A Sun of Fuller Fire

A Sun of Fuller Fire

A Story by M Baker
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Set in mid-1930s Cimarron County, Oklahoma, the story follows the lives of Alvin and Ruth Cobb, a middle-aged couple struggling to get by on their Dust Bowl afflicted farmland.

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            Alvin Cobb tipped the stiff brim of his hat, as he watched the ’27 Model-A ramble down the drive.  A sympathetic hand extended itself out of the open driver-side window and waved.  In its wake, the motorcar left a plume of desiccant earth that rose steadily upward and unfurled itself in the dense late autumn air.  It was a mere sight compared to the storm that engulfed Cimarron County two days prior.  Whole storefronts buried six feet high in the once rich, now mercilessly tawny grains.  Folks ran with kerchiefs covering their mouths and eyes.  The ladies grabbed a hold of their little ones and pushed the tiny cherub faces tightly against their protective bodies.  It wasn’t much of a surprise"the dust storm.  They’d been happening every so often for about four years now.  Still, each one was met with a sort of panic, like maybe this time not just the cars and wagons will get buried but the people too.            

As the car turned onto the road and headed back toward the town, Alvin looked into his opened palm.  There, atop his aged and thirsty hand, lied what amounted to a little more than fifty dollars for the used car and the last of the summer’s sorghum yield.  He looked up to the sky, where the sun ought to have been, but all he saw was the faint, tawny glow yearning to permeate the sandy air. 

Alvin shoved the money into his pocket and started lumbering slowly toward the modest wood-framed house.  He whistled slightly, and a sorry-looking mutt with a brown matted coat ran up to his side.  The mutt momentarily got distracted by the clattering of ascending grasshoppers.  The animal leapt and tried to snatch a few of the airborne pests with his teeth but to no avail.  Alvin grinned at the dog’s fruitless attempts and let loose a muffled cough.  As they reached the front porch, Alvin took his hat off, reached for an emptied feed sack, and turned to the mutt.

“Stay,” he said, and the dog planted himself directly on a bare patch of chalky earth. 

Alvin entered through the thin wooden door, which quickly swung shut with a loud crack once he’d cleared it.  The interior of the house was considerably darker than the outside, on account of the moist linens which shrouded all the windows.  Alvin walked toward the countertop and reached for a rusted coffee can.  He removed the lid and peered inside.  The can contained the sum of three years’ savings.  In total, there was about three hundred dollars.  Alvin dropped the newly earned cash into the can.  He replaced the lid and set it back in its exact spot on the counter.

The sound of his wife Ruth’s footsteps clapped on the hardwood flooring behind him.  She entered the kitchen, her graying hair wrapped in a soiled scarf and her lean body covered from shoulders-to-ankles in a flowered dress.  In one hand she carried a jar of lard and in the other a jar of lye.  She set both items down on the table and looked at her husband.

“Did ya talk him up?” Ruth asked.

“Nah.  He wouldn’t budge,” Alvin said.  “He agreed to take the sorghum, ‘long with the car.  So I managed to get fifty-two out of the deal.”

Ruth pursed her lips slightly, wrung her hands, and turned back to the items on the table.  She grabbed each jar up and walked swiftly across the room toward the stovetop.  On the burner was a large cast-iron pot seething over the flame.  She removed the lid from one jar and poured in the lard.

“Might be too dusty to make soap today,” Alvin said.

“It’ll be fine.  It’s gotta be done anyways.”

Ruth stirred the lard with a metal spoon until it became translucent in the hot cauldron.  She slowly poured in the lye, still stirring the curdled mixture.  She lowered the heat on the stove and stepped toward Alvin.  Up close, Ruth could see the beads of sweat finding their way into the deep cracks on her husband’s face.  His was a face for a man ten years his senior, and that sweat was the sweat of a dying man.  It used to be that when Alvin sweated, it was a joyous perspiration.  A sweat borne from a day’s work in the fields.  A sweat that as much cleansed as it dirtied.  She remembered a younger Alvin bounding out the barn with his signature smile and that sweat pouring off his brow.  He’d dunk his whole head into the tub out back and let the cool water cascade from his head down across his broad shoulders, smiling the smile of playful boy all the while.  It was his daily baptism in the fertile land of God.  That used to be the way it was for all the men in Cimarron County.  It wasn’t that long ago that work didn’t hurt them so much.  Now, work hurt these men, and their sweat was a symbol of the life being taken out of them by the merciless lands.

