Chapter 5.2

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*****

Julia opened and closed her door, running to give Jethro the bandages and cream. Turning back, Julia froze in the middle of the hallway when Cliff inquired, "What're you doing in there with the bandages and such anyway?"

A bead of sweat inched down her forehead. Two small hands gripped her dress, wrinkling the soft cotton. Her knuckles, white from tension. "I was just...ummm...fixin' up my doll. You see, it got hurt from the washboard." Julia inched along the dark hallway to her room, fearful of further interrogation. She eased the door shut and leaned against it letting out a small sigh of relief.

*****

Cliff winced as Jethro applied the cream to, and wrapped the bandage around his hand. Cliff noticed a deep red stain at the torn edge of the bandage and looking to his sister's room. He rose, face reddening.

"What the Hell is that demon up to?" Cliff whispered softly as he beckoned Jethro to follow him. They inched along the creaky floorboards in the hallway. Nailed to her door were cut out pictures from the book she had been attached to and a photograph of their family from many years ago. In the picture, their father was a prim statue in his uniform and their mother was blurred –probably moving to stop young Cliff from picking up something off the ground while still coddling baby Julia in one arm.

Cliff barged into Julia's room and his mouth dropped. There, sprawled out on Julia's bed was a limp fox.

*****

Julia jumped at the sudden entrance of her brother and Jethro. With a gasp, she picked up the fox and clutched it to her chest. "What're...what're you doing in here?" she panted.

"What in the Hell are you doing with that...what is that a fox? Is it dead? Why ain't it moving at all?" Cliff asked with a thin veil of frustration covering his concern.

"This ain't just a fox... This here is Achilles. Hero of Olympu--" Julia began, but Cliff interrupted her with a slight slap to the face. She rubbed her cheek with her hand, tears welling in her eyes.

"IT ain't no hero from your heathen text. IT is a dirty, wild animal... and you should know better... Granz'll skin you when she gets home." Cliff ran his hands through his hair and wiped his brow with his dirty forearm. Looking up, Cliff asked, "God, why didn't you protect this girl from taint?" He massaged his temples and looked to Jethro who shook his head. "Jeth, gimme yer Smith N' Wesson. It's probably got rabies or something. That's gotta be why it ain't moving."

"No! Uhmm, I mean, it ain't frothing at the mouth or nothing and it's got no bite marks either, just a little cut that I bandaged up...see." She peeled back the wrap and pointed out the small cut on the fox's leg. Cliff and Jethro moved in to examine the cut. Cliff rubbed the cut with his finger, and stuck his finger under his nose.

"You little devil!" He said grabbing her cheeks between his hand. "I know this smell. That's my oap-eate poison. Lucky monster musta scraped his leg up against my snare." Cliff motioned for Jethro to smell the wound, and he nodded in confirmation.

"That's probably just the antiseptic you're smelling. I did rub a lot of it on the cut... wanted Achilles to feel better, ya know?"

"You bring that mongrel out inta the kitchen. I know how to tell for sure."

Julia relented, picked up the limp animal, and joined the two boys in the long march down the hallway. She set the limp fox down on the floor and Cliff returned from the porch after putting on his overalls again. Jethro sat rocking in a frail chair, dissecting his pistol, and pretending to be engrossed. "What I got here," Cliff began, "are two eucalyptus leaves. See, when I bought this poison from that crazy witch, she gave me a few of these leaves...just in case. And I know this smell. It's strong as Hell. This'll wake the beast up if the thing truly is asleep 'cause of the poison. If it don't wake up, Jeth over there's gunna take it out back and shoot it before it starts foaming and biting. Got it?" Jethro perked his head at his mention.

"Yea..." Julia resigned. Cliff stuffed one leaf into each of the fox's nostrils. At that moment, the fox opened its eyes and its breathing became more pronounced. "Oh thank Heavens!" Julia shouted. She grabbed the dazed fox and began dancing with it in the kitchen. Cliff, boiling in his overalls, took a deep breath, grabbed Julia by the shoulders, and forced her to stop dancing.

"You best be praying to the Heavens to accept your penance 'cause you sinned me girl. That fox is mine, my hunt, my poison, and it'll be my dinner. You stole it." Cliff puffed out his chest as he confiscated the fox and held it out of Julia's reach as she jumped to grab it.

"You mean I rescued it!" Julia panted as she lunged for the fox. "I'm practically Gaia herself. I felt the pain of poor Achilles and I fixed him up." Cliff looked dumbfounded at Jethro who looked equally as puzzled.

"Julia... I don't know if Granz has talked to you yet, but you ain't a guy." Turning to Jethro, Cliff continued, "ahh... you know what, this is just too much. This behavior has got to be coming from that stupid school she's been going to and that stupid northerner teacher who's been feeding her lies."

"You don't get it at all!" Julia began poking her finger in Cliff's chest. "Gaia (not Guy-a) is the Greek Goddess of the Earth. She was the mother of the Titans, Grandmother of the Olympian Gods like Zeus and Poseidon. And you...you are the Cyclops; you only see things through one eye. Just 'cause I'm aware of ideas other than the Bible don't make me a sinner because guess what...I'm as much a Christian as you. So don't give me none of that Satanic crap. You're the one who's got a dirtier tongue than sailors with nothing to drink but rum."

Having calmed a little, Julia continued. "I wish Mom was here. She was the only one who truly knew reason in this family. She didn't rush off to fight a pointless war and she certainly wouldn't be giving me a hard time trying to take care of a sick animal. Yeah that's right... I called this little crusade Pa's been on pointless. And you're as stupid if you are bent on joining him. Maybe I should go live with Ms. Peggy so you can run off and kill fellow Americans!" Julia sprang up and snatched the fox that Cliff had placed back on the ground during the verbal assault. Julia stormed off the porch and continued marching down the lawn finally sitting and laying the fidgety fox down on an adjacent stump.

Julia plumped down in the grass ripping up green blades while she calmed down from her outburst. The fox sat with his face buried in his tail on top of the tree stump. "I'm sorry Cliff was so mean to you. I think he blames me for his not being allowed to go with Pa into the army and he's taking it out on you 'cause we're friends. But I've come to a decision. I'll go live with Ms. Peggy down the road. She's always seemed to me like she is the long-lost-fourth Gorgon sister, but she offered her home to me when Pa left two years ago. That...and I haven't been turned to stone yet even after two years of school and a few-too-many up-close-and-personal stare downs.

"I don't want to, but if that can make Cliff happy, I'll go live with Ms. Peggy for a few years," Julia continued. "You know...he really does take care of me, Achilles." The fox shot Julia a glare that seemed to question her sanity. "He might be duller than a jug of shine, but I'm sure that deep down there is kindness." Noticing the leaves still wedged in the fox's nose, Julia said, "Here, let me take those out." She plucked the two leaves from its nostrils and then started untying the bandage on its leg noticing with astonishment how far the wound had healed. What began as a deep cut was already scabbed over and looked to be scarring. The fox blinked, and glanced back towards the house. It then looked back at Julia and the two locked eyes. 

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One more part to Julia and the Fox

Read on,

Matt

Photo credit: Pixabay user Unsplash    




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