A Fish in the Desert


A short novel, possibly a novella in flash, it’s early days. Still about 2/3 finsihed for the first draft. This has been the lockdown project; unable to concentrate on the novel in progress (a Gift of Time), I went back to my shorts file and started polishing them – this one wouldnt get finished, and has become, like the unruly child at the heart of it, wilful and growing. I have no expectations of it, which is, weirdly, quite refreshing!

Martha Rae Salter is an only child of older parents, living on the Kansas/Oklahoma border in the early 1930s. As she grows up she discovers that nothing is quite as she thought, not her neighbours, not her parents, not her feelings for best friend Bessie, not even the soil beneath her feet, as drought and overreaching destroys the land her family rely on.

I slip outta the house and walk down to the creek.

The earth is dusty under my feet, every step puffs up another cloud. I walk fast, trying to outdistance the muddy streaks that’ll be working their way up the back a’ my skirt. Mebbe I stir more dust that way, I cain’t tell.

Ain’t been down this way since Erdmann’s littluns – not since Miz Erdmann – then this afternoon at school, Clara walks by me and hisses, Creek, tanaight.

I finish ma chores so damn fast Ma gives me a look.

What? I scowl.

‘Don’t you cheek me, Martha Rae.’

She dun’t never call me Martha Rae, that’s ma Daddy’s name fur me. It makes my heart hurt to hear her call me that.

I in’t.I says, but I is, and she clips me one. I hang the broom up tidy, and take off my pinafore and hang that tidy too, real pointed, then I comb my hair. She hates it when I do what she’s about to tell me to do.

‘You ain’t so grown yet I cain’t give you a good hidin’.’

In’t I though? I wonder. She ain’t lammed me in a while, not since I got sick, least ways, and that’s months now.