by Hugh Wesley
They whisper bittersweet stories of your past.
|Cat tongues, Thomas had called them.
Those broad, low-lying cactuses that sprayed across the cracked earth just outside their splintered and weathered door.
He might just as well have been describing the sandy morning breeze that brushed across Thelma’s cheeks — cat tongues.
Those cactuses had no business blooming their little yellow flowers on the desert floor. Not then. Not there.
Just an hour into the day, and already the sun was clawing at Thelma’s forehead, threatening to peel the skin back to the white bone beneath.
Not a drop of rain in months. Not since the morning Thomas left.
How could anything live in this hell? Thelma wondered.
She bent over the little patch of plants to study the blossoms. They looked just as hale and vibrant as they always did, year after year.
But they couldn’t be there. They were illusions.
Thelma touched the stones in the short wall she had built around the plants, making sure each rock was placed just so, a vain attempt to protect the flowers from the wind, the varmints … the unknown.
When Thomas was a little boy, she could protect him from anything just by pulling him into the folds of her skirt , holding him close, shielding his eyes. She couldn’t shield him from anything now, not when he was … out there, somewhere. And she couldn’t shield the flowers from the harsh wasteland around her.
Just as Thelma was about to quit even trying, a shadow fell across her back and stretched out on dirt in front of her.
“The cat tongues are beautiful this year, Ma,” a deep but youthful voice said from behind her.
Thelma smiled as raindrops kissed the golden blossoms, and it hardly mattered whether the shower came from the sky, or from her own eyes.