Friday, April 10, 2009

Friday Fiction: Prairie

Join me in reading some great fiction for Friday Fiction, which is being hosted by Joanne Sher at her Open Book blog.

By Dee Yoder

I run through the field and the sharp dry weeds poke the bottoms of my feet. I feel the edges of the saw grass sting my shins. In my ears, is the rushing sound of the wind as it picks up and the rain smells sharp in it. I can hear the sound of my brother running behind me with Gyp at his heels. In the distance are the faint voices of my mother and my pa calling us to the sod house we have built on the prairie. Without even seeing their faces, I know they are anxious.

“John, hurry.” I puff.

“My legs are hurting and my side is aching”, he cries.

“I know, but I can tell mother and pa are worried about us.” I can barely speak for the effort to keep running, to keep John moving ahead.

In my mind are the memories of the past, especially the burials of my two sisters. We dressed them each in their best clothes; dresses that had been carefully folded in Ohio before our long journey to the west. My mother struggled to let them go. I see her in my mind, skinny and frail, pulling the trunk out from the corner, searching through the meager clothing stored inside. We had dreamed of one day pulling those Sunday garments out in our new settlement, to wear to our new church, in our new life on the prairie.

Things had not gone as we’d planned. It was much harsher, much lonelier, much harder to make a daily life than we ever thought it would be. The winter tried to kill us all, but it had managed to slip away with only the two weakest before retreating into history.

Now the season of rain, and wind, and hope had breathed down on us. But it was hard to see any hope in mother’s eyes. Her face wore the chiseled, guarded squint of loss. Her words were sharp and focused on plain living with no thoughts wasted on the beautiful or the extraordinary.

I was stunned by her reply the first time I called to her to come and listen to the meadowlark that was newly returned. She had appeared at the Soddy door, her face red and perspiring from her work. I could see she that was cross with me.

“There’ll be a hundred more meadowlarks to listen to before the summer’s done, Lydia. Don’t be bothering me about things like that.”

I’d watched her go back inside as if she were a stranger.

My mother had been beautiful, and happy, and full of life before we started out on this journey. I wanted her back. I missed the way she used to pull me down beside her to examine nature up close. She’d never minded being interrupted before. Now, she worried about everything. Now, when I coughed in the night, I heard my mother stir. I felt her breath on my cheek and her hand graze my forehead. Some nights, she couldn’t resist waking me to ask if I was all right.

This is why we run to her and Pa, to calm her fears and to see his weary shoulders sag in relief.

He turns to her. He pulls her to him and says with a faint smile, “See, they’re fine. Children must play, Anna, they must run and have time to dream.”

He comes to meet us and playfully tousles our hair. He says to her, “They need to be out of our sight, sometimes, to be happy to come home again, Anna.”

Mother raises her face to the late afternoon clouds. Her eyes seem to be searching the sky for the others. For a moment, her mouth trembles. Tears form but she blinks them away again and again. Her face softens, the hard squint slackens, and a small smile tilts her lips upward. The meadowlark sings his spring song and mother looks at me. She reaches out her hand to draw me near.

“Let’s go see if we can find that old bird, Lydia,” she says quietly.

I look behind me as mother and I walk into the field. Gyp is nipping and pulling at John’s pants. Pa is watching us walk away. I raise my hand and wave. He waves back. He gathers his tools and returns to his work.

We are making our life on the prairie; we are planting our hopes and dreams in this soil. Sometimes, they are watered with our tears.


Sherri Ward said...

I have wondered at times how hard prairie life must have been for those first brave souls. This is an excellent portryal of what it must have been like, and you capture the heart-wrenching of it all as well. Well done, Deej!

Joanne Sher said...

Beautiful descriptions and characterization, Dee. You put me there, sweetie.

Catrina Bradley said...

I think this is one of my favorite short stories ever. You completely captured the emotional atmosphere hovering over each of the characters, and over the harsh, difficult era of our history. Your story is very reminiscent of some of the serious, heartbreaking scenes Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote of life on the prairie.