“Should I read it out loud to pass the time?” When he didn’t answer right away, she sighed. “I know it’s for younger readers, but I’m not very good.”
“Not very good at what?” Ned shifted to see her better and gritted his teeth against the pain.
“At reading. I haven’t been in school in over ten years, so there are lots of words in adult books that are unfamiliar. I can usually figure them out, but I’m kind of slow.”
That made sense. Funny he hadn’t thought of it before. “Did you learn to read Arabic?”
“Actually, the Afghans speak Pashto, among many other tribal languages. Not Arabic. But no, I didn’t read at all once I got there. There was nothing to read in my village. Plus it wouldn’t be allowed.”
“Huh.” Maybe he’d found the one woman who couldn’t lord her superior learning over him. “Yeah, sure. Go ahead and read some.” It would pass the time.
“Just a few pages,” she said. “Then I’ll go back outside.”
They nearly didn’t make it through the first page. Fila handled the chapter heading easily enough, but then came the verse of a poem—an old one, judging by the language. She sounded it out as best she could, but it left both of them puzzled with its archaic terms.
“Maybe I’ll pick another book,” Fila said.
“It was a good movie,” Ned said. “About a dog. I like dogs. Try the first few lines. Maybe it gets better.”
It did. They were introduced to Buck, a happy, yellow dog who lived in 1897 that made Ned think of Boomer. A page later, they read of the hired hand who stole him from his master and used him to pay off a gambling debt. By the third page Buck was riding a train bound for San Francisco with a rope around his neck. Fila looked sympathetic. Ned reckoned she could relate to the way a life could be so quickly overturned. Right now he could, too.
She read two more pages, struggling with some of the words, having an easy time with others. She put the book down with a sigh. “I’ll try again.” She pointed to the roof.
“Thanks for reading. It did help pass the time. Buck sounds like my old dog—Boomer.”
“What happened to him?”
“He got hit by a car.” Ned remembered the way the dog used to nudge his hand with his nose when he wanted to be petted—reminding Ned he was there, ready for anything.
Ned let his head fall back to the floor. He’d break those truck windows all over again if it meant he could have Boomer back. Then he thought about Cab’s ultimatum. No, he wouldn’t—but he missed Boomer.
“After dinner we can read more.”
“Uh huh,” Ned said distractedly. A glance out the window told him the afternoon was waning. “You come down before it gets dark.”
Soon he was alone again, but at least he had something to think about. A yellow dog kidnapped from its home. He had a vague memory of the plot of the movie, but had lost many of the details. He liked the way the story was told from the dog’s point of view. That was clever. Boomer had been clever, too.
He wished his dog was here now. He could sure use the company.
As the chip, chip, chip of Fila’s shovel started up over his head, Ned’s eyes drifted closed. His leg hurt, the floor beneath him was hard, but all wasn’t lost. He was alone with Fila and they’d shared something together—the story read-aloud. When he thought about it, she seemed calmer, too, than she’d been in the past few weeks. She was too busy taking care of him to remember her own fears. Ned considered this. Maybe breaking his leg would have an upside. Maybe she’d get over the past while she cared for him. He’d lie on this floor forever if it meant she’d heal enough to fall in love with him.
Fila’s fingers were so sore she could barely grip the ladder when she climbed down again two hours later. She was discouraged as well as aching when she realized she’d barely shoveled a third of the snow off the back half of the roof. She’d have to start in again first thing in the morning and pray the structure held up through the night.
When she made it back inside, the cabin was dark except for a dim glow from the wood stove.
“I’m sorry.” She hurried into the living room once her outer gear was off. “I should have thought to light a lamp.”
“There’s an oil lamp on that table.” Ned pointed toward the back of the room. “Should be matches close by.”
She found them, trimmed the wick and got the lamp burning. As its light filled the room, she relaxed a little. That was better. She brought a glass of water to Ned, but he waved it away. “What I need is crutches. I think there might be an old pair up in the attic.”
“Crutches? You can’t walk.” Fila was adamant.
“I can, too. I need to go to the head.” Another thing she hadn’t thought of. “Take the lamp with you. I’ll be okay.” He pointed to the stairs and she made her way up them, shining the lamp ahead of her. The loft was a small, cramped, cobwebby space packed with odds and ends. After shifting piles of old gear she finally unearthed a primitive pair of wooden crutches and brought them back downstairs.
Ned struggled to stand and it took all her strength to brace him while he did. By the time he was on his feet, his face was white and he was sweating. Once the crutches were braced under his arms, however, he did better. He swung himself around and down the short hall to the bathroom.
Several minutes later, he was back. Instead of taking up a position on the floor, however, he hovered in the hall. “You think it’s a bad idea if I try the bed?”
Fila thought hard. “It’s important to keep your leg straight.”
“I think if you position some pillows around it, I can do that.”
She assented silently, and when he was settled on the double bed in the main bedroom she agreed it was better than having him lie on the floor.
“Much better,” he said. “Keep those crutches where I can reach them.”
“Only to go to the bathroom. Otherwise you sit still.”
“Believe me,” Ned said. “I have no plans to go for a stroll.”
She could believe it. He looked strained. Obviously in pain. She fetched the pain reliever tablets she’d found earlier and gave him more. She wished she had something stronger.
“I’ll make dinner.”
“Looking forward to it.”
Soon they were holding warm bowls of homemade dal and dunking biscuits in the thick lentil soup. Ned still sat on the bed with his legs stretched out before him, Fila perched on a folding chair she’d brought in from the main room. It was a plain meal, but a filling one. In some ways, sitting in the glow of the oil light in an otherwise dark, and not altogether warm house reminded her of her time in Afghanistan. The old wood-fired cookstove in the kitchen sure did.