I have fixed a cup of Lapsang Souchong. The tea has been withered over a wood fire to infiltrate the drying, collapsing cells of the leaves with smoke. Infusion with boiling water brings back the smoke as the tea steeps. Pleasantly, I think of campfires when I have cup of Lapsang Souchong.
A derelict homestead along the Colorado River has been burned. I’m not sure when, although the house stood, seemingly empty for years, when I was last here in the spring. It could not have been long ago. The orange mesh fence that protects the burned house droops but has not lain long enough on the soil to be covered. As I approached, the smell of smoke was in the air, the ruin steeped in the heat of the afternoon. I thought of Lapsang Souchong but wondered also whether stories are like smoke. Do the stories of a homestead infiltrate wood and stone, frame and foundation, and can they rise on cottonwood breezes? Stories are miscible in imagination, and, I suppose, imagination, like boiling water on Lapsang Souchong, can infuse a burned ruin to bring stories from the smell of latent smoke.
His wife always thought the place was more root cellar than house. Keeps it cooler, he said. When we get rich . . . he would say and occasionally she might believe, wanted to believe. But this place was not like being rich; it was not, she thought, even like before being rich. The round stones of the foundation had been quickly mortared. When we get rich I’ll buy you a big house in California, he said. We won’t be here long. She planted only two apple trees between the house and the outhouse. We won’t be here too long.
Excited clicking was an uncommon reward. His Geiger counter more often clicked slowly, oddly. He made enough from ore to buy a few cows and borrowed to put in irrigation from the river for hay. She salvaged worn tires from his tractor, filled them with dirt hauled from the riverbank, and planted chrysanthemums. She liked the florid abundance of chrysanthemums, at least she had liked them, when they had grown well in her mother’s garden, where there was black soil, rain, neighbors. She canned from her garden in spring and summer. She planted two more apple trees. She had been young, but now wanted indoor plumbing; he eventually enlarged the kitchen, walling off a corner plumbed for ceramic toilet, bathtub, and sink. When the county was electrified, they bought a refrigerator. Twenty years later, they bought a new refrigerator, putting the first one in the back. It was the only new thing. The truck was old. Tractor old. Irrigation pump old. The Geiger counter gathered dust as quickly as the cows; it quit while the cows kept on.
She was pleased with her last new refrigerator. Its coolness was so unlike this place. It was their abundance. There wasn’t much else, she thought, besides the flowers, the hay when it was green, the young calves, and the cows when they were loaded for the stockyard. It made her smile, their richness of refrigerators.