flashed fiction: the arroyos in march
"What'll it be," to the stranger. Feather-light breezy voice she hadn't heard from her lips in ages. With it the ache of days long thought dead.
"Water, my sweet."
"In this hole? Step to the well outside, if it's water you want, don't you think?"
He smiled the sweet green grass back again: new mown hay, full moon over a hayed field, saltcedar sweat on the skin, glistening. "Company's better in here."
"Is it now?" Just a touch of flirtation in the question, but playful, bird of prey flown the coop. "I don't know you from Adam."
Brotherman smiled at the reference. Lovely irony in the ear of that beholder.
"True that, sister."
That sister plunked at some rusty heartstrings. "You know we ain't exactly the welcoming kind here, don't you?"
"I've been told. I don't take much to gossip."
"Knives and broken bottles ain't exactly gossip, fair man."
Fair man chuckled. Sweet Bess wondered if anything could get a rise out of him. With that thought a heartrending ache pierced palms and feet. She staggered for a moment behind her wall, kept her feet. Drew the glass of water, set it before the stranger.
"Another glass, if you please. Empty."
"Something to chase it?"
He smiled again, the sweetest fall aspens burning. A smile that could light centuries, she thought.
"Something for you," he said.
"My lucky day. I don't get many." She set the empty glass beside his.
"That's a shame. That sixteen-year-old heart was big as any full moon I've ever seen."
The words were meant as a gift, she knew it, but they pierced her side like the sharpened blade she kept behind the bar for the Saturday night ee-jits. That second babe she'd given up to the Fist of God, dark hair on olive face sleeping in death's hold from the ready, not even that pain had pierced as deep.
"Brother, I ain't never - "
"I get fuzzy feelings is all. Sometimes I'm off, more often, well, so many of us have been there."
"Your heart been to the grave already, too, brother?"
"Give it time. I ain't special. My travail's bound to come."
She had no idea what to do with all this talk, all this mirror in her face, all this sudden ache to live again. She glanced at the empty glass. "I don't see no canteen by your side there, strangerman. Snake oil, perhaps?"
"Drink up," he said.
"Mighty light, from what I can see. Can't shit a shitter. You oughta know that."
"Plenty more where that came from, girl. Drink your fill."
Crazy as it seemed, she half believed the man, half wanted to reach out and drink deep. She was damned tired of all the world she could see: she'd long felt it was time for the blind man's reach.
"This miracle water got a name?"
Three quail fluttered in her chest. She wobbled as she reached. Tears mixed with the joy that wanted to do its dance.
Mama raised her better, but she let it slop all down her front, flashflooding creek running down the arroyo of her breasts.
Drank three, she did. Gulping through the rain of tears, she fingered the rough hand that lay on the bar.
"Like to take some home," she whispered.
"More than welcome. Got a whole truckload. But - "
Sour taste in her throat. "Oh, now we come to the scam. Samples is free, but now - "
"Easy, girl. No scam. Just one price, my sweet."
The green grass in his breath calmed her heart again.
She surprised herself with her answer: "Anything. Anything."
The stranger smiled a rainbowed sun her way, tipped an invisible hat and slid the glass across the dissolving mahogany.
"Exactly," he said, as he backed away, the rush of spring flooding all the precincts. "Exactly."
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