Boyd Henry over there, he watches me. I have never seen a child so committed to watching. He is four years old. 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 bed sheets drips onto my arms, because it bears the same coldness and travels down the same hollows of my skin as it did last week, and last month.
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 it. Son is already dirty, and he will turn into mud when it starts to rain. Daughter will wipe him down with a washcloth when she can. I smile for my children.
“The crows,” says Lorianne, and she points to the sloping yard.
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.
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, and it frightens me that I cannot answer her. Would her father know? This was his land before it was mine.
I left my mother’s house when I was young, and then I left my grandmother’s when I was done being foolish. I came here when I married Javier, 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. But it is my children’s home now, his daughter and my son. I keep my pictures and trinkets and combs in a box carved from gopherwood, under my bed. It is all that I have left from my life before him.
The rain is hard, as promised. We sit inside our little living room and listen to the tin noise. It is a loud and anxious sound. Lorianne has her collection of crayons on the rug, and she hunts for the right shade of rain. Boyd Henry watches her, and he peels off the crayon papers, one color at a time, like he is unwinding string.
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, seven days in.
Boyd Henry, over there, he watches me watching him. And Lorianne, she loves me in my distraction, loves me in my worry.
My children are silver abstractions in the light. Every drop of rain cast its own shadow on the window, and each shadow weaves into the next, until they form a coarse cortina. The world we know is smaller because we are separated from the land by the sky.
“Mama, when will the rain stop?” asks Lorianne.
Bless the child, the faith of that girl, that she believes the rain will ever stop.
“I don’t know, Lorianne,” I say. “What do you see when you look outside?”
Boyd Henry studies my face, and Lorianne studies what lay bare beyond the window.
“Of course, honey. What else? Look harder.”
“Rain and puddles. And Mama, Boyd Henry is out there!”
I can smell the rain, I can smell the hay, freshly mown. “He’s right behind you, Lorianne.”
“But he’s–” She turns, and Boyd Henry shows her his dusty palms. “But I….”
“You saw his reflection, that’s all.” I breathe in the sweet clean smell of hay.
“No, he was standing in the rain. And I didn’t see my reflection, or yours. Just him. Mama?”
“A mirage,” I say, and sound foolish to myself. “The rain can do strange things if you stare at it too long.” I can smell Javier’s aftershave as I tend to the small cuts on his hands. I still cannot see his face.
“I think the rain has stopped,” she says, and she presses her hands against the glass.
I can smell the hay, freshly mown. The rain smells just like his aftershave.
“I think we can go outside now,” I say, and my two children reach for their boots.