There’s a bovine fly on the screen-door, ripe as a gooseberry and glistening with blood. Mercy ignores the white-noise buzz, cuts the ryebread into slices. It’s scorching outside, the air heavy and parched; it’s barely cooler in the kitchen, wicker fan slowly pushing heat around the room like treacle. Prickles of sweat congregate on Mercy’s hairline, trickle down her back, as she butters the slices and adds ribbons of ham, tomatoes, a slick of mustard. The fly bangs the screen-door rhythmically, trying to tattoo its way into the house.
Any minute now, Mercy thinks, I’ll hear the beat of hooves in the distance.
She switches on the radio. An old country song is playing, and she hums as she breaks ice into a pitcher of lemonade - citrus tang filling the kitchen, antiseptic and cool. She places pitcher and sandwiches onto a tray and swings the screen door open with her backside. The fly takes its chance and sweeps into the room looking for food. Mercy sits in the porch shade and waits.
Any minute now, she thinks, I’ll hear the beat of hooves in the distance, see a dust-cloud rising, rising.
She pours herself some lemonade, it’s cloying. . She closes her eyes. It’s been a busy morning; it’s been busy mornings since Mama left and Mercy took over running the house. The truancy officer has visited twice, but Papa is always in the fields and Mercy lays on the floor as his shadow looms outsized on the wall. She thinks him gigantic, threatening, wolfish, a monster. Mercy was glad to leave school, but she’s not glad of her role as Papa’s packhorse. She hopes Kyle might come a-calling, she has plans in that regard.
Any minute now, Mercy thinks, the earth will tremble with a timpani of hooves, and the rust-red dust will rise, and the sweet stench of sweat and tobacco will reach her.
Her stomach growls and she reaches for a sandwich, chews. Salty ham pops, mustard burns, and her eyes fill. She feels awash today - a flood plain - her body compensating for aridity with sweat and tears, saliva and the blood that came that morning. Mercy is tired, tired of this day and tired of this life. She’d like to kick off her sandals, lie back, ignore the waiting chores. If Kyle comes a-calling she might let him take her all the way to Vegas; a shotgun wedding’s been on her mind for some time. If she’s gonna do chores better to do them for herself, her own man, her own child, than for a Papa as bitter as unripe corn and unappreciative as a goat. The fly pulsates on the screen-door, trying to escape.
Switchgrass rifles in a passing breeze, giving momentary comfort; in the distance the boom of a shotgun resounds. Mercy looks for dust, listens for hoofbeats. The scent of creosote fills her nostrils, coats the back of her throat. On the horizon a column of smoke billows upwards.