Laura Zak
They Called it Emptiness
the new facades. They pricked our hands beneath the leather. Vindictive thorny plants. With their life gone, what did they need to protect?
Above the tumbleweeds, we could see windy man wall art. We named him after the icon sailors used to put on their maps, and from the highway, he watched Lubbock with an open mouth and the indifferent eyes of a man no longer stirred by change. Few knew he was even there. He’d had an older brother three miles up until a Christian group pronounced the icon pagan and someone clubbed in his face. So the older brother was taken off the highway and later, when they hung the younger up, no one talked about him.
I saw him every day. I rode my bike to work alongside the highway, and his eyes stared over my head. In the mornings, I rode with the wind coming in from the New Mexico border. By afternoon, the sky was tinged with dust and the wind was in my face. I unlocked my bike, wiping grit from my eyes. It was going to be a long ride home.
I fought wind for three miles. I shifted to lower gears, leaning against the frame. I felt it in my hair, my eyes, my skin. I biked slowly, my legs straining like in those dreams where your muscles are sand.
One day. One day without wind. I wanted to see the elm branches droop, the power lines go limp, the air so quiet we could hear ourselves think.
Now, when we talked or shouted or prayed, the wind just stole our words. *
They wore their jackets long into spring. Outside Sweetwater, the cotton stalks rippled in the wind and they wondered if this was what the land had been like long ago when everything was grass. The old woman and man rubbed their hands and shrugged their shoulders. They knew the past was nothing more than dead tumbleweeds caught along the barbed wire. They could talk about it, but their stories never brought anything back.
From the kitchen window facing east, the old woman and man watched the sun rise through the lattice towers. The trellised metal was still in the wind. It was odd to look at—the flattened cotton, the bowed mesquite trees, and the rows of towers, motionless above it.
The old couple sipped coffee, hands clutched around the cup. Seven o’clock, and the day hadn’t broken thirty degrees. They thought April would’ve taken the dull ache from their bones, the heavy jackets from their backs.
They remembered when the farm was peaceful and their words didn’t hang above the hum of the wire. The days before the towers, when the old man would take long bike rides through the Glenna-Faye pasture. He remembered how Faye seeded the fields with native grasses, and from the road he could see the blur of their blue blades. Then he