QuirkyTales Banner






The Drought

The walker sat on the bench taking long pulls from his water bottle, enjoying the rest and the view. He looked across the road to a scrubby field where an old lady worked, her back rounded as she stooped to hack at what looked to the man like dessicated grass. She paused every so often to fling the tasselled ends of her headscarf over her shoulder. He wondered why, in the relentless heat, she didn't just take it off altogether. And why, for God's sake, was she chopping dead grass? What possible value could it have?

He turned away, frustrated by the apparent impotence of her arduous task, and stared at the receding waters of the lake. A boat, moored to a jetty that must once have luxuriated in refreshing waters, lay uncomfortably on its keel, heeling over to one side. He stared at the underside of the boat for several seconds before feeling a hot flash of guilt, as though he had been caught looking up a lady's skirt. Some things are simply never meant to be seen.

Tide marks told of the steady retreat of the waters on the exposed stoney lake bed, and the walker found himself drawn to the scene, fascinated by this rare opportunity to see a part of the world normally beyond bounds.

Movement in the field distracted him and he looked back at the old lady, still hunched over the grass, swinging her knife. An old man marched down the field towards her, his shirt sleeves rolled, his cloth cap set carelessly at a jaunty angle.

The walker shifted on the bench to allow himself a better view. The old man joined the woman and together they knelt beside her harvest and began working it together, rolling it over and over into a tight wad. The walker shook his head, bewildered by their labours.

At last the old man staggered to his feet and the woman passed up the wad of grass. The walker watched as he clambered over the stile, crossed the road and marched down the sloping dried lake bed. When he reached the water line he stopped, placing the grass wad carefully on the stones at his feet. He then removed his cap, shirt, boots and trousers. The walker got slowly to his feet and edged closer, intrigued beyond measure.

The old man retrieved the wad of grass and waded into the water until he was up to his chest. He then floated the wad on the surface and swam along behind it, pushing it and himself further and further out until he reached the centre, where he paused a while to catch his breath. With a growing sense of alarm, the walker stepped onto the dry lake bed, cautiously approaching the pile of clothes at the water line. He looked back at the field but the old woman had gone, her work finished. He lifted his binoculars and focussed on the old man.

He bobbed in the water for a few seconds more, then, with a mighty effort, leapt upwards, coming down on top of the grass wad, and dived beneath the waves. The walker nearly dropped his binoculars in surprise. He quickly refocussed, hunting for the ripples on the surface that marked the old man's disappearance.

Thirty seconds passed. Forty. Fifty. One minute. The walker lowered his binoculars and started pulling off his outer clothing and boots, preparing to swim out to attempt a rescue, but then, in a sudden explosion of water, the old man resurfaced. He floundered for a moment, splashing and gasping to recover his breath, then began the swim back to shore.

The walker waded out and helped the old man as he reached the shallows. His skin was almost white with cold and he gasped and trembled with exhaustion. He looked up at the walker and nodded his thanks, bending down to snatch his shirt which he proceeded to use as a makeshift towel.

The walker was forced to wait, desperate for an explanation, as the old man tugged his trousers on and rammed his feet into his boots. He then smiled at the walker, pulling him gently away from the slowly rising water line.

'Little buggers stole the bloody plug again!' he growled.


© 2012 Kay Lawrence.


Leave a Comment

: (required)
: (required, but will not be published)