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
out of the roadside, looking for streaks of crystal in the discard piles cut
by bulldozers after the county roads were built. By the time she left for
college, Evaline already knew about the shale and what it kept hidden
Beneath was where most of Kester liked to keep old things: secrets,
bodies, and now the oil and gas that soaked the shale rocks just under
the layers of cornstalks and soil. The Gillies had always been a farming family, naming their acreage “Gillies’ Retreat” after the turn their
forefathers had made at the first sight of a salt pan stretching across the
Utah desert. The risk of cracking open the salt pan’s crust and drowning
drove the Gillies back into the delta lands bordering the swamps and the
bayous that stretched into the sea farther south. After that, the first Gillies were content to homestead the mosquito-filled bog they’d sneered at
not six months prior.
The Gillies might have retreated, but at least they hadn’t joined the
fraction of settlers nestled forever in the soft mud traps hidden beneath
the crusts of salt out West. Those were the ones who didn’t retreat. Those
settlers had left the swamps with seeds and spades in hand, following the
promise of Zion and fields of ripe, dry soil. In the end, all they’d planted
were their own bodies, from which nothing grew, not even stones.
“Retreat” for the Gillies, back then, had meant to run. With Harlan,
though, it’d been a place. Now that he’d died, Evaline prepared to run
again, and not just because she’d delivered Harlan cold to the crematorium twenty miles east and driven him back in a cardboard box on her
lap, earning more scorn from her former friends.