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A Home on the Plains

A boundless region extends from the east to west, from the south to north. There are a few trees, dwellings and ranches that stretch out over the horizon. Many travelers drive very fast. This place is nothing more than unwanted space that arbitrarily expands before them. The landscape is hollow and empty under the vacant sky. The glaring sun makes the land dry, desolate. The scenery reminds them of their own emptiness, elusiveness and uncertainty. There are also those who drive slowly, as if they are looking for something, as if they are lost. They may even find the wasteland enticing. They will see the bare and untamed nature for hundreds of miles. Regardless of circumstance, this part of the world treats everybody equally.

Somewhere on the barrens a child is playing alone in his backyard. His small figure fades into the vast landscape of the Plains. He looks back at his simple house painted pale yellow. It is the house to which he was brought by his mother: the only home he knows. He lives with abstract fear between this world and an imaginary world. Sitting in front of the house he watches travelers pass by. He imagines where they come from and where they are going. He learns about different types of cars that exist in the world. It intrigues him for as long as he can entertain himself. He listens to the wind or rain or storms. The sounds that make up this world teach him many things. How long would it take to reach the horizon? he wonders, as he looks at the sunset. How tall is the tree over the skyline? When will I find out all the answers? Inside the pale yellow house his mother is working in the kitchen. From time to time she looks out the window and gazes at the landscape. She sees her son playing in the backyard. She tries to count days and years she has spent in this land but soon she loses interest and goes back to work. Such things are trivial and have no significance in her life. Time is like the sand, she thinks. It has existed and will continue to exist regardless of my will. It is like this land. It encloses her without leaving any space to hide.

Isa Benn
photograph by Isa Benn

The clatter of hard objects resounds in the room. A glass lies broken in pieces on the floor. “Stop it! Stop whining!” She quickly reached for a glass and smashed it on floor. The innocent expression vanishes from the boy’s face and a look of anxiety flickers. He freezes, witnessing his mother’s anger. But the outbreak is not unusual. The child stares at the shards of glass. He perceives his mother’s secret wish to leave him. When his darkest nightmare rears its head, he struggles to breathe. He wants to leave the room, this space, to free himself. But he cannot move. He can only imagine another world, another weather, another landscape. Life on the Plains is like a quicksand that pulls the mother down into an emotional catastrophe. She is vulnerable against nature’s cruelty and life’s whimsy. When she cannot bear her life any more she goes crazy. She goes crazy in order to survive. She looks at her son and tells him, “Go away,” as if the child is creating problems for her. And the child believes he is his mother’s problem. He tries to mutter something under his breath, craving warmth and a sense of belonging. He holds back tears. Crying would only push his mother over the verge. His mother looks at him. He starts to perspire. She might have read his thoughts. But instead of anger, he sees tears brimming her eyes. She looks away. “I’m sorry,” she utters. They are bound by similar fears. In their home there is an unspoken rule to ignore and forget problems as if they are the rain. Problems will all pass, if only they wait.

The strong daylight cuts into the room, as the child pushes the door open. It almost blinds him. He follows his mother and runs to catch up with her. He reaches out and holds his mother’s hand. Her hand is warm and she smells like the sun. He walks with her to the field and picks some black-eyed Susans for her. His mother looks at the flowers, looks at him and beams.
“Thank you. They are very pretty.”
He smiles back. They hold hands and walk together like that. His mother hums merrily.
“Mom, do you know how tall the tree is?” He points at the tree on the skyline.
“No, I don’t. I’ve never been there. But we can go and see for ourselves some day.”
He looks at her and sees a calm expression. She is looking over at the horizon. Above them white translucent clouds are blending into the blue sky blurring boundaries.
“It’s so hot that clouds are melting up there.” His mother chuckles. “They would make fabulous cotton candy, don’t you think?”
He looks up at the sky and imagines eating the fluffy clouds. They must taste sweet and soft with a hint of bitterness.

In the dull summer evening the mother lays down in her dim room. Her body is heavy and slow. She languidly rises to wash dishes. Through the soapy water in the sink, she sees a shattered glass. She has accidentally broken one of the glasses and cut her finger. Her finger bleeds and stings. Pain flows out of her wound. The heat of the Plains wears on her spirit. It is wrong to live her life in such an unfamiliar environment, alone as a mother. She is an outsider trapped in a strange land. She is unable to leave, and she runs herself down. She could have changed her life. There were chances she never took. By now she cannot remember what kind of opportunities she had. She certainly had something. But when was it? Where? What happened to them? Instead of dwelling on her thoughts, she goes back to her room, sits on the bed and gazes at a view of the coast in an old photograph on the wall. The view is comforting and soothing and makes her want to walk on the shore and dip her feet in the waves, just as she did as a little girl. She breathes in the fresh moist air and smells the mixture of the sand and salt. The water is chilly, unsuitable for swimming. Kneeling down to pick up a shell she hears a familiar voice but she cannot recall whose voice it is. Who is it? It’s too foggy. She ignores it. When she opens her eyes, the sea and the fog are all gone and she is left alone in her room. Only the sound of waves and the laughter of children echo. As night falls, the powerful storms of the Plains start to fill the desolate land with lightning and thunder. On such a gusty night the child looks out the window and listens to the familiar rumbling of thunder. He is calm and quiet despite all the chaos, anger outside. The scent of night is soothing. The rain washes away his solitude and makes his world a better place.

The mother sits on the porch and stares at the phone held in her hands. Several times she attempts to dial a number but cancels it. Her hands tremble nervously. She goes inside and gets a glass of water. She sits on the porch again and gazes out at the landscape. She takes a sip of the water. It is cold, hard, in her mouth. Like ice. The sun is setting over the horizon. Letting out a sigh, she composes herself and calls the number again. After several rings a woman answers the call. “Hello?” The mother is lost for words and does not respond. Pausing for a few seconds a woman finally asks, “Is it you?” The mother starts to sob, “It’s me…it’s…I’m sorry…Mom…I…” She cannot remember the smells of home any more. She is exhausted, tired of fighting and surviving. Tears fall down her cheeks. Myriad thoughts flood her mind, one after another. She bites her lip and tastes salty tears. Her skin has become dry from living in the Plains. Looking at the landscape makes her very thirsty. She misses her home, or the idea of it, knowing it is too far away.

–Meg Kaizu


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