Bravery

This shriveled driveway. How many times have I walked it to get the mail, or stood before it, waiting for Jeremiah to come back from a day’s planting or plowing? Low scrub at the sides, where the chickens liked to roost to get out of the sun. Sometimes I’d find eggs half-buried in the dirt, and then scold them for it. The heat has killed most of them. They are the only meat I have left, and they are scrawny and badly used up.

I am waiting for someone, or something. A piece of mail with a check inside, or a letter from home saying, “All is well, but did you hear about old man Sutter?” Information, gossip, kind words, friendly words. And I am always hoping for a postscript: “You can come home, if you want. We have a spare room, and we miss you.” Would I have tricked Jeremiah into taking me for a visit, or would I have sneaked out in the middle of the night, taken the truck, and kept driving until I ran out of gas?

I don’t know that I was ever that brave. All my bravery showed up the day I shot him, and it hasn’t come back. Now I fear each morning. Will there be enough to eat? Can I pick up my feet and uncurl my nerves and work until the sun is a pale shape under the horizon? I never minded work, but work always had a soft reward. Dishes done, floor swept, meals cooked, vegetables canned, garden weeded. Keeping a flow to the day. And now my work is a rope, clutching and tightening around my throat. My feet ache, my ankle bones snap like pea pods, my hands are always filthy with dirt. Maybe bravery never left. It would be too easy to give up, to just lay in my shaggy blanket and melt into the mattress until there is nothing left but my exhausted bones.

But I stand up every morning, make myself a cup of coffee, eat a few scraps of bread, and step outside to face the dust. And the foolish part of me thinks it will get better. Or easier. But it hasn’t yet. I don’t expect a shiny man in a shiny car to come along and pay me for this land, or pay me for my work. I don’t expect any man to come along and rescue me, or a preacher to come along and save me. I know what I did, and I know this is my punishment, and I will abide by it because I don’t know how to do anything else.

I fell asleep to the radio last night, sitting in Jeremiah’s chair, with a tin cup of water, the smell of his tobacco bleeding through the fabric. I don’t dream anymore, but as I drifted I thought I heard a piece on the farm report. I thought I heard the word ‘rain’. But in the morning, the sky was just as tall and blue.

That’s the only word that runs through my head and through all my thoughts. Rain.

I walk down the driveway, waiting or looking for something, and that’s what it is I am waiting on. I’m waiting on the rain.

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