by K. E. Dixon

She feels the ground resist the shovel. The roots don’t want to give up their lives in the earth, but she wrestles them from the ground. She takes her anger out on them. They are her family. They are her lot in life. They are her goals, her dreams, her enemies, and her pitfalls.

The smell of alcohol hits her before she opens the door. The list of things to be done gets longer. Dinner needs to be made. Kids need cleaning. And he needs tending.

The last of the bacon is gone from the cellar. Fall isn’t for six more weeks. The last of the summer’s harvest will have to stretch until then.

The three oldest children won’t go to school this year. They need to work. Every penny matters. They sit in the curing barn with her among the heady late summer smells and learn their new jobs. “It’s all in the wrist,” she explains to them as she pushes her needle through the leaf, flips it over, and drapes the bundle on the bar above her head. Already, there are hundreds of hands hanging over them.

He raises his hands at her. She takes the pain. This is the promise she made in front of God and her family. To be with him for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, as long as they both shall live.

She prepares the ground for the winter. The harsh summer dried the rest of the tomatoes on the vine. There will be no canned tomatoes to get them through till spring. But maybe, if she starts now, she can have some greens. They are tough and bitter, much like her. She pushes her shovel into the ground to take out her frustrations.

She takes work at the neighboring farms. She is skilled at what she does. From suckering, to picking, to tying and drying, her life is tied to the life of the tobacco leaf. She has a reputation in the county as the best. She is efficient. She is strong. She is silent. Her face is tough, her hands are tough, and her heart is tough. If anyone can handle him, they say, it will be her.

He raises his hand to the eldest child. She questions if she can keep her promise to God.

She cooks his meals separate from the children’s. She starts to give his an extra little kick. He tells her that her cooking is as good as it’s ever been. And he doesn’t know why she’s complaining about the lack of food in the pantry. She’s working magic with everything she’s got.

The shovel moves through the snow with ease. She doesn’t know why she does it. She has nowhere to go in the winter, but she clears the paths. There are no stores to go to, and she has no money to go to them with. She breathes in the cold, fresh air. She lets it fill her lungs with something other than the suffocating pain of being stuck inside all winter with him.

Her spoon glides through her soup. It’s mostly water. But today it tastes like heaven.

The neighbors hear the news and bring over a chicken. They offer to help, but she turns them down. She wants to do this on her own. She can’t afford the help anyway.

She pushes the shovel into the ground. It can give and complain all it wants; she will keep digging. She does not feel the pain of the labor. She does not feel the sorrow of the loss. Deeper and deeper she digs the hole. The closer to the bottom she gets, the closer to freedom she feels. Spring this year will come with a fresh start, and one less mouth to feed.

K.E. Dixon, who otherwise goes by her first name, Keri, is a writer and creator of many things. Currently, she lives in Asheville, North Carolina, with her other half, and small dog, Amelia.