "For all the pennies I had made that day, and for her premature size. It fits."
This got her father to crack a smile. "Penny it is then," he said then paused. "Penny for your thoughts?"
The girl's face exploded with joyful emotion. She had been wanting him to ask that all night and all morning. She was aware he already knew the answer to his question, but it was the inquiring that made it okay for her to ask. "I wanted to know more about my mother," she said simply and sweetly.
Of course her father only smiled solemnly to himself and passed her the cheese and bread. Aluitte waited but her father said nothing. She had pried to soon. The mouse went back into its hole. Now Aluitte could only hope his thoughts would dare venture out again sometime this year. She should not have been so bold...
"She died," he said matter-of-factly. Aluitte looked up to see her father stare down at his table. Two years ago he made the table from the dying oak on Croppers Hill, and since then he'd always look at it fondly. Aluitte remembered the countless hours he spent sawing and sanding. Aluitte waited for him to fully appreciate his handiwork, knowing that he would find the right words to say afterwards. Finally the man looked up and his eyes were just noticeably red, but not tearful.
"Your mother was a beautiful woman," he continued, his voice strong. Aluitte knew he was trying to mask his sadness. "She gave birth to you and everything seemed fine...but she never got better. She was sick for almost three months before she died. I tried all I could to save her. I brought in the best doctors in the county, the most expensive medicines. She never really recovered though. I knew she was dying, I knew it! But..."
"That's okay Papa," Aluitte said, not wanting to pry too much. For some reason he felt guilty for her mother's death and that's all she needed to know. Suddenly Aluitte stood up from the table. Maybe she should feel guilty for her mother's death too. Maybe her birth was the reason her mother had died and caused her father so much grief. Aluitte excused herself and ran out the front door. Her father stood up too and tried to follow her, but she was already bolting out into the wind. Her father stayed where he was at.
Aluitte ran as hard as she could, jumped the fence of the sheep pasture, took the shortcut through the mud and the recently shorn merinos, and finally reached the barn. There Aluitte stumbled in to greet Donner, her father's rusty-brown mustang, and ran around to where Old Mother Goat was kept. There she was relieved to see both the kid and the doe sleeping peacefully in the straw.
"Oh, Mama Goat, I named your baby today," Aluitte said in a soothing voice she had learned from her father. "Her name is Penny; a nice shiny penny. You need to be healthy though, Mother Goat. You need to take care of Penny."
Aluitte stepped closer into the pen, waking the mother out of her sleep. She was about to get up, but Aluitte hushed her and patted her so she would stay down in the fresh straw. Aluitte stroked the doe lovingly, petting her course hair. Soon the kid also woke up and stuck its nose in the air. The girl watched as it began to struggle up on its twig-like legs into a standing position. Aluitte let the mother stand also.
While the mother fed her child, Aluitte ran to the pump where she drew water from the well. The water was cold so Aluitte brought it in to the warmth of the barn and waited until it lost its frigidity. Aluitte went back to the goats and filled their trough with the fresh water. She then added fresh hay to their pile. After this was done, Aluitte made sure to feed Mother Goat with fresh grass she collected from outside.
Eventually Aluitte's father came to check up on her. It was no surprise to see her caring after the animals, but today Aluitte seemed to obsess over the safety of Old Mother Goat. The man understood immediately. It was not only a gesture of caring, but also one of worry. Aluitte wanted to make sure Old Mother was healthy so Penny wouldn't have to grow up motherless like she did. Aluitte's father sighed and rested a hand on the tireless girl's shoulder.
"She's not sick is she?" Aluitte asked without even looking up to her father.
"No, Old Mother will be just fine. Just give her some space, sweetie. The goat's not sick," her father answered back.
"I just want to make sure," Aluitte said in a small voice, suddenly realizing how childish she had been. "I just want them both to be happy."
"I know, but the other animals need to be happy too... Why don't you go brush Donner or feed Jessie?"
Aluitte looked up at her father then and smiled. "Alright," she agreed. "And then can I ride Donner?"
"Just for a little bit, and only if you're careful. No jumps and only run him if you're wearing a hat," her father said as he pointed knowingly to his head. "We wouldn't want you breaking your little skull would we?"
Aluitte sighed. "No, I s'pose not." And then with another grin, "Can I play after that?"
"After that you can finish reading that book on geometry. If you've finished doing that, you can go play."
"No math problems today."
Aluitte was about to turn to go feed Jessie when she remembered something very important. "Pa?" she asked as she stood at the doorway to the barn. Her father looked up. Once she knew she had his attention she said, "Don't forget."
Her father smiled. "I won't."
As Aluitte ran out of the barn she whispered their shared secret aloud. "Never forget I love you."