Fiction: The Dying of the Light

- Mark Kodama

Cicada swarms darkened the sky and devoured our crops. Rains washed away the rich crimson top soil, making rivers run red. Food shortages followed, the store shelves laid bare and food banks closed. Then the people left. Those that remained became sick. The preacher said judgment day was upon us. Indeed, it was.
Ma was too sick to travel so cousin Jed loaded his truck and headed to California with our families. Maltilda and Tommy went with Jed and his family in our car. I stayed behind to take care of Ma until she was well enough to travel or to bury her if she died.
We owned our farms; we grew enough crops to feed ourselves and to barter for the rest of our needs. There was still running water thank heavens.
I watched the windmill turning, pumping water from the underground spring. It was the only water clean enough to drink these days. Had to boil it though.
The wind – the damn wind – sounded like banshees howling in the night when it whistling through the windows and doors at night. Ma and Danny believed in spirits, ghosts and an afterlife. They said ghosts still haunt the ol’ Ridley farm where ol’ man Ridley shot his wife and hisself.
Pa and I never believed in superstitions. We always figured that was jus’ fear and wishful thinking. When you wuz gone; you wuz jus’ gone.
Young’ins was always leaving our town for greener pastures and the big cities. Never thought whole families would leave. Mr. Weitz who owned the local grocery closed his store during the summer and moved to Chicago with his family.
All there are now are ghosts. Ghosts of the past and living ghosts. Middle-aged people like me with no future only memories. One time, not long ago, the sky was so blue and the grass was green. Now red dust covered everything.
Preacher Thomas says it is divine retribution for our sinful ways. The scientists say it is global warming caused by our failure to take care of our planet. All I know’d is our Garden of Eden has turned to dust.
I used to watch documentaries about the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl on the History Channel. It seems odd that history has repeated itself.
Clem, the sheriff, drove up in his dusty old pickup truck. His truck dipped and pitched as he rumbled up the straight dirt road passed our family graveyard yard where Pa, Grandpa, Grandma and Danny rest. A jack rabbit scampered across the dirt road as his truck approached as if in a race.
Dressed in his spotless, ironed brown uniform, at forty, Sheriff Clem still looks like the former high school star quarterback he once was. “Just checking on you and Ma,” Sheriff Clem said through his mirrored aviator sunglasses. You doin’ okay, Billy?”
“We’re fine,” I says. “Ma had a rough one last. Thought I was Pa. But we’re gettin’ by. No use complaining. Only make things worse.”
“You okay with food,” Clem asks. “Got some canned meat.” Ol’ Clem is a good one. He drives around in his pickup truck checking on folks now that his police cruiser is down.
“Well, what you got?” I ask.
“Spam, corned beef, Dinty Moore Stew and more spam,” he says. “You have to be careful with the stew. The cans are expired but I ate one the other day.”
“Well, I’ll take the spam,” I says.
“Help yourself,” he says.
I took an armful and set them on the wood planks of my portico.
“How about some fresh fruits and vegetables?” I says.
“Sure,” he says. I ain’t no charity case. And Clem has a wife and a growing son.
I gave him tomatoes, beans, peppers and apples.
“Much obliged,” he said.
From a distance, I could see a giant red dust cloud blow’n our way. “Looks like another one.”
Sheriff Clem lifted his mirrored sunglasses, raised his right hand to his forehead like a salute, and squinted. “Yeah. It’s goin’ to be a doozy. I better get back to the family, Janey panics when I’m not there. If you need me, call me on the radio.”
I went inside to check on Ma, the floorboards creak’n as I bounded up the steps. The sand blasted the paint from the drying crackin’ boards and the wood columns that held up the roof of the portico. Our gabled two-story farmhouse with a pair of matching dormers once painted white was admired and envied throughout the county.
Sanchez who leased Jed’s land was driving his tractor into his barn. He waved to me from the distance. Danny and me used to swim in Jed’s swimming pool. But that was another world, a lifetime ago. The pool was now empty, covered in dried leaves.
I stacked the canned meat in the pantry. Ma sat up and shuffled to the bathroom with the help of her walker. Her face was grayish white, with dark circles under her eyes and blue lips. She once was so young and pretty. When Danny my older brother died of pneumonia fifteen years ago, she turned old.
“Let me help you Ma,” I says.
“Thank you, Pete. I don’t know where I’d be without ya,” she says. Pete was my Dad. I didn’t have the heart to correct her. It must be a comfort for her to think Pa still took care of her. I straightened the fading family portrait in the Yellow plastic picture frame on her nightstand.
The wind storm was soon upon us. The sky darkened almost like night though it was mid-afternoon. The window shutters and screen door slapped against the house.
“Pete, please check to see if the boys are okay,” she says.
“I will, Sarah,” I says.
“Our sons are such good boys,’ she says. “I worry about their future.”
“They are fine,” I says.
“Have they had enough to eat?” she asks. She sighed and cried. “I didn’t mean to get sick. I’m sorry I let you down.”
“Now, you don’t worry about a thing,” I says. “They are doin’ their homework.”
She smiled, her gray eyes sparkled. She had been listless all week. This was the most animated she had been in a while. Her breathing was labored and then it rattled. I stuffed a wet rag under the door jamb to keep the dust out. 
“You sleep now,” I says.
“I keep having these dreams,” she says. “Hold my hand.”
I held her cold hands. Growing up her hands were always so warm.
“I see us together in a meadow, surrounded by trees” she says. “All is green, except for the flowers. The flowers are bright orange, lavender and red. You can here the bees buzzin’ and the bird chirpin.’ Danny is there too. The only one who is missing is Billy.” She cried. “Where is poor Billy?”
“Hush. You don’t worry about good ol’ Billy. He always takes care of hisself. He is like a cat. He always lands on his feet.”
“He can survive anything,” she says.
I kissed her forehead and she fell asleep. Her breathing became more labored. Finally, she stopped breathing. Those were her last words.
 

Mark Kodama is a trial attorney and former newspaper reporter who lives in Washington, D.C. He is working on Las Vegas Tales, a work of philosophy, told through poems and stories. His 100 short stories, poems and essays have been published in anthologies, literary magazines and journals. He won author of the month at World of Myths for his short story “Land of the Pharaohs” and his “The Summer Camp” appeared in the best of Potato Soup Journal, Vol. 1. He is managing editor of the literary and arts magazine Dastaan World.

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