I used to think tumbleweeds were lost souls, rolling around our barren plains, trying to find someplace to settle, like the rest of us. So when Ma died in 1935 of dust pneumonia with my baby brother still in her belly, I looked and looked for her. I spoke to every tumbleweed that bounced across our property as if it might be my ma. Holding the tangle of branches between my palms, I sang my mother’s lullaby, hoping to find the right words to conjure my mother back from the dead. When I couldn’t find her rolling around our place, I set my cuspids to the harsh truth of life: tumbleweeds ain’t nothing but Russian thistle, uprooted like the rest of us.
In the summer of 1937, I turned twelve. Daddy and I lived in Cimarron County, Oklahoma, right on the edge of No Man’s Land. Lots of folks moved on from that place without even bothering to close their front door, but Daddy said we’d never be no tin cup tourists, so we haunted what used to be our farm and looked for signs of rain on the horizon. All we ever saw was a whole lot of nothing, dusty red and Robin’s egg blue, or else a great wall of black that meant close the windows and seal up the cracks.
Our cows had gone dry and were as skinny as me. Daddy was shooting them—the government paid maybe twelve dollars a head if it was healthy enough to eat; less if it wasn’t. But the earth was too hard to dig them graves so they just stayed right where they died.
“Like a monument to our own rotting flesh,” I said, pinching the skin of my belly.
Daddy said, “Don’t be so dramatic.”
The few neighbors we still had would come around after a cow shoot and scavenge for edible meat. Better protein than pinto beans. On Sundays we had rabbit hunts. Men, women, and children would herd wild rabbits into a corral and smash their skulls with clubs. When great black clouds of grasshoppers filled the skies, we mixed molasses, bran, and arsenic and spread it over the earth. Copses of skeletal trees populated the dead earth and danced in the winds. Flies inhabited our dried-out well.
I prayed we buried Ma’s body deep enough that the winds wouldn’t carry her away.
Daddy said, “Don’t be so dramatic.”
He said, “The winds will settle and the rains will come, and before you know it, Ida Williams, we’ll be back in business.” He said this like he knew it was true, like it had always been true, like he saw the black blizzards coming a mile away and planned even for them. But all I saw of the future was a whole lot of nothing, full of snakes and tarantulas.
For a time, Ma and Daddy were feeding the whole world. A bushel of wheat sold for two whole dollars, enough to make a profit despite the high cost of new machines. But then the war stopped and big red Russia resumed its shipments, and then we all had too much wheat and nowhere to put it. All that was before Black Tuesday, when everybody’s hopes for the future stalled in the skies and hurtled to the earth in the shape of black-suited bodies. Of course, Cimarron was safer than the big cities. Daddy kept an album of newspaper clippings from those years. One from the January 1930 Cimarron News says, “Our ship is coming in!” Another: “Soon you will have your own Empire State Building, right across from Kirby’s Kash Grocery!” But then black mountains started to move on the horizon. The soil we called our own turned on us. The whole entire earth uprooted and pitched into the air like it was trying to get back to heaven, and the people of Cimarron County wept. Dust to dust took on a whole new meaning, and my ma began to pray.
That was all before I was born. All I’d ever known of our farm was barrenness: a wide-open ocean of dust. To me, our farm had always been a graveyard. In the shifting soil, all sorts of lost things were resurrected: wagon wheels from the pioneer days; the plow disc Daddy lost in the fields two years back; an arrowhead, black as night; even a bone. Daddy said it was a vertebra, only much too big to belong to a little prairie dog or coyote.
“Is it human?” I asked.
You can guess what he said to that.
He said it must’ve belonged to a dinosaur; it was that big. He spit brown tobacco juice and it settled in the dust like a glass marble, and all of a sudden the dust-cloaked fence became the long, winding spinal column of an ancient reptilian beast. I could see it writhe under the blistering sun, trying to free its big body from all that dust. With a magnetic shudder, I felt the bone in my hand trying to rejoin its brothers.
We had a 22-36 tractor, a Case combine, and a twelve-foot Grand Detour one-way plow—out of commission, all. The combine was my favorite: a great big ol’ machine that used to roll over the land like a mastodon. Daddy let me play on it so long as I was careful not to accidentally turn it on. He said I was likely to fall under the threshing wheel and become a chopped-up pile of wheat myself.
“Better men have died that way,” he said.
