THE SWEETNESS OF GRASS
written by: Steve Carr
The warm winds of early spring blew the scents of wet earth and prairie grass into Marcia's room through the open window. The prairie grass that had turned brown and died during the harsh snowy winter had been quickly replaced by a vista of bright green grass that had already grown knee-high. Lying in her bed by the window she watched a small herd of buffalo slowly cross the horizon beyond the boundaries of the ranch. A meadowlark on the barbwire fence that separated the ranch from the open prairies sang out once then flew away. The rain that had fallen during the night had left small pools of water in the freshly tilled garden nearer the house. Black-capped chickadees flitted from wooden stake to stake imbedded in the ground near the garden for tomato vines that Aunt Marge had hopes of finally producing edible tomatoes, but had not yet been planted.
Marcia closed her eyes and inhaled deeply, taking the prairie scents deep into her lungs, and held her breath for a moment before exhaling. The moisture in the air lingered on her tongue. Again, looking out the window she watched a white-tailed jack rabbit enter the garden, sniff around in the dirt, then quickly leap off into the grass and disappear from sight. In the distance she could see Uncle Ernie's red pickup truck coming down the long dirt road to the house. Marcia took another pillow from the edge of her bed and put it on top of the one beneath her head raising her up a bit more allowing her a better view out the window. The white lace curtains tickled by the breeze fluttered at each side of the window.
Aunt Marge came into the room carrying Marcia’s freshly washed and ironed nightgowns. “I thought you were going to sleep all day,” she said as she opened the top dresser drawer and placed the folded nightgowns in with Marcia's undergarments.
“It's a beautiful morning,” Marcia said watching her thin, elderly aunt. “I saw a herd of buffalo crossing the prairie.”
“Ugly beasts every one of them but it's nice to see them thriving again,” she said as she closed the dresser drawer. She sat on Marcia's bed, down by the mahogany baseboard. She ran her hand over the smooth, polished surface of the wood. “This bed has been in our family for three generations now,” she said wistfully.
“I saw Uncle Ernie coming down the road,” Marcia said returning to looking out the window. A small white cotton-ball-like cloud was crossing the pale blue sky.
“He must have gotten things taken care of in town,” Aunt Marge said.
“I hope so,” Marcia said. “I can't believe how complicated things are.”
Aunt Marge smoothed the quilt over Marcia's feet, leaving her hand resting on Marcia's left foot. “Are you feeling okay?”
“As well as can be expected I guess,” Marcia said as she watched two chickadees compete for the same spot on one of the stakes.
Aunt Marge patted Marcia's foot then stood up and straightened her apron. “Well, it's out of our hands at this point,” she said. “I better get downstairs and see what your Uncle Ernie has to say about how things went.”
Marcia turned her head and watched her aunt leave the room. Afterward, looking around the room she took in every detail; the bright purple violets on the wallpaper, the framed photographs on the wall of her deceased parents, smaller photos on the dresser of her horse Electra taken a year before, a large print in a white frame of Jasper Cropsey's brightly colored landscape painting “Autumn on the Hudson River.”
From downstairs she could hear Uncle Ernie coming into the house. His voice, booming even when he meant to whisper, echoed throughout the house. Marcia reached up and ran her hands over her smooth bald scalp. As she thought about the long brown hair she no longer had she looked out the window and watched a white-tailed deer make its way slowly along the fence. She heard her uncle's footsteps even before he came in the room.
“Everything's okay,” he said, coming into the middle of the room and slipping his hands into the pockets of his denim overalls. “They're leaving it in our hands.”
“Good,” Marcia said. “Thank you Uncle Ernie.”
“It's nothing,” he said, taking his hands out of his pockets and sitting in the rocking chair. He rocked back and forth saying nothing for several minutes. The rocker rails squeaked on the wooden floor. “I drove through some of the Badlands on the way back. All the colors of the formations are really something to see this time of year.”
Marcia looked up at the trees and bright oranges and browns in Cropsey's landscape. “I wish I had traveled more,” she said at last.
“I've been here my entire life,” Ernie said. “Never been any further than Sioux Falls. I'd get depressed not seeing the prairie grass,” he said.
“Yes, the grass,” Marcia said reflectively. “When it's summer and it has turned yellow and the entire landscape of it waves in the breeze, it's beautiful to watch.”
“Nothing like it,” Ernie said.
Aunt Marge came into the room. She brushed a loose hair hanging over her forehead back into the rest of her white hair. “I was just talking to Martha on the phone. She wanted to know if there was anything your friends in Wall could do for you?”
“That's kind of them,” Marcia said. A spasm of pain coursed through her chest. “I need one of my pills,” she said.
Aunt Marge went to Marcia's bedside stand and opened one of the brown bottles sitting on it and took out a blue pill and handed it to Marcia. “Let me get you some water,” she said.
“That's okay,” Marcia said popping the pill into her mouth and swallowing it. She looked out the window. A meadowlark on the fence, possibly the same one that had been there earlier, let out a brief melodic song. “I'd like to die out there,” Marcia said.
“Marcia Crosby!” Aunt Maggie exclaimed. “What an awful thought.”
“I mean in a bed of prairie grass,” Marcia said.
Uncle Ernie stood up. “I can understand that, but they would put us in jail if we put you out there in the grass,” he said. “I have some work to do. I'll come back and visit with you later,” he said to Marcia.
“Okay, Uncle Ernie,” Marcia replied.
Aunt Marge took Uncle Ernie's place in the rocker and rocked back and forth. “This rocker was a gift from your parents,” she said.
“I didn't know that,” Marcia said. She looked out the window and watched as a large crow landed in the garden and pecked at the wet dirt. In the sky another cloud came into view. “That rainstorm last night was really something.”
“Rainwater got into the root cellar, but fortunately what few vegetables that are in there were on the upper shelves. Your Uncle is going to have Zach come over and help dry it out using some sort of contraption,” Aunt Marge said.
Marcia looked down at the chickadees hopping about on the stakes. Another pain spasm struck her chest. She gasped and grabbed her chest where her left breast had once been.
Aunt Marge stood up quickly and went to Marcia's bedside. “What can I do?”
Marcia let her breathing return to normal and said, “The pain pill hasn't kicked in yet.”
“I can give you another one if you want to sleep for a while,” Aunt Marge said.
“That might be a good idea,” Marcia said. She looked up at the ceiling and wondered why she hadn't seen the hairline crack in the light green paint before as Aunt Marge took another pill out of the bottle and handed it to her. She swallowed the pill and drifted off to sleep lullabied by the sound of Aunt Marge rocking in the chair and the song of the meadowlark.
When she awoke, she opened her eyes slowly to the strong aroma of prairie grass. Zach, the local handyman and friend of the family was standing in the doorway, his arms loaded with fresh prairie grass. “Zach, what are you doing?” Marcia said drowsily.
“She's awake,” Zach yelled down the stairs. “Your Uncle Ernie wanted to give you a present.”
Marcia looked around the room, mounds of prairie grass sat on every available foot of floor space. Uncle Ernie, Aunt Marge, friends Martha, Nick and Naomi, and their teenage daughter Tina came into the room. Together they lifted Marcia from the bed and covered the bed in a thick pile of prairie grass then laid her back on it.
Marcia closed her eyes and drifted into eternity.