before stopping. Fred and Birdie spent the stormâs aftermath sweeping, wiping, cleaning, and tending to the farmâs anxious animals. Annie tried to keep Fred inside as much as possibleâhis cough had turned deep and phlegmyâbut he could not stand being trapped in a handful of hot rooms, so she gave up.
Samuelâs boots crunched on grasshoppers as he toured the fields. There was so little to harvest. Enough of the feed crops had grown to see the animals through the winter, but the wheat was dismalâfive bushels to an acre, maybeâa yield not worth the gas for the tractor to pull the combine. Last Sunday a farmer out near Beauville had come home from church and hanged himself from a beam in his barn. Itâs the waiting that will drive you mad, Samuel thought. Watching it all go, bit by bit.
The dream about the rain came to him every night now, and heâd awaken in ravaged sheets damp from sweat. The power and the horror of all that rain.
âWhat do you want me to do?â Samuel said into the wind. âI am listening.â
*Â Â Â *Â Â Â *
I T HAD BEEN a few days since the storm, the sky again high and bright, but dust still hung in the air, a gossamer haze over everything. After his chores, Fred went to the gulch near the Woodrowsâ, remembering the frogs he used to catch, but of course found it parched and empty save for what looked to be the thick webbing of a black widowâs nest. He dragged a stick through the filaments and they made that telltale crackle, but he didnât see any spider. Webs were everywhere now, in every corner, crevice, and ditch, undisturbed by animals or rain. How long could spiders go without water? How long could anything? Where was God? The question nagged at him, though it scared him a little to even think it. Maybe you werenât supposed to ask something like that. Round and round he went in his head. It just seemed like it would be pretty easy for God to make it better.
He didnât notice Birdie until she was right beside him.
âDonât tell Mama you saw me,â she said. Fred covered his eyes with his hands. She stopped and squatted next to him.
âShe doesnât understand,â she said.
Fred was confused by the arguments lately between his sister and his mother. You donât understand no you donât understand no you donât understand.
âYou like Cy, donât you?â
He nodded and handed her the stick.
âI do, too,â she said. Birdie raked the stick across the silk. âIt kind of sounds like paper being ripped, doesnât it?â She dropped the stick with a shudder. They stood, dust aswirl at their feet, and Birdie brushed the front of her dress, which the wind flattened against her legs.
âSee you later, alligator,â she said.
Fred squinted and tugged at his ear.
He dug a smashed notebook and pencil nub from his pocket.
âCanât God make it rain?â he wrote.
Birdie shrugged. âI donât know. He doesnât seem to be doing much, does He. He makes it rain in California. I hear carrots are the size of baseball bats out there.â
Fred blinked, not entirely sure if she was kidding.
âYouâre such a kid,â she said, knuckling his head before he scooted away. She walked into the wind in the direction of the Mack farm, her hair whipping behind her.
Fred gathered a small stash of rabbit bones and hammocked them in his shirt, setting off for the pond.
The cottonwood at the edge of the dry pond swayed in the wind. He dropped the bones onto his growing pile. He stood in the treeâs shade and ran his hand along the deep fissures of the bark. The seeds with their cottony tails had blown away a month ago, and Fred wondered if any of them had landed and taken hold. He saw his father top the small ridge.
âYour mother sent me to find you,â Samuel said. âFigured you were going out to the