Ruth squinted her eyes and looked deeply into Alvin’s face.  Somewhere beneath the wear and strain brought on by years of work was the handsome, vibrant face of that boy she’d fallen in love with.  She could still catch a glimpse of that boy’s face, if the light captured his green eyes in just the right way.  But those moments were getting fewer and further between.  Fighting back the sudden onrush of emotion, Ruth swallowed the lump in her throat and returned to a state of stern resolve.  

“Well, since he got such a great deal on your car, did Bill at least offer you a ride into town?” Ruth asked.

“Yeah he did, but I wasn’t ready to go in yet,” he said.  “And it ain’t my car no more, Ruth.  It’s his.  When a man sells somethin’ to another, it’s bindin’.”

Alvin handed Ruth the empty feed sack he’d grabbed from the front porch.  She gave it a quick look over and shook it a bit.  They both listened as small grains of ground corn tapped against the table and chairs and onto the floor.

“I guess you didn’t clean it out for me,” Ruth said.

“So you’ll find the time.  Not like you need to sew that dress today.”

Ruth simply nodded and set the sack on the table.  She walked back to the stovetop and started stirring the soap mixture again. 

“There’s eggs in the pantry for you to take into town whenever you decide you’re ready to go,” she said.

“Ruth,” Alvin said in a soft, but not terribly sympathetic tone.  “We’re gonna get through this, ya know?  You just have to hang in there.  Once we save up enough for the tractor, the one with the rubber tires, things’ll be better.  We can till the land up again.”

“I know, Alvin.  You’ve told me before,” she said with a smile.  “Don’t forget the eggs.”

#

            A rattling wreck of a flatbed truck turned onto Main Street and stopped in front of Hoffman’s Foodstuffs.  Alvin slowly climbed out of the back of the truck, careful not to upset the basket of eggs.  After he was firmly on the ground, he took a few steps toward the store.  He turned around and tipped his hat to the two teen-aged boys in the truck’s cab. 

            “Thanks for the lift, you two,” Alvin said.

            “No problem, Mr. Cobb,” one of the boys replied.

            Alvin watched as the truck slowly accelerated down the dirt street and made a left at the first intersection.  The grasshoppers began jumping to avoid the oncoming vehicle; some were fortunate and others not.  He continued toward the steps of Hoffman’s.  The whispering sound of broom straw and scraping noise of shovels sliding on the storefront floorboards echoed in the downtown, wood-framed canyon.  He waved at the red, sweaty faces doing their requisite clean-up after the black blizzard from the other day.  As Alvin opened the door to Hoffman’s he let out a horrendous cough, which caused him to nearly drop the entire basket.  After regaining his composure, he entered the store.

            “Heya, Jim,” Alvin said.

            “Mornin’, Al,” Jim Hoffman said from behind the counter.

            “Ruth got some eggs for ya.”

            “All right.”

            Jim took the basket of eggs from Alvin and placed them carefully onto the counter in front of him.  He went over each one briefly with his fingers to look for any cracks.  Once none were detected, Jim took the eggs from the basket, one at a time, and placed them into his icebox.  He then handed the emptied basket back to Alvin.

            “So what’ll it be today, Alvin?” Jim said.

            “I need somethin’ for the grasshoppers.  Got any Paris Green?”

            “No, it’s been gettin’ harder and harder to get a hold of, I’m afraid.”

            Jim came out from behind the counter and walked past Alvin.  Alvin followed the storekeeper over to the dusty shelves along the far wall.  Jim reached from a brown glass bottle and handed it to Alvin.

            “This here stuff might work though.  It’s Scheele’s,” Jim said.

            Alvin looked over the bottle and nodded slowly.

            “You need any kind of oils to mix that with?” Jim asked.

            “No.  Ruth’s still got some banana oil in the pantry someplace.”

            Jim nodded.

            “What do I owe you?” Alvin said, motioning to the bottle of arsenic.

            “Don’t worry about it, Al.  The eggs’ll cover it.”

            “You know that ain’t right, Jim.  No lousy couple of eggs are worth as much as this stuff here.  What do I owe ya?”

