sign in field of grain says, best town on earth, with barbed wire fence in foreground

The sun blazed. Unwanted. Its hue of jasmine, palpable to others, was far overlooked by the citizens it shined for. The heat cracked them, just as it did the earth under their worn soles. The wind whispered, a song too quiet for any man to swoon to. Those brave enough to walk the empty streets could only hear an echoing hymn of “damn”, fuck”, and “Shit, did you turn the A/C all the way up?” from the window panes above. It was summer in Eden, but the season’s change didn’t really bring a sense of repose. Drought had choked its unforgiving hand on the little town for the last nine summers, and salvation from the Lord above was as hopeful as a rain cloud.

The ritual never changed. It was Sunday, and women across the decrepit town were squeezing into their bright, itchy suits, adorning themselves with a buffet of feathered, sequenced, and wide-brimmed hats, waddling their way from the comfort of their plastic couches into the awaiting heat. Jesús, the town paramedic, patiently waited in his truck every Sunday afternoon. Just in case one of the ladies overheated on her journey. With their American tongues, they carried their stories with them to the pulpit of how “Jesus saved my life”, how “his big, brawny, tan arms picked me up and drove Satan away.”  Their testimonies never clarified which savior they were praising, although fainting spells became an epidemic in Eden overnight.

Nina watched her grandmama dress that morning, trained actor of the same routine. “I don’t understand why you wear those clothes grandmama. It’s too hot outside.”

“As ladies, we give our best to the Lord on Sunday, and that includes our dress. Plus, that old heifer Barbara-Jean thinks she’s a shoo-in for the Stylish Lady of the Year Award. The devil is a liar.” Nina’s grandmama snapped back and recomposed, “You’ll understand one day.”

Nina hoped she didn’t. Life for a nine-year old in Eden was simple, over simple. Living in a “drought-cursed” town, as everyone claimed, she didn’t have the luxury of climbing shady trees, or taking a cool swim at the lake. Life, to her, was the people of Eden, and the people of Eden loved her in return.

Unlike everyone else, summer was her favorite season. She had the freedom to finally walk through town and take a part in everyone’s life. To walk to the local store and help Jason shelve some oranges, as he whined like the teenage boy he was about his crush on Nolita, or wind across town to help feed Mrs. Howard’s twelve cats while she reminisced about the warm brown eyes of her husband, or to sit on the porch with old man Carter and listen to his tales of Eden.

“You know I knew your mama when she was your age? Same pretty dimples and pigtails,” his gentle laugh shook through his wide shoulders.

“Everyone loved her, Nina, just like they love you. You Freeman girls carry some kind of magic in your blood. I don’t know about your grandmama, though, that woman is something else. You know, Nina, the day you were born was the last time Eden has seen some rain. I mean it rained, girl. The way that water danced on my roof, I almost started jigging in the living room.” Despite his bad knees, he picked his feet up in quick step.

“I stayed up all night waiting for the storm to end. As the calm settled, I went outside and saw the sun rising. My God, is was beautiful. It was as if the Lord himself was smiling on this little old town. I stood out here Nina and just wept, like a big old baby, but those tears weren’t because I was hungry or tired, no, those tears were of joy. Because Nina I knew as I saw the sunrise that morning, I was witnessing a miracle.”

Nina, caught in the memory, almost missed the tears that fell from Mr. Carter’s eyes. As they rested on his cheek, he shook his head and hurried to wipe them with the back of his hands. Nina took his hands before he could reach his face.

“It’s okay,” Nina whispered. Her smile gentle and appreciative. She held his calloused hands softly, tracing their canvas of time with her thumb.

“Would you like to dance with me, Mr. Carter? Show me that jig?”

His gap gleamed through his teeth as his cheeks rounded, “Let’s get to it girl. Now you pick up your feet like this.”

Nina copied Mr. Carter as they tapped on the porch, the sunset providing the perfect stage light.

In this moment, this was her Eden, this was her paradise.