21 February 2007

People in Hell just want a drink of water

Mrs. Tinsley, intensely modest, sensitive and abhorring marital nakedness, suffered from nerves; she was distracted and fretted by shrill sounds as the screech of a chair leg scraping the floor or the pulling of a nail. As a girl in Missouri she had written a poem that began with the line “Our life is a beautiful Fairy Land.” Now she was mother to three. When the youngest girl, Mabel, was a few months old they made a journey into Laramie, the infant howling intolerably, the wagon bungling along, stones sliding beneath the wheels. As they crossed the Little Laramie Mrs. Tinsley stood up and hurled the crying infant into the water. The child’s white dress filled with air and it floated a few yards in the swift current, then disappeared beneath a bower of willows at the bend. The woman shrieked and made to leap after the child but Horm Tinsley held her back. They galloped across the bridge and to the river’s edge below the bend. Gone and gone.

As if to make up for her fit of destruction Mrs. Tinsley developed an intense anxiety for the safety of the surviving children, tying them to chairs in the kitchen lest they wander outside and come to harm, sending them to bed while the sun was still high for twilight was a dangerous time, warning them away from haystacks threaded with vipers, from trampling horses and biting dogs, the yellow Wyandottes who pecked, from the sound of thunder and the sight of lightening. In the night she came to their beds many times to learn if they had smothered.

People in Hell just want a drink of water, Close Range, Annie Proulx

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