Mary noticed that every time she took a step her little black shoes kicked up nearly imperceptible puffs of dust. She watched her mother’s and father’s shoes and there she saw the hopeful promise of a dust cloud. She quickly scuffed her feet repeatedly against the dirt road and whipped her head back excitedly to watch.
Sure enough, a dust cloud the size of a rabbit had sprung up behind Mary and her parents and took off back the way they had come. The wind tossed it one way, then the other, and then changed its mind completely and sent the little dust cloud scampering across the dry, dusty hay fields.
“Mary, quit that,” chided Mother with a tug of Mary’s arm. “I don’t want no scratches on those church shoes.”
“Yes, mother,” Mary replied obediently.
Mary looked around for something that her feet could play with, as each of her parents held one of her small hands in their larger ones as the family walked. Mary had been known to suddenly run after or towards something that interested her. The young parents had learned that simply holding the four-year-old’s hands was easier than spanking her every time they got home from church. At present this did nothing to help Mary, because she really needed something to do. So she kicked a rock.
“Mary Abigail, what did I just get done telling you?” Mother scolded her. With the high sun casting downward shadows across all of Mother’s features, she looked quite serious.
Mary considered pointing out to her mother that the previous instruction had been to stop making dust clouds, and she had actually just kicked a rock. But looking at her mother’s expression she decided instead to say, “Yes, mother.”
“Yes what? Mary,” Mother demanded.
“Yes, Mother, I won’t make no dust or kick no rocks,” replied Mary.
“No,” Mother corrected her, “You won’t scratch your church shoes.”
“Yes, Mother,” Mary repeated once more, “I won’t make no dust, or kick no rocks, or scratch my church shoes,” making sure to add the part Mother wanted.
Mother was silent for a few moments as she looked at Mary. Then she said, “Well I guess that’s fine,” and looked back up at the dirt road.
Mary’s body still needed to move, so she decided talking would do just fine.
“Father,” Mary began, “how are we in a fish?”
“What on Earth are you talking about, child?” Father replied in his dry, baritone voice.
“Before he prayed at the end,” Mary said, “The preacher said how we were all in a trout. Isn’t that a fish? How are we in a fish? Are we gonna get spit out?”
“Lord, have mercy on me,” Father muttered.
“The preacher said ‘drought,’ Punkin,” Mother explained, “not ‘trout.’ Hear the difference?”
“Yep,” Mary said. “So what’s a trout?”
“You’re still saying, ‘trout,’ Punkin,” Mother replied.
“A ‘drought’ is when it don’t rain none and all the fields become drier than a desert,” Father explained.
Mary thought about this for some time while she looked at the thin, barren hay field beside the road.
“Why are we praying about it then?” asked the incorrigible little girl.
“Well when we pray God gives us what we asked for,” Mother answered in what Mary labeled her “church voice.”
“Someone should have started praying sooner, because we needed that rain yesterday,” Mary stated firmly. She thought she heard Father grunt an affirmative.
Mother patted Mary’s hand with her free hand.
“Well, Punkin,” Mother said in her church voice, “We have been praying, but sometimes God doesn’t answer our prayers right away.”
“Why?” asked Mary.
“Because he knows what’s best for us,” Mother replied.
Mary pointed with the hand her mother was holding at the scraggly field beside them.
“How is that better for the hay?” Mary asked.
Father grunted in agreement again.
“Martin,” Mother snapped at Father.
Mary felt her Mother’s icy gaze freezing all resistance above the girl’s curly hair. Mary felt her Mother’s hand tighten. Then she felt her Father’s hand tighten. She looked up to see what was happening on her parent’s faces. Her Father’s bearded jaw was set firmly as he looked out at the myriad shades of brown. Mary felt her Father’s arm tremble briefly. She checked Mother. Condemnation still shone from her eyes, and the torrent seemed to cascade over Father’s head. The young family was silent for the rest of the walk home except for interludes where Mary kicked a rock.
The next morning Mary ran right out of her bed. She fell to the floor in a heap and remained there for a moment, trying to remember what she had been doing in her dream. The sun rays arrived slowly as the little girl lay right where she had fallen and desperately tried to recall why or what she had been running for. As dawn arose fully and sleepily stretched out over the farm, Mother opened the door slowly and peeked into the room.
“Punkin, what on Earth are you doing?” Mother asked.
“I forgot my dream and I don’t want to,” Mary replied.
Mother was silent for a moment, as she decided whether or not to pursue this comment further.
“Get out of your night gown and go fetch some water,” said Mother. “Get moving, I don’t got all day. There’s things to do.”
Mary reluctantly got up and found a dress that didn’t smell too bad. She found two socks and smacked some of the dust out before putting those on as well. She put on her shoes and wandered distractedly into the kitchen.
“Don’t spill a drop of water out of that bucket, ya hear?” Mother reminded her.
“Yes, Mother,” Mary said obediently.
