The judge slammed the gavel down. A wooden, hollow echo filled the small, empty courtroom.
‘Tamara Evens. You are here by placed in the custody of Miss. Mae Dellows. You have one year to turn your life around, and if in that year I hear one bad report about you then you will finish your sentence as an adult at the Chloebrook County Prison for women.’
At the sound of the gavel striking the disk of wood, Mae turned and looked at the girl standing behind the table. What she saw was a young, thin seventeen-year-old with dirty blonde hair, deep blue eyes and acne from years of poor nutrition and drug abuse. In the girl’s, Tamara’s, eyes she saw fear, defiance, and anger. But mostly, she saw herself. The same stubbornness, the same attitude, the same badassery. She saw younger self. Standing in this courtroom as the judge banged his gavel and sent down the punishment that had changed her life. She muttered softly under her breath.
‘Oh, girl. Boy, do you have some waking up to do.’
Tamara’s heart sank as she defiantly stared at the crusty, white-haired old judge. What a prick! It was a misdemeanor. It wasn’t as if she’d done a real crime. It was unfair that he was treating her so badly and handing her down a bullshit sentence. She thought of all her friends, her life at home with her mother, her freedom which was now gone. All for one fun night out on the town. She glanced over at the woman dressed in gray standing in front of the judge’s pulpit. The woman with long, black hair tied up into a haphazard bun. The woman who wore clothes that were outdated and out of fashion and shoes that looked more like men’s work boots than women’s shoes. The woman who wore a soured, stern and pinched expression on her face as she talked in hushed tones to the judge. And this woman would be her jailer for the next year.
She glanced over at her mother sitting a few rows back. Tears streaming from her hazel eyes, a tissue at her nose and her heart filled with a sickening, stomach-turning feeling of regret and sadness. She hadn’t wanted to cause her mother this pain.
Olivia cringed as the judge passed sentence. Her daughter, how had she gotten it so wrong lately? Where had she failed her so miserably? Tears filled her eyes as she desperately took in Tamara’s face, wanting to memorize every breath she breathed. One year. One long year away from her. Bowing her head, she sobbed softly into her hands.
The woman, Mae Dellows turned and walked toward her. Her stride purposeful and confident, her eyes cold and stern.
‘We will stop by your house to pack a few things for you. And for you to say Goodbye to your mother. You can bring four pairs of pants, two pairs of solid and practical shoes, underclothes and shirts, personal items such as toothbrush and paste, soap and shampoo. You will not bring anything other than these things. Where we will be going, you will have no need for other than what I’ve said. We have no electricity or running water, so your iPad, computer, and smartphone will do you no good out there.’ Tamara listened to the monkey chatter in her mind screaming in disbelief. No Electricity! No running water! Seriously! Where did this lady live? What planet did she just come in from? She bowed her head and slumped her shoulders in defeat as she followed the woman from the courtroom. Her mother followed close behind, and she could hear her sniffles. They weighed like a heavy and suffocating blanket on her young shoulders. Her life was about to take a drastic change of course, and her stomach filled with sickening, nauseating terror.
One small backpack contained her possessions. Exactly what Mae Dellows had told her to pack. She glanced at it sitting in the back seat of Mae’s rusted old car. Her whole life in that backpack. Her life bringing her down a dusty dirt road in the God forsaken state of Montana. Twelve hours of driving, twelve hours away from home. Tears filled her eyes, and she angrily scrubbed at them with her fists. She wouldn’t cry. She wouldn’t cry.
Mae glanced at the young girl beside her in the front seat. Her thoughts ran a thousand different scenes as to how to approach and get through the wall of silence Tamara had thrown up around herself. This wall showed in every line of her body, the stiffened shoulders, the rigid, straight upright position, the pout that curled her lips into a scowl. Part of her wanted to yell at her telling her it was her own fault that she was in the predicament she was but the calmer part of her knew that would be the worst mistake she could make. Yelling would do no good.
‘I am sure you are exhausted. I have a room ready for you at the house. Today you can rest up. But tomorrow the work begins.’ In the entire twelve hour drive these were the first words the woman had spoken to her.