            Alvin followed Jim back across the store.  Jim took his position behind the counter and let out a sigh.  He took the bottle from Alvin’s hand, read a small tag on the front, and hit a couple metal keys on his cash register.  The drawer slung open with a clang.

            “You are one proud man, Al.  Sixty-five cents,” Jim said as he held out his open hand.

            “Just tryin’ to keep us all honest, Jim,” Alvin said and dropped the coins into Jim’s hand.

            After Jim closed the drawer, the two men stood silently for a second.  They looked out onto Main Street and the few people pushing the soil from the buildings.

            “It’s like declarin’ war on the ocean,” Jim said.

            “How’s that?”

            “Just doesn’t seem to be any give to it,” Jim said as he waved his hand in the direction of the dirt-covered town.  “Just when you get comfortable enough, ‘nother damn storm rolls in covers everything up.”

            “I know it,” Alvin said.  “Can’t last forever though.”

            Jim let loose a mild laugh.  “Well, I would sure as Hell hope not.  Course people are startin’ to wonder.”

            “They shouldn’t wonder.  Besides, folks’ve been gettin’ by all right.  They seem to have adjusted.”

            “Well, there are some.  You should’ve seen the Conolly’s corn yield this season.  They switched it over to some new breed and damned if didn’t grow into some fine stuff.  He had to fight off the ‘hoppers too, of course.”

            “We all got to fight ‘em.”

            Alvin thought a moment about the rare example of success just given to him by his friend.  He thought about how his own plight might one day be alleviated by something as simple a piece of farm equipment the way Conolly’s had been.  No more tilling the fields with the workhorses or harvesting by hand.  Conolly always had better luck.  It was a product of having more money than everyone else in town.  But Alvin knew one day things would work out for him as well.  He just had to keep working at it.

            “Must have been easy for Hank to get that corn down,” Alvin said.

            “Why’s that?” Jim said.

            “On account of his tractor and combine.”

            “Maybe so.  I’m sure that helped.  Course having those five boys of his to help out with things probably makes everythin’ a little easier.”

            Alvin flinched slightly at the last comment.  “That’s right.  His boys.  That’d help matters.”

#

            Inside the Cobb’s modest kitchen, Alvin and Ruth sat at the warped table, each over a plate of cured pork back and boiled potatoes.  Alvin swallowed a sip of water from his tin cup and soon after felt the grains of soil imbedding themselves in the crevasses of his teeth.  The light from the kerosene lantern danced gracefully along the walls.  Ruth picked up a piece of stale bread and began to smear a small tab of butter across it, making a deafening scraping sound in the otherwise hushed room.  She raised the plate of bread in an offering to Alvin.  He obliged her and took a slice for himself.

            “I got a letter from Alice the other day,” Ruth said.

            “Oh yeah?” Alvin murmured.  “How they doin’?”

            “Fine.  She said everything was going fine since the move.”

            Alvin nodded in the affirmative and made a muffled grunt as he cut into the slab of meat. 

            Ruth took a drink from her own cup.  She too felt the grains of earth from the clouded water rub themselves against her teeth.  It was all she could do not to spit right there on the floor of her own kitchen.  She let the coarse water run down her throat and thought about how this was hardly life suitable for a dog. 

            “Alice said things were goin’ pretty good for them in California,” Ruth said.  “Harold got work as a delivery truck driver.  She’s been working some in the local school, teachin’ the young ones their reading and arithmetic.” 

            Alvin chewed his food slowly, not making eye contact with his wife.  Still, he was listening intently to what she was saying. 

            “She says it’s real nice out there.  The kids are gettin’ along just fine.  She said she’s so glad they got ‘em out of here.  She says this place isn’t suitable for young ones anymore on account of all the dirt in the air.  I guess we should be lucky we don’t have that problem.”

            Alvin paused in the process of eating, as if the last phrase stunned him momentarily.  He nodded slightly and said:  “I suppose that’s right.”

            “She mentioned somethin’ about maybe havin’ us out there to visit them sometime,” Ruth said.

            “I don’t know about that.  Pretty busy around here.”

            “I know, but wouldn’t be nice to get away for a little while.  It’d be good for us, I think.”

            “We can’t afford to be goin’ on no vacation, Ruth.  You know that.”

            Ruth set her fork and knife down.  She then pushed the plate away from her and turned to look into the blackness of the other room.  She shook her head slightly. 

