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Old Burlap Bags

Frieda is alone with her children in the old cabin in the woods.  It's wintertime, and they are all snowed in.  She had enough groceries at the end of fall to last her through winter, in theory.  Her husband, Schnell, he will be returning at about Christmas time with pudding and plum cakes, and maybe a few oranges as an extra fancy treat.  Freida did well to parcel out portions of groceries in small plastic bags and to put them in the mouse proof bins in the cellar.   Of course, nothing can stop a mouse once it gets it's mind on it.  The mouse rubs his hands in the corner eyeing the bins and catching delicious whiffs of the parceled groceries.  In theory, the groceries would last Frieda and her two children past Christmas time.  But there are so many well laid plans on paper that wilt or smoulder under the pressures of reality.

"For example," wonders Frieda, "What else is there to do in a cabin in the woods than eat?"  The alcohol has all been drunk for many months now, and now it's gone, and that so far in life is her biggest regret.  "Ïf only I had parceled out the whiskey," she thinks.  But no amount of parceling could have stopped her fiery crash.

And there are children to think about besides.  Frieda eyes her children with a watering mouth and glazed eyes.  She licks her lips.

"No," she says to herself whilst grasping her head in her hands.  "No no no no no!"

It is dark times, and the days are only getting darker.  She has eaten the last of the Christmas cake.  It was supposed to last her a while longer.

"Jackson!" She calls her son.  "Go out and get a rabbit, dear."

She wraps a few old rags around his head and gives him a pointed stick and shoves him out the door.  She can see him through glimpses sometimes shivering at the window.  He usually stays there till dark when Frieda has fallen asleep.

He cares for his little sister, Pont.  Pont cries from hunger.  "Here, eat this hunk of roast beef.  I've been saving it for hard times." He takes the hunk of beef from out of his pocket and gives it to Pont.  She eats at it, but it is as though she has almost forgot how to.  Jackson's mouth waters watching.

Frieda wakes up hours later just as wild eyed and crazy as ever.  Her hair full of wayward static is not unlike the fire she currently stokes.  "Ät least we have enough wood, eh Jackson," she says, throwing in another log.  Jackson only nods and smiles, lest he somehow provoke her.  It get's so hot in the house when she feeds the fire.

"There is plenty of wood, children!  At least we won't be getting cold!"  But that's what she said about her provisions.  Soon the wood will also be gone if she keeps up like this.  At night she sits on the couch and thinks about beavers.

"Ö man," she thinks, "Wish I were a beaver, or a porcupine at times like these.  I could just eat a tree, or some bark, or any old thing." When her eyes glaze over like that, Jackson makes sure to hide himself and his sister out of the way.  His ma might shift her gaze to him, and she stares with the same hunger as she does at the wood.

One bright sunny morning, nearing Christmas time, there is a shuffling outside the door.  It wakes Frieda from her dreams, and she runs to the door.  Alas, it is Shnell, and he has a bag full of something.

"Ö Shnell," cries Frieda.  "Ït's been so long!  What have you brought for us!? We are nearly run through!"

Shnell, always the joker, the one who likes to have fun, and play tricks on people, smiles.  All during his long walk to the cabin, through the deep snow, on his snowshoes, he's been imagining Frieda's reaction when he shows her what's in the bag.

"Ït is a christmas gift, Frieda.  Now, where are the children." Jackson and Pont run out to greet their pa.  They are not as weary of him as they are of their mother for now, but that can change as the winds do.  It can be a juggling act and an exercise in intuition to chose the less crazy of the two when they are both lathered up.  Oft-times, Jackson will seek refuge in his toys, which are old burlap bags tied up with strings.

Schnell picks them both up and hugs them until they start screaming.  "You will not believe what I have in my bag!" He tells them.

The children grow excited.  Their minds run with the most delicious tables of food. Frieda is no different.  Her glazed eyes have once again become wild and fiery at the sight of his bag.

"Well, let me have it, then." Frieda says.  "I'm through with this waiting. Open the bag and show us.  We are very hungry, Schnell.  I hope you should know.  There were not nearly enough groceries to last us.  We have even eaten all the Christmas cake.  And Jackson couldn't catch a rabbit."

Schnell's face drops.  "Ïs she tricking with me?" he thinks.  He decides she is and laughs.  "Ö, Frieda.  Always the joker!  That's why I married you, because of your sense of humour!" and he hugs her till she screams.

"Maybe I'm just excited," Frieda thinks, and imagines a bounty of hidden groceries somewhere in the cabin.  "Maybe it's all been a bad dream."

"So what's in the bag?"Jackson asks.

"Well, let me show you,"answers Schnell.  He puts the bag on the ground and opens it.  He pulls out a wooden cube.

"Ït's a cabinet, Frieda!  Our very own cabinet!" He walks over to the table and puts it on there.  Frieda stares at the cabinet, and then her gaze wanders to all the other cabinets in the house.

It's true, Schnell has a cabinet collecting disorder.  He's spent his last few monies on it, but it's the compulsion which feeds him.  Whilst his family is wasting away it will be his cabinets which nourish him.  He will survive the apocalypse with a constitution like that.

"Don't you think we have enough cabinets," Frieda asks.

"Ï thought we could use one more," Schnell replies.  "Look! We'll be able to put these old pop cans in there! We will call it The Old Poppy Can Cabinet!" Shnell's eyes light up and flit around.

It has been suggested that Frieda and Schnell are distant cousins, and it's their mania which attracted them to each other in the first place, and one assumes their relatives for the same reason.  If there are only a handful of poison frogs up in the rain forest, the crazy one has a 1 in 5 chance of passing along his crazy until the normal is wiped out.  All that matters is his camo ability, or if his tongue is a bit longer.

"Ären't you happy, Frieda? Another cabinet!" He grabs Frieda by the shoulder and smiles showing her all his teeth.  He shakes Frieda a little in his excitement.  "Think of all the pop cans we'll put in there!"

But Frieda does not share Schnell's excitement.  Her eyes have wandered to the pantry, where some fancy snacks may have appeared during her sleep.  Soon she will pass out from exhaustion.  Schnell grabs Jackson and Pont before they can run away.  "Cabinets, children!  Cabinets!  You will thank me when you are older for having so many places to put all of your things!"

Like her brother, the only possession Pont has is an old burlap bag, which she calls Hester.   It is dirty and smells bad.

Schnell twirls the children around in the air.  He sets them down on the couch.  Frieda joins her children by stumbling there just before passing out.

Schnell goes to the pantry and sees nothing in it.  He opens up all the cabinets in the house and sees nothing in them except old tied up burlap bags with nothing in them.  He runs around checking each cabinet twice.  He checks the cellar, he checks the pantry again.  There is nothing.

"Frieda," he asks.  "What have you done with all the groceries?"

"Ï have eaten them, Schnell.  Along with the children.  Now they are gone, and we are famished, and you bring us cabinets." With some energy she hoists herself up.  "We are not beavers, Schnell, nor porcupines.  We can't eat cabinets, Schnell.  You know that, right?  Trust me, I have tried.  I am not proud.  We can't eat cabinets."

Schnell's eyes have begun to water.  His throat is quivering.  He is about to tear at his beard and wail.  Frieda smiles slightly and expires.  Jackson grips his sisters hand.  A storm is coming in.

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