Saturday 6 June 2020

'Air so Thick' by Myna Chang

April 20, 1935
Oklahoma Panhandle

The chicken coop is 57 steps north of the back porch.

Chickens suffocate easily. We find them, after a dust storm has passed, entombed in drifts of powder-fine dirt. Daddy says the blowing grit blinds them and they lose their way. Even if they make it to the coop, they still might choke. Pulverized earth seeps into their eyes and their beaks and fills them up.

The radio is two steps from Daddy’s chair.

Our farm is inside a bowl. The radio announcer said so after last week’s storm. He called it Black Sunday, though the dirt whipped all the way through Tuesday night. Momma wishes our bowl was filled with soup instead of bone-dry dust.

The barn is 100 steps from the porch, due east.

Daddy strung a rope from our porch to the barn door. He says to use it as a guide when the wind is strong enough to knock us off our feet. The horses need hay and water, whether we can see the path or not. Tie a damp rag around your face to filter the silt, he says, and hold the rope tight.

Momma’s garden is 5 steps south of the kitchen door.

Potatoes and carrots can survive a dust storm. Shovel every speck of blow-dirt away from the leaves as soon as it’s clear enough to see. Plants buried beyond two days die. Momma says remember, Millie, if you’re starving, dig up the roots. Half-grown turnips will keep you alive. Just boil them and drink the pot water.

The kitchen table is 8 steps from my bed.

Powdered silica swirls for days after a storm passes. The air’s as thick inside as out. When your little brother’s chest rattles like a snake, rinse his breath rag. Shelter him under something to block the settling dust. It probably won’t help, Daddy says, but hide under the table with him, anyway.

The clothesline is 25 steps northwest of the back door.

Fabric scraps dry in an hour under the sun. Sheets take all morning. Momma used to say hurry, when a black roller tainted the horizon, hurry and collect everything from the clothesline. Now she says leave it. Little boys suffocate almost as quickly as chickens. Now Momma says cover your mouth, Millie, and run inside. Don’t let the dust fill you up.

'Air So Thick' was first published in The Writer's Cafe Magazine on 03 July 2019.


  1. Using a child's voice was a great choice here. I love it!

  2. It's sad that any child of any era has to grow up like this. I loved it the first time I read it, and I love it now!


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