the highway went in and the train depot closed. What difference did it
make if death came by economic or ecological disaster? Kestract had
already put fat checks in the Kester County School District’s budget and
finished the reconstruction of the mayor’s white-columned mansion.
Kestract was life support, buying time God hadn’t granted. The bars
were full. Boys who would have dropped out of high school and shelled
peanuts now earned upward of sixty grand a year working the well pads.
It was one of them, no doubt, who’d spilled the wastewater in the first
place, but Evaline couldn’t bring herself to ask for names. Unlike the rest
of the town, she believed knowing “who” just made everything worse.
(Evaline and Constance Wimberley used to be friends. Knowing “who”
put an end to it.) The spill had happened; the water had leached as she
stood there, soaking into soybean fields and bog mud, killing everything
on its way toward Kester proper. They already hated her for signing the
forms—or so they figured she had—and nothing she said would make
right the salt lake burning up plant roots and rabbit holes as the seconds
passed. All she had to do was finish packing the house. Then Kestract
and Kester could eat her retirement dust.
Evaline had almost laughed at the funeral yesterday, seeing Harlan
in church for the first time in years. His irreverence had started simply,
with skipping communion and the temptation of a spoonful of wine. He
couldn’t even be trusted with a thimble of booze in the minister’s hand.
His liver had already left him, taking off with the farm’s east lot, the departures always in pairs. The day Harlan collapsed in Campbells’ Meat
Market, they’d sold a parcel to a cattle rancher next door to pay for Harlan’s appointments with the therapist for PTSD. Harlan was too proud to
even file the insurance claim; his old buddy worked in the office on Main,
and god forbid he see the request sent in from a shrink. The therapist kept
Harlan’s mind around a while longer, but the liver went quickly, trailing its
stench of bourbon and beer down the road with its bags. Liver be damned.
It was the loss of fidelity that’d been the hardest for Evaline to take lying
down. And Constance Wimberley, friend for the ages, had the nerve to
sit not two pews behind her at the service. Evaline regretted not throwing
his ash in her face. Constance had never gotten over Harlan staying with
Evaline. She was the one who whispered loudest that Evaline had signed
those papers herself, selling out all of Kester out of spite. In middle school,
Constance and Evaline had been home ec partners, fixing each other’s
stitches on skirts sewn with fabric too ugly to ever wear. Evaline didn’t ask
for names anymore. She wished she’d never asked, “Who?”