Dust bowls are flecked with a tiny grain that you’ll never find. Like the precious hand of this dirt eaten man as he moulds and shapes soft veins on his palm according to how many hours he has worked. The sun will pick his head like a child with a sugar rush higher than his wage. The gentle skin of tomatoes play with his chewed fingers, teasing the roughness with ripe sweetness. His eyes, like hollow barrels line his nose. Blue, thin water paddles below the surface of the raw earth of his face. He has no hat, just dusty hair, where his wife never lays her hands, but to push at with closed fists when he sleeps too close to her at night. He will finish his work and travel lightly. His fingers are longer than his nails and he pays the passing cart to let him sit amongst the lithe fingers of hot hay.
He slips off the side at the junction where the svelte dust road turns brittle, and walks into a small perfume shop. He frowns and rubs his fingers on each bottle of the shelf, until he smells it. His wife will like it, she always has. She will only use a small spot on her little finger and let it stay concentrated on the tip, then press it against her upper lip. When they first met he asked her why she did this. She would look at her finger and say that she could not afford to buy that little bottle of perfume, and if she pressed it where she could taste it all day, it was worth the money; “you see, only I will notice it anyway.” he stared at her and said that he would. But she laughs and rips her stocking with the perfumed finger, leaving a faint oil mark below her right knee that he will smell later.
So he buys it for her and lets it swing delicately into his right pocket. As he leaves the shop into the soft roads of the town, his boots and nose crisp with dust and the smoke of passing cars; of rich gentlemen who soil themselves in fine hats and brass rings. Their wives, plump and anatine in face, sweat gracefully in the crease where their breasts never part but to wash. As the car dips, he catches the fat wife’s eyes, bright in sanguine nourishment. Something catches her attention and she sighs, but her husband ignores her. Her husband will usually ignore her; except after meals when he is digesting.
He follows the smoke into a hut full of flowers and he’ll pick the ones which haven’t died. You see, his wife will certainly like them. She likes them against the beams of their house and to tell her mother that really, he does care. She will wear them to town so that the grocer may tell his wife that she never looked so healthy. Her hair is falling out so she weaves a petal into her hat and one onto her bosom. The florist wraps the stems in paper and tips his hat at the man. In return, he bows in subservience to suit his lack of prospects, and hat.
The bakery is on the other side of town and he walks with no great haste. He looks forward to seeing his wife in her soft composure, waiting for him. As he kicks shells of dirt, he remembers how they met so many years ago, when he dug the grave of her brother. They were both so young. He, who left school when his father had died, had begun to dig graves for the cemetery caretaker, at the graveyard between the Two Houses. It lay in destitute symmetry between quiet bricks and roofs and had a permanent yellow fog that sat in perpetuity. It even remained when the rains pierced the dry land. It had smothered the earth in warm wetness, and one could smell fruit and fertile bodies for weeks. He hadn’t minded the limp bodies until her dead brother, and his only thought was to carry his head into the rain to wash death away, so that maybe she might smile at him.
The sun had made them sleepy on that day and they took their time in examining each other. She had arched hips and shadows circled their fingers around the features of her face. Her silhouette enclosed her small breasts, deep sunken eyes and thick hair. She had grey eyes; cold and lost in their own depths, the pupils like punctures. He was broad and lean. Yet undernourished and with a beauty not appreciated in his time. His hair was soft and damply curled in sweat at his neck, dark and matted but yellowy blond at the roots. His hands were darker than his body, but his eyes, the darkest she had ever seen, stared at her in black, assured destitution. She came back the next day in the yellow fog to tell him that she felt uncomfortable with death, but he, for some reason had settled her. They never really loved each other, but maybe they respected each other, and they certainly needed each other. Always, their evenings hummed as they carefully exchanged glances as various fires in the house cracked and whistled. Forever they remained a short distant apart and arrogant in the assumption they would never need more.
She was fond of smells. So she baked pastries with rough flour to smell their taste. She rarely ate them so their scent would not leave her. He now walks into the bakery and smells her in each glaze. He buys one of each, and now, now he will go to see her. He remembers the touch of her mouth and how she will wear the perfume and smell the flowers, and taste in her own way, the sweetness of the puddings.
He walks a different way outside the town in his gentle, discreet pace and stops only for shade. He approaches the two, symmetrical houses and pushes open the familiar gate. His path is short and well-worn, and his trousers are soaked by the yellowed ash. He finds her in her usual spot and her name lets him know that she’s still here. Her tomb is a soft marble, her birthday, carved on the bottom, reminds him of the last one they shared. Her death was not sudden. They were never married long, long enough to know how they each cried, their favourite colour and shoe size. She had never found the scar on his lower back and he had never smelt the spot of perfume below her knee, and he didn’t know if she could have children. He will place on her grave the scratched bottle, the limp flowers and leave the pastry where her head lies. He will sit there in the dulled smells that will always remind him of her, and will never eat pudding again. And he will feel the rich, wet soil beneath the yellow fog and consider this the finest grave he has ever dug.