Sometimes I had to remind him that I’m not a man.
“Why we even keeping these big ugly things?” I asked.
“I’m down on my luck, not on my knees,” he said. “Next year things’ll be different. The rain’ll follow the plow.” And he spit and marveled at the great open horizon that held no promise of rain.
Every year Daddy said next year would be different. Every year it was the same. My blanket was cloaked in tawny dirt, the color of the hard, relentless sun, dulled out by dust. There was nothing for us to plow, except for hardpan and dinosaur bones, but I didn’t dare say so.
In my dreams we lived in a field of green that swayed in the breeze like ocean waves. Yellow sunflowers blinked like eyes, and it rained so often we created a lake to store the runoff and keep our fields from drowning. In my dreams, Ma was alive and I had a baby brother named Harold Martin Williams. He looked like a turnip so that’s what I called him. Turnip. We rode on the backs of wild buffalo and ate oranges shipped all the way from California. My clothes were bright white, freshly washed, and had no tears. Wheat won the war, after all.
But then I would wake up and cough and cough, my tongue dry and gritty. Daddy called this “cat tongue.” He didn’t seem worried that I’d die of dust pneumonia like Ma. He didn’t seem worried about anything. “Next year,” he said, like the future would erase the past.
All day long, Daddy sat on the porch spitting tobacco juice. There was nothing for him to farm and no more cows to kill. “It’s a waiting game,” he said. The game was: who could wait the longest, man or the land he lives on? One of us would have to die, and soon. More than one of us already had, but I didn’t say this either.
“It’s the saddest thing,” he said. “When a man can’t work his own land no more. Ain’t that right, Gloria?” He’d started speaking to my ma as if she were in the seat right beside him. “Damn shame,” he said, and spat.
The first time he talked to her, I thought he’d made a mistake and called me by the wrong name. But then he turned his palm up the way he always did with Ma, waiting for her slender hand to fill his large one, and I knew then that his words weren’t meant for me. I sat still and listened, wondering if maybe her voice would break through the dust just as high-pitched as ever. But I didn’t hear anything that first day, and I hadn’t heard anything since. Whoever Daddy was talking to, it wasn’t Ma.
We ran out of bottled gas for cooking, so we used coal and baked cow patties. Our storm cellar was almost empty of potatoes and onions, squash, canned tomatoes, fruit. Sometimes I tried to eat the dust just so to settle my growling belly, but I couldn’t ever swallow. Even my spit was dry. I would have given anything to be able to chew green tumbleweed like the cows in the pasturelands up north. I prayed to God there really were no souls in that rambling plant.
For weeks that summer, every day was the same: I played in the graveyard, looking for bones, and Daddy sat on the porch, waiting for rain. Then, one day, everything changed.
It was a Sunday, and just as I was unearthing a whole rope of vertebrae, the winds started and a black mountain loomed on the horizon.
“Get inside!” Daddy called, and daylight turned to darkness. Hiding inside the house, we crunched grit between our teeth and tried not to breathe. If I’d had a cat, I would’ve strangled it to save its life. After a long while, the winds died down and the thick, black clouds started to relax. In the new, vacuous silence there were sounds like snakes slithering down our roof.
The rain had finally come.
Daddy ran outside and tore off all his clothes til he was naked as a jaybird. I hid my eyes behind my hands, but still I watched though the slats of my fingers as my daddy fell to his knees in the bone-dry dirt and howled like a wolf. The water streaked his body, turning it back to white. He bowed and kissed the mud. He rubbed his face in it.
“Next year’ll be better,” I told myself, wrapping my thin arms around my ribcage. I stepped into the rain and felt, for a moment that lasted forever, that the earth and I had been baptized.
But the rain came too hard and too fast, and instead of soaking into the thirsty earth it washed the loose soil away. Before the hour was up, it was over, and the few remaining wheat plants belonging to our farm were nowhere to be seen.
Daddy pounded the earth with his fists and screamed like a chicken in a chicken hunt. Then he didn’t move for a long while, and I thought he’d died. Finally he went inside to his bedroom without bothering to hide his body from me, and I could hear him weeping. Outside, I coated my skin with mud and let it dry until it was hard enough to crack.
The next morning, Daddy wasn’t sitting on the front porch any more. He hadn’t left a note or anything, and I assumed he’d followed the setting sun as it tacked across the sky, staring too long as it bubbled on the horizon. I assumed he’d gone off to find the rain, or my mother.
