Martha was putting fresh sheets on the daybed that Jon had moved to the porch. It was obvious that Clara didn’t like spending a lot of time in the house and was too agitated being in the smaller rooms to be able to sleep in any of the bedrooms. When given a choice, she preferred the cold, hard porch floor outside to a bed in a small room or a couch in front of the fireplace. The daybed was a very short-term solution. If anyone saw her sleeping on the porch, Children’s Services would be out to fetch her in no time. Martha hoped they could afford to add a large room with a tall ceiling onto the house … but Martha would probably have to go to her Father, William Clark for the money and Jon probably wouldn’t stand for that. She knew that Clara was all right in rooms that were large enough or that had enough windows. She entered and explored the barns without even being encouraged to do so.
Martha was worried that Clara would be too afraid to enter a bathroom when she needed to. That would be an issue both at home and when and if she was sent to school. Clara had had a huge breakfast that morning while Jon did his early morning chores. It was close to 11:30 p.m. and she still hadn’t shown any sign of needing to use the facilities. Clara might be constipated but she had single-handedly finished of a gallon of orange juice and four cups of Martha’s coffee. Something had to give soon … unless Clara’s body was 100 percent efficient and burned up anything she consumed.
Martha looked across the lawn and couldn’t help but smile and laugh a little as she watched Clara follow Jon around as he went through his daily routine. It looked like Clara was attached to him by an invisible six-foot cord. All day, she had been following him like a puppy dog, but the way she moved seemed more carefree and graceful ... like a cat. She only stopped for a few moments at a time to run over to examine a frog or bird or flower. Any living thing or curiosity seemed to attract her full attention for short periods of intense study. Martha had no idea where the boots Clara wore when she arrived had gone. Clara had taken them off somewhere and seemed to enjoy feeling the ground with her bare feet.
Finally, Martha forced herself to stop watching her little girl long enough to finish making the bed before going inside to make lunch -- their first meal all together as a family.
Martha kept making more food but Clara wouldn’t eat anything. She smiled politely at Martha whenever she brought her anything but didn’t touch the food. She kept her hands in her lap and watched Jon eat. Soon there was enough food for five grown men sitting in front of her. Martha and Jon tried gesturing and ate small amounts of food from Clara’s plate. She seemed interested in the food but sat happy and patient -- as if she were content just to be there.
Jon finally said, “Maybe they don’t eat where she comes from. Maybe she just absorbs energy from the air ... or from sunlight.”
Martha said, “Oh, she eats all right! She had a few plates of eggs, several pancakes and four bowls of cereal this morning. She watched how I used my fork, knife and spoon and copied me exactly. She drank a gallon of orange juice and finished drinking my coffee every time I got up from the table.”
Jon said, “There’s your explanation. She had enough for breakfast to last her the entire day. Maybe she just stops eating when she’s had enough. That’s a pretty good habit if you ask me.”
Martha said, “I don’t think that’s it. She keeps looking at the food and licking her lips like she is just dying to eat it. And she looked a bit sad when we took food off her plate to try to show her that it’s edible.”
Jon said, “We’ll figure it out before long. I’m sure she’ll eat if she gets hungry enough. And she isn’t going to starve since she ate plenty for breakfast. But right now, I have to get at it. I have a lot of work to do. It kind of slowed me down having Clara follow me around. I had to make sure that she didn’t try to do some of the things I was doing. A kid can get hurt all too easily around farm equipment. I can’t remember how many times I had stitches when I was a kid. It seemed that every time I attempted to do things that I was too weak or inexperienced to do on my own, I ended up with my Dad holding me down while old Doctor Kline stitched me up. As strong as Clara is, I don’t want to have to try to hold her down.”
Martha said, “I don’t want her hurt, period! But from the looks of things, that girl would walk through fire if you asked her to.”
Jon said, “I don’t think so. She wouldn’t take a nap inside when I told her to. Maybe she’ll stay in here with you this afternoon and watch you work in the kitchen.”
Martha said, “I don’t think she likes “in” very much. I think that may be the only thing she won’t do for you is go into a small space. But if she decides to follow you outside … and I’m betting a massage tonight that she will … she is too strong for me to keep in here if she wants to be near you. Oh, Jon, keep an eye out for her boots. I don’t want her to step on something sharp while she’s barefoot and hurt her precious little feet.”
