“It won’t rain, not today.”
Emelia squints at the dark clouds in the distance. She can feel the rumble from them in her bones, but she knows not to question her grandma. It will rain when Grandma Rose says it will rain. She turns her attention back to the pile of pintos she is sorting, removing the rocks and misshapen ones, leaving behind the smooth speckled beans. When she is done she sweeps them all into the pot and takes them to the sink to be rinsed.
She does this for Grandma Rose now. She does a lot of things the older lady use to do effortlessly, but with each passing day, as Emelia grows stronger, it seems like Grandma Rose grows more frail. It scares her, but she would never say this out loud. She knows it is only her who is afraid of the spectre of death that looms.
“Go, feed the chickens, the beans will not boil for a while now.”
Emelia crosses to the door and exchanges her kitchen apron for her outdoor apron. Once outside, she can feel the electricity in the air from the distant rumble of thunder. It has been so dry this year. Drier than she can remember it being in the past, when she was younger and the rain would come every afternoon in short spurts. Then the garden could be watered with the rain that was collected off the roof.
There is no garden this year, just a dry plot of earth. Emelia didn’t have the time to plant it this year, between her job in the city and taking care of Grandma Rose. The gate to the chicken yard screeches when she opens it, dust in the hinges, impossible to keep out when the wind blows the way it does. Only a half a dozen scraggly hens come to greet her as she scatters seed out for them to eat. There use to be more. A dozen or so hens, a rooster, an ornery nanny goat, but time has whittled away at the farm like it has whittled away at Grandma Rose. It makes her ache for what was and dread what will come.
“When the time comes, let your Uncle have the farm. You do not need to be hanging onto this place when you have your life in the city. Let him have it, good riddance.” Grandma Rose spits on the ground.
They are sitting on the porch now, Emelia watching the storm clouds that march their way across the desert. Her Uncle is Grandma Rose’s first born, a bitter cold man with little love in his heart. She hates the thought of him getting his hands on the farm, even if it is where he was raised too. She still feels like it belongs more to her than to him. After all, he had abandoned it all those years ago. It’s what her mother did as well, abandoned the farm and her along with it. And now, she would as well, when Grandma Rose was no longer there to call her back to it.
“Take one of the old jars and fill it with dirt from the garden. Take it with you, that way this place will never forget you belong here.” Grandma Rose had told her, before she had left to go to college.
The jar sat on her bedroom dresser throughout the entire ordeal. Through every dorm room to her first apartment till Grandma Rose had called her back home to the farm.
“Emelia, I need you to come home, just for a little while, till I am gone. It won’t be long now.” Grandma Rose’s voice sounded so frail on the phone that day, nothing like the strong voice that scolded her through childhood or soothed away her fears. She had come, of course she had. She had never failed to do what Grandma Rose had asked, for she asked so little.
“Don’t leave the glass too close to the edge.”
Emelia pushes the small glass of water closer to the center of the nightstand by Grandma Rose’s bed then returns to the task of tucking her in. She pulls up the quilt, hand-sewn by Rose, and smoothes it down like the woman once did for her, all those many years ago.
“I love you, my Emilia Rose.” Her grandma whispers when Emelia leans over to press a kiss to her forehead.
Emelia whispers the sentiment back, voice softer than the wind through the pines around the house.
It’s a flash of lightning that wakes Emelia, quickly followed by the deep rumble of thunder. She lays still, listening for something she can’t voice. The rain starts slow, a ping here and there on the tin roof, then it starts in earnest. A steady roar across the desert filling all the spaces in the house. Emelia glances at the clock before sitting up and swinging her legs to the floor. Grandma Rose was right, the rain did not come yesterday. It came early in the morning today, before the sun was high enough to cast the clouds in grey light. She moves quickly, throwing on a robe and padding barefoot across the hall to Grandma Rose’s room.
She crosses to the bed and lays a hand across her grandmother’s forehead, then quietly she kneels by the bed and reaches to turn on the lamp. She holds the hand that held hers all these years and lets the sky weep for her. Thunder rolls in her chest.
Grandma Rose use to tell her, when she was young and easily frightened, “Don’t be afraid of the thunder, my Emelia Rose. That is only God speaking to us, in words we can’t yet understand.”