“Stop. Please, just stop.” Colleen took the hoe from Stanley’s hand. A smudge of blood clung to the wood handle from a blister he kept popping.
“We gotta do something,” he said, stomping his foot on the dusty row of earth, flattening the mound, ruining the last five minutes of careful subsistence sowing.
That’s what men do, she thought. Build stuff up in desperation and then whack it down in frustration. “Irrigation ain’t gonna come here. They said it wouldn’t and it won’t. Might as well get used to it.”
Stanley lifted his baseball cap and scratched his head. “Are you saying we need to leave? Is that what you’re telling me?”
Colleen brushed away a swarm of tiny black flies. Damn vampires. They attacked her forehead, along the hairline and underneath her long bangs. When did we get these flies, she wondered. Where did they come from? There’s no water here. They always had mosquitoes but these tiny vampire flies—sucking the life out of her—they were something new.
“Coll!” Stanley shouted at her. “Are you saying we need to leave?”
“I think so,” she said. She stared out at the field in the same way her mother would stare at a dress in the Belk’s window: longingly. Wanting to wrap herself in a snappy seersucker dress of blue and white, the kind you would wear on a yacht if you weren’t landlocked. Colleen looked out at the field and imagined sturdy stalks of green, husked ears of sweet corn in baskets. But then she squinted against the sun and saw anemic rows of dirt. “Yep. I think we gotta go.”
Dark clouds threaded the horizon but Colleen knew better. That rain is headed north, she thought. We might as well have a big sign over our land saying, “No rain allowed.” We gave it everything we had, but it wasn’t enough. Retirement savings, 18-hour days, friendships, family, every flexed muscle, a little blood, sarcastic rain dances—none of it was enough. I’ll be damned, she thought, nothing was enough.
Colleen turned around to face the house. “Tomorrow is a new day, Stan,” she said. “What do you want to be? This old world is a new world. We can be heroes. David Bowie said that.”
Stanley shook his head and laughed, swung his arm around Colleen’s shoulder, “I would like to be a hero.”
Four years of drought is a long time—made worse by the state shifting the Marin River’s course, diverted to help the good folks of the big city, fifty miles southwest. Colleen followed the route of the river in her mind, traced the curves of the feeder streams, and always ached a little when she saw the dry riverbed underneath the bridge down the road. None of it mattered. It wasn’t about Stanley or her. It was about all the little insults hurled at the planet over decades. Finally, the earth gave out and the flies arrived. The dream of subsistence subsided. If the end days were coming, might as well be with humanity.
“Yeah, we can be heroes,” Colleen said. “Let’s go inside. I could use some coffee. Need to clear my head. We need a plan.”
They had sold all of their wedding china two years ago, and then the everyday plates and cups and flatware. Now they reused Styrofoam cups for coffee on a table made from two barrels and a door.
Colleen was not a quitter. She turned bad circumstances into good ones just by changing her mind. Being a hero appeased all the real and fictional characters she held in her head: Scarlet O’Hara, Walt Whitman, Bobby Kennedy, Joan of Arc. She knew Stanley would go along. She knew what he loved most about her: unrepentant and completely unfounded hope.
“You can be Super Carpenter and I’ll be Super Typist. We’ll find jobs and in the evening we’ll fight crime,” Colleen whispered.
“Okay.” Stanley smiled, kicked his feet up onto the table, and leaned back in his chair.
Fighting crime is not just a plan – it’s an adventure! Loved this.
Yes! You totally get it! Thanks, Thom.
I think the world would be a much better place if more people had unrepentant and unfounded hope.
I love your writing, and I loved this piece! xo Karen
Oh, and this line: “Wanting to wrap herself in a snappy seersucker dress of blue and white, the kind you would wear on a yacht if you weren’t landlocked.” – perfect.
Yes, I wish I was brave enough to have that kind of hope. Either brave enough or a total lack of situational awareness! Thank you for reading and your sweet, supportive words, Karen. xo back at ya
I liked the story very much and the gumption of your character, Super Typist Colleen, a very interesting story with a feel of reality to it. Oh and love the title of your blog too!
Thank you. Welcome to Pigspittle!
Thanks glad to have found you.
Sometimes you have to be your own hero. Great story!
You’re so right. Thanks for reading and commenting.
Desperation, frustration, despair…and hope. When you have me rooting for characters i’ve know for fewer than 750 words, you know you’re doing it right! Other than the snappy seersucker dress, my favorite lines start with “That’s what men do…”
Oh, that’s so good to hear. Thanks, Jennifer!
As a farmer’s daughter, this story really struck a chord with me. I loved your word and sentence choices. I could see the curve of feeder streams and baskets of corn you talked about. Most of all, I could feel the love and respect and courage between husband and wife. Loved this!!
Thanks so much, Michelle. I’m glad it rung true!
This made me ache. It really sucks when you work so hard for something and you just can’t make it happen. But I love Colleen’s hope and determination. You did a great job pulling me into that scene. And a great job with the prompts! 🙂
Thanks, Suzanne! Yes, it is hard to watch someone work so hard. I’m glad the transition from despair to hope worked. Tougher to pull off in real life!
I love their attitude. Their sense of hope, but acceptance of the circumstances made me want it to work out for them. Whatever “it” turns out to be 🙂
Thank you, Janna! Appreciate your comments and reading.
I, too, have always admired unrepentant and completely unfounded hope. Wonderful piece again! I really enjoy that your stories often combine the power of nature with powerful characters.
Thanks for picking up on the common thread of nature and characters — I think it is a subconscious thing for me. It’s one of those serendipitous quirks of writing that make writing so fun. Really value your comments and reading.
I, too, love nature, and big spaces – the kind you often have in your stories – really appeal to me. There’s a sense of characters breathing in and inhabiting those spaces, if that makes any sense. It’s a good combination.
This was so riveting, I would love to read your book someday.
You are so kind, Patricia. I would love to write a book someday! Thank you for your supportive words and taking the time to read. I love your work, especially this week’s.
This was filled with so much hope despite the odds. I would love to read more and read about how they triumphed!!
Thanks for your thoughtful comment and for reading, Kathy!
Don’t have anything to add to all the fabulous comments above – except to echo that I love your writing. Start thinking about that book!
Hah! Thanks so much, my Ohio friend!
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“She turned bad circumstances into good ones just by changing her mind.”
Yes. I know people this could be said about. And the way it shifts the tone of this piece from hopelessness to empowerment is masterful.
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