On the hottest day of the year, the skirt of my red dress flutters against my thighs in the breeze manufactured by the fan. The hem is ragged. I can see little red threads against the sweat sheened skin of my knees.
I want to be done. I’m bored, so is Helen. She fidgets next to me, rocking back and forth from heels to bare toes. I should tell her to stop, remind her what mother said about solemnity, or that the skirt of her own red dress is not for wiping the dusty snot from her nose. I don’t. Her skirt is already grimy, I don’t see the point.
The wide back porch is mercifully shielded from the sun but not from the heat. The fan isn’t really helping, not with the iron heavy heat thick in the air. But we pretend as we have to be here.
Bent and knobbly under their red shawls, the grandmothers murmur to themselves before clearing their throats. I look at them, Helen does not, she’s scuffing at the uneven floorboards with her toes now.
The grandmothers stare at me with dim disdain. They know my attention is elsewhere and I drop my head in apology. I should be paying attention, this is important. I don’t need the admonishment to tell me this, the dryness in my throat is enough. Helen doesn’t flinch under their affronted looks though. Or even when I add my own.
They turn away and we shuffle from the porch, the young ones hobbling themselves to walk behind the older. Our skirts, sleeves and wraps trail behind us, snapping like crimson flags in the real wind. Baked by the sun the packed dirt and sand under my sandals radiates a miasma of haze. Helen, with her bare little feet, hops back and forth like a lizard as we walk.
There is a rustle. The scrub brush in the corner of my vision shivers and loses a dry bit of twig. I see the edge of cracked boot leather, a crown of thick hair. Boys, not wary enough to be men yet, sneaking about and trying to catch a look at women’s magic. They’d be caught and switched before they saw anything. The men would see to that, they knew better than to meddle when the red clothes were shaken out of drawers and closets.
The grandmothers toddle past the last of the dead yards, we follow in dutiful little clumps. I was still bored, but at least we were getting to it. Helen too is in a better mood, busy lizard hopping and avoiding the burrs that would stick painfully into even the leathery skin of her soles.
There is nothing to mark it, but we stop. Its far enough from the comforts of our homes, no shade or fans to hide with, pretending that the world outside isn’t baking itself.
The others take hands and I grab Helen’s, shushing her until she pants silently at my side. They speak and I try and listen. This land is drying up. Soon it won’t be just the earth thats dead with only dust where its blood should be flowing. I nod. This makes sense, I’m thirsty and my skin is dry and salty where my sweat used to be.
We converge, a circle of red against the hard burned ground. The land’s lost its lifeblood, But that’s a woman’s magic, more than anything, we know red.