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A Rain to Quench the Desert’s Thirst
This land was built on sorrow. The ground was cracked and parched. The surface barely could hold together; with every footstep it breaks into another cloud of dust. Clouds that promise storms sometimes gather above. Heat lightening will flash and thunder’s roll will sound—but the rain would never come.
This town was sixteen miles west of the interstate. Folks around here normally said the interstate was really sixteen miles east of nowhere. Sometime in the past, an old highway strayed near, but that was before my time. Now the old highway has been stripped of glory. Instead, it was absorbed into the main interstate that leads away from the border to places with streets where color has bled into cracks, instead of the dust, blood, and hate. The once gleaming black asphalt has turned a dark gray from all the dust that no one ever steps foot on. The highway was always empty except for the merchant’s truck which came on Saturdays.
This land has seen the faces of hopeful young men and women when they first arrive, bright eyed with the hopes of the future. This land has also seen their hope taken away with a single squall of the merciless wind. Their anguish has bled into the soil causing another generation built on broken dreams. They are young no longer, for the Fountain of Youth dries up at this point.
Yet the settlement has felt hope, at times. Way back then, the land was green. The elders say that the land had been in drought, but once the original settlers came, the land bloomed to life by God’s will. The blessed rain, they say, came every fortnight, always on Sunday. No one, however, remembers when the early settlers came. My father says his father was a boy during that time, but now he can barely remember his father’s face because he’s been gone so long. Like my mother whose spirit broke, like the rain which never came.
The citizens of this town know of hardship and sacrifice. Faces, both on the young and old, are etched with lines from squinting against the harsh sun for so long. Natives to here are soft-spoken and their hands callused from trying to till the soil. Yet they all believe that God will send the rain someday, on a Sunday, just like in the old days. They are honest people, at least the natives are, and hard working. The others that that make the dwindling population are runaways and drunks who tarnish the gleam. I am not allowed to walk the streets alone at night because of them.
The only memory this place has of its green past was a fountain, once shining with glory and flowing with precious water. The fountain was made of marble and stone, with the founder’s name engraved on a plaque. But with all the dust storms the name was barely readable, and no one could read here. A face lost to history, buried under the sands that the settlement now resides on, like we all will be if the rain never comes.
Somehow, somewhere in my mind I don’t believe I will ever even see rain. I am not one of the faithful, and no one understands why. I don’t know, either. I blame this all on the runaways, the drunks, like my family. Later, I end up blaming myself. But who really is to blame?
“Oh my dear God, it’s hot,” I mumbled darkly to myself.
From where I sat on the swing on the porch of the general store that my father owns, I can almost hear the sighs coming from the tired earth again. I close my eyes as a gust of wind swept up a fistful of dust, and sigh. I was to be eighteen in a few weeks, yet it I felt I was nearing eighty instead.
The wind pulled at the pins in my hair. The wind, which never stayed the same for too long, knew of everything, everyone. It was like the old dark-skinned lady, Gitana (who I am forbidden to see because everyone thinks she’s a witch from hell) who gossips at night, when no one else is around. She told me of Pastor Martin running off at night with the bar waitress Nicole; she can make homemade nail polish and she swears she was hear the ground quake and the sky tremble. Just as it was told to be when it last rained—but no one ever believes her.
My back ached from hauling wooden crates from the cellar to the porch for the crops that would be sold. Out of ten heavy boxes, only three were filled with the dried out corn, sun tomatoes and gnarled peppers. Another failed harvest. I felt the land, in desperate attempts to keep itself alive, would drain a little more life from me. Those roots which held us together were brown, the blossom far past wilt. But that is if I had any roots left to the land at all.
The merchant truck was at the corner of the dirt street, and the people of the town gathered, armed with their own wares, trade-items and coin purses. Digging in my pocket, I pulled out the last of my money and joined in the crowd. I had forgotten it was Saturday. The woman, her two daughters and husband were chatting with bargainers and socializing, as they did every Saturday.
