Just tuning in? Catch up with parts one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, and twenty of this story.
Lemon had been born in a small log cabin deep inside the Mingus mountain range. His thick coat was designed to keep him alive through long, cold winters and it was during July and August afternoons that he suffered the most. The valley rarely grew as warm as the desert, but the temperature could still get quite hot in the dog days of summer.
Watching miserable pets pant in the shade must have been what prompted the ones who came before to invent such a funny phrase Daphne decided. Her grandfather was the one who first used it with her when they’d taken in yet another dog at the end of August, and in her 9-year-old mind the dogs days of summer were meant to be a celebration of the unique bond between dogs and their humans. She quickly learned how to bake favourite treats for the dogs in her life and draw some of the water supply into a dog-sized bath for cooling off.
Which is how Daphne ended up meeting the new representative for the Arizona territories while standing in the middle of her front yard naked from the waist up as she attempted to dry off her wiggly companion. There was nothing Lemon liked better than soaking in a cool tub of water on a hot day, and Daphne had learned from experience that the only way to get him out of the tub was to climb in after him. Her knee still protested when she picked up dogs and small children, so Daphne was hoping to gently coax him out of the tub instead of tipping it over or struggling to lift him out. She was nude from the waist up because at least then one article of clothing would remain dry for the evening.
“Mrs. Loous?” the slim blond woman standing at the edge of Daphne’s property line blushed as she carefully enunciated Daphne’s legal last name. Five minutes ago Daphne had been wishing that Paige was awake or one of her sons was around to help her de-tub the dog. Now she was grateful that no one else was staring awkwardly at the ground while she hurriedly put on a shirt.
“Yes, I’m Daphne.” Overjoyed at the thought of meeting a new human friend, Lemon barked his greeting as Daphne struggled to hold onto his slippery body.
“My name is Esther Penn. I’m here on behalf of your government to take a census. Do you mind if I ask you a few questions?”
As the stranger spoke Lemon wiggled out of his owner’s grasp and rushed forward to meet his new human. When the newcomer rewarded him with a quick scratch behind the ears Daphne could have almost sworn that she saw her dog grinning.
Esther flashed a small piece of metal she called a badge in front of Daphne and was shocked when it didn’t have the desired affect. Daphne had never seen such an object before and didn’t realize that it was intended to evoke obedience and a tinge of fear into everyone who saw it. To Daphne it looked like a child’s toy not a weapon. The petite woman who wanted to know everything about Daphne’s life was a curiosity, so for the sake of learning more about the world beyond Mingus valley Daphne agreed to sit in the front yard and answer her questions.
“Mrs. Lewis, I really must insist that we stick to the script,” Esther said after Daphne interrupted her yet again with another question.
“I just want to know where all of this information is going,” Daphne said. Even with Esther’s explanation of what a census was and why it was so important to know the names, ages, and occupations of everyone living in the valley Daphne still wasn’t sure why that was the only data that mattered. While waiting out the long, hot summer Daphne had begun to formulate strong ideas about what her valley needed, and government-issued ID numbers were nowhere on that list.
“Well, the algorithm tells us how to allocate resources after we input all of your information.” Esther might as well have told Daphne they were going to throw it to the moon with a slingshot when verboten terms accidentally slipped into the conversation. Daphne was still having trouble believing that anyone’s medicine could be strong enough prevent disease before it occurred. It was as preposterous as choosing when the gods sent you a child or Death carried you away.
Esther was frustrated as well. Half of the information she’d been prepped with on this family was either wrong or Daphne was a much better liar than her profile indicated she would be. Not only did she claim to have no knowledge of the Cohen brothers or where they might have moved on to after Mr. Everson allegedly broke them out of jail, she refused to say anything about her estranged husband at all.
Hopefully her sons would be more cooperative. Esther still needed to vaccinate everyone and visit three more households before dusk.