Parched (a work in progress)

PARCHED

Marith and her children came twenty three miles the day before. Twenty three miles across the dusty, dry, scrub covered prairie, dragging their feet only the last hour, only after the captain had sent word down the line of wagons that they’d be stopping shortly, all lifting their eyes beyond the trail in front of them and searching the near horizon for willow bushes or tall cottonwoods promising shade, fresh water, and a deep rest.
There was no evidence of water, no shade, just stunted, twisted sagebrush, and occasional yucca plants with large ant mounds between. Their hearts sunk. They would rest in the shade of their wagon, take careful sips from their water barrel, chew some pemmican and dried apricots, then sleep the sleep of the dead until the captain called start in the morning.

Marith had five living children. She had begun this trek with six. Her baby, Lura, had died in the third week, only two months old. Marith’s milk had dried up with the arduous march, and though her dairy cow held up and produced buckets of milk each day, Lura’s tiny stomach could not digest it. She sucked and sucked on the milk soaked tea towel Marith offered her during the day, only to vomit it up. It was painful and slow, the death of this beautiful, starving child, and Marith’s mind shifted from great enthusiasm for a new life in Oregon to a dread that all the promises had been lies.

She was tired and heart sick; her soul depleted. She fed the children, looked long into her husband’s eyes, then lay down to sleep, determined that tomorrow would be better.

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