Monday, July 23, 2012

The Drought by Sharon Lurie

© 2012 David's Harp and Pen

Mood: Wet

DISCLAIMERS: This blog is based, in part, upon actual events and people. Certain actions and characters have been dramatized and fictionalized, but are inspired by true events and real people. Certain other characters, events, and names used herein are entirely fictitious. Any similarity of those fictional characters or events to the name, attributes, or background of any real person, living or dead, or to any actual events is coincidental and unintentional…or is it?

Once upon a time, there was a young woman who owned a large field.  The field had an old well at the edge of it.  The property had been given to her as a gift from her beloved.  The beloved told her if she did what he said, her field would overflow with grain and produce, and she would never hunger or thirst again.

The beloved was the only family the woman had.  He was a kind and generous lover.  He would frequently come to the woman in the night and the two would talk and commune into the early hours of the morning.  In fact, the beloved only visited with the woman at night, and never when anyone else was there.  There was nothing good that the beloved withheld from the woman.

One year, as sowing time approached, a drought fell over the land.  The woman, as all those afflicted by the drought, labored and toiled under an unforgiving sun, but the lack of rain produced a substandard harvest.  Drought was nothing new to the woman, as it is an accepted part of life for those tied to the soil.  This year’s drought, however, seemed much more severe than in years past.  As night began to fall, after a long day of taking her produce to market, the woman sat at her table, counting and recounting the money she had received for her labors, a sum much less than what she’d hoped for when the planting commenced.  Suddenly, she felt a familiar hand on her shoulder, and when she turned to look, she saw the one for whom her soul longed.  She buried her face in his shoulder and cried, “I worked so hard!  I really needed this money!  There’s so much that needs to be done here, and I was counting on the harvest money to do it!”

“I know,” replied her beloved, as his strong hand gently wiped the tears from her eyes.

“Please tell me this is the end of the drought,” she whimpered as she looked into his piercing eyes.  The beloved, however, made no reply.

“How long?  How much more until we have rain?”  she implored nervously, for it was not like the beloved to hold back information from her.  Still, the beloved remained silent.

“A year?  Two?  What should I do?  Should I stay here?  Should I head elsewhere?  Why won’t you say anything?” she pleaded.

The beloved looked deep into the woman’s nervous eyes and answered, “The rain does its work and gives life to the land.  However, the drought has its place, too, and must do its full work before the rain can come.  The drought destroys all that is temporary, all those things that suffocate the promise of tomorrow for the pleasure of today.  You will not see me again until the rain comes.  In the meantime, my love, stay here, where we have built this life together.  Keep working the land, even in those moments when it seems futile.  Don’t water the field with any water except rain from the sky and the well at the end of the field.  Don’t be afraid to deplete the last of your storehouse.  I promise you that the next time you see me, I will bring rain with me.”

This was the last thing the woman wanted to hear.  Until that point, there hadn’t been any secrets between her lover and her, and she didn’t understand why the sudden mystery.  However, since she trusted him, and because he was her life, she knew whatever he promised would come to pass.

The time to sow again arrived quickly.  The season was a tiresome one for the woman.  The town elders predicted the drought would continue at least another year.  The water levels in the rivers and lakes began to fall, and the landscape slowly but surely turned from green to brown.  The woman labored tirelessly under the merciless sun, doing all she could to irrigate her field and slake the thirst of her unborn crops.  Despite her best efforts, the land yielded an even smaller harvest than the year before, and she began to wonder how long her field and she could go before she would have to dip into her savings and her food stores.  With all the heat and dehydration, the real heartache wasn’t the physical drought, but the emotional one, namely not getting to see her beloved.  She lay in bed into the darkest part of the night, wondering how things could become so bleak so quickly.  As sleep finally started to weigh down her eyelids, she heard a familiar voice whisper in her ear with the familiar, warm, reassuring breath, “I told you I will send rain.  I am not slow concerning my promises.  Just because you can’t see me doesn’t mean I have left.”

The woman’s eyes shot back open, and she sat bolt upright in bed, but as earnestly as she looked for her lover, all she could see were the waves of heat that had taken possession of the countryside.  She told herself again and again that her lover was trustworthy and she had nothing to fear.  And as the drought moved on into its third year, the woman would soon face her greatest test.

