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Facing the Storm

Pea-Pickers Camp
Nipomo, California, 1936

The sky hung low over the barren Californian landscape in utter defeat, an old gray umbrella sagging in too many places. A gust of wind whirled, warm and heavy with rain, sifting through the grasslands and swaying the dying stalks until they doubled over like a bent comb. I felt Aliza stir in her sleep as the wind lifted her straw-colored hair and splayed it across my worn shirt, her bare grimy feet twitching against the tattered fabric of our lean-to tent. Staring out at the dark looming clouds rolling in from the west and casting shadows over the bleak landscape, I thought the world seemed darker than usual. But maybe that was only because the tiny cold bundle still laid limp and heavy in my arms, the package of stone a constant shadow over my thoughts.
I remember the exact moment when it happened. It must have been around noon, because the sun was high in the blinding azure sky. The harsh rays screeched down as I lifted my exhausted hands to examine them, as if their forcefulness could rid my fingers of the faint but definite green color that had begun to seep in with the hours and hours of pea-picking. I remember turning the bend in the dirt road and stopping, my eyes searching the collage of tattered tent covers until I found the one I knew, the one I called home. Even though the dust rose thick into the humid air, like a curtain of mist blocking me out, I could still make out Aliza's golden head and Emma's dark one under the green of our lean-to. The heap of metal that was once our car lay scorching in the sun, a dead monster in our midst. I had sold the tires just last week to buy food, but the meager scraps had lasted barely two days. Once this would have upset me, but not now. I had gone through too much to be shaken by anything. I had grown accustomed to suffering, numb to the pain. I just kept plodding through life, taking what was given, not thinking enough to reflect on the past, to worry about the future.
As I approached our tent, I felt a stab of pity as I saw how gaunt my children had become, how their clothes draped around their frail bodies like withered leaves. But I blocked that out, just as I had learned to ignore the hunger gnawing at my stomach and the sharp gravel digging at my bare feet. I couldn't let the pain seep in. But as I neared the tent, something caught my eye, something that stopped me in my tracks. Little Ruth lay still and silent in Aliza's arms. It shouldn't have been unusual, shouldn't have bothered me, it's just that Ruth was always moving, always crying, never sleeping that still, that silent. Yet here she was, so quiet, so cold, so unnatural...It was about then when the darkness started to set in. "I thought you would be happy, Mama," Emma's voice seemed very far away, "Ruthie hasn't slept so soundly in such a long time." I fought back a scream.
Sitting here now, looking out over the approaching storm and watching the fingers of mist twist themselves cruelly around the trunks of trees, I let the flood of pain tear down the walls I had worked so hard to build, let the anguish twist my toughened features for the first time in years. I thought of the childhood I had wanted for my children, the childhood I had. The purple ribbons that my mother had tied in my hair, the sandbox in our little yard my brothers and I used to play in for hours, my father coming out on Saturdays to help us build castles. And I thought of my girls, with dirt in their hair instead of ribbons, playing alone in the dusty road instead of in a fancy sandbox, and their father...
I remembered his reaction when I told him about Adam. How our little boy, just like Ruth, would never see his first birthday. I remembered his twisted face, how I had begged, how he had slammed the door so hard the floor quivered, how I had seen him drunk in the streets later. I waited for days, hoping. That was before I even knew Ruth was coming.
And now this was happening all over again. What had I done to deserve this life? It was happening again, but now he wasn't here with me. It was just my girls and I...
I realized then that I couldn't block out the pain any longer. I couldn't hide behind a cloud of fear, fear to face reality. The girls needed me, needed my strength, needed my love. A storm was brewing, the clouds were rolling in, but I could deal with that. I had faced storms before, and though they may have not been as threatening as this one, I would find the strength. I had to. Turning my face to the wind, I let the cool gusts batter my lifted chin.





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This article has 10 comments. Post your own now!

sydney z said...
Feb. 1, 2012 at 8:59 am
I like your piece a lot. I really like your character telling the story and how she started off weaker and became very strong!
 
LaurenT said...
Feb. 1, 2012 at 8:54 am
This story made me feel like I was there with the characters. How you explained how the mother felt was amazing. I feel like I could understand everything that was happening, and how the mother felt about the childhood she had given her children. Great details caught my eye, and gave me interesting thoughts on the setting.
 
lucky luke said...
Feb. 1, 2012 at 8:47 am
I liked your story. it was very detailed and I could picture the scene very vividly.
 
Gabrielle B. said...
Feb. 1, 2012 at 8:46 am
This story is amazing!! I love how much detail you put in throughout the whole story. It really gave me an idea of the setting!
 
Victoria said...
Sept. 4, 2009 at 10:46 am
I'm reading this for the second time and it still fills me with awe. You are one of the most talented writers I've known, Malini. I'm so proud of you!
 
Stormtrooper said...
Sept. 3, 2009 at 8:37 am
It vividly displays the image of the photo migrant mother. Great work!!
 
wee-wee said...
Sept. 3, 2009 at 8:29 am
AWESOME------AMAZING----VERY PROUD
 
MonicaG said...
Aug. 20, 2009 at 10:21 pm
An amazing story and I can't believe it was written by someone so young. This literally made my heart ache and viewing the picture (Migrant Mother) after reading the story made the experience even more powerful. An absolutely astounding contribution by someone this young.
 
Dad said...
Aug. 20, 2009 at 9:13 pm
This is an incredible story. It's power is amazing. I especially like the image you leave us with of the narrator lifting her chin to face the oncoming gale. Great work Malini!
 
Bonnie said...
Aug. 20, 2009 at 4:00 pm
The writing in this story is fantastic, very skillful use of metaphors, rich beautiful language. I know that photograph and the vignette provides an accurate emotional description of the photograph.
 
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