Heat Dome

Stagnant air, still as an oven. Sick and dizzy, Russ pauses in the fields, glares up into a sky cloudless and white with heat, pauses to take a long drink at her canteen, water as warm as blood. It has been months, will be months, summer like a lid on a pot, and they bake. Tip’s been after her to pack it in and take the wobbly out to Holofernes or someplace cooler but hell she broke this ground, built the house, she ain’t gonna leave it because it got hot.


The ground cracks and blows away, and no amount of skill will keep it when the wind blows through. They have done everything, loved the land like a sister, taken nothing from it that it didn’t gladly give, put nothing into it that wasn’t already there, took no more than they needed, honored it like any great-grandmother, but: sometimes things just die. She knows this, knows to accept it when it happens.

Still it stings.

She barely makes it home again, stumbles up the steps into the shade, into a house like an open throat, every door and window wide and panting after any trickle of a breeze. Tip is huddled against the icebox, washed out and miserable.

Russ sighs, deep down sighs. “Grab your things,” she tells Tip, wet-eyed, already mourning, already planning their return.


At first all she can see is the typewriter, and his hands. The rest is in shadow. Solid, wide-tipped fingers, he is a methodical typist. He is at home in the space. Between letters, he moves around the room, reading, writing, working.

The light widens with every argument they have, every eye-rolling gallantry exchanged, picking out a camera, a shotgun, mementoes of the war, of a near-famous childhood. He prefers light-colored suits in the heat. He moves through the new-discovered doors to the patio, writes in the garden. His wife is often on stage with him between scenes, but she is always in the act of leaving when the lights fade up: she is a door closing, the sounds of movement in a distant room.

The house is finally, fully revealed. He is wearing light linen slacks and a loose white shirt open at the color. His hair is cut short. There is a slight curl to it. She crosses the country and the stage, knocks on the door. Alice Sheldon looks, up, his eyes wide, and the lights go down one last time.

A Dearth of Land

Russ is out riding the fence lip when she spots something coming up from ringward. It takes her a minute to recognize it, and another twenty to get a sense of scale; it’s been so long since she’s seen anything she or Tip hasn’t made except through the grainy screen of the ansible. She’s forgotten that things can be beautiful, and that beauty can be BIG. She spins her wobbly back around and jets for home.

“You’re back early,” Tip says when she comes clattering in. “Something wrong?”

“Dunno yet. Maybe. Something big, whatever it is, and heading this way.”

Tip wipes the grease off her face with a rag and starts worming her way out of the house motor. “Another cyclone? The alarm didn’t go off—”

She shakes her head. “Something human, whatever it is. Either the smallest ship or the biggest wobbly I’ve ever seen.”

“People!” Her wife whoops and falls off the side of the motor. “M’god, Russ, when was the last time we had people?”

Russ grunts noncommittally as she helps Tip up off the floor. “Go get cleaned up. They’re an hour, hour’n a half out yet.”

“What about you?”

“I’ll splash some water on my face. Go on, now, Tip, I got other things to worry over.” She hesitates. “I love you. Keep sharp now.”

Tip widens her eyes mockingly and scampers upstairs. Russ watches her go, then takes the long barreled rifle out to the porch to watch the wagon come bumbling through the clouds, haloed in ring light, beautiful and terrible.

The War Hero Speaks To Her Cenotaph

“I too have served,” Russ says, and drinks deeply from the long-necked bottle she carries. Long-necked and graceful. She remembers—well, nevermind what she remembers.

“For fifteen years I was in the corps. Fifteen years. Went through tech school. Went through advanced training. Best marksman in my unit. ‘Jo,’ they’d say, ‘we got a kid three rows down ain’t gonna make her grade.’ ‘What she need,’ I’d say. ‘Just twenty six points.’ ‘So a bull’s eye and a ten do it?’ ‘Sure thing, Jo, thanks.'” Drinks, coughs, spits, wipes her mouth. “No sweat.”

Storm and stress play about the mountaintop. Lightning off in the distance. Thunder rolls and she swears.

“No wars, just police work. Keeping the peace on the farms. This scar, here—and this one, here—got those from a fieldhand who thought I was muscling on her girl. Hadda nearly kill her taking her down. 90 days for that one. She wrote me a letter afterwards, apologizing. Nice gesture, I thought, nice kid…”

Her own face looks down at her, deep-socketed, sarcastic curl of the mouth. How did I die, she wonders, and how came I to this memorial?