could see the brittle, wheat-colored wasteland that used to be her garden.
Keller walked around the kitchen gathering medicines to take to
her husband, Arthur, who was in bed with a cold. She placed a bottle
of aspirin and a bottle of Sudafed on a plastic tray, then walked
to the refrigerator to get some water. As she took the plastic jug
from the fridge, the label on it caught her eye as it always did.
It still seemed surreal to see the U.S. Government label even though
the water had been coming that way since the rationing began six
a glass of water and placed it on the tray, crushed out her cigarette
and lit another, then picked up the tray and headed upstairs toward the
bedroom. As she walked by the kitchen door, her slippers scraping across
the linoleum, she paused for a moment to look outside. In the pale moonlight,
she could see the brittle, wheat-colored wasteland that used to be her
garden. In the mornings, before the drought, she had liked to sit in the
garden alone and have a couple cups of coffee and a few cigarettes. It
was her way of getting acclimated to the day. She would make a mental
note of all the things she needed to get done, as well as mull over the
events of the previous day, a kind of self-inventory. But now, there was
no garden, and the water shortage made it difficult to have one cup of
coffee, let alone two.
As she entered the room, Arthur pushed himself into a half-sitting position.
His eyes were red and watery, as was his nose.
"How are you feeling?" she asked.
"Aw, its just a cold," he replied, his voice thick and
nasally. "Itll run its course in a couple of days."
"Well, I brought you some medicine and water," she told him
as she sat the tray on the nightstand.
"I cant do that," Arthur replied. "Weve already
used our water for today, and it wont be fair for me to have more."
"Theres no need arguing with me!" Agnes said sharply,
then burst into a coughing spasm. The coughs sounded wet as phlegm gurgled
in her throat. Ashes from her cigarette dropped on the floor, but she
When her lungs were clear, she continued, "Youre sick and need
the fluids. Ill just do without coffee in the morning, and well
never miss the water."
"Youre so good to me," Arthur said, then popped two aspirin
and two Sudafed into his mouth, washing them down with half a glass of
"Its strange how a cold can make everything taste funny, even
water," Arthur said, smiling thinly.
Agnes patted his leg and smiled back. Her brown teeth were barely visible
behind her wrinkled lips.
"Finish the water and get some sleep. Youll feel better in
the morning," Agnes said as she slid her bluish legs under the cover.
After Arthur had drunk down the last of the water, Agnes turned out the
lights. In the darkness, she watched as the ember of her cigarette glowed
brighter with each puff. She never really liked smoking in the dark. Not
being able to see the ghostly plumes of smoke as she exhaled made her
feel as if she werent smoking at all.
When the cigarette butt was too short and hot to hold, she stubbed it
out in the large marble ashtray she kept on her bedside table and lay
back on per pillow, listening as her husbands soft breathing turned
into snoring. Then she rolled over and went to sleep immediately, her
weariness swallowing her.
In the dim morning light, Agnes sat up and fumbled for her cigarettes.
The disorientation of sleep had not yet faded, and she knocked off the
marble ashtray, which hit the hardwood floor with a loud CLANG-ANG-ANG-ANG.
She turned to see that the lump of covers on Arthurs side of the
bed didnt stir. She leaned over and nudged him a couple of times,
but still he didnt stir.
As she made her way downstairs, the faint sound of thunder could be heard
rumbling in the distance, but Agnes didnt notice. She was thinking
how nice it would be to have a couple cups of coffee and a cigarette.
© Veronica Harryman October 2002
"Harryman, Veronica L." <firstname.lastname@example.org>
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