Yet, there was a special bond of love between many fathers and their daughters. Bettina had seen it often, especially on Sundays after church, when families lingered to chat with each other. The fathers of her girlfriends had a certain gleam in their eyes when talking to their daughters. She’d always thought it was a look of hope for the future. There was a lightness and joy in the conversations that revolved around the girls. A special twinkle in the ruddy faces of the farmers as they observed their girls.
Bettina also noted a common look for the boys, although it was different. Not bad—just different. With the boys, it was a look of strength for the present. She could see confidence in the farmers’ eyes—most of them, anyway—confidence that they’d make it through whatever challenges came their way, because they had their boys to help.
Bettina had known that sparkle in her own father’s face, every time he looked at her. Her earliest memory was of her father smiling at her. She must have been only an infant, lying in her crib. It was Bettina’s favorite memory of her father. Indeed, it was her favorite memory.
With the closeness in her family ruptured, Bettina was overwhelmed with grief when her father died. She would never see that sparkle again. She wouldn’t feel the wonderful sense of sanctuary that had been to her like water to a parched flower. The gentle touch of his gnarled hands patting her on the head, just before kissing her forehead at night, would never come again. Her father’s smell—a mix of sweat, earth, livestock and strong coffee—was gone. It had been a bitter draught for her to swallow, like a pleasant holiday cider gone sour. Even so, not having her mother or brother to share this loss with her to blunt its cutting edge—was bitterer still.
Eventually, she’d withdrawn, too. Just as Paign adequately, if mechanically, performed the farm duties required of him, Bettina scrubbed, cooked and mucked as before. And, like her mother and brother, she wandered through the day like their cows—aimless. Quiet. Days of routine grew to weeks. Then months.
Finally, there was an argument. Bettina couldn’t remember who had suggested it, her or her mother. It didn’t matter really. As best she could recall, less than a week later, she was on her way to Trondheim to stay with relatives.
After that, there wasn’t much communication, to her or from her. A few scattered letters written in her mother’s spidery script about Paign’s far-fetched adventures with Anders and others. What her mother reported in these letters was so strange and otherworldly that Bettina worried about her mother’s health. Her mind seemed to be going.
Now, Bettina strove to catch her breath. “What is happening, Momma?” she cried again.
Clutching at her temples, Bettina squeezed her eyes shut and pressed against her head, impulsively trying to force the vision to stop.
It didn’t help.
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