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Behind and All Around
Two matted blond heads nuzzle into my neck for comfort. My boys- my darling, starving- boys. They deserve so much better than this.
The wooden edges of the upturned bucket I am sitting on digs into my backside, but after two even years of living in poverty out of my twenty-nine, it hardly seems to be an issue.
The tanned hide of Missy, our old jersey cow, is stretched taut and tied to two vertical poles sticking up from the dry ground behind us, blocking us from the lands revenge on its overuse. Dust devils and gathering storms brew behind it and all around.
Touching my dry, chapped lips with a grimy forefinger, I feel the deep cracks in the skin that used to be soft and smooth; the lips that David used to press with his own.
“Mama,” Jonny slides his small, dirty arms around my neck and climbs into my lap, the edges of the pail pressing cruelly into my thighs from his added weight. I hold him close to me and kiss the top of his dirty head. “Mama, when is Daddy coming home?” his small voice is muffled, and when I look down at him, his hand is rubbing at his eyes and snotty nose, dirtying his face even more. I wet my finger and work at something black that has crusted at his temple.
“You ask her that every day, Jonny,” says Logan, my other treasure. He stands beside me, his arms and head resting on my shoulder.
“As you already know, baby,” I rub Jonny’s little back, slide my other arm around Logan and gaze in front of me, the fruitless land drawn out for miles without end. “Daddy took a trip to Chicago to find work. He’s not coming back until-” my voice catches in my throat and I clear it rapidly before Logan can notice my hesitation. “Until things get better. But he’ll come back, so don’t you worry.” I say a little defensively.
“No, Mama,” Logan says, “Don’t you worry.”
Ah, Logan. My smart, attentive, oldest child. He always did understand me better than Jonny, who was only four. Logan, just eight years old, was already becoming the man of the house as his daddy was away.
The way David left- not so much as a goodbye- just a note with some crumpled dollar bills on the crooked table. Leaving us with simply a suggestion of selling Missy’s milk, meat, and hide for money, and then some written hope that his friend in Chicago had been holding a small job for him there. But I knew better.
A lump forms in my throat as I remember the last night we had before he left me. I’m sure Logan as well as the neighbors must have heard us shouting long into the night about expenses and unpaid bills. After a few hours, my voice left me and I retired to our bed, leaving him in the kitchen, shouting at my retreating back. Before dawn, I heard him come in. I felt his soft mouth part mine; his arms slip around my slim waist. Every move was a willing gesture to start over, an apology with his caress and forgiveness with his lips.
And when I woke up in the morning, he was gone.
A small finger pokes my cheek. “Mama, you’re crying.” says Jonny.
I swipe the wetness from my eyes and frown. “Just the dust, baby.” And seeing Logan’s worried face, I try to smile reassuringly. “We’ll be fine.”
“When are thing getting better?” Jonny asks me, referring to my last assurance.
“When the dust goes away. Right, Mama?” says Logan.
I smile. “That’s right, Logan, when it’s gone behind and all around.”
David used to say that when I would fret and worry about the Depression. And I used it now to calm my boys.
And I try to be brave, and I try to be strong in this tiring dustbowl. For their sake.