This place was once my home. It is a cold, empty shell now. I remember, though. The windows used to be filled with glass. The front door was green. Our porch was always filled with barking dogs. That was before. When I thought time was on my side. That happiness was a permanent state of being.
She used to bring the oldest dogs out here. Into this same patch of sunlight where I am standing. The oldest of them all was named Gonzo. He had no teeth. She fed him baby food for humans. He loved it. He loved her. Years ago, in this patch of sunlight that is warming my shoulders. She carried him here, and put him down in the grass. Such green grass that year. It still rained back then. There were dandelions growing among the blades of Bermuda. I framed Gonzo against two of the white puffballs, hanging there in space above the verdant plain. He was so tiny. So decrepit. His snout hung down like a piece of deflated black balloon. It waggled when he moved. He always moved to follow her movements. He couldn’t walk much. But he would try to shuffle and follow her wherever she went. Next to him in the frame of my digital camera with its amoral, cold eye, the dandelions appeared huge. They looked as big as Gonzo’s head.
Those dandelions blew away in the wind a few days after I took the picture. And then Gonzo’s life blew away in time. She cried when he died on the couch. Wrapped up in a little blanket as she cradled him. He looked into her eyes lovingly, in pain. Then he made a sad noise and he died. We both cried for Gonzo. I dug a little grave for him. Planted a tree over his head in the rocky soil of our hilly home. The tree grew, for a while. She and I were sad, but our lives went on. For a little while longer.
My lips are bleeding again. I don’t have any more water.
It must have been three years later when the rain stopped. Everything dried out. The smells in the air changed slowly. I didn’t notice at first. But they did. I think the creek at the bottom of the property was the first thing to dry up. The lichen growing on the smooth, polished rocks died. I wasn’t worried then. We had dry summers all the time. It was the second year without rain that got us worried. The politicians were praying publicly by then.
I should go inside.
We used to sleep in this room. The air conditioner was always on. Its wet hum comforted her. She loved the room cold. It had to be under 68 degrees Fahrenheit. I liked that too, but sometimes it got too cold, and I overslept. Back when being late to work mattered. Now, the torn mattress is inches thick in dust. This house is filled with dust. The wet red clay has all dried out and been carried into the air in the dry winds that are killing me. That are killing everything.
It hasn’t rained in seven years. When I realized what was happening, I built a cistern at the bottom of the property. Drained the well at the top of the property into it. Covered it. Sealed it. We stockpiled food before the panic set in. Before our drought covered the world.
She used to sleep on the left side of the mattress. I was on the right. The dogs went wherever they wanted. Sometimes between us, and sometimes burrowing at our feet. She would often reach out and touch me in the night. In the cold. Her hands seeking the warmth of my body. Sometimes, when she touched me, I would wake up and look at her. Love her with my eyes. Her touch was gentle but needy. Soft but strong. She would ask me a question with her fingers. Are you still there? Do you still love me? The answer was always the same.
Until she killed herself last year.
In this dust covered bed. With the pistol I bought her for protection when I was away on business trips. She couldn’t shoot a snake or a rabbit or a wild pig with it, but she was able to put it in her mouth and pull the trigger while I was down the bottom of the property checking the water levels. By then everything except us was dead.
The trees were all skeletons, brown, brittle and dried. Their leaves long since dust. The dogs were all gone. I told her we needed the water, so they dried up and died. She resented me for it. With the power out, we laid in bed sweating in the heat and dust, and her fingers never reached for me anymore. I sweated. She sweated. But it all dried up in the dark and we would wake up thirsty. I would go out looking for life in the dust. By then the neighbors were all gone too. It was just her and I, in the bed, waiting for the dust to fill our lungs. But she didn’t want to wait.
The photos on the walls are filled with happy versions of us. She is smiling at me still from years gone by. Her green eyes shining, with crinkles around the corners.
There is a dry, dusty blood splotch on her side of the bed, barely visible under the thick dust. No one ever tells you that you might have to dig your wife a dry grave in a world empty of life. If I had known that back when we got married, I might have made different choices.
The water ran out on Tuesday. I think it was Tuesday. My mouth is so dry. And I’m dizzy. It’s hard to think. I’m going to lay down on this dry mattress. On my side. I won’t look at the bloodstain under the dust. I’m just going to look at the pictures of us. When we were young and happy. Before the world dried out and everything died. I’m going to close my eyes and think about the wet humming of the air conditioner. I’m going to sleep a while and hope that when I wake up, she’ll be right there with her fingers reaching out to touch my skin again. I want that back. The dogs snuggling at our feet and the touch of her delicate fingers reassuring me that everything will be OK. I wish I could have that back.