Tamara nodded. She was tired. And bed was all she wanted at this moment. Bed and solitude. A place she could rage and cry in privacy. She would be damned if she’d let this she-monster see her cry!
They pulled up to a small log cabin. There were chickens in the dooryard squawking and pecking at the dirt. There were two cows and several goats enclosed in a fenced area on the right of the cabin. There were also saw two out buildings behind the cabin and a three-sided woodshed near the left side of the yard. A golden colored dog lay sleeping on the front porch. Hearing the car pull in it clumsily pulled itself up and ambled toward them. Tamara saw that it was very much pregnant.
A farm. The judge had sentenced her to spend the next year at a farm! A Farm? Really? She was a city girl! There was no way she was staying here! She’d go to jail first! As if reading her mind, Mae turned to her and smiled tightly. She issued a soft warning.
‘Don’t even think about taking off. The nearest town is ninety miles away. You’ll never make it.’ Then smiling she followed with a sarcastic and biting remark. ‘Better than you have tried and failed luv.’ Tamara bit back the urge to reach out and smack the sarcastic, condescending smile off of the woman’s face. Opening the door, she jumped out of the car and stomped off toward the front door of the cabin. She heard Mae laugh as she made her way to the cabin.
Tamara found her room small but private. A double bed covered in a soft, thick hand-made quilt. Beside the bed was a dark, polished wooden night stand with a porcelain basin set atop it. A four drawer dresser sat in one corner of the small room. There were two oil lamps, one on the dresser and one on the nightstand. She thought of her bedroom at home. She had a television, computer, electricity. Sadly she couldn’t believe just what in the hell she had gotten herself into. Tired, she crawled onto the bed and fell into an exhausted sleep.
Mae gazed down at Tamara sleeping soundly on the bed. She hated to wake her. She looked peaceful, young and vulnerable with sleep erasing all the hardness Mae had seen lining her face earlier. She wondered what had happened in Tamara’s life that had driven her down such a hard and wrong road. Shaking her head, she reached out and shook Tamara’s shoulder.
‘Dinner is ready. Get up Tamara.’
Groggily she pulled herself up from the bed. She had slept seven hours and felt like she could easily sleep another seven. Making her way into the small kitchen, she saw the table set with several dishes filled with a variety of foods and the kitchen lit by two oil lamps that cast a soft, yellow glow.
‘Sit. I know you must be starving.’ Mae said as she pointed to the chair. Tamara looked out the kitchen window and saw that darkness had set in. She sat in the chair opposite Mae.
‘Help yourself. There are baked beans and cornbread, sausage and sweet relish, beet greens, and summer squash. For dessert, we have either chocolate whoopee pies or blueberry pie.’
Tamara shyly dished herself out a plate of food, taking a serving each of everything. Her stomach growled noisily. Her last meal had been a greasy breakfast sandwich they had gotten at an out of the way truck stop somewhere along the road. She ate in silence, relishing every bite of the food. After she had finished, she set her fork back onto the table and looked at the woman she’d be spending the next year of her life alongside.
Mae smiled. It was a start.
Tamara’s eyes wandered around the small kitchen. Clean and uncluttered but comfortable.
‘How did you cook all of this with no electricity?’
Mae looked at her and smiled.
‘On the woodstove.’
Tamara looked over at the big, black iron behemoth.
‘Yes, really Tamara. Out here we live simply. And we practice simplicity.’ Mae replied. ‘Lesson number one. Life isn’t all about iPads and televisions, about self- indulgence, and entitlement. Here on the farm, it is about working for what you need which is simplistic in itself. Because all you truly need is food, water, and shelter. Everything else is extra. ’
Pulling herself up from the table Mae turned to Tamara and smiled.
‘You can help me with the dishes. I’ll wash, you dry and put away. That’ll be the best way for you to learn where everything is.’
Tamara followed, grabbing the red and white checkered dish towel from the peg on the wall next to the kitchen sink. She quietly thought about what Mae had said. Was she self-indulgent and entitled? Spoilt and selfish? She balked at the idea. She wanted what she wanted and what was wrong with that? Other than the way she had tried to get her way which had bitten her in the ass because she got caught she didn’t think she’d done anything that bad. There were worse criminals out there than her.