Making the effort to sow in the third year of drought seemed so futile.  Most of the perennial plants in the countryside were now dead or dying off.  With no sign of rain, and ever-increasing heat, what was the purpose of sowing?  The woman noticed that she had to let her bucket drop further and further into the well in order to get water.

The woman set about diligently plowing her field and planting the little seed she had left.  She didn’t want to think about what would happen when the seed ran out and the well finally ran dry.  The day came when she used up the last of her seed, and there was none more to be found in all the land.

Soon her neighbors began coming around, asking for seed and begging for food.  Because she trusted her lover, she freely gave of the last of all she had.  Despite her generosity, her neighbors, beleaguered from the extended season of drought, began to mock her.  Where is the rain, they would ask?  Why does your beloved delay, they would demand?  Why are you the only one who has ever seen him, they would protest?  The supplications for seed and food continued, and though she had no answers for her neighbors, she didn’t even want to entertain the thought that her lover and friend, all she had in the world, would let her down.  As she gave out the last of her food supplies, she whispered, “Lover, wherever you are, please send rain, and please bring food.  No one has ever understood our love and what we share, and that has never bothered me until now.  These people are suffering, as am I.  Please.  Show everyone here that you are real, and you will not leave the one you love to starve.”

The next day, the woman awoke to a sight for her drought-weary eyes:  rain clouds.  They were full and black and ominous.  Lightning and thunder crashed across the sky, and the woman waited with anticipation for the long overdue rain. 

And she waited. 

And waited some more. 

Not a single drop of rain fell.  She went to bed hungry and heavy-hearted, but hopeful that surely the sky would soon yield its fruit, and rain would fall on the land again at last.

The following day, the woman arose early and went outside.  The clouds were still there, as was the chill in the air.  Still no rain.  The land was still dry as a bone.  One by one, her neighbors came around to the house, telling about the storms and downpours that fell upon their farms.  The woman was puzzled as to why it was raining everywhere except on her field, especially since the storm clouds continued to gather.  She thought surely the clouds wouldn’t hold out on her much longer.  That evening, she lay in bed awake for several hours, hoping to hear the sound of falling rain over the sound of her empty stomach growling.

“Why the clouds but no rain?  Why does the sky tease me thus?” she thought to herself.  A rattling at her front door interrupted her thoughts.  She quickly arose from her bed and ran to the front door.  When she opened it, she was startled to find a basket filled with bread, fruit, and vegetables.   On the handle was a note from her beloved.

“Be anxious for nothing.  Do not grow weary in well doing, for in due time, you will reap a reward.”  She looked around in the night, but her lover was nowhere to be seen.

Another week passed.  Storm clouds, but no rain.  Everyone else had rain except her.  Her well was about to run out.  She was getting desperate.  Even with the basket of food at the door, she thought for sure her friend was angry with her.  One of her neighbors who had experienced consistent rainfall since the clouds appeared offered her some of his rainwater.  Her neighbor was handsome and friendly, and there was always something very pleasant in the way he spoke, although it seemed disingenuous to the woman at times.  Perhaps the loneliness and bewilderment were becoming too much for her.  She began to wonder if maybe she hadn’t heard her beloved correctly.  She thought surely, with the extremity of the situation, her beloved couldn’t have meant that she couldn’t try anything else to keep herself and her animals hydrated.  Besides, her comely neighbor seemed genuinely concerned about her well-being.  So, telling herself that her lover would certainly understand, she walked to her barn to gather up her cisterns.  Upon entering the barn, she discovered to her dismay that every last one of them had a hole in the bottom.  She fell to the ground sobbing.  As she covered her face with her hands, she heard that familiar whisper again as it asked, “Why?  Why do you worry?  Why do you make for yourself cisterns that can’t hold water?  Are my hands cut off?  Would you suddenly make a liar out of me?”

As in all the times she’d heard his voice since the drought started, she looked up to follow its source, but there was no sign of him.  She slammed her hand hard on the barn door and answered back, “Why would you make a liar out of me?  I have told all my neighbors that you are real, that you keep your promises, that you love me, and that you will not forsake me or leave me begging for bread.  I am the one trusting you, I am the one who has given myself to you and you only, yet you have not withheld your rain from anyone except me!  Why the clouds with no rain?  It’s like you’re saying I am doing something wrong, that I am holding up the works, but you won’t tell me what it is!  You are not the one being made a mockery of here!  I am!”

