So I’m writing a new short story and the exercise indicated that the main character’s name should be Doris. I can’t take a Doris seriously, so I’m changing it. In the meantime, here’s an old flash I wrote and never published. Story is based on this visual prompt:
Anna blinks and wipes her eyes. For 15 days, the storms haven’t quit. For 15 days, she’s woken to the wind whipping under the gaps between the wood and the windowpane. Not a night fell that the wind wasn’t the last thing she heard as she drifted into restless sleep.
Five years ago, Anna and her husband moved to Kentucky, lured by the promise of wealth, ease. Something better. Her husband, Tom, spoke of having their own land, making new beginning, creating a home. As Anna slammed the sedan door and looked at the chocolate-colored soil and acres of rippling gold, she thought it was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen.
After the first year, though, the rains stopped. Most of the wheat crop rotted, and then the winds came. Tom and most of the other farmers believed that it would get better. If they could just hold out one more year, they thought, the rain would come. It didn’t. The land turned to dust and the wheat withered in the fields.
In those early years, when the dust storms were infrequent, Anna had tried to clean. She swept and carried the dust out of the house by the bucketful. She hung wet sheets in the doorways and shoved rags against the windowpanes, but dust permeated every crack.
In the hazy light, Anna drags herself from bed and pulls on her dress. She slips her feet into worn-out shoes and pulls her hair up in a messy knot. Her husband snores softly and she lets him sleep. Wiping the window, Anna looks out onto her land. The air seems calmer now, and the sun rises over the horizon, rays of dusty light brighten the room. Her son coughs in the next room and Anna’s face crumples.
“God. Please,” she whispers.
She doesn’t know if God is here, if He was ever here. But Anna didn’t believe what the neighbors said, that this drought and these storms were divine judgment. It was weather, not the Almighty’s wrath. Anna prayed. As the government slaughtered her cows and handed over a meager settlement, she prayed. She stood in line for a handout, for something to nourish her child better than cornbread and milk, and still she prayed.
Anna strides to his bedroom and forces a smile. Her boy, Jacob, is two. The pajamas hang from his tiny frame. He sits up in bed and reaches his arms out to her, and she smiles as she pulls the two-year old close and kisses his head. She sees the dust on his bedside table and grits her teeth.
“How do you feel this morning?” She whispers and eases him away from her so she can see his eyes.
“OK, Mama.” His voice is raspy.
He says that every morning. Anna gets his medicine, a teaspoon full of sugar with a drop of turpentine. It clears the throat, washes away the grime. Jacobs swallows the sweet, bitter grit and leans back in the bed. The coughing grows worse. Anna rubs his back, slipping her hand under his top to touch his hot skin.
“You want some milk?” She stands. Jacob shakes his head no. Running her thin fingers through his hair and along the edges of his face, Anna alternates between staring at her baby and looking at the distorted landscape. Both are beaten. The child hasn’t eaten in two days, unable to keep anything down.
He draws a wheezing breath, his chubby fingers clutching at his nightshirt. Anna lifts his chin with her hands and stares into his panicked eyes.
“Breathe. Jacob, slow down. Breathe.”
His face pales. The wheezing turns to a high whistle. His hands grasps at hers.
“Tom!” Anna screams. Her voice breaks. “Tom!”
She clutches her child, sitting him upright.
Jacob’s eyelashes flutter, black on his ashen face. His hands loosen around her fingers. His mouth opens. Closes. Anna sobs.
“Jacob!” She screams and the piercing, guttural cry vibrates through the house.
Tom stumbles into the bedroom. He sees her holding their child, rocking him back and forth. Jacob’s mouth hangs slack and Anna presses his head to her chest. Tom slumps against the door.
They bury their boy next to the fencepost in the backyard where the mounds of dirt pile high. Anna holds her handkerchief to her nose, blocking some of the flying dust. Her face, wet with tears, is streaked with dirt. She feels the grit in her mouth, under her tongue. Tom shovels the dirt methodically, his face blank. Anna keeps her eyes fixed on a point beyond him, fighting the urge to drag her child from the dry dirt.
The next morning, Anna gathers a pot, a pan, two dresses, and photographs. They load the car with their meager belongings. She looks back at her home, where their baby was born, where they’d thought they’d stay forever. Tom hadn’t even bothered to shut the front door. His brown hand reaches for hers and he squeezes. Clutching her son’s tattered bear, Anna keeps her eyes fixed to the open road.