The sun scorched grass prickled in her bare feet. Crunch. Crunch. Crunch. As she walked across the yard. Just a couple steps to the fence. To the shady spot under the old tree. She never could remember what kind of tree it was. Just knew it was big. And that when it stormed she feared it would topple down and crash into the roof of her house.
“Storm,” she thought. “Wouldn’t mind a good storm.”
Some kind of bug landed on her foot. She kicked her foot in the air to make it hop away. Locust or grasshopper. She never cared to know the names of insects. Never mattered much to her.
“Ain’t been no rain round here in so long,” she said out loud. Hearing her own voice caused her to start a little. It’d gotten so deep and rough over the years. “All that smokin’ makin’ me sound like a man.”
Holding the pack of cigarettes in her hand, she tapped the hard box on it’s head against the meat of her hand. One-two-three. One-two-three. One-two-three. Pulled the tab and ripped the plastic off. Peeled off the foil from inside the box. Grabbed one cigarette by the filter with her long fingernails. She felt the paper between her lips. Dry lips. Everything dry. Brittle. Flicked her lighter and inhaled.
“Too dang hot out here to be smokin’.” She pulled on it again. Licked her lips with a dry tongue. “Ain’t had no rain.”
There she stood. Under that old tree that she couldn’t identify. Kicking at bugs whose names she didn’t know. Smoking cigarette after cigarette. Listening to the sounds of cars on the highway.
After awhile, she didn’t know how long, the sounds of neighbors disturbed her smoke time. A radio turned up far too loud. Playing Country Western music.
“Don’t make no sense to me,” she said out loud. “Dang music just sound like noise. Ain’t nothin’ like what I always played. Give me them honky tonk songs any old day.”
She couldn’t remember any of the songs. Didn’t know the names of the musicians. Just hummed a tune. But didn’t know how she knew it.
Splash. Scream. Giggle. Yell.
“Dang that pool.” She tossed her cigarette butt to the ground. Watched the thin ribbon of smoke as it went out. “All them kids make me crazy when they’re in that thing. Waste of water if you ask me.”
Sploosh. Crash. Laugh. Cry.
“Here we’re in a drought and they use up all our water in their dang pool. So them kids can just look at each other in their bathin’ suits.”
She stooped to pick up her cigarette butts. Careful to keep them from marking up her shirt with ash. Held them in the palm of her hand.
“Hey,” yelled one of the kids. “Watch this!”
Smack. Laughter. Cheers.
“Morons,” she grumped.
She stood at the kitchen counter. Needed to eat something. The doctor told her she couldn’t skip meals anymore. No matter how she felt.
“Too hot for eatin’,” she said, cutting into a tomato. “And all I got to eat is a dang store boughten tom. Can’t even grow nothin’ in my garden. Too dry this year.”
Bright, red slices on her plate. Thick mayonnaise dolloped on top. She sat down at the table. Brushed aside a few crumbs from breakfast. Or maybe dinner the night before. Ate her lunch with the background sounds of the kids in the pool. It made her feel lonely.
Turned on the T.V. Watched her stories, she called them. Soap Operas. Sat in her easy chair and tried to resist smoking. She hated for her house to smell like an ashtray.
“Stephan,” the girl on the screen with the white blond hair said, writhing at the man. “Our love may be forbidden, but it doesn’t make it any less real.”
“I know that, Lindsay,” the man said, turning from her and facing the screen. “Don’t you think I know that? It’s the only thing I know.”
She sat in her easy chair, sighed, shook her head. Imagined that his words were all for her. That his arms wrapped around her. Held her tight. That he took her to bed. Kissing her passionately.
But that was where the fantasy ended. Where the scene in the Soap Opera ended. She seemed blocked from what happened next.
What had happened? That one time. With…what was his name?
“What was his name?” she asked the T.V. “Seems I can’t remember no one’s name.”
She remembered the baby, though. Didn’t want to. Turned up the T.V. to drown it out. That baby. The one she didn’t get to keep.
“Lindsay, run away with me,” Stephan said, holding her. Touching her blond hair. “We could just disappear. No one would need to know where we went.”
