By William Fore
The wind almost always blows in this part of Texas; it slackens a bit from time to time, but it’s most never still. Especially August, when the heavens shimmer in a great demonic radiance, and every shred of blue is bleached. A slight breeze becomes an oven, and wind a furnace. Heat touches you different when the wind is in it.
Not much point in going to town. Crops failed under rainless skies, and anyway, no one has money. I don’t hold much truck with God these days. Can’t put my finger on exactly when I lost faith, but in my bones I know hope is a thing of my past. My hands are stony and cracked. My babies have never known my touch any different.
My husband of three years is silent for long stretches, gazing like a cow at nothing. Like he’s listening to something I can’t hear. It dawned on me slowly; something was changing. I haven’t seen him tease our little girls in I-don’t-know how long. His mouth moves as if to speak, then just comes to rest. It’s the simplest things—seems like he can’t decide to stand or sit. The only pleasure in our bed is sleep. We didn’t start out with much, but we got along ‘cropping cotton. It’s gone, and there’s no other work.
It happened today. He laid down at midday and didn’t rise again until dark. I hold no anger for him, and I cannot afford despair; he is broken. Quiet exasperation inhabits me.
Wind rises early in the day, as waves of violet flee the underworld. For a precious minute, you’d be forgiven for thinking, how pretty. Sometimes it is spiritual, when the air is saturated with rusty dust, and the new day tastes like blood. But dawn is a malevolent loiterer, poised to sever the quick from my step, and good sense from my thoughts. Breath becomes weight, each one a chore.
I commence laundering early—the night before, really. Days are long, and I scrub meager clothes in clay-stained water still warm from the relentless blaze, and wring them between a grateful pause for supper, and blessed darkness. The house stinks of cabbage put by last fall. Not a meal really, just a placeholder in our bellies. By supper, no one can muster conversation, and I am grateful for the quiet in my head. Come darkness, we sleep the sleep of the bone-weary, surviving the only way we know.
Night offers tepid relief, weak and brief, surrendering early. Balancing the basket of damp clothes on my hip, I sidle through the screen door, and swallow the arid early air. At least the clothing of this season is mercifully light. A little blouse is the weight of a feather, and the color of thin milk. I move along the line gaining a rhythm that propels me, each sock pinned snug. Drawers pinned the first side of each over the second side of the last to economize on pins, and strength. Heavy dungarees, the dull red of bricks, ask more of the line.
A flimsy shirt, its full sleeves hopeful protection, barely draws down the line as I pin a shoulder firmly in place. Wind gets ahold before the other shoulder is secure. A shirt’s life is measured in days of labor and nights of washing, and in the ritual beating of the wind and the sun. It seems my life is, too.
No. No, I must do something. When the cow and the chickens have starved, we’re next. There is no future here. I see them on the road, hundreds of people like us, traveling west, more every week. Good people, uprooted by want, driven by need, faces gray with doubt and disappointment. Their unspoken fear, “Will there be enough? Enough for all of us?” I could throw in my lot with them. We’d be four more hungry people among thousands. Will there be enough?
But we are only four mouths to feed. Maybe we go east? My precious girls clamor for their breakfast, and I recognize the sound of hope. The first socks are dry before my basket is empty. I’ll gather them tonight before bed, when the hum of the sun is muffled.