May 24, 2007

Elfreda Pulls her Weight

The next morning dawned glorious and rose-colored. Elfreda stared through her windows, surprised at how beautiful the scrubby, reddish colored landscape looked with the flood of the early-morning sun over it. IT made her wish that she had Eastern-facing windows-- the sunrise itself must be breathtaking, she thought.

She slowly rose from her bed. Her little clock said 7 am, and she was still recovering from jet lag, but she congratulated herself for making an early start despite this handicap. She needed to show Bobbert that she was serious about pulling her weight-- he had been so sneering and sarcastic the other day when he mentioned her smooth hands and working with crocks.

Elfreda bit her lip and looked at her hands. They were beautiful; one of the things about her appearance that she was proud of-- smooth, small, pale, and with beautiful moon-shaped cuticles. She spent a fair amount of time buffing her nails to mirror-brightness in the hope that Davian would notice.

Well, that no longer matters, Elfreda thought dully as she walked to her wardrobe. She pulled it open and sorted through the racks to find something suitable, but she couldn't come up with much. Finally, she donned a pair of knee-high leather boots-- she had saved for months to buy them-- a pair of denim shorts, and a soft, cotton eyelet blouse. She pulled a straw hat from her hatrack and put it on. Finally, she pulled her red hair into little pigtails to keep it out of her face. She surveyed herself in the mirror and felt a stirring of confidence-- she looked like she was ready to work, she thought.

After a hurried breakfast, wherein Janey kept giving Elfreda odd looks, and suggesting various things like that she should rub sunscreen over her pale skin or change into a different pair of shorts (Elfreda just nodded politely and pretended she didn't care-- she didn't have any other shorts, and she didn't want Bobbert to think that she was worried about her pale complexion, not after what he said the day before), Elfreda walked out the back door and asked one of the yard hands to take her over to the crock farm. They drove for what seemed to Eflreda quite a while. The experience was unsettling-- the little jeep roared over rutted dirt swaths and churned up the muddy spots, spattering Elfreda's bare knees, shorts, white shirt, and shiny leather boots with drops almost as red as blood. When they finally got there, Elfreda knew she looked a sight.

She scanned the area with a hand shading her eyes. She saw several men bustling about, mostly with tattered or no shirts on, and filthy jeans and boots. She didn't recognize Bobbert until he turned and raised a hand in welcome. "Come over here," he called. "I have a job for you."

Elfreda had to remind herself to breathe in. Just as she had the day before, she was caught momentarily by surprise at the sight of Bobbert's rippling arm muscles, and Elfreda noticed this time, his build in the chest and back was admirable, too. She dismissed the thought from her mind with a sniff.

Davian couldn't hold a candle to Bobbert for strength, she thought. But who wants a brute when you can have a gentleman?

She shook her head. But I don't have a choice. She had forgotten for a moment, and the dissapointment at remembering her predicament fell on her like a lead weight.

She blinked back tears and took a deep breath, squaring her shoulders as she came up to Bobbert. "What do you want me to do?" She asked.

Bobbert looked her over, and an eyebrow quivered as he took in her costume, but he didn't say anything about it, for which Elfreda was grateful. Among these men in their tattered ensembles, she knew that she looked ridiculous, particularly the boots. But she was determined to play it off. After all, she'd had nothing more suitable in her wardrobe.

"This is what I would like for you to do today," Bobbert said gruffly, handing her a shovel. "A few of the crocks have been sick lately, and they've been pooping along the sides of the pit. I need you to shovel it into this barrow--" He indicated an encrusted wheelbarrow sitting by the edge of the pool, and Elfreda wrinkled her nose against a most unpleasant smell. "And dump it in the pile we've started over there. It makes the edges too slippery for us to work well with the animals."

Elfreda suppressed her surprise and disgust and began shoveling the smelly lumps into the wheelbarrow. She pressed her lips together grimly, but other than that, kept all expressions of what she felt off of her face. Bobbert watched her for a moment, and then went off to join the others. "Oh-- one more thing," he said, turning back. "Keep an eye out for crocks. They like to sneak up near the edge and spring. I don't want my wife for crocodile feed anytime soon, so look for their eyes-- those little lumps sticking up above the water. See?"

Elfreda couldn't help but shiver as she looked- there were countless little lumps all over the water, some within a few feet of where she was. For a moment, fear paralyzed her, but she felt Bobbert's gaze on her, and so she forced herself to inch a little bit closer to the pool to get the lumps that lay closer to the water, keeping a wary eye on the pairs of eyes as she did so.

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