Eating Dirt

The boy played in the dirt yard. His mottled back was bare as the wind blasted fields around the house. He sifted the loose dirt like flour through his fingers until it drifted and faded into the breeze. He chewed his thumbnail, ground tiny rocks between his teeth, and spat out the remains, skin and rock together.

The boy’s mother rocked the porch swing to passively fan herself. Lines creviced her face, eroded by a flaccid life, a seeped-out balloon. Her hair tied back by a faded blue ribbon, she watched her boy as he rolled the dirt between his fingers, crushed it in his palms.

“Ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” he said then laughed as if he wanted to cry.

“Your Daddy says he’ll get a job.”

The boy wrote his name in the dirt. “Doing what?”

“Down to the chicken house.”

“That’s work for trash.”

“It’s getting to the point where we is trash.”

“Y’all maybe.” The boy threw a handful of dirt at the porch. “Not me.”

“You just don’t understand, son.”

“I understand plenty.”

“You ain’t acting like it.” She fanned herself with an open hand. “That’s what they been teaching you at school, sass?”

“Don’t matter what I learned. Ain’t going back.”

She stopped swinging. “What’s that?”

“Ain’t going back. They kicked me out. Said I’m a troublemaker.”

“Lord help me,” she said. “It don’t rain but it pours.”

“It ain’t rained in forever. Ain’t you noticed?”

“Don’t you sass me, boy.” She heard the tinny rumble of their truck. “Daddy’s home.”

The boy spotted his father’s truck–-a sky-blue, Chevy long-bed. A clouded cocoon encased the truck as it rambled toward the shack. The truck sputtered to a stop beside the house. The father, a disjointed man with ramshackled limbs, climbed out. He had big, thick hands, calluses strung across the palms, with stubs for fingers. He wore thick boots. He carried a brown paper bag.

“Did you get the job?” the mother asked.

The daddy grinned. “Something like that.”

“Come here and hug my neck.” As she hugged him, glass bottles clattered inside the paper bag. “What’s that you got?” she asked.

Daddy pulled out a bottle. “I got us all a Co-cola to celebrate.”

“Let us pray to God for what he has given us.”

“While you’re praying,” Daddy said. “I’ll get us a bottle opener.” He disappeared into the house.

The boy stood unmoving in the dirt. The wind had grown strong enough to blow his hair. He felt the vibration of far away thunder as he looked to the heavens.

The daddy brought out three drinks in one hand and the opener in the other. “Don’t he want no Co-cola?”

“Reckon he might,” she said. “He done been kicked out of school again.”

“Again?”

“He don’t have the spirit of the Lord in him.”

“He just don’t listen. They say he’s smart, but he don’t act like it. My daddy,” the father said, “he always said that our children is our blessing and our curse. From the moment they’re born, you know you’re going to die, and the children do everything in their power to see it happens.”

The boy shrugged off his mother and daddy’s words. They’d said it all before. A cooling raindrop fell on his shoulder as he looked to the blackened clouds. “It’s raining.”

“Raining!” The father danced, beating the wooden planks with his heavy boots. “I’ll be damned.”

“Salvation done snuck up on us,” the mother said. “Come up here, son. Let’s have us a Co-cola and give thanks.”

The boy kicked the dirt turned to mud by thick drops of rain. A shaft of lightning streaked yellow across the sky, and the heavens seemed to open up, rains falling in sharply angled sheets that soaked him to the bone.

“Better get the ark,” the boy said, then ambled onto the porch. He opened a bottle and let the soda flood his mouth, cooling his dry, parched thirst. “It don’t rain but it pours,” he said and laughed so they couldn’t see him cry.

 

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