In the fourth year of the drought, Boyd built a rain barrel. She was technically a senior in high school, but she was homeschooled, as her mother thought it a better educational model to read Wendell Berry in the woods, Edward Abbey in the desert, Thoreau by the receding shore of their lake. Their next door neighbor, half a mile up the road, made organic soap for a living, and had oils delivered in drums. An empty drum washed ashore one afternoon in March, and by the beginning of April, Boyd had scrubbed it, coated it with waterproof paint, and set it at the corner of the house where the garage gutters drained.
But it did not rain, so Boyd had time to study the barrel. She did not like the green she had painted it, as the house was on a down-slope and the green cut into the sky, so she repainted the drum, blue this time, the matte blue of the bonnet, of the vein in the crook of her wrist. There was a scrim of water one morning on the lid, and she knew that mosquitoes laid eggs in nothings, in slips, in waters the depth of eggshells. She turned the barrel on its side, cut a hole and lined it with wire screen, built a stand so that it would not roll down the hill. Dew no longer collected on the top.
That was the year a mosquito could shrink a baby’s head, the year we poisoned our children in Flint, the year we sprayed millions of gallons into the ground to loose the gas instead. That was the year we were arrested for looting when lakes fell and towns emerged. There was a fire just east of the capital and the smoke dusted everything. The wind took the fire and unfurled it, a motion like the casting of dice.
Still no rain, and so Boyd worked instead on the network of gutters, lining the eaves of the entire house so that one half inch of rain would fill the fifty gallon bucket. She did not wait for the rain but planted anyway. She planted Big Boy tomatoes, celebrities, yellow pear tomatoes, all from starts, all already bearing fruit on the branches. She planted rosemary and oregano, the fragrance attaching itself to her fingers, then to her clothes, then to linens and furniture and dishes until she tasted the herbs in meals when she had not added them, smelled them in her shampoo. She scattered a handful of pole beans across a cleared patch, the beans clicking as they hit the parched earth. “Be fruitful,” she told the beans. “Multiply.” She watered them into their new home with the hose, and still it had not rained.
There were no bees that year, so the blooms wouldn’t fruit. She took a paintbrush to the plants early one morning, spreading pollen from blossom to blossom. The grackles gathered and she built a scarecrow from an old pair of jeans and a flannel shirt, and she attached a pair of her mother’s old Nikes to the empty holes at the ankles.
When the drought broke in the third week of May, when the rains finally came, they broke every river for hundreds of miles. Houses floated off moorings and children were never found. When Boyd returned to her garden, the scarecrow was missing one shoe, and there were footprints in the mud, circling, circling. In the ball of the footprint, the swish symbol of a running shoe, and the other shoe, the one the scarecrow still wore, crusted with mud.
But the barrel was full and when the mud dried, she watered the garden. As she knelt over the tomatoes, the pole beans wrapped tendrils around her shoulders. “Yes, yes,” she swatted the beans and broke the tendrils. The next day, the tendrils wrapped around her wrists.
And then the bees came, having been called, a cumulonimbus of bees that enveloped her head. They stung her on cheeks, in the hollow of her neck, in the rise of her collarbone. In the sky, the mockingbirds. In the earth, the stone.
Nancy Wayson Dinan holds an MFA from the Ohio State University. She’s currently a PhD student at Texas Tech University, where she serves as a managing editor for Iron Horse Literary Review. Recent work has appeared in The Texas Observer, Watershed Review, and elsewhere.