Nebraska held few landmarks before the blast. We navigated then by corn and wheat fields, by the occasional mail box, the direction of the power lines, the heavy smog to the east that indicated metropolitan life. The road I took to work each morning took me straight in, no twists, no hills. It was a hike, but I wanted my kids to grow up in the open, to understand that life wasn’t about always being entertained.
Ellen used to take the water glass Linny would fill for her, and sip it. There was a dirt wallow in the side yard, beneath a spreading old hickory that had been struck by lightning twice during our tenure, and she’d sit in the dirt and dig down through the poor top soil. She’d dig until she found something like clay. Then she’d add some water and work it tirelessly. Sometime an hour or more, until it felt just right in her little hands. Swiftly it would take the shape of something she saw in her mind. A rabbit or dog. A horse’s head. A figure. A tree.
When she was done she would look at it a moment and smile, and then she’d squish it up and start over.
She never needed to show, only to do.
I told Anna about her as we lay in Anna’s bed one afternoon, sweat drying on our skin.
“You should get her some clay,” she said in her sweet, soft voice. It had a thick undertone that I knew I’d put there.
“Clay? Like play-dough?”
She laughed. “No, silly. Real modeling clay. Like this,” she climbed out of bed, the late sun sliding down her back and over her bare ass like honey. She crossed to the drafting table against the far wall, moved aside a blank canvas, an armature, a coffee mug full of paint brushes and printed with “I woke up like this” and found a package. She came back, and I watched the sun spill over her heavy breasts and rounded belly. I couldn’t hide my lust for her, or my admiration. I couldn’t be with her, and I couldn’t be without her.
“Give her this.”
I opened the folded waxed paper to find six little flesh colored blocks. Small, but surprisingly heavy.
“It’s called polymer clay. Won’t make a mess, and she can sculpt it over and over, or she can make something and bake it in the oven to cure it.” Her green eyes sparked. “You know, make it hard.”
The clay was forgotten when I reached up and clasped the back of her neck beneath a curtain of red hair, and pulled her mouth hard against mine. Because that was what Anna did to me.
Those kinds of memories never faded. They lived like bee stings under the skin, and as unpleasant the knowledge it was gone was the sweetness of what had been.
I tapped the compass and searched for East. There was no sun, no bright spot through the ash cloud, or whatever it was that blanketed us. The hickory tree was gone. And that side of the house was gone, as well.
Finally satisfied I was headed in the right direction, I set off, Hope following behind.