Cracks in the Clay
Short Fiction by Biff
The Texas sun beat down on my old faded red Ford F-250 like rain on a tin roof, but instead of water, it was heat. I just sat there sideways on the driver’s seat with the door open, one foot resting on the stepside, waiting for the inside of the truck to cool off a little, but there weren’t enough of a breeze to do much coolin’ off. The cicadas wailed so loud I couldn’t hear myself think and the sound made it feel 15 degrees hotter’n it probably was. It was already 110 if it was a degree.
I adjusted my cowboy hat to keep the sun out of my eyes. I wanted to smoke, but I had give ’em up just about a month ago and I didn’t want to start back. That was why Amy had left, because I couldn’t seem to stop smoking. I did finally quit, but by then she had done left and took up with somebody else. So here I was.
I felt the sweat trickle down my back as I stared out over the acre of waist high weeds that was smack in the middle of nowhere, smack in the middle of the 16 acres my granddaddy left me right before he died.
I reached over and pulled a beer out of the Styrofoam cooler I had sitting in the passenger seat, popped the top, and sat contemplating the field of weeds. The tall grasses were already brown and raspy from the heat and no rain. The devil’s tongues were tall and green with red blushes and stickers that’d go right through jeans and into your hide like a pincushion full of hot needles. Devil’s tongues always grow where nothin’ else will. Yellow sunflowers stretched up over it all, having clamored up over the fray, curious to see what was up there. It was as if they had give it all just to see what was going on, but then were disappointed at the view of all the mess and chaos and so just give up, their heads drooping a little
Grandaddy would be spinning in his grave if he knew this field looked like this. When I was just a young’n, Mama would bring me here and there was always a field of corn or beans or peas or okra, every row as straight as if he’d planted them using a plumb line, everything tall and green and lush. He always had a bushel of something for Mama, even before Daddy ran off, but he sho nuff did after Daddy up and left. We never went hungry, even if it was just snap beans or okra. We may not have ‘et high on the hog, but we for sho didn’t starve neither.
And now look at it. A goat would starve in this field. Or get ‘et. Grandaddy used to try to teach me how to farm, how to grow things, how to make the land give up something to be ‘et, even if that old black clay was as stingy as the devil himself. I think he was hoping I’d take over and keep this patch turning out food someday, but I was 12 way back then and thought farming was for suckers. Then Grandaddy died and his land all went to hell, but ‘specially while I was locked up down in Huntsville. But I’m out now. I give up smoking. But not before Amy give up on me.
I looked at the beer in my hand. I done very nearly give up alcohol too, but not quite. It was the one thing I inherited from Daddy, other than being worthless. Mama used to tell me I wasn’t, but all you had to do was look at Daddy to know he was about as worthless as they come. And ever’body says I’m the spittin’ image of him. His worthlessness is in my blood as sure as this beer is in my blood or these cracks are in this clay.
I slid out of the truck and down on to the ground and I could feel even through my ol’ wore out boots that the ground was hard as concrete. It was covered over here and there with thin pads of dead grass, bleached nearly white from the sun. Two inch wide cracks spread out all over the black clay, like a windshield shattered by a rock, before getting’ swallered up by the weeds. I’m sick and damn tired of being worthless, but I’ll be damned if I know how to go about turning this patch of weeds into a field of anything anybody’d want.
How barren can a man be? Baked by the sun of his own worthlessness, the weeds of his lesser self flourishing, while the bounty of what he could be withering and passing away into the nothingness of baked clay. Cigarettes and alcohol and foolishness growing and crowding out what should be there instead; the love of a woman, that look in her eye when she looks at you proudly, that way she touches your arm when you’re too tired to even get up off the front porch step, all your strength laying out there in that field you just plowed or seeded or harvested. But that little touch … that little look … the way she tucks her hair behind her ear and just sits next to you on the step, waiting for you to have enough strength to talk again. She doesn’t realize that that IS what gives you the strength. It is that touch, that look, that smile that keeps you moving forward, keeps you getting up after getting knocked down, keeps you taming a field that the devil is hell bent on taking away from you.
But Amy’s gone now. She got tired of the foolishness. She got tired of me.
And now it’s hard to get back up after being knocked down.
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