Fire and dust

It has not been so long that I have forgotten the sound of dust settling on a table. It is a heavy sound if you have heard it before, like sheafs of pages turning in a library. It is delicate and ponderous. A sneaky sound, like the whisper of rats in a pantry. Jeremiah’s hearing isn’t good, but the sound is enough to wake him. It woke us both up that first night of June. We could smell the smoke, far off, in the direction of Gunth Tabor’s old homestead.
Gunth had moved on, two years ago last spring. Packed up his squalor and left, and Jeremiah said good riddance.
Still, when the wind brings smoke, pity and fear fills the heart. Pity for his loss, fear for your own.
“I was dreaming about a pork sandwich,” said Jeremiah. “And then I smelled burning. I heard the dust, and I said, ‘Charlotte, you need to watch the pork, it’s burning.'” He held me in the dark. He was the big next to my small, and even when he was dream-confused, his size was my comfort.
“Was it a storm?” I asked. “Maybe lightning?”
“No storm. It’s not in the air. But I can smell the dust again. It’s peculiar.” He got out of bed and walked to the window. “Gunth’s old place,” he said.
“He’s been gone a long time,” I said.
“Vagabonds, maybe. Or squatters. Set up a fire in his front yard, maybe. He had those big pines. I tried to convince him to cut them, but he never took any advice that wasn’t his own. The pines were brittle. And it was a dry spring.” He hesitated. “I still remember the black rollers from ’36. Once a man sees them, he carries them to his dreams. I can’t say which is worse, a fire or the dust.”
He was a vague shadow in front of the window. The curtains were still, which meant there was no stirring of wind. His belly looked smaller when he was a shadow.
“No wind, so it won’t travel,” I said.
“Fire always finds a way to travel,” he said. “I believe I’ll sit up for a while, Charlotte. It’s warm enough to sit on the porch. I’ll watch. You go back to sleep.”
“I can’t sleep now, Jer. I’ll be thinking about fire and dust.”
He reached for my hand. “It won’t travel far tonight. In the morning, if it’s still burning, we should take a drive. Gunth’s house wasn’t much, and all we’ll see are the bones. It’s a shame.” He thought about it, and said again, “It’s a shame.”
I closed my eyes and he shuffled downstairs.

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