The sun had only just risen into the sky but the heat outside fell on top of Mary like her Father’s winter jacket. Not a drop of dew was anywhere on the ground as another dry, scorching day seemed imminent. Mary walked slowly to the spigot, kicking her shins into the metal pail she carried as she went. Her mind was still working furiously, but she had to get to work.
The little girl had to reach as high as she could to grab the spigot, and then holding onto the handle with both hands she picked her feet up off of the ground, pulling the handle down with her whole body weight. Mary found this to be great fun, but made sure not to let Mother know lest the fun be taken away.
Mary was sweating drops by the time she had pumped up enough water to fill the pail, but her smile was brighter than the sun. She lifted the heavy pail and began to waddle back to the house. Her eyes wandered through the sky as her mind traveled somewhere else entirely. Like a thunderbolt on a cloudless day she suddenly and violently achieved an epiphany.
“Coyotes!” Mary shouted at the top of her lungs as she dropped the pail of water. Fortunately it landed upright on the ground and only a few precious drops of water splashed out.
A loud curse came from the other side of the barn. Father jogged out from behind the barn, his head whipping around to take in everything. He looked sternly at his daughter and the pail.
“What are you going on about, Mary?” Father called out.
“Coyotes!” Mary replied triumphantly.
“Where?” Father demanded, his head slowly turning now, surveying the dirt and dried grasses.
“I was chasing them,” Mary replied. “All the way down the road from church and back.”
Father walked slowly up to Mary with his hands on his hips. When he reached her, his height completely blocked the sun so that Mary looked up into a shadowy, silhouetted face.
“Mary,” Father said at a measured pace, “if you don’t start talking sense I am going to get real cross.”
“It was in my dream,” the little girl replied. “I had a dream and I was running so fast that I ran right out of my bed and I fell and it woke me up and I couldn’t remember why I was running.”
The tall man picked his daughter up in one arm and the pail of water with the other but stood still.
“And when you remembered you just had to shout it out like Custer ordering a charge?” Father asked with a raised eyebrow.
“Well that’s what happens when I remember something,” Mary explained patiently. “I didn’t mean to scare you. What were you doing behind the barn anyways?”
“Just doing the chores,” Father replied dismissively. He began to walk inside carrying both burdens.
Mary leaned forward so she could look fully into Father’s face. She gently pulled at the skin beneath his eyes and poked at his cheeks.
“Were you crying?” Mary inquired.
“Do you ever see me cry?” replied Father.
“That’s because I don’t.”
“It don’t fix nothing.”
Mary continued to lean forward and stare into Father’s face as she thought about this statement.
“You were crying on the inside then,” Mary concluded.
“What makes you say that?” Father asked with a tilt of his head.
“Your face feels like crying, just without the tears,” Mary answered. “So you must be crying on the inside.”
The pair were now approaching the house so Father put Mary down and pushed her towards the front door.
“Go on then, Mary, find a way to help your mother,” Father instructed.
The little girl straightened out her dress then turned abruptly and hugged Father’s leg.
“Father,” Mary said, looking up at him. “You can cry on the inside and still fix everything, once the rain comes.” The tall young man looked down at his daughter. Mary nodded once, then ran inside shouting about coyotes.
After supper, Mary lay in her bed trying to find which way her body wanted to sleep that night. She heard the door across the hall open with a “woosh” and the heavier footsteps of Father briskly exiting the house. The front door fell back with a slam. Mary got out of bed quickly and crept into the hall to see what was happening.
Lantern light from her parent’s room shown into the hall. Softly, like the first drops of rain, sounds of sobbing could be heard. Mary decided to risk Mother’s anger and looked inside. Mother sat on the bed alone, sobbing softly, both of her hands resting on her belly. She stared into empty space, her shoulders slumped in defeat.
“Mother, do you have a belly ache?” Mary asked softly.
Mother looked up, startled, and began to wipe the tears from her eyes as she adopted a disapproving look.
“What are you doing out of bed Mary?” Mother demanded.
Mary decided to take quick action to avoid getting in trouble. She ran over to Mother and hugged her.
“I came to make you feel better,” Mary said in her sweetest voice.
“You can’t fix this, Punkin,” Mother answered. She seemed very tired.
“Well then did you pray about it?” Mary asked.
“Not yet, Punkin,” Mother replied. “I will. Now get back to bed and fall asleep.”
“Can I pray with you first?” Mary pleaded. “I’m up now so we got to do prayers again.”
Mother sighed. “Fine,” she said. “But let’s be quick.”
“Can I do it tonight?” Mary asked.
“Sure,” Mother answered, surprised but pleased. Mary had never asked to lead nightly prayers before. Mother and daughter got on their knees in front of the bed and folded their hands.
“Dear All Mighty God,” Prayed the little girl. “I pray that when Mother prays the prayers will work. Amen.”
“Amen,” echoed the young woman kneeling next to her daughter.