Dust | Brian Tierney
Soon after we arrive in this alpine desert, the last rain falls; the sun returns. We hurry to the door, children tangling our legs as we move like one creature through the burning threshold. Blinded, we shield our eyes and wait as the downspouts dry and the world appears. Pine trees glisten in the morning light, dropping watery jewels like the autumn leaves we left behind. In the clearing that is the driveway, dark soil fades. Puddles vanish. We marvel as mist rises from the warm earth. Clouds part and reveal an enormous, cerulean sea. A gentle wind blows as the boy among us points to a bird bathing in the hollow of a stone. We embrace and give thanks for this, our new home.
By noon the trees have dried. Moist shadows cast by branches pale as they crawl across browning grass. The dogs, bored with following trees' unreliable shade, beg at the door so that they may enter the house and lie on the cool tile of the kitchen floor. The children run outside to play, but soon they return, skin burned and sweaty, their shoulders hunched. They bicker over who might rest in the leather chair, though none has the will or strength to take it by force.
By the third day, all traces of rain are gone. The ground has dried beneath the trees, as have the logs in the woodpile. The air of the sloping crawl space below the shed no longer smells of must. Ants skitter across hot patio stones. Crickets keen over the husks of their dead. Birds refuse to fly.
We pad through the yard, our feet kicking up tiny clouds of dust. The dogs, once panting at our heels, no longer follow. In the driveway and along the road, tires lift dirt into the air where it hangs like brown smoke. The earth smolders.
As I turn on the garden hose, the pipes' groan echoes through the canyon. The trickle of water pools across the hard surface of the soil. Dry and dead, the land refuses to drink. Soon, the water evaporates. Inhaling deeply, we bend, bowing to the dissipating vapors. We continue padding through the yard, hoping to find shade beneath this enormous sky and resigning ourselves to the fact that water is of the wind and not the earth.
Inside the house, dust is everywhere. It covers the counters, windowsills, and fruit in the bowl. It coats the shoulders of our clothes. Houseplants wilt as we dust them. Wall hangings of ancestors fade, and the computer and television screens are unviewable without a wipe of the hand. The carpet will never be clean again. Dust threads hang
from the ceiling and walls. Our legs tired, we – pulling pebbles from our noses and listening to the dogs wheeze – linger near the furniture, reluctant to sit because upholstery exhales dirty clouds.
And the floor, this floor, tracing our steps as we wander through the house, reminds us where we've been. We live in a memory. Each new action fills us with fear: what consequence will we set into motion? What wake will we leave behind?
A crust forms on the shallow toilet water, and the bath is always muddy. A gritty powder clings to my toothbrush, causing my gums to bleed. In time, we all stop brushing and bathing and watching TV.
Air sucks moisture from the skin. Hands and heels crack. Someone has stolen the Vaseline, and so we lubricate with other oils: olive, peanut, motor. It is impossible to hold things.
One Tuesday, the well finally runs dry. Distraught, I fall into my lover's arms, but dust creates friction as we attempt to make love. Friction in the loins begets friction in the marriage. Sore and despairing we turn away from each other.
On Wednesday, we gather round the spider's web and study how the spider sucks fluids from a fly. We practice, but find little satisfaction. One of the girls suggests we need something larger: a squirrel, perhaps. A cat. Attitudes change, shift like sand. We stand in silence, eyes on each other, until we back away in separate directions.
Secretly, we hoard and chew pine needles. We suck juniper. On the rare occasion when we must pee, we weep, losing this part of ourselves.
By Friday afternoon, the government declares a disaster, a fact we know, but no, it is really a tragedy. However, we have lost the juice of indignation, outrage, and sadness. We can no longer cry.
Dust-coated bulbs throw less light, and no one wants to read in dimness. And so we stand and remember the water parks of New England, the ocean we left behind, and tea. Too tired to talk, we remember as best we can, our memories fading and covered with dust. We remember other times: rain squalls, water parks, watermelon.
We wear bandanas over our noses and mouths, resembling bandits, our eyes mistrustful, until I find in the wood shop an old pack of respirators. Soon, the respirators grow brown and we look like great apes. In time, we forget what the other ones look like. And then, inevitably, we forget what we ourselves look like. We are now at best like lizards, steel-eyed and still, though deep down we believe, but dare not say, that we have become the dust, nothing less and nothing more.