Boyd Henry over there, he watches me. I have never seen a child so committed to watching. He is four years old and seven months. I love him, Lord, but his intensity wears on me. He plays with his toys under the porch, and the dried-up mud and boot grit falls on the back of his neck. He flours up the dust, and it powders most of him, but his neck gets it worse. He shows me his dusty palms when he sees me seeing him.
Lorianne is on the porch with him now, and her hands are curled around his small shoulders. I’m grateful that she loves him, because Boyd Henry is different from most. He is my gift, he is my surprise.
Today is wash day, the day I float away. Watching Boyd Henry makes me lonely to think there was a time before him. It makes me lonely whenever the wash water from the cotton pillowcases drips onto my arms, because it bears the same coldness and travels down the same paths of my skin as it did last week, and last month.
Nothing has changed, except in the small ways of loneliness, and in the smaller ways of fading.
The sheets and towels are to be washed first. They need to hang before the rain catches them. The wind has swelled up, and it tugs at my kerchief like a kite. Boyd Henry stops wiggling in Lorianne’s arms, and he watches me as I adjust the scarf. He is already dirty, and he will turn into mud when it starts to rain. She wipes him down with a washcloth when she can.
The woods beyond the hayfield are generously leafy because of the rain, and there are some mornings when their greenness becomes transparent in the sunshine.
And so I rise.
I see the shape of a man come forth from these trees, and it is an unblemished shape, clean and handsome. I wonder if he is a good man. It will take him a long time to reach my doorway.
At first, his stride is strong, and he walks with purpose, but after a few steps, he begins to founder. He struggles with the slope of the field and the softness of the soil. He is still just a shape to me, too far to notice his features, but even in the distance I see that he is tall and narrow-chested. With each step, his left leg falters. He clutches it and continues. I cannot see his face, but I can see his pain.
“The crows,” says Lorianne, and she points to the selfsame field.
There are a half-dozen crows on the other side of the field gate, and they glide low to the ground. Abruptly, they ascend, like barn swallows, and there is a strenuous fold and unfolding of wings. Their constructs are not made for elegant flight, and they rise in an awkward lurch, and nearly collide with one another. They repeat the design again and again, moving further down the field each time, flexing their wings in evident agony, until they disappear below the standing hay.
Lorianne’s face is serious, but she giggles at the strangeness of it. “Why were they flying like that, mama?”
“I don’t know,” I say. “They might be warning us of a bad storm.”
Or it might be a bird illness. Or it might be they were not crows at all. I don’t say those things, of course, because it will cause her to worry. But I don’t know why they were flying like that.
It’s not a hard thing to do, to leave a place where you don’t belong. The things you walk away from, the pictures and trinkets and combs, they are just the scraps of our presence. There will be new things, and they will probably be the same things, but with different thoughts behind them. There will always be things to gather for our tables.
I left my father’s house when I was young, and then my grandmother’s when I was done being foolish. This place has become my truest home. I came here when I married, and I have stayed here since he passed, six years ago. This land belonged to his family, and then to him, and now to me. If it would bring him back, even for a minute, I would leave it behind. But it is my children’s home now, his daughter and my son. I lease out the work fields and I raise my children the best I can. I keep my pictures and trinkets and combs in a box carved from gopher wood, under my bed.
The rain is hard, as promised. We sit inside our little living room and listen to the tin roof percussion. It is a loud and drunken sound. Lorianne has her box of crayons on the rug, and she hunts for the right shade of rain. Boyd Henry watches her, and he peels off the papers, one color at a time. She digs into a plastic shopping bag for another coloring book, and she moans, quite theatrically: “Oh, my goodness, have I done them all?”
I stare at the wood stove and the slow tangle of flame: how long will it keep us warm, how long will it give us light?
And the rain, it still falls, five days in.
He wears a white shirt, sweat-stained, wrinkled. His hair is black, tousled, but thinning. Gray eyes, uneven teeth, a weary shrug of shoulders. Just let me sit down for a minute, he says.
He said, “There will be rain. You will need two of everything. One plus one.”
“I have two,” I said.
“The rain will be hard,” he said. “And it will last. Forty days, at least.”
Boyd Henry, over there, he watches me watching him. And Lorianne, she loves me in my fever, loves me in my worry, and in my rain.
His hair is black and tousled. I have two children who are surviving the rain. And my boy, he watches me, and I watch him back. But it is harder to see him, because we are becoming blurs in the rain.