Jon said, “Well, I guess she won’t slow me down too much considering what the next job is. She can ride on the tractor with me while I plow the back 40.”
Martha asked, “Wasn’t Bill going to do that for you?”
Jon said, “Bill was passed out in the barn by 10:30. I’m fed up with his drinking -- especially now. I don’t want Clara to witness his behavior. When he wakes up, I’m firing him. If you could, please make out a check to pay him through the end of the day. I’ll try calling some people about getting some help next time I take a break.” Jon got up and wiped his mouth. He walked over to Martha and kissed her. He whispered, “Now we’ll see if my shadow follows me again.” Jon walked over and kissed Clara on the top of the head. She smiled up at him but made on move to get up as he went to the back door. He watched Clara out of the corner of his eye and said to Martha, “Looks like I’ll be getting the massage tonight.” Jon opened the door and briskly walked away from the house.
Martha watched Clara stare through the kitchen window at Jon until he got halfway to the barn. Martha was startled when Clara suddenly looked at her food and began eating everything. Her hands were a blur of motion until the plates were all clean. Then Clara sat back, blinked a few times and belched. She hopped up from the table, hugged Martha and ran out the back door to catch up with Jon.
Less than an hour had passed. Martha was finishing putting the lunch dishes away. She watched Jonathan walk slowly up the path to the kitchen door. Clara was following Jon until she saw some squirrels and decided to follow them for a while. Jon came inside, pulled a chair back from the table and sat down heavily. He looked like he was in a trance.
Martha asked, “Jon, What’s wrong?”
Jon said, “Not a thing. Not a blessed thing.”
Martha furrowed her brow in a puzzled expression and said, “It’s kind of early for you to take a break. Did you come back in to call someone to help you?”
Jon said, “No, I’m not going to do that now. Oh, I don’t think Bill will be coming back for that check. I saw him dump what was left of his liquor bottle and run off down the road.”
Martha said, “Not that I don’t enjoy your company, but why did you come back in? I thought you had a lot of work to do?”
Jon said, “I did have a lot of work to do … at least I thought I did. I guess what one person thinks of as a lot of work is … um … child’s play to someone else.”
Martha asked, “What happened?”
Jon answered, “Clara happened. I took out to the barn and put her on the tractor. Then we headed out to the field. I got above three rows done and the engine started to die. In my rush to get out there, I forgot to fuel up. I’m going to have to learn to watch my mouth. I may have let loose with a couple of swear words before I realized what I might be teaching Clara. She listens so intently every time I talk. Anyway, I didn’t want Clara to have to walk all the way back to the barn with me while I went to get more gas. So when she started following me, I said, “No, stay here.” I pointed at her and pointed to the field. She smiled like she understood. I told her that I would be right back. I got back to the barn and filled a fuel can. I was hurrying back to the field when I looked ahead and couldn’t believe what I saw.”
Martha said, “What was it?”
Jon said, “Clara was plowing the field.”
Martha said, “She learned to drive the tractor? But you said it was out of fuel. How could she …?”
Jon said, “She wasn’t driving the tractor, she was pulling it. She was pulling the tractor around with the plow attached to it … with ONE hand. And she was RUNNING with it. She only stopped to roll aside the rocks I could never pull out with the tractor. She also pulled out several stumps. Apparently, Clara likes her furrows VERY straight. I had to catch up to her before she plowed everything. I’ll have to call that louse Frank Harris and tell him that I plowed his field for him because he’s been such a good neighbor. Maybe he’ll believe me. Bob staggered out of the barn and saw Clara plowing. That’s when he emptied his bottle and took off. And that’s another reason we don’t want anyone hanging around her until we get Clara to understand that she can’t show her unusual strength to people.”
Martha said, “If we can’t hire anyone to help you, how will we be able to manage around here?”
Jon said, “Are you kidding, Martha? I’m going to have to take up some hobbies if Clara decides she likes farm work. I’m really disoriented right now. I don’t know what to do for the rest of the day. When’s the last time THAT happened?”
Martha said, “We have a visitor, I think she wants you to come out and play some more.”
Jon looked around and saw Clara peeking in through the window in the kitchen door. Jon motioned for her to come in. When she didn’t, he got up and opened the door for her. She crept in slowly and timidly smiled at them. Then she sat down at the table and looked at Jon as if awaiting further instructions.
