Red Earth

Momma did not seem to care, her back bending and curving to yank squash, sweet potato, and yucca from the earth. She whipped cattle with a short stick guiding them with a brusque hand to their impending slaughter. With one hand she weaned both pigs and goats from the life line of their mother’s milk while, with the other hand, she sliced their necks with precision and intent, the red blood draining into the red earth. It knew no other colors—it was red, always red on that land where my mother weaned me off of her own breast. The red was said to come from the minerals in the soil—rich with minerals. So overflowing with wealth, that fine red earth seeped into our soles, settled onto your shoes, and hemmed every skirt, every dress, and every pant my family owned. And we were glad and we were happy because in any situation we could be proud.

Every morning when we went to school walking through the gully brimming with exploding butterflies and magnificent bugs from the dinosaur age, crawling hands and knees in the forest so thick no sunlight could touch us and running past the man whose skin shriveled and creased in the sun as he cast us dirty looks. In all of this we could look down and see the red earth on our soles and our shoes and our hems and say we are were rich. I proclaimed that throughout my life, but there was a time and a day when those words became too hard to speak.

The sun rose that day in raging fury. My mother, who always woke before the sun dared to shoot one blazing ray, stayed in her bed feet, arms, and legs together in a round, dormant ball in the middle of the bed my father and she shared. I peeked through the door. My two younger siblings, stood behind me, still and quiet as the sense of what was impending and sure was drunken in with feigned doubtfulness and forced hope. My father kneeled next to her, curving over her body as he prayed furiously. Casting out Amen’s and a Lord Almighty’s in a fit so passionate, so desperate that his sentences became incomprehensible, a mix of words punctuated with these holy phrases.

The site became unbearable, the words to loud and harsh. I closed the door. My sibling, no longer in sight, had probably shied away to some corner, an instinct I believe they share with turtles that hide in their shells. I walked away from my house, a far distance from the squash, sweet potato, and yucca patches, away from the anxious cattle, and out the earshot of nursing goat and pick. I walked and walked with puffs of the soil flying into the air with each step.

I walked until I got to the place where nothing. No one knew why, lack of rain, abnormally greedy animals, or a scorching sun. It was the size of the land my house is built on. I could paint in the vegetable patches to my left and the animal fences to right, all with my eyes, but when I looked in front of me to paint in the bright bold strikes of my house, I could not envision it. I dropped the paintbrush and really looked at my surroundings, a red sea. I looked down at my shoes and skirt, a bright scarlet red. It was then that I became sure I was drowning. As the sea churned violently, I allowed myself to cry and scream for help as I struggled to stay afloat. After the several minutes, I tired and did the last thing I could think of, I asked God to give me the power he gave Moses to part the red sea, but I still struggled. I struggled against the red sea for a long time, longer then I can remember, but I did not drown. When the waters calmed, I swam back to house. When I looked stood at my doorstep and looked out I could see my mother standing on the other side.

Shyanne Bennett
Age 18, Grade 12
Girls Write Now
Gold Key

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