Waiting on God to send in the rain.

During a Texas summer, everyone celebrates when the sky grows dark with the hope for rain. Photograph: J Gerald Crawford
During a Texas summer, everyone celebrates when the sky grows dark with the hope for rain. Photograph: J Gerald Crawford

THE SKY grew dark.

It had been so long.

William stood on the edge of porch and looked for the rain.

It was slow coming.

It hardly ever came at all.

Summer settled in early.

Summer stayed late.

It brought heat and little else.

The ground was baked.

The corn in the field had turned brittle.

The grasses died.

Cattle bawled at night.

He had spent that morning with Fred downtown at the corner café.

Hot eggs.

Hot coffee.

Hot day.

Laughter rolled out of town when the drought rolled in.

Fred was a West Texas farmer.

He owned two sections of land.

Cotton was stunted, he said.

Even the weeds had died, he said, and nothing could kill Johnson Grass but God, and God had smote it down before the end of July.

Fred said he was planting dirt and growing dust.

Fred was dead solid serious.

William emptied his third cup of coffee, stared out the window, and watched the heat rise off the street.

It rose in waves.

“If it don’t rain pretty soon,” he said, “I’m gonna have to rob the bank.”

Fred sat back and closed his eyes.

He thought about his loan.

He got one every year.

It paid for his seeds.

It paid for the harvest.

It paid for the tractor.

It even paid for his pickup truck.

The seeds lay burnt in the field.

To survive, he would have to plant again and hope for a better fall.

The tractor sat in the barn.

The pickup was low on gas.

Fred shrugged and ordered another cup of coffee.

Might as well.

Re-fills were free.

“If it don’t rain pretty soon,” he finally said, “I’ve already robbed the bank.”

The men watched the sky as the afternoon blue turned to gray.

They watched it a lot these days.

William stood on his porch.

Fred walked a dry creek bank.

The day was growing dark.

It was not yet night.

The wind ruffled the leaves in the trees.

Clouds were black.

The sky was grumbling.

William smiled.

God bless the storms and children.

Fred said a silent prayer.

He might even go to church next Sunday.

He let the thought hang in case God was listening.

God, he knew, frowned on bank robbery.

Fred wasn’t for sure.

He might be wrong.

But, for a moment, he thought he smelled rain in the wind.

He looked up.

Lightning was writing a promise in the sky.

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