The body looked even smaller after Naomi left it.
She had always been an exceptionally petite woman. Had they been married in a less obligatory manner, Daphne would have found it funny that someone as tall and brawny as MacArthur had ended up with a wife well over a hundred pounds smaller and a foot shorter than him.
For a brief second Daphne wondered how her life would have turned out if she’d agreed to become his third wife. The order had been unanimously ratified, and all it needed to become official was her consent.
A pot rattled in the kitchen as two voices rose to a murmur. Daphne kept sewing. It always amazed her to see how quickly a house quieted after a death in the family even with half a dozen grandchildren underfoot.
Naomi had not lead an exceptional life. Married twice and widowed once, she had never remained a mother. The frail, grey, naked shell curled up next to the fireplace as if she had simply settled into a long nap after working all day.
The shroud was finished. Daphne opened her mouth to call out for assistance and then closed it again. It would be more dignified to do this on her own.
She unfolded the makeshift, sheepskin blanket onto the floor next to Naomi and slowly rolled the body over until it was in the centre of the shroud. Gathering up the loose ends of the blanket she began to sew the edges shut.
No, this wasn’t right. Daphne looked around with a furtive glance. Was anyone watching? She didn’t think so. Rachel had already scorched the outside of the shroud twice for her sister-wife’s two marriages. She left no evidence of the babies, though. Traditionally, only the ones who survived the first year of life were included, and none of Naomi’s babies had lived more than a few days.
Daphne dipped her needle in the cooling ashes of the fireplace and hastily made five small, black notches in the inside corner of the blanket. Had there been a sixth? Daphne wasn’t sure. After the first few Naomi withdrew from the world just as her condition became obvious. Once she’d sewn it up no one would know it was there, but she hoped the tally would help Naomi remember her children in the afterlife. Perhaps they would even be reunited.
“I’m ready,” she called out. Her sons and a few other healthy family members transferred the body to a stretcher and followed Daphne as she lead it outside.
Naomi was silently laid to rest in the Everson cave. Unlike most families, MacArthur’s clan had a direct route to the underworld. Naomi should be able to find her way there quickly. Her spirit wouldn’t even have to dig out of the grave first.
This was not the reunion dinner MacArthur had planned. Yes, the remainder of his family was breaking bread under the same roof, but he was too weak to stand, much less join them. From his bed he heard Daphne gasp with laughter when one of the grandchildren asked her a question in a voice just a little too quiet for him to understand even with his breath held and the door wide open.
“Are you hungry? I brought you some bread and soup,” Daphne said, carrying a wooden bowl to his bedside as her brown eyes bored imaginary holes into his chest. She laid the bowl down on the bed without touching his sleeping roll and started walking away.
“Thank you,” he said. She paused and nodded briefly before leaving him in silence. He was surprised she was willing to enter this room again. For the first several years of their sons’ lives she had refused to bring them to his front yard or allow him to enter her home. All of the visits had taken place outdoors in front of the temple just after the biggest community events.
It had been such an inconvenience. MacArthur was glad to see she was becoming more reasonable in her old age, although he wondered if his present condition had anything to do with it.
Another week, another court case. Four, actually.
While voting on the first two Daphne wondered why she kept seeing the same faces over and over again. Yes, water was a precious resource, but did Mr. Hart really think that he could keep either set of neighbours from using it?
Sigh. She voted the same way she did when Mr. Hart had been the plaintiff three weeks ago. Either everyone pulled together to survive or no one would live to see autumn.
The Swood boys were back for the second week in a row as well. This time they were charged with disturbing the peace the night before with a violent fight. Marcus, the younger one, stared at her through purple, puffy eyes as she questioned him about what happened. Once again, neither he nor Liam remembered any of the things the witnesses had described. If not for the broken noses and missing front teeth of their victims Daphne would have wondered if the victims were exaggerating. She didn’t think that Liam and Marcus were exactly innocent, but their forthright denial of everything made it easy to wonder if the insults hurled at the beginning of the fight had been some sort of misunderstanding.
Lucio called a recess while the omsbudmen conferred. This time they were all in agreement. Marcus and Liam clearly had not learned anything from their last sentence, so this one would be stricter. The brothers would be separated and sent to apprenticeships on opposite sides of the valley for the summer. The court hoped that a few months learning new skills and spending time apart from one another would simmer the boys’ anger.
“Daphne, I hate to do this to you,” Lucio said as they reconvened for the final case. “But Gerald and Eva have to sit out on this ruling because it involves their family, and we can’t vote with less than three ombudsmen.” Her stomach dropped as he described the details of it.
“Our final case is a custody hearing,” Lucio said. “Would Gabriel and Kiva Perez please rise?”