Twenty days the raven-toned clouds hovered over her field.  Twenty days the entire countryside got rain except her.  Twenty days her neighbors came to her home, some to inquire at the strange turn of events, and some just to mock her.  Why had she no rain?  Why did she continue to refuse water from anywhere except the sky and her own well?  Was the word of her beloved worth dying of thirst?  Twenty days she had nothing to say in reply, so she held her peace.  Surely the rain would come soon, she kept telling herself.

The woman awoke on the twenty-first day with great expectations, only to have them dashed as she exited her front door.  The clouds were gone.  The sky was clear.  The land was dry.  The heat was tortuous.  The sun was scorching.  Her heart was broken.  She gathered her strength for the moment and ran to the well.  She lowered her bucket until she heard it clank at the bottom.  Then she raised her bucket back up.  Completely dry.  Not one drop of water.  She screamed at the top of her lungs, dropped the bucket, and ran to the edge of her desolate, sun-singed field.  Then she fell the ground, beat the barren earth below her and cried, “Why, lover?  Why?  I did everything you told me to do.  I didn’t take from another’s well.  I waited and waited.  I gave until I couldn’t give anything else.  The three years of drought were bad enough, but to have the clouds and no rain is more than I can bear.  I trusted you!  I waited and waited for you!  I let myself be a fool to everyone I know because of you!  For twenty days the clouds have danced in front of my eyes as if to tease me for ever trusting you in the first place!  And you’re still gone!  You are gone, my food is gone, my seed is gone, and my well, the last of everything I had, is dried up!  What did I do?  How did I fail you?”

The woman sobbed and convulsed in the dry heat and the full weight of three years of anguish and desperation poured out of her.  She stretched out her hand to grab a handful of earth when she felt a cool drop on her finger, followed by another.  And another.  She turned her gaze upwards, but still saw the same tireless sun and the same waves of heat distorting the sky.  She closed her eyes as tightly as she could, thinking perhaps she was hallucinating.  The tiny cool drops of water increased in frequency and intensity upon her skin.  She opened her eyes and again looked towards the sky, but still no clouds.  She wondered to herself how it could be raining with no clouds and with the sun so bright.  But before she could think about it too long, the rain began to fall in torrents and sheets.  She picked herself and ran as fast as she could to the house.  As soon as she was inside, she ran to her window to witness the curious sight.  She looked out on the edge of her property to see her neighbors gather, they, too, dumbfounded at the odd, mystical sun shower.

The cloudless rain fell for twenty minutes, one minute for each of the preceding days of rainless clouds.  As the twenty-first minute approached, a strange, thundering boom arose from the ground.  In the blink of an eye, the woman’s field began to bloom and sprout, as if an entire growing season had been accelerated into a single day.  Fruits, grains, and vegetables of every stretch of the imagination shot heavenward, yielding the largest fruit and the tallest grain anyone had ever seen.  The woman’s neighbors, amazed at the phenomenon, rushed towards the fruit trees and began to pick the magical fruit.  Her neighbors filled their pockets and whatever they had with all the fruit of the field until they couldn’t carry any more.  There was still enough left over to more than compensate what the woman couldn’t grow in the three preceding years of drought.

The rain continued, and the earth yielded its bounty, until the sun had finally set.  Never had the heat subsided.  Never had a rain cloud appeared.  Still shocked and amazed, the young woman ventured out to her well.  To her joy and wonderment, she found it filled to the brim.  The light of the full moon rose behind her so that she could see her reflection in the well.  Then she saw another reflection, that of the face that she had been longing to see for the last three years.  Her beloved leaned closely into her, with his lips close against her ear.  He wrapped his arms around her and said, “I kept my word.  I didn’t need clouds to make the rain.  I didn’t need seed to produce a harvest.  I didn’t even need your faith in me.  My grace was sufficient.  I can make streams in the desert and the most barren wastelands into overflowing springs.  You asked me to send rain so your neighbors would know that I loved you.  I sent rain so that you would know that I loved you.”

The beloved was never hidden from the woman’s eyes again.  Seasons of drought came again, but there was always plenty of water and food, not only for the woman, but for her neighbors and the creatures of the field, too.  The great drought had done its work, to make ready the land, and the woman, for the great rain.  And, oh, what a rain it was.

The End


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