He shows his hands as bidden. Across each palm, and flecking the edges also of his bare soles, doily patterns of lesion and wart, the arsenic array. His hands outstretched toward the inspector, palms up, thumbs east and west, elbows extended slightly from his deflated torso, his fingers cupped to receive whatever is freely given, or falls from the sky, he doesn’t beg, he isn’t grateful, doesn’t wish or want, has no questions, can’t be helped. To judge from his posture, he might be offering, from hands cupped not to catch but to proffer. They seem empty, but in their lines they map the journey of the king’s advisers to this desiccated village with its wells tapped deep into poison. The women are too weak to walk to clean water. The children wither inward from the fingertips and toes. In the land of flood and drought, too much water kills what too little water doesn’t. For the ancestors, pests that thrived in water that pooled when the floods receded took off the weak and weary. Longevity did not favor the thirsty. Then workers, sent by the king to tap the artesia, planted pumps within reach of the huts, and the villagers weaned themselves from the pools, and drank and cooked whenever they wished. Now those wells are poison, too, and workers have painted the handles red but not dismantled the old pumps, and healing water has been tapped a quarter mile away, to no avail. He didn’t ask for the old well, and he won’t walk to the new well while the old one is at hand. He was content to have no king, to drink pond water, red water, or do without. If the well outside his door goes dry, he’ll cup his hands and catch the rain.

Copyright ©1997-2006 David Hodges

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