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Family Land (part 1 of 4) by Ray Printer Friendly

Hey kids, this is another long one, so I broke it up into sections. I feel like it's worth taking the time to read it, though, so if you've got a few minutes, you should check it out. I'm leaving town at the end of the week, so there's a good chance this will be my last short story post. I'll probably write something while I'm on the road (or plane, as it were), so if you'd rather read my rambling instead of a pretty good short story, I guess you can wait.


She was still a good shot, even after she lost whatever part it is that made her remember where she put the milk, where she should go or not go. Even after she lost the part that made her remember who she was, she still could shoot.


There's so much out here that man hasn't touched, miles and miles of weather-harsh earth, spread angry under the forever sky.

In the winter, snow covers everything, the sky turns white, it's impossible to tell the difference between land and sky until the sun drops and Heaven goes empty. The wind whips through the canyons, erasing brush, ripping away life. Carving void as it blows, nature trying to take back what's hers.

The summer sun scorches the land, killing the weak, punishing the strong. The wind is there, always. Fever hot, heating as it moves across the plains, baked misery as it swirls around you.

This is family land. Has been for as long as anyone can remember. It's not good for much, but it's better than what a lot of folks have. We work it the best we can, we plow up parched earth and time-hardened stone, and we curse as we chip blades, and we bemoan our thin livestock.

We persevere. This is family land.

We don't give up. Don't break. Generations have lived here and died here. We're a stubborn bunch, always have been, or we would have allowed this place to dry up and blow away a long time ago.

"You need to go into town and settle up that bill to the Co-Op," she tells me over breakfast. Eggs, barely cooked, burned ham, no bread. Cold coffee, made yesterday. This is how she cooks now that she is no longer herself. I eat the food and remain neutral, don't give anything away--she's not stupid, she's not unobservant. She's just broke somewhere on the inside, the part that makes everything connect.

"I settled up that bill couple days ago. You mind makin more coffee? I could use an extra dose today."

She dumps out the tin kettle, begins preparing a new one. Troubled look on her face, thinking, trying to. "Seems I'd remember you goin into town."

"You were napping." That's the excuse, the answer. She sleeps a lot, the doc told her she needs to. Get plenty of rest, he said. Sometimes she does, sometimes she doesn't. Either way, it doesn't matter, but it helps in these kinds of situations. One nap blends in to another, she doesn't know if she slept yesterday afternoon or last Wednesday.

"Hate that I have to sleep so much," she says.

"Doc said," I tell her, and I mop up raw egg with charred ham, and wipe my mouth to hide the trouble I got swallowing.

"Reminds me, I saw Laura Johnson the other day, walkin out along the fence."


"Must a been checkin for holes, the way she was walkin just right next to it, almost like she was pushin it. I almost hollered out to her but then..." She stares at her hands, watches them as they twist around each other. Times like this, I wonder what she's thinking.

At night, when I think over the day, I'm glad I don't know. Those holes in her mind, maybe that's what Hell is like. This empty thing where you know it shouldn't be empty. Losing yourself piece by piece, feeling something wrong, but not able to know what. To me, just seems like I would be scared all the time.

She stops looking at her hands, and she says, "But then I didn't. Here, bring me your cup."

I take my cup over to her, and I put my dishes into the sink, and when she fills my cup with hot coffee I kiss her on the cheek and I tell her I love her. It's the truth.

I don't know her too well these days, but I love what she was, and I love what she is.

"Thanks for breakfast, Mama."

"You're very welcome. You tell your daddy not to fiddle with that plow disc too long today, otherwise he won't be able to get cleaned up in time to pick up Don."

I smile and nod, and like with the eggs and the ham, I make sure not to show anything.

Daddy died six years ago, and his brother Don died a couple years later. I don't know how time works in her mind, I don't understand what happens with the memories.

All I know is that it's better not to remind her about these kinds of things. At first, I did, and she'd roll her eyes and sigh, and say something like oh silly me, I knew that. Everybody forgets things sometimes. But then, instead of just rolling her eyes, she'd look at me, like maybe I was putting her on, but she couldn't ask, because she wasn't sure. She didn't want to look foolish.

And then, she'd start looking scared when something like that came up, scared that she couldn't trust her own brain to tell her the right things, and that's when I stopped reminding her about the things she got wrong.

Little stuff is okay, like paying the bill at the Co-Op, things that you can cover behind a nap. Other things aren't. I don't tell her things like how Laura Johnson died last spring.

part 2

Posted under Short Stories on 10/25/10


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