The Last Letter
Russia. The Zurchenko’s—their homestead starts on the north end of ours—brought them straight from Russia when they set up here three years ago.”
    His excitement was baffling. Jeanie couldn’t make sense of her strange husband, whose oddball tendencies had been so nicely camouflaged by their former, privileged existence. Without thinking, for no good reason Jeanie blurted out her news.
    “I’m pregnant.”
    He stared at her and scratched his head. Jeanie could see the children over Frank’s shoulder, leaping, chasing prairie chickens, laughing, yelling, their voices cutting holes through the grownup’s conversation.
    “Hey kids! Water those damn horses!”
    Jeanie grabbed his arm. “Don’t be so harsh with them. They’ve a lot to adjust to.”
    “Ready to see our new home, our path to unimagined riches?” Frank hopped up and pulled Jeanie to her feet.
    “Did you hear me? I’m pregnant.”
    “Don’t make me be mean to you, Jeanie. Things are hard enough right now.”
    “Don’t make me deal with your black moods, then. How about that?” Jeanie said. She bit her lip, afraid of the anger pushing words out of her mouth, thoughts she’d always kept inside, sentiments that couldn’t be snatched back once free and embedded in his mind.
    He crossed his arms and sighed. “I’m always thrilled to hear you’re pregnant, Jeanie.”
    They stared at each other. Jeanie crossed her arms back at him, trying to soothe her anger. “But, you don’t think this baby will live, so it doesn’t matter?”
    “I didn’t say that.”
    James stepped into their locked gaze, breaking it. “I think it might rain. Templeton said—”
    “Well, old Templeton’s something else, now isn’t he?” Frank said. Spit flew from his lips as he turned his black mood on James. “How about we let old Mama set up house, James, my boy. She’s pregnant, you know.”
    “I thought so. You looked tired, Mama,” James said. “Like the last two times.” James stepped into Jeanie and she hugged him into her side and kissed his forehead. She didn’t know what she would do without him.
    “The house? Frank? You’re right. We need to set up. Take me to my home.”
    Frank stomped his foot. But didn’t go anywhere.
    Jeanie could ignore Frank’s meanness if it meant turning his ire away from her James and focusing her energy on life and death—setting up house.
    “Frank? The house? Which way?” Jeanie held her hands open to the sky.
    She couldn’t see anything but the skeletal tree she’d seen the day before, the bank of olive trees slightly below them, the makeshift barn, and the red fabric they’d tied to a single wooden stake in the ground that marked the way to the well in the distance.
    “We’re here.” Frank grinned and stomped again.
    Jeanie jerked her head in one direction then the other, peering into the distance in every direction. “I’m sure,” Jeanie said, “Templeton indicated the Henderson’s homesteaded for three years and I don’t see hide nor hair of a pretty white frame house like his. I mean, those falling down sod walls over there were clearly just a place to tie the animals against the wind. The Hendersons can’t have lived inside that. I can smell animal from here, they couldn’t have…even a dirty frame house would be easy to clean up and make ready for our—”
    “You’re right. They did tie their horses over there.” Frank slung his arm around Jeanie’s shoulder with a jolt. He stomped his foot again. “You’re standing on it,” Frank said.
    “Standing on what?” Jeanie stamped her foot back at Frank.
    He grabbed her hand and yanked her so hard that she stopped forming thoughts or words. He guided her down the shallow bank and around the front of where they had been standing above. There, dug into the hill was a hole with a door.
    “No,” she said. She knew what she was staring at, but she wouldn’t accept it. She would not live there.
    A wooden plank door clearly

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