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September 02

The Drought
Veronica L. Harryman
...she could see the brittle, wheat-colored wasteland that used to be her garden.

Agnes 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 months ago.

Agnes poured 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, it’s just a cold," he replied, his voice thick and nasally. "It’ll 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 can’t do that," Arthur replied. "We’ve already used our water for today, and it won’t be fair for me to have more."
"There’s 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 didn’t notice.
When her lungs were clear, she continued, "You’re sick and need the fluids. I’ll just do without coffee in the morning, and we’ll never miss the water."
"You’re so good to me," Arthur said, then popped two aspirin and two Sudafed into his mouth, washing them down with half a glass of water.
"It’s 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. You’ll 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 weren’t 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 husband’s 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 Arthur’s side of the bed didn’t stir. She leaned over and nudged him a couple of times, but still he didn’t stir.
As she made her way downstairs, the faint sound of thunder could be heard rumbling in the distance, but Agnes didn’t 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." <>

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