            “What?” he said.

            “I had a dream the other night, Alvin.  It was a terrible dream.  I dreamt that another storm came, only this one didn’t leave.  It stayed over us forever.  It wasn’t hot like the real storms but cold.  The wind was so cold, and the trees were all dead and barren and gave no shelter.  And the sun was swallowed up by this great black cloud.  And I was huddled up, with a baby in my arms, praying.  I was prayin’ for light, but no light came.  I kept prayin’ that the darkness would lift, but it didn’t.  It stayed.  And this baby, it was cryin’ so loud I couldn’t stop it for the longest time.  But then, it stopped.  The baby stopped crying.  You know why it stopped cryin’, Alvin?”

            Alvin clutched the fork and knife tightly in his weathered hand.  He teeth clenched over the mound of food situated in his mouth.  “That’s enough,” he said quietly.

“It stopped cryin’ because it was dead, Alvin,” Ruth said.  “It was dead.  And that’s exactly how we’re gonna end up it we stay in this damned place any longer.”

“That’s enough!”  Alvin slammed both fists down on the table causing his utensils to fly from his grip and the tin cup to spill over onto to the floor.  A scratchiness in his lungs caused Alvin to commence a sustained cough.  He reached over and took a sip of Ruth’s water then and waited for the coughing to subside. 

“That’s enough, Ruth.  I mean it,” he said calmly.  “None of what you just said is gonna happen.  It was a dream!”

            “How do you know it ain’t gonna happen?”

            “’Cause it hasn’t happen yet, has it?” 

“That doesn’t mean it won’t, Alvin.  My God, we’ve been living like this for far too long.  When are we gonna get the message, huh?”

            “What message?”

            “That there ain’t…that there ain’t nothin’ here for us no more, Alvin.  Maybe there never was, and we just didn’t see it before.  All that’s left now is a dried up, barren wasteland.”

            “It won’t be like this forever.  It won’t”

Ruth set her napkin on the table and raised herself out of the wobbly wooden chair.  She took a few steps toward the window, still covered in the drying linens.  She could taste the salt from the tears hitting her lips.  Her fingers slid under the edge of the dangling sheet and looked out into the black night.  She tried to see what he saw in this place but couldn’t.  All she saw was a darkness so penetrating that it seemed like it could overtake her at any moment.   

            “Maybe we could go out there,” she said in a soft voice.

            “Where?”

            “To California.  Alice said there’s bound to be plenty of work for experienced farm folk like us.  We could live with them if need be, just temporarily, ‘til we find a place to settle into.”

            “California?  We ain’t goin’ to no California, Ruth.  Get it out of you head.”

            “Why on earth not, Alvin?” she said emphatically.  “Give me one reason why we should stay here.”  She spun around quickly.  Her face was turning a bright red, and her hands began to tremble.  She looked at Alvin, who sat seemingly relaxed in his chair, and a rage grew inside of her.

            Alvin shook his head in a dismissive way.  Ruth swiftly moved across the kitchen and retook her place in the chair across from him.  Her eyes never left his.  She was intent upon conveying the terror she felt inside, whether he wanted to hear it or not.

“Go on.  Tell me,” she said.  “What’s keepin’ us here?”

“We get that tractor, everything’ll be all right,” he said.  “We can harvest the fields again.”

“Tractor?  A tractor, Alvin.  A machine?  Are you daft?  You need rain, Alvin"water"to harvest.”

“The rain’ll come.”

“Three years and ain’t nothin’ come!  You’ve been pinchin’ every penny, goin’ without so we can buy that tractor and for what?  What good is a motorized contraption like that if the ground is barren?”

“We ain’t leavin’ this place.  A Cobb’s been tillin’ this land for three generations.  Can’t up and leave on account of no drought,” Alvin said and began to cough heartily again.

            “Why can’t we?”

            “Because there ain’t no one to hold it for us.”

            “Hold what?  The land?”

            “Yes the land.”

            “Why would we hold it.  We’d sell it.  Use whatever profits to go out west, ‘long with what we’ve already got saved.  God knows, it’d be plenty.  We might even be rich compared to some of the others out there.”

