Julie Ann Dawson
WATER IS THICKER THAN BLOOD
(A Post-Apocalyptic Blues novelette)
Rue had suffered just about all the crap from Hank she could abide.
The water purifier was still broken, even though he had promised not once, not twice, but three times to get it fixed before their stockpile ran out. But the stockpile of clean water was gone, and even the little bit of gray water she kept on hand for washing was almost done. She sure didn’t have money to pay $25 a gallon at the market for fresh water.
She walked over to the relic of a sink in the kitchen. It was dark with stains but there wasn’t much she could do about it. The only thing that would clean it was bleach, and bleach was more expensive than water. She turned the rusty knob of the faucet. Nothing came out. Not that she expected anything to come out. Apparently there was a time before Doomsday that you could walk over to any sink, just turn a knob, and clean, fresh water would come out. Sounded like craziness but it was true. She’d even confirmed it with Old Man Blue, who was a boy before the war and remembered.
Rue took off her grimy apron and walked out onto the porch.
Maybe Lula would let me borrow some water, she thought. A shiver shot through her as soon as she finished the thought. Rue didn’t have no quarrel with Lula; she was a good Christian woman and been a dear friend all their lives. But that boy of hers surely did not know the fear of a Righteous God. Her son Joseph had fallen in with those people at the Circle of Magi. Even the Queen’s Circle showed proper respect for the Lord. But those people at the Circle of Magi, they didn’t seem to respect nothing but their hocus-pocus and what it could afford them.
Joseph had changed his name to Joshua Dunwich. Lula had said it was something to do with his occult research and realigning his identity to his path. She didn’t say more than that. Rue sure hadn’t pushed the issue. It was painful for Lula to talk about.
But Joseph (Rue refused to call him by that Devil-name he had chosen for himself) continued to be a good son and care for his mama. So maybe God still had an opportunity to set the boy back straight.
Rue took a deep breath and walked across the street to Lula’s house. There were no lights on in the house, but it was the middle of the day and most folks didn’t waste candles or generator fuel if they could just make due with natural light. Old Man Blue said there was a time when all you needed to do was flip a switch and you could get light in just about any building you walked into. Some folks even had light bulbs in their closets to better see the color of their clothes. More crazy-sounding talk. But he was alive back then so she guessed he knew for sure.
She saw the front door was open, but she didn’t see anyone in the living room. She knocked on the screen door. “Lula? Girl you home?”
Joseph emerged from the kitchen. He waved and smiled. Rue’s blood ran cold.
“Why good morning, Ms. Rue,” he said. He opened the screen door and joined her on the porch. “What can I do for you on this fine day?”
“Is your mama home?”
“No, ma’am. No she is not. She went off to the Quarter to see about finding a dress for the Court’s open session this month.”
“She got trouble with someone that she need be calling on the Court?”
“No, no. No trouble, Ms. Rue. She just heard tell that the Court was taking petitions in regards to the reconstruction efforts. And you know well as I that whenever the Court speak on that subject Lady Rae always there to make her opinions felt.”
“Oh, that’ll be some fireworks for sure. I’m gonna hate missing that. Just let your mama know I was looking for her when she gets home.”
“Now Ms. Rue, wait a minute. If the Mister ain’t home from his scavving in time, you are more than welcome to accompany mama and me to the Courthouse if it is you don’t want to go alone.”
Rue took a deep breath. It was hard to be hating on his Devil-worshipping ways when he was being so polite. He used to be a good boy, she told herself. Being nice to him might help bring him back to the Lord. “It ain’t no part of wanting to not go alone,” she said. “I just ain’t got no money to buy a proper dress for the occasion. Can’t show up at the Courthouse wearing rags. Would be disrespecting on the Baron.”
“Why Ms. Rue, that does settle the matter, then.” Joseph flashed a wicked grin that set the hair on the back of her neck to standing. “If I recall you do have a birthday coming up soon.”
“Lawd, I been trying to forget.”
“Don’t be silly. Birthdays worth celebrating. On that we can all agree. And I know mama been wondering what to get you.” Joseph reached into his pocket and pulled out a wad of money. Rue’s eyes widened. She hadn’t ever seen a wad of money that thick. He pulled a few bills off the pile and handed them to her. “Now why don’t you get yourself a nice dress, and then I’ll be escorted both you ladies to the Court come the open session.”
“Oh boy, I can’t be taking that from you!” she said as she held up a hand in protest. “Besides, I can’t waste good money on no dress when…” she hung her head and sighed. “Just have your mama come over when she be home.”
“Ms. Rue, please,” he said. He took her hand and placed the money in it. “This is something you deserve. You a hard-working woman and you have as much right as any to something nice for yourself. Now why don’t you tell me what troubles you and let’s see if I can be of help.”
“Don’t suppose you know your way around a wrench? Water purifier is broke. Been broke for a week now.”
“No, can’t say I know much about fixing things. Mr. Hank ain’t had no chance to fix it, I guess?” Rue shook her head. “Well, if you need some water in the meantime, I just conjured up a bunch for mama. She surely would expect me to oblige you in your time of need.”
“I’ll see it replaced soon as the purifier is up and running again,” Rue insisted.
“Oh, no need to worry about that. We got plenty. It’s only right to share the bounty with my mama’s friend.” Joseph went back into the kitchen and returned with three gallons of water. “Would you like to me to carry it over for you, ma’am?”
“Child I can’t accept that much! Your mama—”
“Never you mind about that. A good son takes care of his mama. No need to worry about her.”
Rue slept in fits and starts. Hank was late coming home from his scavving trip to the Central Business District. She always fretted when he went out there because of all the gangs in the area. He always said the gangs don’t pay scavengers no mind and some of them were right friendly. But if they were so friendly wouldn’t make no sense for the Baron to pay bounties on their heads.
Usually Hank and a bunch of his friends just scavved around for scrap metal and electronic parts, as the Engineering Commission paid good money for anything that could be recycled and used for the reconstruction efforts. They normally stuck to the borders of the CBD, where they were least likely to come across anyone that might be looking for trouble. But this time Hank was on a special job for the New Orleans Historical Society. Rue wasn’t up on all of the details, but Mr. Horton had put out a call for someone to go out to one of the old Consulates deep in the center of the CBD and see if there was anything of historical importance there. Seemed a waste to Rue to spend money on salvaging old books and painting with so many people just barely getting by with enough food, but if they were gonna be paying somebody to do it they just as well be paying Hank.
But he had said he would be home around Monday, and now it was Wednesday and no sign of him. That left her to worrying whether or not he ran into trouble.