by Ashley Donnelly

I’ll always remember the year our farm turned to dust. Once grassy and fertile fields became snaking sand dunes in just months. Dust piles leaned against each west-facing wall. Everything soon began to peek out of the ground like old sun-bleached bones. I remember dust gradually swallowing Daddy’s tiller in the scrubby front yard. It was endless. It snuck through the walls, through sealed windows and doors. It snuck through the damp cloths we wore over our faces. It turned to mud in the lungs of our cattle, drowning them thickly.

Soon enough, our only neighbors were scrawny leafless trees and the wind-dried corpses of livestock; dead things attempting to convince us that life did indeed exist here, once. Color faded from view, from thought. Everything took on a gray tinge. My once pink-rosed sack dress was soon gray-pink. Momma’s once caramel-brown hair turned gray-brown. Daddy’s once bright blue eyes became just gray.

I remember Momma sweeping piles of dust out of the house every other hour. I remember Daddy staring at the horizon every single hour. The wind blew against his face, filling his wrinkles with dust. He became lost out there, smoking his pipe filled with dirt and stale tobacco, slowly rocking in the skeletal porch swing. Its rusty chains creaked back and forth, back and forth in the growling wind.

One afternoon Daddy spotted a large black storm cloud on the horizon. We were by now afraid to hope for rain. As the cloud crawled closer we couldn't help but imagine cool clean salvation dripping from the sky, just as it used to. And the water wouldn’t run straight over the field, too rich and quick for the weak soil to hold. No sir, not this time. Each drop would fall deep into the earth, a nourishing feast for the roots of our desperate crops. The cloud loomed closer still and we saw its true shade: gray-brown. I nervously pulled loose threads from the hem of my sack dress. Momma swept and wept. Daddy smoked and stared. It was just another dust storm.