            “Ah, Goddamn it all, Ruth!  Don’t you see.  I ain’t got nobody to give this place to.  I’m the last one!  I’m not gonna see this place sold off for a fraction of its price just so you can follow your sister or some wild-eyed dream out to California.  Honestly, Ruth.  Why couldn’t you leave well enough alone.  All this talk about movin’ west over a lousy dream.  I thought you was a more grounded type of woman.  We’re staying put!  I don’t wanna hear another word about it!  You ought to know better than anyone that I’m the last of my namesake to hold this here piece of land, and I’m gonna hold on to it ‘til I die!”

            The fire in Alvin’s lungs reignited, and the coughing came furiously now.  He reached into his back pocket and produced his kerchief, which he used to cover his mouth.  Another few moments went by, and the coughing echoed throughout the small house.  He pulled the white, cotton rag away from his face and saw the crimson spot of blood in its center.  He looked at his wife.  She had nothing but a look of pity in her eyes for the man who used to be that youthful boy she so adored.

            “Well, Alvin.  I guess I didn’t realize that’s what’s been botherin’ you all this time.  Guess this land is just as dried up and barren as me, huh?” she said with tragic chuckle.

            Ruth got back up out of her chair and wiped a few stray tears from her face.  She took a few steps toward the other room.  She stopped and turned to face Alvin once more.

            “And judgin’ by the looks of that little piece of cloth there,” she said, “I wouldn’t count on you holdin’ on to this land much longer.  You’ll end up just like that baby in my dream.”

#

            Early in the morning, Alvin told Ruth that he was heading into town.  For what, she didn’t know.  She figured it was more than likely a way for him not to have to be around the house for a while.  Not long after he’d left, Ruth went out onto the front porch and sat on the dusty glider Alvin built when they first moved into the house.  She sat rocking back and forth for what felt like an eternity.  Her eyes looked out upon the naked acreage before her.  In her left hand was clenched the letter from Alice.  She’d read it two or three times since coming outside.    Her mind bounced from thinking about Alvin"his look of despondence at the thought of losing her"and going to California.  Slowly, involuntarily her thoughts began concocting the steps she needed to take to make her way from the Oklahoman panhandle to the San Joaquin Valley.  She knew the closest rail station was all the way in Santa Fe, which was over two hundred miles away.  She’d have to hitch the entire trip from Boise City.  It wouldn’t be so simple.  Someone would surely tell Alvin they’d seen her in town.

Ruth took another glimpse at the letter, still opened in her hand.  The words flashed across the landscape of her mind.  California.  Happy.  Work.  No dust.  She carefully folded the letter back up and placed it in its envelope.  With a heavy sigh, she rose from the glider and went into the house and began to pack a suitcase.  She figured that if anyone asked her where she was headed that she could tell them she was delivering some feed sack dresses she’d made for the clothing drive at the Methodist church in Boise City.  Even if Alvin did catch wind of her plans, it’d be too late.  She’d already be on the next westward train.  It was a spontaneous act that didn’t match the pattern of her forty-seven years of behavior, but she couldn’t go on living in this place.  Nor could she stand the shame she felt every time Alvin looked at her, now that she knew for certain what he really felt towards her.

#

            Alvin exited Hoffman’s Foodstuffs with empty arms.  He’d only stopped in to shoot the breeze a bit, which of course Jim had mentioned was somewhat unusual.  Alvin walked slowly down the street.  Mostly all of the doors and storefronts had been cleared of the dirt from the recent dust storm.  In the distance, he heard the sounds of a few children laughing.  He started walking toward where he thought the voices were coming from.  Alvin rounded the corner of Main Street and headed for the county reservoir. 

            His slow and steady pace led him to edge of what used to be the lush watering hole.  Years of drought and overlapping topsoil left little more than a puddle in the center of the large sandy pit.  He looked all around for the children he thought he’d heard, but there was no one in sight. 

            Suddenly, from behind a splintered old barn came running three boys, all varying in age.  Alvin immediately recognized them as Conolly’s kids.  The eldest had a long stick in his hand, and he was chasing his younger brothers around.  The eldest stopped and held the stick like a rifle and made a popping sound with his mouth, as he aimed it at one of the brothers.

            “I got you, Michael!  You’re dead,” the stick-wielding Conolly hollered.

            “Hey, who’s that?” the middle child said and pointed to Alvin.

            Alvin raised his hand in greeting.  “How’s it goin’, boys?”