“Daddy, you tin cup. Don’t be so dramatic.”
I’d gone to bed caked in mud because there was no way to wash it off without water. Sitting on the porch, I scratched the dried mud off my arms and legs while I waited for signs of my daddy. Then I waited some more. I sat so still for so long that a turkey buzzard perched on the well in our front yard, watching me for signs of death. But I knew Daddy had taken a lot of debt to pay off our machinery bills, and I knew the wolf would come to the door any day now. And if the creditors didn’t come right away, the remaining folks would. I’d seen it done to the Wards: when they left, packed up in the middle of the night and drove west, the town gathered round and parceled out their land like it was nothing but a bag of feed. Mindy Ward is buried in that earth, mother of six, but they didn’t care. As soon as the Wards were gone, they became invisible, forgotten. As far as Cimarron was concerned, we Williams were no different.
When she was alive, Ma hid a coffee can of change in the now-empty cupboard. Only a handful of coins still rattled around in there. I didn’t want to wait around and watch folks steal the land my ma is buried in, so I packed my spare dress and a kitchen knife, a lantern and the little bit of food we had left. I even packed Daddy’s Herzstein’s shoe brush stamped, “If it’s from Herzstein’s, it’s correct,” from the time we went down to Boise City. Then I stole the keys to the Model T Ford. My bare feet barely reached the pedals, but I managed somehow.
I would drive northwest. I’d heard it was better up there, more hills. One day, I thought, I’d make it all the way to California, where oranges grow right on trees and the ocean never runs dry. Tears stained the desert of my cheeks and I could taste sea salt on my lips.
I could barely find the roads for all the dust, so I drove through hardpan fields. Daddy used to get paid thirty cents an hour to shovel the sand drifts off the road. A horned lark watched me from its perch in a rosinweed. A coyote with fresh blood on its mouth hung its head low over the prairie chicken it was eating, and my stomach cramped in jealousy. I sucked my fingers and pretended they were buttered corncobs.
Once I left the farmhouse, I didn’t think once of my daddy. I didn’t think of next year.
By sundown, I’d made it to Kenton, a tiny village with an old white-frame general store and a single gas pump. Old men as brown as the earth sat around with lumps of chewing tobacco in their lower lips and dusty hats on their heads. They squinted at me like I was a long-forgotten memory.
“Evening,” I said, trying my best to look older than I was. I slammed the car door as hard as I could and patted smooth my hair. I asked a sunburned man in bib overalls to top off the tank. He was missing his front teeth and when he shot tobacco juice out, it flew in a straight arc to the tin trashcan beside the pump with a ting.
“What’re you doin’ driving that thing by yourself?” the oldest man said. Stitched into the chest of his shirt was the name Tex.
“Headed west, that’s what,” I said, helping myself to a Coke from the freezer box.
“What you think you’re gonna find?”
“My ma,” I said, and as soon as the words were out of my mouth I knew it was true, though I’d never thought it before. Deep down I knew she was still out there, somewhere, roaming the plains that killed her.
“Sweetheart, if your ma left you, you ain’t likely to find her again.”
I gave the man my nickels and got back in the driver’s seat, sitting straight as a pole so I’d look taller.
“I’ll be seeing you,” I said, and tried to drive away as smooth as possible. But Tex stood and blocked my way.
“You can’t go drivin’ through the night alone,” he said. “Least stay till morning.”
Tex put me up in the room above the general store. The man who lived there bunked with someone else so I could have the privacy owed a lady. “This ain’t no cathouse,” Tex said, and I folded my arms across my flat chest. The place smelled like dust, same as everywhere else. A million and one stars shone bright as needles. In the distance I heard a train whistle and prayed the steam would cause the skies to weep. I dreamt of nothing.
The next morning, Tex was waiting outside the general store when I came down.
“Come on, darlin’,” he said, and led me to his farmhouse not a mile away. His wife was cooking eggs. I hadn’t had eggs in weeks. There was a girl there, a daughter, and Tex said she wasn’t much younger than me. She had dirt on her face, same as me, and a dress the color of cast iron grease. We stared each other down, and in her river blue eyes I saw myself the way she saw me and knew: I wasn’t a little girl no more. I had become something else, raped by the wind and the rain, and I didn’t mind.
