A Land Never Kissed by the Rain

A lonely sentinel on dry land. Photograph: J Gerald Crawford
A lonely sentinel on dry land. Photograph: J Gerald Crawford

BENJAMIN CAME BACK after the war.

He didn’t go home.

Home looked too much like where he had been.

Home was Louisiana.

Too many bayous.

Too many swamps.

Too much water leaking into his shoes when he walked the land.

When the plane left Da Nang, he left the swamps behind.

Benjamin took connecting flights to Dallas, then drove to a patch of land just north of Amarillo.

It took him nine hours.

He didn’t see much along the way.

The land was flat.

It was barren.

There were a few hills in the distance.

The hills were flat.

The farmers called them mesas.

They looked like tabletops.

Water was scarce.

Rivers were shallow.

Creeks were dry.

Rain was only a promise and usually a broken promise.

It was a hard land.

It was a lonely land.

It was a good land.

It was his.

And, try as he might, he could not find any bottom land resembling a swamp upon it.

His next-door neighbor lived fifteen miles than the road.

The postman ran every other Tuesday.

Mostly, it was just Benjamin and the wind.

A hot wind in August.

A cold win in February.

But not once was there a wet wind.

His neighbor stopped by one afternoon.

“You putting in a crop this year?” he asked.

Benjamin shook his head.

“Why not?”

“Takes rain to make the seeds grow.”

“We don’t get much of that.”

Benjamin smiled.

“If we do,” he said, “I’m leaving.”

“If we don’t,” said his neighbor, “I’ll have to go somewhere else.”

Three years later, he was seen driving east and never drove back again.

The drought had been hard on them all.

Ranchers sold their cattle.

There was no hay in the fields.

Farmers sold their land.

The corn was burnt and the cotton had wilted.

Only Benjamin was left.

He sat in the front yard of a three-room house.

There was no grass beneath his feet, only dirt.

Lord, he loved the feel of dust between his toes.

The sun was low.

It hung atop the windmill.

It hadn’t worked in years.

Plenty of wind.

No blades.

It had a deep well.

He took his water with a bucket.

It didn’t take a lot.

He watched the sun set between his house and town, and Benjamin figured he might be the last man on the plains.

The plains tried to run him off.

He didn’t go.

Benjamin almost married once.

She was the postman’s daughter.

She ran the route when her daddy had been drinking, and last summer, when it was a hundred and ten in the shade, he drank a lot.

She was a little too young for Benjamin.

She was a little too pretty.

She wore here hair a little long and her skirt a little too short.

He didn’t complain.

But he did take notice.

She kissed him and asked Benjamin to take her away from this patch of hell on earth.

He took the letter from her hand.

He smiled and held her close.

He kissed her once for good luck and once for goodbye.

Benjamin sat back in the shank of the afternoon and felt the dry wind on his face.

He forgot about the war.

He forgot about the dying.

He forgot the rice paddies.

He forgot about the water leaking into his boots.

He looked up and saw the moon hanging like a big dipper in the sky.

Even the dipper was dry.

Life did not have a lot of certainties.

But Benjamin had one.

The wind might forsake the land around him.

But the wind would have to leave without him.

The wind could leave his dry bones behind.

Conspiracy of Lies is the second book in my Ambrose Lincoln trilogy.

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