            The boys looked at one another, then two of them bolted off behind the barn once more.  The third boy"the youngest"waved his hand at Alvin.  He then playfully skipped over to the puddle in the reservoir and knelt down before it.  He recklessly cupped his one hand and lapped up some of the muddy water into his mouth.  The boy made a coughing sound, followed by a few spits onto the ground.

            “Hey, guys, this water’s gross!” the young one said, as he chased after his brothers.

            Alvin watched as the boy disappeared behind the barn, and it was at that moment when he let loose a muffled whimper.  Soon the whimper evolved into an outright sobbing.  His mind flashed upon the Biblical passage of the children sent out to gather water in the drought-ravaged lands, only to return empty-handed and full of shame.  He covered his face with the palm of his hand and let the tears flow freely.  He was careful not to be too loud, however, for fear of one of the boys overhearing him.  He pulled his bloodied kerchief from his back pocket and wiped away the moisture from his cheeks.  Indeed, this plowman was ashamed and wanted only to cover his head from the eyes of the world.  His shame stemmed from a stubborn clinging to a land so chapped that it could no longer sustain even the miniscule thirst of a young child.

#

            Ruth had made it about four miles toward the town.  She carried in one hand a worn leather suitcase, full of her nicest clothing, and, in the other, the coffee can of the Cobb’s savings.  Already her feet were growing sore, and it must have been the pain which allowed for her to not notice the darkening specter growing on the horizon. 

            All around her was nothingness.  There was no water to be seen, and she’d regretted not bringing some from the milk house.  There was no water, only rock.  If there were water, she would have stopped to drink.  But there was no water.  All there was by way of liquid was the rapidly drying sweat on her brow.  The weight of her suitcase pulled at her aching joints.  Despite not having the water, she stopped walking, set the suitcase down, and rested herself atop it.  She watched as a few grasshoppers flipped through the air.  One landed on her shoulder, and she quickly brushed it off.  It was at that moment, watching the wayward insect soaring through the sky, that she noticed the billowing black cloud in the distance.  It was rolling steadily over the landscape, and it was headed directly for the road on which she stood.

            Immediately, her heart pulsated rapidly and her whole body began to shake.  In her panic, she let the coffee can slip from her grasp and hit the harden earth.  She heard the coins scatter about and watched as the dollar bills starting wafting skyward.  She fell to her knees and started sweeping the change, along with the dried sand, into the can.  Her hands were shaking so feverishly that she couldn’t adequately save the bulk of the money.  In a spat of resignation, she yelled aloud and tossed the can to the side of the road.  She hurriedly got to her feet and began to run away from the oncoming charcoal mass of wind and dirt. 

“No!  Somebody help!” she yelled to the empty environs. 

Her awkward, aged feet tangled with one another and caused her to tumble to the ground.  As she lied on her stomach, the ground beneath her right arm began to redden from a deep gash caused by the fall.  She disregarded the injury and retook her footing.  Years of hard living on the plains left her body in its senescent state, and it made her attempted escape fruitless.  The cloud was gaining on her; about a hundred yards behind her now.  She managed to gallop another forty or fifty yards when it finally overtook her.  She covered her face with both hands and fell to the ground screaming.  All about her rumbled a dry sterile thunder"a thunder without rain.  She felt the onslaught of millions of tiny grains stinging her entire body.  When she went to breathe, she inhaled a plume of murky dust deep into her lungs, which caused her to cough uncontrollably.  For a moment she opened her eyes, and she immediately realized that the bright sun of that late morning had been all but extinguished.  Darkness swallowed her whole.

#

            Alvin sat solemnly at his chair in the kitchen.  Upon returning from town, he’d found the house empty.  He thought little of it, because he’d assumed Ruth was behind the barn, feeding the chickens.  When she didn’t return to the house after thirty minutes, he had decided to go out and find her.  She needed to know that he was sorry.  As soon as he stepped out into the yard, he saw the black blizzard rolling toward the property.  He yelled for her, but she never responded.  Finally, with little alternative, he ran into the house and took cover until the storm passed. 

            He was now covered from head to toe in the brown dust.  The wind had blown the linens from the window-panes, and the inside of the house was caked in the storm’s remains.  Immediately following the storm, Alvin rushed outside and began digging in the eight-foot tall drifts which had situated across the yard and onto the house.  He dug for hours, until his weary arms could no longer move.

