She had made a poor job of hiding the damage.
She had made a poor job of hiding the damage. The awning creaked as it swung lightly in the breeze, but the metal rings that held it were caked with rust. Marnie played in the dust beside the door, pushing small blocks of wood through it like the Matchbox cars Crystal had played with as a child.
“Thirsty, Ma,” Marnie said and turned her brown eyes up.
Crystal sighed. “Water comes later, peanut.” She had forgotten and used that nickname again. There were no peanuts. Not for years.
“Not a peanut.” Marnie turned back to her blocks of wood and made putting noises between dry lips.
The far side of the house needed work after the last dust storm so Crystal toted the old wood around the corner. She stooped and pulled three nails out of a broken board. She forgot Marnie, forgot the past, and forgot how thirsty she was. She pulled and hammered, her mind blank of anything but the work.
From a distance, the chug of an engine came to her ears and she straightened up with a grimace. The water? So early? Five steps brought her around the front of the house again. Marnie stood, one dusty finger to her lips, and watched the wagon come across the plains, smoke belching black from its smokestack. Crystal put a hand on her shoulder and waited.
The wagon chugged to a stop and steam blasted from the engine on the back. A man, backlit by the late sun, tipped his hat as he peered down at her.
“Water delivery stopped by order of the Senate. You’ve won a spot in the Halls. Get your things.”
Crystal took Marnie’s hand and shielded her eyes against the light. She opened her mouth to speak.
“Can’t answer any questions,” the man said with a brusk shake of his head. “Get your things and come or don’t. Five minutes.” He propped one boot up on the wagon board and scratched under his hat. “Make no difference to me.”