Nathan's Dream

5 min
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Despite the insufferable heat, a cold chill ran down Rebecca’s spine. She instantly recognized an unmistakable sound. She held her breath. She forced herself to stand perfectly still.

The rattlesnake was coiled at her feet. He struck quickly before slithering away into the tall prairie grasses. Rebecca opened her mouth to scream. Only a whimper came forth. Surprised there was no pain, she forced herself to look down. The snake’s fangs had ripped new holes in both her skirt and petticoat. With trembling hands, she lifted them to examine her legs. There were only flea and mosquito bites—no puncture wounds. Shaken and exhausted, she gave up her hunt for more buffalo chips. She picked up the open end of her half-filled gunnysack and headed back toward the dugout she and Nathan called home.

The Kansas prairie was almost tree barren. Rebecca used sunflower stalks, weed twists, and buffalo chips for fuel. She was no longer repulsed to use them in her cooking stove, but she had gathered most of the chips that were close to the dugout. As she trudged toward her dirt home, she tried to remember the dreams that brought her and Nathan to this God forsaken land Nathan loved. Their wagon’s axle had collapsed in the middle of Kansas as they traveled on their journey West. Nathan thought it was a good omen. He said they would stay and make a claim on that very spot.
“Just think Becca,” he said. “This land will be ours someday—this very land.”
“But there’s no one else here,” Rebecca said.
“Because we’ll be first. Soon good farmland will be grabbed up all around us. We’ll have to work hard, but it can be ours—our own land.” His eyes brightened with the dream he described.

Rebecca believed in Nathan’s vision for a while. She never told him of her own fears.
“Good things take time Becca,” he said. “I’ll work hard, but it will take some time.”
Rebecca knew how hard Nathan worked. He was so tired at the end of each day, he had no energy to talk to her. They had worked side by side as he broke sod and planted their first crop. Together they built the dugout.
“As soon as our crops come in and we can get lumber, we’ll build a grand house,” he had promised.

Finally reaching the dugout, Rebecca could think of nothing else but getting out of the heat. The dugout was crude, but it would be cooler inside. She dropped the gunnysack by the entrance and brushed the dust off the front of her dress. When she started through the doorway, she stopped short. She heard another familiar, unwelcomed sound.
No. Please, God—no!
Backing up, she grabbed the hoe that was leaning against the wall on the outside of the dugout. As she went inside, she waited for her eyes to adjust to the dim light. They were there, staring back at her. A pair of mice were in the middle of the table, chomping on her freshly baked biscuits.
They’re looking right at me! They’re eating our dinner! They’re laughing at me!

A deep rage overtook Rebecca as she lifted the hoe high above her head. She brought it down, missing the vermin. They scattered in different directions as the plate of biscuits fell crashing to the dirt floor.

Her morning’s hard work was ruined. Now supper would have to be beans again. Oh, how she hated those beans. She reached up and grabbed the supply she had stored safely, out of the reach of rats and mice. When she threw the sack on the floor and beans scattered, she let out a deep guttural growl. Gasping for breath, she fell to her knees. She attempted a prayer. It became a wail.
“I hate this place,” she screamed. “I hate the constant howling wind. I hate the bugs, the mice, the snakes, and the loneliness—especially the loneliness.” She thought she might go mad unless she could occasionally talk to another woman, but her nearest neighbor was five miles away.

Rebecca looked down at her hands. They were rough and cracked. Her nails were jagged and dirty.
“Are these really my hands?” she asked. “I’m seventeen-years-old. These look like my grandmother’s hands.”
Rebecca sat still for a long time, an empty stare on her face. But the mice had not gone. One came back to get another nibble on the biscuits lying on the floor. Rebecca watched the infernal rodent as another rage surged deep inside her. When she got back on her feet, the mouse stopped eating and turned. This time Rebecca was ready for him. The hoe caught him before he could escape.

Rebecca emitted a hysterical laugh and began attacking everything in the dugout. She started with the walls she and Nathan had so carefully plastered with a mixture of limestone and water. Dirt and grass flew into her hair. Her eyes blurred with tears, but she didn’t stop. She knocked her sewing basket on the floor. She no longer cared. She no longer sewed pretty things. Her time was spent mending the few clothes she and Nathan had.

Remembering the blue fabric her mother had given her before she left Illinois, she went to her trunk. Nothing would escape her fury. She dug the gift out and wrapped it around herself. She danced around the table. When she tripped on her basket lying on the floor, she stopped.
No, I can’t have it. I can have nothing anymore.
Rebecca was exhausted, but she had to finish this one last chore. She threw the precious piece of fabric on the floor and stomped on it, before hacking it into tiny bits. Her chest was heaving, and it pained her to take a deep breath. Completely spent, she finally collapsed.

Rebecca was alone until Nathan walked in from the field later that day. He found her on the floor, covered in dirt and grass. Her beautiful golden hair had fallen into her eyes. It looked like a dirty, torn-up bird’s nest.
Nathan gathered her in his arms, stroked her hair, and murmured, “Becca, Becca. For the love of God, what happened?”

Rebecca was never able to answer Nathan’s question. Her eyes stared vacantly as though an artist had painted them without a point of light.

Nathan repaired the dugout as best he could. He cared for Rebecca as though she were a helpless infant. He fed her, bathed her, and combed her hair. After three days when she still didn’t respond, he took her in the buckboard for the two-day trip to the nearest town. He found a doctor who told him she would never recover.”
“You’ll spend the rest of your life taking care of her if you don’t place her in an institution,” the doctor said.
Nathan took Rebecca back to their home. “The doctor is wrong. You’ll come back to me someday,” he promised her.

There were many days Nathan thought he couldn’t go on. When she wouldn’t eat, he patiently spoon-fed her. He could not leave her alone for fear of what she might do to herself. So, wherever he went, he led Rebecca like a blind child. He took her with him when he fed the stock, fetched water from the creek, and worked in the fields. When fall came, she sat quietly beside him while he harvested the crops.

One rare fall day when the Kansas winds calmed to a gentle breeze, Nathan was digging potatoes for winter’s storage. He had his back to Rebecca when he heard a meadowlark sing. Rebecca had always loved their melody. He turned toward her. She was looking up at the bird perched on the roof of the dugout, her head cocked to the side.
Is she listening?
A wisp of a smile was on her face.
Nathan stopped digging. “Becca? Are you there, Becca?”
Rebecca frowned slightly when she heard her name, then she turned her attention back to the meadowlark. Her smile widened. The light was there—in her eyes.

Nathan sighed. It was the first time he had seen her react to anything. It gave him hope. It was a start. “Someday you will come back to me,” he whispered.

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