I ate the eggs like the hungry wolf I was and licked my plate clean. Tex asked me questions about my parents, but I didn’t feel the need to answer them.
“Lots of folks have gone missing,” I told him. “Even parents.”
He took me to the store and convinced the man there, Bob, to let me take a loaf of bread and a jug of milk on his credit. Bob looked tired, like his skin was stretched too thin, but he let me take the food. I never once heard him speak. Then I got in my daddy’s car and drove away without looking back. There was nothing for me in Kenton—too small, too much the same. If there was any place I belonged now, this wasn’t it.
By midday, the sun was so hot I had to pull off the road and stand in the breeze. That Ford, for all it was worth, baked like an oven. I stood in the dust of the road and lifted my skirt so the breeze could cool between my legs. I watched a long dinosaur backbone arch out of the dust, knocking over a dead tree, which fell with a puff of sand and no sound. A half-broken windmill spun wildly.
“Hey,” someone said, and I almost jumped out of my skin.
“Christ,” I said, covering up my bare legs.
It was a boy, not much older than me, and he was smiling. “Didn’t mean to scare ya.”
“Don’t have to mean it to do it,” I said. His arms were thin as reeds. “What’re you doing out here? There’s not a thing for miles.”
“I been hoping someone would drive by,” he said. “I’m making my way to California, but my soles are near worn through.” He lifted a foot to show me. “Hear they got jobs out there.”
“You got a family?”
“Yeah.” He lifted his straw hat off his dark forehead and squinted through the sun. “I live on a sheep ranch in Carrumpa Valley, in a rock house by a creek.”
“Then why the hell you leavin’?”
The boy looked at me with his mud brown eyes and said, “The land left first. I’m just followin’.”
We stood there a while, shuffling our feet in the hot sand.
“I can read the sky,” he said. “I’ll help you get where you’re goin’.”
“I don’t need help,” I said, “but you can come along if you want.”
He offered me his hand, and I took it. “Name’s Martinez.”
“Ida,” I said. “Like Ida done different.”
I took the first driving shift. Martinez sat very still, his dark eyes dead on the road. By the callouses on his hands, I knew he was a farmhand, a cowboy. I watched him out of the corner of my eye. He made me think I was the one didn’t know anything about the world, and for a few moments I felt like a girl again.
I learned that he was fourteen years old, two years older than I was. I learned that he had four little sisters, all living with their ma in that rock house beside a dried-up creek. Martinez left them in the middle of the night—he didn’t say why, but I had some guesses. He said he would’ve left a note for his ma if only he’d known how to write. I said I could teach him letters, and he said we don’t have any paper. I said we’d use the dust.
The sun was a hot bulb in the middle of the windshield, and my skin was crusted over in salt. I gave Martinez a cigarette—left over from my daddy—and we smoked as we drove, squinting our eyes against the bright horizon, empty.
That first night, we slept in an empty field and counted stars until we fell asleep. We gave each other fistfuls of dirt to eat, describing the hot meat and potatoes we pretended it was. “This will keep us alive,” Martinez said, and I let him feed me.
During the day we drove. We took siestas at noon and hid beneath whatever shade we could find.
“This is how you write the letter A,” I said, tracing the shape into the dirt with my finger. “This is how you write the letter B.” In this way, Martinez learned the alphabet. He learned to make words out of sounds. He learned to make letters out of words.
“Dear Mother,” he wrote. “I’m sorry I left you to take care of Rosa and Karen and Estrella and Ruth all by yourself. I’m sorry I left but I had to.”
“Dear Ma,” I wrote. “Do you remember the lullaby you used to sing? This is how it went.”
We trusted the earth to deliver our messages.
While we were writing letters on the side of the road, a man walked up and scattered our words with his feet.
“I will give you a dollar,” he said to me. “To let me touch you.” I looked at Martinez who looked at me and didn’t say anything. No, I wrote to the earth, and said yes. The sun went black without the help of dust.
That night we stopped beside a billboard with a big, red-and-white snorting bull advertising Bull Durham Smoking Tobacco. There was a gathering of cars and people and tents that looked like a party, though I knew it wasn’t. There wasn’t enough sound to be a party, and everyone looked the way my ma did before she died.
A skinny old man, with a million muscles showing through his flesh and no front teeth, sidled up to our car and handed me a dirty brown bottle.
“Welcome to hell,” he said, then stumbled into the crowd, laughing.
