Hunger is Almost a Language

“I could pot one,” Isaac had said.

“And you could probly wing another before they had your guts out and feeding ants,” Her father said. “So, for once, keep it in your goddamned pants.” Ida Eastwill would remember that until her dying day. She would remember the hot sun, and how heavy and useless the rifle felt and how all she could think of was the baby in the crib in the house behind them. Eighty-seven years later, as she lay in a bed smelling of camphor and iodine, she would remember it, remember her husband Isaac saying that foolish thing, and her father’s odd, accidental rhyme and how it almost made her giggle, and she would remember her fear, not for herself but for her baby lying alone in the dark of the house behind them.

She would remembered this and the dust rising above the ridge, and the noise of hooves moving beyond it, of the keening of sorrow that came in snatches in the breeze. She would remember four men on dappled horses riding down the ridge toward them, guns across the horse withers, one of the men holding the red, white, and blue flag.

And she remembered one of them, a boy younger than she, saying “father asks if you have food?”

An old man with a white streak in his hair held up his hand, and it had bills that fluttered in the breeze. “We will pay,” the boy said.

“No food,” her father said.

“Potatoes, hundred dollars,” Her mother said over him.

“Jesus Christ, woman!”

“Mind your tongue.

“Hundred dollars,” her mother said again. She laid her rifle in the wagon bed.

The man with the streak spoke to the boy, who nodded and said, “We will buy three sacks for a hundred dollars.”

“One sack, hundred dollars.”

“We starve,” the old man said. He was still holding the money in the breeze.

“One sack, hundred dollars,” Ida’s mother said.

The old man dropped his hand to his side. He sat on the shifting horse for a long time. The breeze was brisk and cool in the hot son. Her father was sweating, she could smell the sourness of it. The breeze shifted his hair, and it fluttered the flag and the old man’s gray streak.  Her baby started its mewling cry in the house behind them, and her breasts tingled, and the milk begin to flow.

“Fifty.” Gray Steak said, “We starve.”

“Fifty, half sack.”

“We starve,” the old man said.

No one said anything. She felt the milk wetting her shirt. The baby was crying.

The four riders turned their heads toward the house.

“Hungry that one,” Gray Streak said, he motioned with his lips. No one said anything.

“Seventy-five, one sack,” her mother said.

The old man sat still, then nodded.

“Need mother-milk,” he said, he motioned with his lips toward the house again, the crying baby. His eyes were on Ida, not quite an accusation, not quite a sorrow.

Ida had released the cock of her rifle, and she went into the house.

This story was posted, as were most writings on this blog, on the day it was drafted.

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