red-tailed hawk flexes its wings as a farmer’s wife heaves her body, swollen with child, up the hill to the crest of a rise. The woman moans. Her fingers bruise the skin above a laboring heart.
The hawk screeches.
A tiny foot presses against the taut skin of the woman’s abdomen, perfectly outlined: heel, toes, arch. This baby is not the first, but the first planted in years. The others, born into a house of drought, withered then blew away like dust. Plates, knives and forks disappeared from the table one setting at a time. Pale faces blur in her memory. There are no pictures.
Blue with distance, her husband turns his tractor into a cloud of airborne dirt. The soil he cuts is rife with ill-considered life. From spring until autumn, metal slices through frog, snake and shrew. Cut and torn, pink-eared mice stumble into her kitchen. They bleed on worn linoleum and their bright beaded eyes confess atrocities. When they die she carries their small bodies to the vegetable garden at the back of the house. She writes their names on sticks to mark the graves: Nasturtium, Radish, Pumpkin.
Her neighbor’s raspberry picker whirligigs up the other side of the rise towards her. Harvesters cling to its skeletal frame, hats slung onto bowed backs, alien tongues blistered with the acid of pilfered berries. She rests large, raw-boned hands upon her swollen abdomen and raises her face towards the driver on his lofty perch. The light reflects blue in eyes as bright as flax. Her skin tenses. Her fingers grip a flowered apron.
From his perch the neighbor nods. As he passes by she forms a word with unmoving lips. Stop. He understands her ventriloquist trick. He hurries home to a wife, to children, to fresh-baked biscuits, to the safety of his marriage bed.
"Go," she shouts. Be gone. To the devil with you.
He whirs and rumbles down the rise, rounds a bend, is gone. Sour raspberry scent clings to the air. It is on her tongue, in her hair, on her shoes. It resides within her.
It rained the day the neighbor came. Dusk at noon. The gush of water from the drainpipe drilled holes in the garden soil by the back door. Clean white mouse bones lay exposed beside the flesh of tuberous plants. She baked and cleaned and fretted while rain tinkled like crow’s feet on the slate roof.
Dripping water, he knocked at her door.
"He’s gone to town," she said of her husband. Her voice was flat and cautious. Only his hand kept the door from slamming.
"Just tell me to stop, Marny," he said. "And I will." He stepped in with muddy boots, closed the door behind them. Latched it. Tobacco stained fingers worked a button, touched a full breast. The rain abated.
"He’s due back soon," she said.
In the silence of the kitchen he lifted her skirt and slip. His wet rough fingers probed and pried, released a flood.
"Tell me," he grunted, pig-like as he heaved fertile seed.
When their shudders eased, she moved to the window. The truck was in the yard. Her husband strode towards the barn, his shoulders stooped against a driving wind. Sugar and flour lay scattered in white drifts around the truck. Emptied cotton sacks reared and flapped like frightened chickens.
"Coward!" she screamed through the glass.
Later, with unwashed hands, she spooned potatoes and onion into circles of dough and sealed the edges with iced water. She fried her husband’s evening meal with legs clamped tight. That night, she did not bathe.
Her husband’s tractor is gone from the field.
After the long drought, elasticity has gone from her cervix. She feels a gush between her legs, far too soon. Water glistens on cracked asphalt, carries away a lime green shield bug: water first, then blood.
There are doll’s clothes in a cupboard, likely small enough.
As she hobbles down the rise, tears squeeze from the corners of her eyes with the effort.
Causes Hannah Holborn Supports