I sniffed the bottle—whiskey—and handed it to Martinez. He drank without even thinking and bared all his teeth as he swallowed.
“Not bad,” he said.
I took a drink too and felt fire burn my already dry throat.
“Goddam,” I said.
“Hallelujah,” Martinez said.
We got drunk that night, and every night after, on other people’s illegal whiskey, distilled in the canyons and arroyos of abandoned farms. It never started tasting better, but I got better at swallowing. We got water from drainage ditches and food wherever we could—other people, abandoned houses, the occasional general store that let us purchase with promises. Some nights, Martinez took my kitchen knife and killed jackrabbits. We roasted them over the fire and sucked the marrow out of their skinny bones.
I gave up trying to teach Martinez how to write, and turned wild as a feral coyote. The fields were my toilet, the shadowed dirt behind billboards my bed. I let Martinez kiss me. I let him leave marks on my body. I earned the money that kept us alive. I never once brushed my hair or washed my face, though I scrubbed the insides of my thighs with dirt and pebbles. Tin cup mothers held their children close while Martinez and I strolled past. We laughed too loud and with all our teeth.
“I’m an orphan,” I told him.
“I know,” he said.
“I want to find my dead mother.”
I bit his shoulder and tasted salty earth.
After a few days, we ran out of gasoline. Martinez slunk into the night like a wolf and came back with an old plastic tube. Silently, he sucked the gasoline out of other cars in our shantytown to fill our own tank. He said it tasted just like the whiskey we drank. I told him not to swallow. He howled at the moon. We drove away before sunrise and passed a derailed train full of ghosts. I could hear them whisper, but none of them sounded like anyone’s mother.
“Do you think we’ll find her?” I asked Martinez, when the stars still burned bright.
“Yes,” he said.
Martinez lit a cigarette, and I watched the red flare burn toward his sun-chapped lips. When he didn’t answer, I stared into the blackness until the sun rose red, spilling blood over everything already dead.
At dawn, we drove past a crowd of people gathered around a greasy man.
“I will call forth the rain from the sky!” he shouted, arms outstretched like a preacher. The crowd cheered. “I will dynamite the sky and she will pour down her waters on this dry and thirsty earth!”
Behind us, we heard the great boom of explosives. Nothing fell but dust.
We passed abandoned houses, the glass windows taken out. We passed houses that had been tractored out, tipped off their foundations. We passed families of children running barefoot through the dust. We passed the wild frenzy of a chicken hunt, clubs and chicken wire and blood and high-pitched laughter. Martinez didn’t even slow down to look.
“What is it you’re looking for?” I asked.
He clicked his tongue and pulled off the road in front of a diner. “How ‘bout breakfast,” he said.
The diner was bright and loud, and I could feel people’s sweat lingering in the thick air. Oscillating fans blew strips of colored paper like ten tongues. Martinez and I sat in a booth by the window and watched all the dusty people eat. If I tried real hard, I could pretend there were no dusters or droughts. I could pretend this was just a regular Saturday with lots of regular folks sitting around drinking coffee and eating hash browns cooked in bacon grease. I could pretend all the chatter was friendly, about families and plans for picnics, not about who was taking a loan from Roosevelt’s men or who was about to go bust and sneak out west. If I tried real hard, I could pretend to be happy.
“Two coffees, two plates,” Martinez said to the man in a dirty white apron, who smoked a cigarette while he scribbled our order. When he took a drag, his cheeks became craters and his jawbone showed through his skin. Like his skeleton was trying to free itself. I could see the outline of his teeth, like the rope of dinosaur vertebrae in the graveyard.
When the waiter left, Martinez leaned across the table on his elbows. “I got plans, Ida,” he said.
I poured a fistful of change onto the table and started sorting: pennies, nickels, dimes. I did not think about where they came from.
“You know why I left home?” he asked.
I shook my head no.
“My pa left same as yours. Just up and left me and Ma and my four sisters in that shit of a house.” The coins made a shearing sound as I moved them across the table. “You know why?”
I shook my head again and realized I didn’t know much of anything about Martinez.
“He followed the land,” he said. Martinez leaned back and looked out the dusty window at the few tufts of wheat left in the earth. I watched his Adam’s apple bob up and down as he swallowed his own spit. He swallowed so often I started to keep count.
When the food finally came it was hot, cooked with real butter and sprinkled with salt.
