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  • Salt Land
  • Amanda Baldeneaux (bio)

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[End Page 34]

Many things lay buried beneath the fields of the Gillie farm: splintered seed dibblers tangled in sorrel root, Ute arrowheads, their edges chipped by plows, snapped cattle bones, and the rusted heads of severed scythe blades and spades. Those things were shallow, no harder to find than the bottle of bourbon Harlan hid beneath the bench seat [End Page 35] of his mud-caked truck. Every family in Kester had them, relics revealed with little more than the scratch of an uncut fingernail.

Evaline knew—had always known—it was the deep things that brought ruin if exposed to sunlight: the name of Joanne's real daddy, the scar on Jake's cheek, the floor of the ancient seabed beneath the shale. Too long ago to fathom, the sea's first inhabitants, soft-bodied squids, jellies, and cucumbers, had swum where corn now grew, then died and dissolved into methane and crude oil deep beneath the topsoil and bedrock of the Gillie farmland. Harlan's family had owned the land long before Evaline came along and discovered the shale.

Before Kestract Oil & Gas gave a damn about the clay-packed tract, the first Gillies mined a living in turnip roots, rutabagas, and collards. The land fought back, and the farmers took to hanging their broken wagon wheels like trophies on the broad sides of the barn, the rims and spokes snapped in the trenches of mud where the Gillies worked themselves into graves forcing greens from the clay-thick ground. The broken wheels still hung there like phases of the moon charted across the peeling paint of the old boards.

With Harlan dead, though, farming was finished. Kestract saw to that, even though Evaline would be blamed. The neighbors didn't know the brine water had spilled, though, so they busied themselves with other concerns that weren't their own, like what Evaline should do with Harlan's remains.

"Bury the body" was the consensus, but on the question of whether it should be in the Presbyterian churchyard—Harlan's old religion—or the Baptist, Kester remained divided.

"Ashes to ashes," Evaline took to responding. The way she saw it, Harlan hadn't left much for her to dispose of, anyway. Pieces of his body had been calling it quits and taking their usefulness with them for as long as she'd been married to him. That would have been fine if the elements of Harlan hadn't taken pieces of the Gillie farm with them each time they packed up and left. His left knee had been the first to go: years of high school track and morning PT in combat boots made that departure inevitable. His knee took the chicken coop with it. Sure, a bad storm had blown in during the night and leveled the coop after the doctor declared all the cartilage shot, but over the years, Evaline saw the pattern. By the time Harlan died, there wasn't much of him left to bury but calcium-bereft bones and the pooling skin draped over them. With the Kestract [End Page 36] drilling rig slowly chewing away at the shale beneath the farm now, it only made sense to let Harlan's bones be burned and ground down, too.

"Burial is God's way." This always came after Evaline told neighbors that she meant to cremate Harlan. God forbid anyone in this town might respond with a simple nod and a tending to their own business. Laissez-faire had never been a motto that Kester residents knew how to live by. Hell, Evaline doubted anyone born in Kester could even spell it. She couldn't, even after three years of French in between her geochemistry courses at Bauxark College. No one had approved of that decision, either—a Kester girl shipped off to study rocks and beakers—where'd her momma gone wrong? She'd have stayed away, too, if not for the anchoring rocks holding the mud of the farm fields in place. And Harlan. As a child, Evaline had spent summers digging quartz and limestone...


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