            Inside, he sat with a small cup of filthy water and tried to maintain composure.  He let out a few muffled coughs.  Looking at the water, he thought of the milk house and how maybe Ruth had held up there.  He quickly jumped from the chair and ran through the door.  Just as his feet hit the ground, he saw up ahead a pair of headlights coming toward the farm.  He took a few more rapid steps into the yard then stopped and waited.  The time it took for the motorcar to reach his drive was the longest period of time he’d ever endured.  Alvin squinted through the still cloudy air toward the now parked automobile.  He was a few steps closer. 

            “Who’s that?” he said.

            “Al,” the voice said.  “It’s me, Al.  It’s Jim Hoffman.”

            “Jim?  What are ya doin’ out here?”  Alvin was close to tears.  “I can’t find my wife.  I can’t find Ruth anywhere.” 

            “It’s all, Al.  She’s here.”

            Alvin heard a car door open and close.  He saw the silhouettes of two people approaching him.  As they got closer, he saw her.  She was ravaged by the storm.  Her hair had been pulled out of the tight bun she’d normally kept it in, and her clothes were completely black. 

            “She came into my store about an hour ago,” Jim said.  “She’s pretty shaken up.  Must have gotten caught in it.”

            Alvin took his wife by the hand and pulled her close.  He wrapped her arm around her shoulder to keep her from falling over.  He then shook Jim’s hand.

            “Thanks, Jim,” he said.  “You have no idea what this means.”

            “Don’t mention it, Al.”  Jim took a wide look around the farm.  He let out a long whistle.  “You got hit pretty bad this time.  Me and the boys’ll come by tomorrow with some shovels and help you dig out.”

            “Thanks, Jim.”

            “Uh huh.  You just take care of her now.  She’s had a rough go of it.”

            “’Night, Jim,” Alvin said.

            Alvin and Ruth entered the house.  Ruth took a slow look around the devastated kitchen.  Then she walked slowly over to her chair and sat down.  She began to sob.

            “Hey, what’s the matter?” Alvin said.  “You’re all right now.  Everything’s gonna be fine.  We can clean this up.”

            Ruth just shook her head.  “No.  It isn’t that.”

            Alvin cupped her chin tenderly.  At that moment, the light from the lit lantern caught his eyes in a way that made Ruth see that youthful, jubilant man she’d fallen in love with.

            “The money,” Ruth whispered.  “The money’s gone.”

            Alvin let go of her chin and turned around to look at the spot on the counter where the can usually sat.  He turned back and looked at her.

            “Oh, Alvin, I’m so sorry,” she said.  “I was leavin’ you.  I didn’t wanna leave you, but I couldn’t a-stand this place no more.  Forgive me, Alvin.  Please, forgive me.”

            Alvin sat for a moment and contemplated the harsh reality.  He watched his wife of thirty-eight years rock back and forth in a painful motion.  He nodded slowly and placed his hand on her upper back.  He let her face rest on his shoulder.  Through the broken window pane on the busted door, Alvin watched as the inattentive sun shone itself through the dusty plane; the orange fire showing itself for the first time in what seemed like ages.  In all the dust, Alvin saw the challenge of survival; the purpose; the meaning.  What travelers did on the earth was search for something better, something easier.  He was no traveler; no migrant; no itinerant.  He was a man of his earth and his plot of land.  His entire life he never needed to seek out a sun of fuller fire.  There was fire enough for him where he was.  But now that sun, as it crept its way toward the horizon, was being blocked by the ravaging fury of dried land.  A land burnt up by the years of Alvin’s sun fire.  And with that blotting out of fire, goes the very source of life itself.  Fire no more.  Water absent.  Air impenetrable.  This place did not want Alvin anymore.  The sun was mocking him to change his life or die in this place, along with the crops, cattle, and dreams.

###

© 2011 M Baker


Author's Note

M Baker
All Rights Reserved 2011 © M.G. Baker


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Added on March 11, 2011
Last Updated on April 5, 2011
Tags: Depression Era, Marriage, Dust Bowl, Love

Author

M Baker
M Baker

Raleigh, NC



About
Just a run-of-the-mill malcontent and aspiring writer. Those really are one in the same, I suppose. I have hopes of one day completing a full-length novel. For now I am working on expanding several.. more..

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