“I can’t, Stephan.” She turned her head away from him. “I would lose everything.”
“Lindsay. I love you.” Dramatic music. Fade to dark. Commercial.
“Sick of washing your dishes before you wash your dishes?” the announcer asked.
She got out of her easy chair. Grabbed her pack of cigarettes and sat on the front porch. Lit up. Watched the cars drive past. Thought about her baby.
The baby. The one who never grew right. Came out already broken. She never did get to hold him. Or her. She didn’t remember. Had she even named the baby? Would she ever know?
The kids from the swimming pool walked by. Took up the whole middle of the road. Cars had to stop and wait for them to move to one side. Bare feet on concrete. Must have been hot. One of the girls looked over. Smiled at the woman. Waved at her.
The woman inhaled the cigarette smoke. Held it in. Tried to smile a little. Blew the smoke out her nose.
“Maybe my baby was a girl,” she thought.
The kids passed by. She heard Stephan and Lindsay talk again. Heavy music underscored their voices.
Made her lonely. Not having anyone to talk to.
“Been so dang dry,” she mumbled. Put out her cigarette against the porch.
The day her baby was born, it rained. She didn’t know why she remembered that. But it rained hard against the window of her hospital room. She’d watched it between contractions and pushing. Dark clouds. Bright lightning clashes.
After the baby came out the room got quiet. No rushing around of the nurses. No congratulations. No crying baby. Nothing.
“Wish we could get some rain.” She shook her head. Closed her eyes. Lit another cigarette. “Just need a little rain.”
Lindsay screamed from the T.V. inside. Screamed Stephan’s name. Over and over.
“But I loved him!” she screamed. “How could you?”
The baby’s face didn’t look like a face. Flesh. Formed wrong. She couldn’t even hold the baby. Couldn’t stand it. Had she cried? Screamed? Shook a fist at God and asked why? She didn’t know. Couldn’t remember.
“I loved that baby,” she whispered.
Flicked the ash off her cigarette. The black and gray fell into her dried up rose bushes. She stared at it. The way it looked like dust on the browned petals. The way the blooms hung their heads.
“Just wish it would rain a little.” She pulled on the cigarette again. “Here all the flowers is dyin’ off and them neighbor kids fill up that big old pool with water. Don’t make no sense.”
Soft, flowing music played from the T.V.
“Farewell, my love,” Lindsay said. Voice thick with the grief. “I knew we could never be together in life. But perhaps in death.”
The music intensified.
The girl came walking back down the sidewalk. The one that waved and smiled. Still wearing her bikini. But she came alone. Holding two ice cream cones.
“Hey, there,” the girl called to the woman. “Sure is hot today.”
“Sure is.” The woman shoved the ash end of the cigarette into the porch.
“You want some ice cream? I got some for you.”
“I guess so.”
The girl walked across the front lawn. Handed the woman a cone.
“I hope you don’t mind vanilla.”
“I didn’t know what kind you would want.”
“I like it just fine.” The woman licked where the ice cream was melting. “Thank you.”
The girl looked at her. Smiled.
“You wanna sit here?”
The girl sat down. Too close to the woman. Their legs touched.
“My name’s Harmony. Like the music thing.”
The woman nodded.
“I live down the road,” Harmony said. “You know, the little peach colored house. We just moved in last month.”
“I know the house.”
“My friends? The ones I was with? Well, they told me you don’t have people that stop by much.”
“Yup.” The woman licked her ice cream. “Don’t have nobody visit much.”
The two sat on the porch. Eating ice cream. Biting into the sugar cone. The sound from the T.V. in the background. When she finished, the woman pulled a cigarette from her pack.
“Don’t suppose you smoke, do ya?” she asked, lighting. “Cause if you do I’d let you have one.”
“I’m not old enough.”
“Right. That’s right. You ain’t.”
Harmony finished her ice cream. Looked at the woman and smiled.
“It was nice meeting you,” she said. “See you later.”
“Yup. See ya around.” The woman watched Harmony walk down the sidewalk toward the peach house down the street.
She felt a drop of rain on her foot.