The merchant’s wife, who we all called Ma’am and show more respect to than we give our own mothers, had set up a table. I craned my neck to see what was on display this week. On the table were ribbons of more colors than I knew to exist, dazzling hair barrettes, water in bottles that smelled like heaven and an assortment of necklaces and bracelets, glittering in the harsh sun. There was also a pair of ghost-white gloves, a color I had never seen before, pure and untainted. I stared.
Ma’am in her simple yellow dress, and with hair the color of scarlet gold, was beyond the words for beauty. She raised her hand to shield her eyes from the sun. The diamond shard embedded in her wedding ring cut the light into beacon-like arrows. I had to avert my eyes in fear of being blinded. Through squinted eyes I saw she was wearing an identical pair of silken, white gloves to those that lay on the table. I could not look away.
That night, as Gitana smoked her homemade cigarettes, I wore the white gloves for the first time. In the candlelight in her attic-apartment above the Laundromat was where I first tasted a life outside my own
“They’re beautiful,” I whispered. Gitana, despite her one blinded eye, looked at me sharply after taking a prolonged inhale. When she exhaled, the smoke clouded the tiny room. The smell of cloves lingered long after its source had vanished.
“Ah, so you have been to see that merchant woman again today. The woman with the daughters?”
I wondered how she knew about Ma’am, as I had never seen her on the streets before.
“You would be surprised on what is in here.” She touched her salt-and-pepper hair. I said nothing. “You’re almost eighteen, aren’t you?” When I nodded, she continued on. “Why do you wear those gloves?”
I was silent for a long moment. I stared at her cigarette, the smoke swirling into designs that I knew no name for. They looked tangible when I held my breath. When I sighed, my hot breath blew the smoke away. Like the dust. Like the land. Like my life. One crazed thought sped into another, then another, following another until I could not stand the silence any longer.
“Do you ever wonder—I don’t know—dream of the rain, Gitana? Do you? Do you ever feel like the land is speaking—no, crying to you, like you actually could do something about it? Does it ever seem like we might be waiting for something that is never going to happen, that one day we’ll all die off and nothing was ever done?”
I stood up, the words that I had never thought I would say coming out in shouts. “I do! I want the rain to come—something to…a rain to quench the desert’s thirst! I want a life with color! Ain’t that possible? Ain’t it, Gitana?”
Despite the fact my voice had reach a high, hysterical note, Gitana sighed deeply. The smoke ripples intangibly, just out of reach. In her ever calm, soft-spoken voice, she simply said: “Go. There is nothing more for you here.”
It was not yet morning as I practically danced down the streets of my childhood home. The houses all glared as I waltzed past them, wishing they could follow, too.
My father’s store I waved to. Thanks for all the good times, old friend.
I rounded the corner and passed the clothing store next to the Laundromat, whose dresses in the windows scowled at me like old, bitter women. I laughed.
The marble fountain came into sight. I paused to give one last glance back. For a moment I hesitated. Then, I walked over to it and then I could finally see the name of the founder that time seemed to have forgotten for the first time.
Thomas Wesley Kaisen, my father’s name, just that he is Thomas Wesley Kaisen IV. I sighed once. I couldn’t wait forever for a rain to quench the desert’s thirst like Thomas Kaisen IV or my father. And if the rain does come, where to carry on afterwards? I could soften my rough hands; I could learn to dress as a lady; I could make a new way of life. I could not, however, learn how to root myself to the land where sorrows have nurtured it instead of rain.
I stood up and ran down the street to that would take me to a cow pasture, which marked the edge of town. Beyond the cow pasture my father waited in his dented, old Chevrolet pickup. I could almost feel the ghosts of the plants swaying, but I couldn’t take their grief any longer. There was nothing I could do for them.
I stopped, however, when I reached the car. I turned to face the town that was on the brink of extinction. Another lash of wind whipped at me, and storm clouds gathered over head. Heat lightening flashed. Thunder roared.
"Come on,” my father yelled over the thunder.
“Okay,” I yelled back, “I’m coming!”
He did not smile, but in his small tone as he fussed over me, he was proud. I knew.
It was Sunday today, I just realized, as the first couple drops of rain splattered against windshield and we raced against the wind.