She pushes open the screen door and steps through, brushing a wet strand of hair off her flushed face, shielding her eyes from the sudden glare, trading the heat of the kitchen for the heat of the day.

The hens bustle and gossip in the yard, picking in the dirt in the false hope of a worm.

The windmill next to the horse tank creaks in the slight breeze.

Insects buzz in lazy circles.

The sound of the combine rumbles its bass note in the far field.

When it stops, she will know that the farm hands are coming in for the noon meal.

Big men in sweat-soaked shirts with bits of earth and wheat chaff adhering, steaming like horses.

They’ll stop to sluice their hands and forearms in the tin bucket on the way in to the table where they will roughly pass the bowls of potatoes and corn, the plates of sliced ham and bread, the tureen of gravy, the dish of butter, the pitcher of lemonade. They’ll talk in one-word sentences with their mouths full.

For just this moment, she stands, arms akimbo, on the stoop.

When the men return to the field, there will be the washing-up before starting the pies for supper, the bread for tomorrow.

She walks around to the garden at the side of the house, bends to fill her apron with ripe tomatoes and long pods of peas to shell while the pies are in the oven.

Lifting her eyes she sees dust rising along the farm road toward town—sounds like Warren’s old truck, maybe they’ll stop in on the way back.

There’s a picture of her hung downstairs on the cellar wall, framed in an oval frame:

May Queen, with flowing hair and lustrous eyes, wearing a white dress with a lace collar and a hand-made pendant.

She straightens her back. Lord it is so hot today.

Who could even remember the long blizzards of prairie winter, the dark days, the rope strung from barn to house in case the snow is so deep and blinding a man could get lost and freeze to death yards from the house—like Edward—and the ground frozen so hard the unnamed baby could not be buried, so lay swaddled on a shelf in the hayloft until the thaw.

The rhubarb blazes red and green like Christmas. A dusty lilac bush leans against the wall of the house.

She’ll bring the washing-up water out to give them a drink once the bread is rising.

Sweet peas climb the fence.


August 29, 2021, 9:08:52 PM

Nebraska Stories