S H O R T S T O R Y
b y l a u r a t a y l o r l a m b r o s ~ l o s a n g e l e s , c a l i f o r n i a
THE GROUND was crackled and crazed, scored in wiry mazes like an aged piece of pottery. For miles the landscape rolled in barren brown hills pocked with stumps of gnarled trees almost petrified and solid as stone with the longing for water. She should have never moved to Vermont. The deep blue sky taunted her each morning as dust clouds gathered in tiny ghosts outside her kitchen window. Looking at the view she could still remember how it was the day she bought the tiny white house and its surrounding twenty acres. The widow who lived here had died quietly on the couch while watching the evening news and the clouds rolled in quickly with the sunset, looming in a glorious red threat. It was ten days before an airplane pilot noticed the isolated gathering of clouds over the house and notified someone. When they removed the body the rain dispersed and the widow’s daughter sent for a Realtor before she did anything else. They say the only way a house can be sold around here is if it’s viewed freshly after a death.
The rain pelted the cracked earth and seeped deep beneath the dust where seeds waited patiently for the drops to trickle in and set them free. Like fireworks the plants exploded from the ground to take advantage of the brief period of mourning, sprouting up within hours and spreading in waves out from the house and up the hills. The hollow echo of the well was filled with a deep promising resonance, clear drops of hope accumulating by the gallon. Bulbs the widow had planted after the water-rich death of her husband now came alive and sheets of daffodils held their rippled faces to the clouds to collect the water in their bright yellow flutes. This is the paradise she saw when the white-toothed Realtor pulled up the winding drive. The whole place smelled rich and moist, teeming with life. The Realtor knew he had a sale when he took her to the side of the impromptu pond, just twelve days old, squirming with flashes of goldfish and singing with the hum and whistle of new frogs hopping from rock to lily pad. She understood that it was temporary, that it was all dependent on death, but the fleeting beauty of the place was too much, and like most people she figured that death would come again soon enough.
She knew her closest neighbor was three miles away, and the Realtor had told her that his death may bring some rain her way, but it could not be verified. It was always difficult to predict the extent and measure of the clouds’ mourning. He also told her that clouds have been known to mourn the death of animals as well and asked if she had a dog. When Congo died she buried him in the drying soil, still barely moist enough to move, and sat by his grave for a long time. She missed her companion, his big waiting eyes, his one deep warning bark when the mail came, but mostly she waited there expectantly, hoping that his sixteen dog years were a great enough loss to the world to cause the clouds to move her way. For a little while she was sure the horizon was darkening and her eyes played tricks on her as the blue appeared to cloud and quiver. Congo’s death was not enough.
A year later her scheming and longing for death was taking hold of her. She tried to bribe the water truck driver, offering sexual favors in exchange for a few more gallons pumped into the well. She even went so far as to imagine luring him into her bedroom and murdering him, reaping the double benefit of a full water truck and the subsequent deluge. But she knew she would be unable to explain the sudden rainfall and disappearance of the water truck to her neighbors. The nosiness of the small rural community was becoming too much. They sat around the dusty diner and discussed the inhabitants' health problems with a glee that she couldn’t understand at first. Words like “cancer” and “stroke” were spoken with a glint of hope, bittersweet of course, but still with the same tone of voice used for words like “holiday” and “ice cream” in the old days. Everyone looked at one another suspiciously, accepted food from only those they knew well and trusted, never turned their backs to a stranger. They all envied Mrs. Murphy, a young woman who had married an eighty-year-old man for questionable reasons. He was now on his deathbed and she was planting as many seeds as the dry earth could hold. They envied Mr. Austin as well, an older man who truly loved his wife and had quit his job to care for her as soon as he found out she had cancer. He brought in doctors from all over and really did do everything in his power to save her. Rumor had it that Mr. Austin punched his neighbor George in a grocery store when he inquired about the condition of his wife. They say George asked him in a roundabout way because he really wanted to know if he needed to purchase a full month supply of water.
She was tempted to just leave it all behind and return to the city, where the constant deluge seeped through to the very bone, where rivers flowed endlessly down every street and moss grew on parked cars. She thought she could handle dry rural life but the dust was clinging to her face and blowing through the house. She was dreaming about death, tired of the bright blue sky of life, the sun-baked assurance that everyone was alive and well. She did not want to know when everyone’s last check-up was, if Mrs. Ogilvy’s flu might really be pneumonia, of if the sudden death of the Johnsons’ cow would be enough for some drizzle. There were days in the city when the clouds broke up and the sun shot out like lasers from the cracks. Everyone stopped their damp hustling to gaze up at the wonder of light in the sky, rejoice in the brilliant shadows never seen before. But something as small as a stillborn baby or a fall down the stairs would bring the clouds rolling back again. Tired of this endless struggle with rain and death, she succumbed to the inevitable, packed her belongings and moved to the suburbs.
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