Martha said, “Jonathan! Don’t tell me that you didn’t find her boots. Don’t tell that my poor baby plowed the field in her bare feet!” Martha kneeled by Clara. Clara giggled as Martha separated her toes to examine her feet closely. Martha asked, "Did you stop to wash her feet off? They aren’t even dirty. And there aren’t any scratches or blisters or calluses either!”
Jon said, “She must have washed her feet off herself. I didn’t do it. She is one tough little girl. And she did all that work on an empty stomach.”
Martha said, “Oh, no she didn’t. She ate everything I made for her in about two seconds … as soon as you were gone. I think she has a problem eating in front of you ... or she thinks she has to wait until you are done eating before she is allowed to.”
Jon said, “I’m tempted to joke about her making some lucky man a wonderful wife someday … but I don’t like the idea of a woman not sharing a meal with her family. That’s something that she’ll have to grow out of.”
Martha said, “Well, let’s see if she’ll eat in front of you now. I think my girl deserves a special treat for helping so much.” Martha pulled a small container from the freezer.
Jon said, “Hey! You won’t even share that with me!”
Martha said, “It’s my Haagen-Dazs Double Chocolate Fudge Peanut Butter Brownie Delight Ice Cream! A woman needs this handy for special occasions … and for purely medicinal reasons that a man just wouldn’t understand.”
Martha dished up a bowl of the ice cream and put it in front of Clara. She stared at it with a curious but puzzled look on her face. She sniffed it and, when she didn’t see Jon or Martha object to her exploring a bit, she put a finger into it. A big clump of it stayed on her finger when she pulled it back. She went to lick it off and then looked at Jon and stopped.
Jon said, “Go ahead Clara. Eat it. It’s good.” Jon waited a while. Clara looked confused, so Jon got walked over and gently pulled Clara’s mouth open. Grabbed her wrist, maneuvered her finger into her mouth and pushed her mouth shut. He quickly returned to his chair so that he and Martha could watch Clara experience ice cream for the first time.
Clara’s eyes opened wide as she sucked on her finger. Jon and Martha laughed. Clara took her finger out and licked her lips and gave Jon and Martha a big smile. Both noticed that Clara’s eyes were glowing red. Clara picked up a spoon and looked down at the bowl. Almost immediately, the ice cream melted then boiled. Steam poured from the bowl and the bowl shattered leaving only small fragments covered with a tarry residue. Clara looked up at them. She looked like she was going to cry but didn’t.
When Jon and Martha got over their shock Martha said, “It’s OK, Honey. There’s more.” Martha got the distinctive container from the freezer. Clara saw it and smiled … then her eyes glowed and the container exploded in Martha’s hand.
Jon said, “Martha, are you OK?”
Martha answered, “I think I got a couple of minor ice cream burns from the splatter, but I’m fine. I think it’s Clara we need to concern ourselves with.”
Clara’s eyes started to brim with tears and whiffs of steam drifted up from her eye sockets. Martha went to Clara, knelt down next to her and kissed her. She pulled Clara into a close hug then held rocked her in her arms saying, “It will be OK, Clara. Everything is OK.”
Jon said, “I think I’d better make a trip into town.”
Martha said, “NO, Jon! We can handle this. Don’t go and tell anyone!”
Jon said, “I wouldn’t do that! Clara’s going to be the best farmer in the Kent family history!”
Martha said, “That’s not saying much. Oops … did I say that out loud!”
Jon said, “VE-RY funny! I need to go to the grocery store to get more of that ice cream. I’m sure that Clara can learn how to control that laser vision like she controls her strength. With a little training, she’ll be able to lick this.”
Martha said, “Better get a lot. I’ve been training for years but when it comes to Haagen-Dazs, I still can’t control myself at times. And speaking of “licking,” you’d better get some cones to put the ice cream in. I only have so many bowls.”
Jon asked, “What is it about women and Haagen-Dazs? I know that stuff is good, but nothing is that good.”
Martha answered, “I could say the same thing about men and … never mind. And you’d better NOT have gotten to know how good it is by dipping into my supply! It’s funny. In one way, this little surprise makes me happy. It tells me that as different as Clara is as far as her strength, speed and other abilities are concerned, she is like us in more basic, profound ways. Clara and I have much more in common than our good looks and the type of men we like to follow. If can agree on Haagen-Dazs, then learning to communicate with her should be a piece of cake.”
Jon said, “A piece of chocolate cake no doubt. I’ll be back in less than an hour.”