Back to Issue Sixteen.

southwestern baptism


At the halfway mark of every daylight hour for twenty seven days in the middle of summer, a C-130 tanker bombs its red rain on the fire line. Smoke fists on mountain arms punch the air as the plane drubs away, low, always over us while we are trying to think or eat or fuck or tell the children to be quiet when the phone rings. The planes, sometimes helicopters trailing behind with jawed bales chained under them, drip a rusty mist coming and going, something like spring rain, but it stains, so we have named this dribble, stain showers.

What a nice stain shower today. Almost felt real. Almost enough to save the zinnias, red on red.

But then the winds change and planes can’t fly. Nothing comes from the sky but ash. The zinnias finish dying. Flurries of mock snow drift against window panes, gray the gravel driveways, dried lawns. We yell at the kids, Come inside, stop throwing it, stop playing in it. Close your mouths. You’ll ruin your lungs.

Nothing we say makes a firebreak.

Tonight, fumes roll over the phosphate-sulfate line, trees swell and pop, clouds of birds soot the sky, the last cougar runs, a fireball over the bluff. Flapping on the clothesline, pillow cases and undershirts wave their smoky farewells. Forget them, pack what you’re wearing and leave it by the door. Wind your shoes up like a sprinter’s. Stay awake with me, straining over AM radio, waiting for word, for sirens, for the engines of morning to put us out, to pour on our heads something more immediately redemptive than the red blood of Christ, shed in a sacrifice of rain.

Shelly Weathers’ work has appeared in Redivider, Sou’wester, Moon City Review, Timber, Psychopomp, and elsewhere, and has received the 2013 Beacon Street Prize in Fiction, as well as the 2014 John Steinbeck Short Story Award.

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