“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.