Early morning’s soft light washes over prairie stretched tight as a drum skin eastward to the horizon as Mark lifts himself out of the truck.
The menacing buzz of mosquitoes, the insistent spit of irrigation sprinklers and the drone of an engine pumping water break the morning’s silence.
The residue of sleep lingers in his young body making it feel 100 pounds heavier, his eyelids heavier still. He turns his back on the Porcupine Hills to the west that offer the only relief from the sweep of flatlands spread to infinity in every other direction.
Mark’s workmates clomp through the mud to the other end of the field to turn off the pump’s engine. Arcs of water thrown from the sprinklers slowly sag and slacken to an old man’s dribble.
He walks through the knee-deep crop to help straighten the sprinklers at the end of the field. The rich aroma of cultivation gives way to a drier, more ancient scent as the world falls off before his feet into the undulating curves and gullies of a coulee filled with virgin soil and silvery green sagebrush.
It’s as if God in an impetuous moment scooped out a piece of prairie with his hands and flung it out of sight.
A meadowlark’s song draws his gaze eastward. In a blink, a young woman rises out of the sun from the edge of the coulees. Her long, brown hair fleetingly catches his eyes as she rises from her haunches to reveal her startling nakedness.
Full breasts and erect nipples thrust out from underneath a leather necklace. Flaring hips narrow to a downy brown triangle. Mark’s nostrils fill with the fragrance of sage as she walks toward him.
She reverently raises her arms in praise to the sky then lowers them to her sides, palms up. He feels the pull of her, as irresistible as the tug of a river’s undercurrent.
Mark touches her shoulder. His soul is pulled from his body like cotton candy from a cone as the earth opens its heart to him. He hears an ant march past his boot. Feels a mother sparrow’s anguish as she searches for her young. Tastes the green kernel of grain in a badger’s mouth. Wave upon wave of life crashes over him before his mind capsizes and he gently sinks to the ground.
She lies down on the cool, tilled earth beside him. Her silhouette mimics the undulations of the coulees – hips, breasts, shoulders, thighs.
“Get yer head out of yer ass. Dad’s waitin’ for us to straighten out the wheel move.”
Mark jerks his head toward his brother then quickly turns back to the woman, but the connection is broken. She is gone.
“The Coulee Song” was originally published in The Group of Seven Reimagined: Contemporary Stories Inspired by Historic Canadian Paintings (Heritage House, 2019).
It was nominated for ‘The Pushcart Prize’.
FEATURED IMAGE – “Jim BROMPTON Master Photographer” – ‘Palouse’ – JimBromptom.com
Bretton Loney is a novelist and short story writer whose work has appeared in four short story anthologies, including The Group of Seven Reimagined, published in 2019. In 2018, Bretton published his first novel, The Last Hockey Player.
In 2015, he released Rebel With A Cause: The Doc Nikaido Story, a biography of the late Alberta physician, Dr. Harry Nikaido. Bretton lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia.