We Need Water
by Raquel Battaglia
I stopped sweeping the kitchen when I heard the cows moo. The moaning, thirsty sound rolled through the open window with the late-July Montana heat.
I checked Jubal’s crib next to the window: he slept as a pitiful half-breath of breeze stirred the curtain. Virginia sat at the table across the room and played quietly with her wooden horse figures. Yes cows, I can spare a few minutes to pump some water.
The grass crinkled under my feet when I stepped off the front step of our house. The grass needed water as much as the cows did.
“I’ll do it.”
I jumped at the sound of Papa’s voice. I hadn’t realized he was sitting on the porch; he wasn’t normally home from the construction sites so early.
Papa continued, “I’ll water the cows.” He started walking to the pump, his head pushed down against the sun’s rays. The rays pushed back, and Papa looked weary under their weight. He always looked tired now, with Mama gone. I needed to help him.
I ran to get in front of him and called over my shoulder, “No Papa, I’ll do it. I can help.”
I got to the pump first. Its bright blue paint looked lonely in the world of dry grass and drier sky.
I grabbed the handle with both hands, I could almost reach my fingers all the way around it. Using all my strength, I pulled the handle up in front of me then knelt beneath it to push it up all the way, over my head. Then I jumped a little to grab the handle and pull it back down with me.
Nothing came out of the spigot. The bucket in front of it held only hot air. I was failing.
I went through the steps for another pump but again the bucket stayed dry. My face went hot, I didn’t know if it was the heat or embarrassment. I went to try again, but my hands slipped and I stumbled back. Papa caught me and kept me on my feet. I had failed.
“My turn,” he said and grabbed the handle. His fingers wrapped all the way around the handle.
Papa’s muscles didn’t know he was skinny now. He pulled the handle all the way up smoothly and then brought it down again, much faster than me, and a slight trickle of water emerged from the spigot. He gave another pump, and more water came. His hands didn’t slip from the handle and he pumped more, until water was splashing into the bucket and sweat dripped off the tip of his nose. When the bucket was full, I saw a chance to help him again.
“I can carry the bucket.” I grabbed the handle before Papa could tell me no, I planted my feet on either side and used both hands to lift it.
My determination was almost enough to make Papa smile; I saw it. Some weariness slipped off the left side of his face and it lifted a little.
“You don’t give up, do you?”
“Mama taught me not to.”
I regretted it as soon as I said it.
Papa’s whole face sunk. Heaviness pulled his eyes back to the ground, away from the water, away from me.
“Flora, let me do the bucket,” Papa said. The words clung together, as if they only managed to stumble out into the world through propping one another up.
I’ve hurt him. I had to fix it.
“No, I can do it. Don’t worry.” I took a haggard step forward and the jolt sloshed some water onto the ground. I hoped the grass was grateful. I took another step, and my left knee buckled, which sent more water splashing out of the bucket.
“Flora, you’re wasting water. I’ll do it.” Papa reached for the bucket.
“No!” I have to help. I took another step, and my hands gave up. The bucket fell sideways and all of the water made dirty golden rivers in the dust of the ground.
“FLORA.” Papa’s voice clapped against my ears. I stood still, shocked. Papa didn’t yell.
“I’m sorry,” I stammered, “I just wanted to help fix things.”
“Flora,” he said, “you can’t fix everything.”
I hung my head and looked at the ground. I tried not to cry and took a deep breath. I counted four blades of grass by my left big toe.
“I can try,” I said quietly.
Papa sighed before he replied, “I know. You do. But you got to know when to call it quits. Some things are more than we can do.” He paused. “That’s what I’m going to teach you.”
The cows started to bellow again, huddled at the fence line as close to us as they could get. I carried the empty bucket back to the spigot, Papa walked beside me.
Raquel Battaglia's BIO
Raquel Battaglia is an American southerner living ‘across the pond’ in the UK. She is a social psychologist by education and a hospice and palliative care researcher by job who uses writing to explore the qualitative nature of the human experience. Her poetry and flash fiction can be read in Fellowship & Fairydust, The Tower, and 50 Give or Take.
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