for Ray Bradbury"Why are we out of water, again? What's the matter with you? Go, you stupid woman, take the bucket out to the well. You'll do it if you know what's good for you. I don't care if it's dark. What on Earth are you afraid of, you foolish, you silly thing. Go on! Go!"
She knows better than to argue. She is the soul of meek compliance. She takes the iron handle of the old wooden water-bucket in her fingers and pushes the tattered screen door creakingly open and steps out onto the back porch.
There she pauses. It is what any sensible person would rate and measure a beautiful spring night: cool but not cold, full of crickets and fireflies and the smell of cooking. The well is not far, and it is not being waylaid on her way from the house to the well she fears.
"Go on!" And then a mutter under the breath, barely audible: "Silly woman."
Stepping down into the grass is an act of will. Her progress from porch to well is not a walk, but rather a series of laborious movements with a beginning, middle, and end. The well grows with every step.
Soon she is close enough to reach out and touch the curved brick wellhead, but she does not. She leans over the edge, stares down into a hypnotizing void, a blackness so deep as to shame the night sky.
From that darkness, a whisper. Shy…
She is not startled. It is a whisper she has heard since girlhood; a whisper with many names bestowed and then forgotten.
"I'm not listening." She ties the long hemp rope to the handle, and drops the bucket into the darkness from whence it reports a garish splash.
What are you more afraid of?
She doesn't answer.
Your eye is black and blue and purple. Your arm is black and blue and purple. Have I done this? Has the wind?
She grasps the crank and begins turning it, beginning the bucket's ascent. The bucket is full, and it takes all her strength to work the rusted pulley. She doesn't glance around, over her shoulder: there is nothing to fear between the well and the house.
Send him out. Let me end this.
She shakes her head, widely, to convince the whisper and herself. He is her husband. He is pipe and flannel and axe and warmth on a cold night. He is sweet things whispered into her ear while courting. He is to her what her father was — must have been, had to have been — to her mother.
"I love him."
She can't think of an answer she could speak aloud convincingly. With every turn of the crank, the load feels heavier. She is exhausted in mind and body.
Let the bucket fall. It is too heavy. You need his help.
"He'll hit me."
It will be the last time.
"He's a simple man—"
He is a brute, and deserves a brute's ending.
"The baby, our daughter would be without a father—"
How long until he raises his hand to her?
Shy closes her eyes, takes a deep breath and holds it, her ears full of crickets and the rustling of the trees. She has stopped cranking.
This house is your house, as it was your mother's before you. Take it back for yourself and your daughter.
She releases the crank, which spins wildly on its own until the bucket once again hits the water, this time with a thunderclap that echoes up the sides of the well and bursts out into the open air headed for parts unknown.
"What was that? What have you done now? Do I have to do everything myself? If I have to come out there, there will be hell to pay, woman, you can rely on that. You can take that to the bank." He is at the back door, he is through it, he is lumbering across the grass. "Well? What do you have to say for yourself?"
A feeling of relief washes over her, but she does not smile. She looks at the ground, she is the soul of meek compliance, one last time. "The bucket fell. It's too heavy. I need your help."