Somewhere Else

THE RAIN. IT DIDN’T MATTER anymore. Whether the rain came or the rain didn’t come. It was just us. For miles around, there was nothing alive excepting grass shoots that emerged from the soil here and there. The taters if they existed at all were hardly alive.

“We used to pray for this,” my Grandmama said. We were in the cottage, and the door was open. The rain rolled from the roof to the ground where each drop joined a river of water heading down towards what had been our patch. 

Last time anything edible grew on our bit of land was nearly a year before. Instead, my Papa and I would walk the mile or so into the village and collect the corn that the government was distributing now that the crops failed two years in a row. It was from America, and we pulled the wagon with the bushels that were our allotment each week.

We still had some of our own small potatoes and turnips and parsnips and some salted pork we’d managed from the pigs we slaughtered before they starved.

When too many of us were gone to the city, they only let us come in once every fortnight to get the corn, but there was still enough, barely, to see us through till our next trip.

Now the rain was just something to watch as it rolled in across the pins to the west. Enough as always to make things look green. Livestock might be able to eat the grass but we couldn’t and we had no livestock anymore that could anyway.

It was just me and Grandmama. She was so much older than her years, transparent skin barely covering her bones and stooped over. The others were just gone. Plots for them dug out back.

She didn’t need to say it. We all waited too long. My Papa was a religious man. “The Lord will see us through,” he said when a neighbor would ask when we were leaving. Neighbors never asked one another if they were leaving. It was always when. The others had pretty much gone before Christmas, before the really cold weather. Several were kind enough to give us some of what they’d been storing up for the winter. “We can’t take it with us and hope it’ll see you through” they’d say, and my Papa and I would pull our wagon—the horses long since dead—down the pitted road and load it up and bring it back and shovel it into the circular silo out back.

The next day or the day after that, the neighbor and his family would pass by—they never had horses neither—with walking sticks and whatever they could carry on their backs and with platforms they could pull so the little ones could sit bundled up. They wouldn’t stop, afraid they’d never start up again, as they headed to town some miles from our village where the government set up places for them to try to make it through till spring, when they could head somewhere else.

“Somewhere else,” they’d always say when we asked where they were headed and soon we stopped asking. “When you coming?” and some would wave for us to join ‘em, but my Papa’d laugh and say, “I have faith in the Lord.” They’d shake their heads and move along to wherever their somewhere else was.

Their landlords didn’t bother with their places anymore. There was nothing to be done about them. Goats and cows might move in, but there weren’t any of those anymore. Maybe they could get some fools to try planting again come spring. Everyone knew only a fool would do that, after two failed crops and no seeds to sow anyway. 

Papa died not much after the last of our neighbors passed. He went quietly. Down, down, down till he was skin and bones and one morning was nothing but skin and bones and whatever the Lord planned for him was done. 

After Papa died, Mama said “maybe we best try to go ourselves,” but it was deep cold then and she was too weak anyway and died a week or so after he did. 

We—it was only my Grandmama and me by then—couldn’t dig a grave for either of them till the ground thawed and we laid her beside him, out back and close to the house, both wrapped in blankets. There was no point in heading to the village. The priest had long since gone with the others. So, when my Papa died my Grandmama—he was her boy—said some prayers with me and we did the same when Mama was gone.

They were lying out back and I thought them might haunt us but they never did, though some snow came through one day and I brushed it off their corpses which set me to crying till my Grandmama called me from the doorway and told me to come in or I’d end up like them and then where we would she be?

I was weak but young. Grandmama was weak and old, as I said. 

I didn’t know how to read back then but it didn’t much matter since there was nothing to read excepting a bible and by the time of my eighteenth year I knew that whatever salvation it offered would not be of this earth. My Grandmama didn’t read either, but she sometimes told me stories she was told when she was a girl from the bible. They were the only stories she knew, and we were desperate to have something to talk about in the long nights other than how hard things had become and how bad it was that Papa and Mama were gone.

She wouldn’t surrender, though. She’d been born in this house and expected she’d die there. When we lay down, the rain was still pounding down. It was dark, but I knew more and more of the soil, the useless soil, was washing away. 

In the morning, though, it was a new day. The sky was cloudless and blue. It was February but felt like spring. 

“‘Tis time,” she said. We sat at the two chairs we still had that gave us a view outside. Her voice was very low, but I was used to that. A panic ran through me, and I reached in for her slight, bony hand.

“I know what I been sayin’,” she said, looking at the mud in what was left of our yard, “but ‘tis time to go.”

I gripped her hand more tightly.

“You can’t be going, Grandmama. You can’t leave me alone.”

I could make out a smile. “I reared a fool, I tink,” she said, turning to look at me. “‘The Lord will see us through.’ Look where that got him. And your Mama. Poor girl. It ain’t happening to you and it ain’t happening to me.”

“But this plot and the village. They’re all you’ve known.”

“It’s all I knows, aye, but that don’t mean it’s all I can know. I’ll die here and then you will die here if we stay. It’s warming up, it is. ‘Tis time. God willing, we’ll be free of this bit of hell. I been too much a fool for too long and it wouldn’t be so bad if I have to pay for it, but you shouldn’t.”

There was little to collect. The ground was soft enough for me to dig holes deep enough from my ma and pa. After I covered them up and put makeshift crosses on the two graves, grandma and I said prayers and then went back into the house. Not much there beyond some old, torn clothing that fit into a satchel and a walking stick that’d been around forever. It took us hours and hours and miles and miles with the sun burning down on us, but we slowly made it to the outskirts of the big town. We were seen by a farmer with a wagon who brought us in, and from there we began our journey to somewhere else.