Red Wheelbarrow

I was honored when asked to be a part of this Mélange blogging experience. It wasn’t long after the honor, however, that the writer’s block and panic settled in. Which is why, for my first post, I’m sharing my favorite flash fiction piece, which I wrote after being inspired by the William Carlos Williams verse, The Red Wheelbarrow.

so much depends

upon

a red wheel

barrow

glazed with rain

water

beside the white

chickens

So much depends upon a red wheelbarrow glazed with rain water beside the white chickens. Everything does, since water’s worth more than gold these days. But Mama told me it wasn’t always like that, that water used to flow at the flip of a switch. Clean water.

Two inches of rain rest within the wheelbarrow’s walls, and Hank takes the first handful to his mouth, his fingers trembling with excitement and fatigue. Hank’s always first, since he’s the smallest. Rose rolls her eyes as she stands back, but I know she understands. He’s weak, even weaker than yesterday.

We haven’t seen rain in too many months, and my mouth is dry. Sometimes it bleeds, but Mama’s is much worse. She stands back and watches the three of us, and her tongue grazes over her cracked lips, probably without even knowing it. But she’ll let us drink first, let us wet our dry tongues and fill our bellies; I tell myself to save her some when my turn comes.

Hank is laughing now, and water dribbles down his dirty chin, leaving tracks. We can’t help our laughter, too—even Rose. Even the three chickens cluck.

They cluck and they cluck.

Before I can put a clamp on my train of thought—as Mama would say—I imagine what our chickens would taste like. Mama refuses to kill them because they give us eggs, but it doesn’t mean I can’t imagine.

We have to hide them when stragglers come by. Most men and women would kill for a live animal. Sometimes even a dead one. Even though I haven’t come in personal contact with many people, I know Mama’s right when she says we can’t trust anyone anymore. The people I do remember us meeting were proof of that.

Once Rose has gulped four handfuls, it’s my turn. Flakes of rust float in the remains, but it doesn’t stop me. I groan from the coolness moving down my neck and into my belly. The roof of my mouth savors it, the crisp, clean taste. After one handful, I back up so Mama can take her turn. My hands are still wet, so when she isn’t looking I’ll lick them.

But she scolds me with her eyes, narrow and fierce and loving. They appear to say my name. Charlene.

I ignore her at first, but her eyes continue to dig and her feet seem fastened to the ground. And as I bow my head and eagerly cup more, I know that even though everything depends on that red wheelbarrow glazed in rainwater for Hank, Rose, and me, it doesn’t for Mama.

For Mama, everything depends on the life of her children.

4 thoughts on “Red Wheelbarrow

  1. Welcome to the site. You are a wonderful, insightful writer. I look forward to reading your work and learning from you.

    P.S. AMEN to the Oxford comma!

  2. Wow! So vivid and visceral. Yes, most every Mama I’ve ever known has lived for her children. Welcome to the group. Can’t wait to drink up your words.

  3. I like it…
    Nice combo plate of paleo and neo-modernism.

    Long live the Oxford Comma!

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