The seventeenth story in the Winter Prose Competition 2011 series.
Swaying in the morning breeze fields of growing grain greeted Lori as she stepped from the house. It was not her first trip out that morning. She smiled, noticing that the sun was finally peeking over the horizon. The day had begun, but unlike other days she was not surrounded by the noise of others. Marty had left for Caprith the afternoon before taking his five Fosters. In this lull, between spring planting and summer harvesting, the Fosters would their trips home.
Lori breathed deep of the fresh air and relaxed into this day of peace. It was not a day of rest, however, and Lori returned to dragging all six mattress ticks into the yard. Carefully she opened each mattress and spread the hay out to air on the south side of the house. Brining the empty sacks to the north western corner, she dumped them in a pile next to the large wash basin filled with hot lye water.
Pulling one of the blue and white ticks from the pile she dumped it into the hot water and began to stir. It was back breaking work and Lori longed for the days when Marty’s wife, Arana, was well enough to help. Or even, she thought looking to her home, in which she hadn’t lived for nearly six years, one of her sisters would come to help. But Arana had passed away four years ago and her entire family had gone to town for the Foster exchange celebration today.
These mattresses, washed but once a year, had seen much use. During the previous fostering, three years ago, four of them had held eight Fosters. Lori was lucky, for had been the only girl in Marty’s house entitling her, not only to her own mattress, but to her own bedroom as well. It wasn’t large, barely fitting her mattress and a trunk, but it was all hers.
Thinking of home made her glance up as she transferred the ticking from the hot bath to the cold rinse. There, across the Trabian thoroughfare, her parents house stood, two new expansions bright compared to the old wood of the original dwelling. But those had been added after she’d left and Lori had had to share her mattress. Eleven kids squeezed onto seven mattresses that had taken up the entire the loft. Worse had been the thin curtain that separated the four girls form the seven boys. A light sleeper, Lori had never slept well.
But today, Lori smiled as she moved the ticking from the rinse to the wringer, all was quiet save for the hum of insects and the occasional call of a bird. Cranking the handle on the wringer she squeezed as much of the water from the mattress as she could before taking it to hang upon the line that stretched from the south ester corner of the house to the barn.
The noon time sun saw four mattress ticks hanging upon the line. Famished Lori stopped working and trudged inside. Down in the root cellar she broke off a piece of last year’s cheese and yesterday’s bread. Coupled with a cup of water they made her lunch, eaten on the shaded front porch. Munching her food she watched the dust cloud that had appeared in the east. She was rinsing the fifth mattress tick before she noted that it was a wagon. By the time she was ready to stir the sixth ticking there was no mistaking that it was the Foster Wagon.
Curiosity spurred Lori to watch the ox drawn cart approach as she continued to work. She knew Caprith would be its the last stop, but the scant number of occupants surprised her. Marty had been grumbling about something yesterday morning and she wondered if he had known there wouldn’t be many Fosters?
Shaking her head Lori turned her attention to scrubbing the sixth ticking. The stains were so bad that she was tempted to throw it and the rushes that had stuffed it out. But waste not want not was a Trabian motto and so Lori would have to take the matter up with Marty. She was sure he’d have a use for it, if it wasn’t needed as a bed.
Another glance at the Foster Wagon, allowed Lori the opportunity to count the number of children. There were only three girls and two boys when last year there had been over ten each. Would Marty be brining both boys back with him tomorrow, she wondered? Or would he only bring home one, or worse, Lori swallowed at the thought, none?
When the cart had passed Lori glanced at it again and was startled by the sight of a third boy. He crouched in the back as if ready to leap off; his pale hands holding on to the running boards to steady himself. Scanning the area the boy’s eyes flicked here and there. Did he expect to be attacked, she wondered. Lori laughed; no one had ever attacked Trabia.
Suddenly he focused upon her. Startled by his deep blue eyes, it took her a moment before she managed a smile and a wave. The boy’s brows furrowed with guarded curiosity. Shrugging and sighing Lori bent to the task of emptying her basins under his watchful gaze.
By the time she was done the sun had set and the Wagon was out of sight. Bread, cheese and water was Lori’s dinner. taking them to the porch she looked west towards Carith. There sparks of color flew into the air as a boom reverberated through the night. The Foster Wagon had arrived, and with it the boy.
Blue eyed and blond hair was a color combination Lori had never seen. Did it mean he was a foreigner, she wondered, though she’d never heard of Fosters from beyond Trabia. His complexion too, puzzled her; for how did one work in the sun and remain pale? Returning inside for sleep, Lori hoped she’d get to see him again.