“I’ve never tasted food so good,” I said through a mouthful.
“Eat up, honey,” Martinez said. “We’re celebrating.”
“What’re we celebrating?”
He held up his chipped coffee mug and smiled like I already knew the answer. And in a way, I did. Maybe it was just the electricity charging the air, but it felt like we were finally getting close to finding what we were looking for.
We clinked mugs, and I tried to laugh. My stomach cramped from the rich food. We spent all of our pennies, nickels, dimes.
“What’re we gonna do now?” I asked after we’d finished.
“Whatever you want,” Martinez said.
“I want to find my ma.”
“We already have,” he said.
Martinez walked outside and lit a cigarette. I watched him through the glass and thought about sneaking out the back door. Then I told myself, “Don’t be so dramatic.”
“It’s hotter’n hell today,” Martinez said when I joined him outside. The sky was as bright as glass; heat waves rose off the ground like gasoline. We leaned against the diner and watched the sky grow dark too quickly. Then the Cordillera picked up, and calcified soil lifted and swirled around us.
“We should go back inside,” I said. I could feel the storm in my bones. I could smell it. It seared the insides of my nostrils.
“Never look back,” he said.
When the wind started to sting our faces, we ran to the car and rolled up the windows. Martinez leaned over the steering wheel and laughed. “Some morning, huh?” he said, and kissed me.
“We don’t have any more money,” I said.
“But honey, aren’t you full?”
“I haven’t been this full in years.” I held my swollen belly, and Martinez kissed me again, so long I could hardly breathe.
Lightning danced down on spindly legs, but I didn’t hear any thunder. The road was barely distinguishable from the rest of the landscape—everything the same tawny brown, everything made of sand. As we drove, the sandpaper wind beat the Ford so hard I thought it might break through. I picked at the rough skin around my nails until blood came.
“It’s gonna be a bad one,” I said, holding my tangled hair close to my head. My arms were covered in goose bumps.
“Don’t be afraid,” Martinez said. “I can read the sky.”
The sky that had been so bright had turned a sick shade of green; even I could read the sky.
“We’re so full, honey,” he said. “Have you ever felt so full?”
Tumbleweeds bounced across the road in front of us, whole branches even. Somebody’s doll, her blond hair tangled; someone’s nightshirt. A chicken, a bedsheet. Whole lives flew by our windshield, but we kept driving. Our tires lost traction. We drifted through the dust like an eel in water. The sky bled from sick green to deep purple, like a spreading bruise, and a black mountain blotted out the sun.
“I’m so full, Martinez.”
“We’re almost there,” he said.
We kept hitting things; I could feel the thud, but the dust was so thick I couldn’t see what. I prayed they weren’t bodies.
“I got plans, Ida,” Martinez said.
I closed my eyes and held my full belly, my tongue and lips still coated in grease.
“Do we have enough gas?” I asked.
“Sure,” he said.
“Go slow,” I said, but the wind had grown so loud I could no longer hear my own voice.
Martinez was staring into the darkness with something like wonder.
The car shorted out, and we sat there, caged by the wind. The black mountain came upon us and took away all the light. Dirt seeped through the cracks in the windows and doors, and this time I swallowed it. Everything was black as night, but through the window I saw something white.
Ma in a bleached white pintuck nightgown, her belly big and round. She was coming for me, and flowing from the heels of her feet was a river of water, as blue as anything and shining with stars. Bright green dinosaurs lapped the water with pink tongues. I called her name, but the winds were so loud I couldn’t hear my own voice. I called again and again, scratching at the glass that kept me from her. My mouth filled with dust and I sang just to keep my lungs free. I sang the lullaby my ma used to sing to me and then everything went quiet, like the sharp hum that pierces your ears before you black out. In the vacuum I heard my ma’s voice overwhelm my own. She was singing. She was singing the lullaby I had begun. The wind was whipping like a tornado and the dead car was rocking, but my ma moved towards me unharmed. The hem of her white nightgown fluttered softly at her calves as water poured from her heels and spread out over everything. A glassy pool covered the earth, and the surface mirrored green trees and blue skies, like nothing I’d ever seen. When Ma offered her hand to me, palm up, I was standing outside, my bare feet in an inch of cool water. Ma’s lullaby vibrated through my body and the river covered the earth, turning the dust into something new. I used to be a girl.