Dio had never planned on being a parent--after the whole situation with her having lost the baby when he was only a few months old, and then...well, she’d had these strange fevers not long afterwards, and following that, no matter how much she and Jack tried, Dio couldn’t seem to get pregnant again. So she had pretty much given up on that whole notion of having a family.
Yet now here she was with this girl, Carrie Anne, to look after and to live with...and to talk to. Dio enjoyed talking to people most of the time, as long as it didn’t get too personal. But now she found herself and Carrie Anne talking quite a bit. It was funny, Dio had no idea of how most people would expect a child to behave, or how an adult was expected interact with a young’un. She certainly had nothing from her own childhood to guide her except how Papaw Marcus had treated her...which was pretty much just like he treated anyone else--with respect, consideration and humor, unless of course they gave him reason to act otherwise.
Dio really didn’t even know how you were supposed to talk to a child. So she talked to Carrie Anne the way her grandfather had talked to her. Which was pretty much just like the way normal grown-up folks talk to each other, providing they ain’t feckless idiots. And Carrie Anne seemed to appreciate that--years later she told a friend that Dio never talked to her like she was a kid.
“She always treated me like I was another of her friends. If I didn’t understand something she said, I would just ask and she would go ahead and explain it to me in a matter-of-fact way, even if it was a kinda touchy subject....and to be honest, more often than not, the topics of her conversation were in fact something touchy.”
It was perhaps emblematic of the nature of their relationship that Carrie Anne invariably addressed her new surrogate parent as “Dio.” In their first years together, Carrie Anne never, ever referred to Dio as “Ma,” because after all, she wasn’t. Nor did Carrie Anne call her “Ma’am,” unless it was just by sort of accident or habit, like a hasty “Yes’m” when asked to do something.
And Carrie Anne did quite a bit. She happily threw herself into chores at the No. 10 with a will. She even learned the proper method to draw a beer for a customer from the tap that was mounted on the back wall of the bar room. I should explain here that Dio had installed a pipe that went from the tap through the wall into the back room that served as combined storage, office and living quarters for her and Carrie Anne. There, the piping connected to the beer kegs which were kept in a large ice-cooled cabinet that was made of thick oak and lined with zinc-coated sheet iron.
Dio was very proud of this set-up. She had arranged for a reliable supply of excellent local lager that was brewed by some German boys in Gayville, a town not far from Deadwood City. That fact, combined with her use of the ice-cooled cabinet and tap system, ensured that Dio’s customers never got beer that was gone all skunky from age or heat, or being too long in the back of a freight wagon. So of course, it was a point of honor to make sure that Carrie Anne could effectively help with the operation of this key piece of equipment.
Being a bright and dexterous girl, she quickly learned the correct way to hold the clean mug under the tap at a certain angle, and to adjust that angle as the mug filled, thereby producing just the perfect amount of foam--not too much, and not too little. They quickly realized that with the addition of an old ammo box for her to stand on, Carrie Anne was at the ideal height to execute this vital operation in a consistent and comfortable way.
Once the art of drawing a beer had been mastered, the girl undertook to practice the next and most theatrical element of serving the drinks, which was to slide the foaming beer mug down the bar to a customer. After a few weeks of practicing with chipped mugs filled with water, Carrie Anne was capable of slinging lager like a professional, sending each mug down the boards straight as an arrow from a Cheyenne bow, without them stopping short...or even worse, going on too far, too fast and plummeting into nothingness.
People liked the No. 10 for a lot of reasons. First of all, it was reasonable: two bits got a customer two glasses of lager. But another big part of its appeal was just the way it felt in there--and of course having a polite, smiling little blond-haired girl helping to serve the drinks with efficiency and aplomb just added to the sort of atmosphere that Dio hoped to foster in her place.
Not to mention it tended to encourage some mighty generous tipping.
Anyhow, you could not have imagined a better arrangement for a middle-aged, cranky confederate widow and an intelligent child who exhibited a persona that was astonishingly good natured, considering that her father had not treated her too well and in the end, had abandoned her. They simply enjoyed each other's company. But you should not think for minute that Dio only looked on Carrie Anne as just another friend who happened to be shorter than most of her other acquaintances.
Dio took the idea of being a surrogate parent very seriously, and made a sustained effort to follow the parenting patterns that she had witnessed at the hands of Papaw Marcus: she began teaching Carrie Anne how to ride and to shoot, and passed on knowledge of healing herbs and poultices such as Indians and country folk understand. She had Carrie Anne attend school when a teacher was around, and also encouraged her to read on her own. Among the books Dio made available to the girl were the volumes of Shakespeare and the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius that had belonged to her grandfather.
I would be remiss if I did not mention that Carrie Anne also started to acquire an introduction to the theory and practice of artistic cussing, although that may not have been something that Dio intentionally set as a goal for the child’s education.
All in all, Dio was just as goddamn fond of this little girl as any one human being can be of another. And, oh, my word, she was inordinately proud of her...
Except there was this one time....
I might as well tell you about the occasion when Carrie Anne and her friend Elizabeth damn near drowned this lil’ peckerhead named Alonzo...