“Drought” by KR Byggdin


By: K.R. Byggdin

           “We can’t tell your Oma,” she says, eyes never leaving the road. “It would kill her.”

            “Seriously, Mom? That’s all you can say?”

            She strangles the steering wheel, knuckle bones straining against taut skin. “I mean it. She has a bad heart. Her grandchildren have caused enough stress.”

            That’s a reference to one of your Grunthal cousins, Jason. He and his buddies started drinking in quonsets at thirteen. At seventeen, a DUI cost him his licence. Last summer, after a bush party, he hit a gravel pit while taking his quad home through back fields. The four-wheeler flipped, pinning him under its weight. He drowned in pulverized stone. That’s what queerness is to your mother. A death sentence.

            “That’s not fair,” you say.

            “Life’s not fair.”

            “I’m just trying to be honest with you. You taught me never to lie.”

            “I taught you never to sin,” she clarifies with a sniff.

            Fields whip by the long, unbending road. Stunted corn. Shrivelled wheat. Sparse patches of sickly sunflowers.

            “Will Dad need to claim crop insurance again?” you ask.

            It’s another bad year for farmers. First there was too much rain, then not enough. Nothing’s growing right around here.

            “We’ll be okay,” she says.

            “Hailey and I found a place in West Broadway for the fall,” you tell her. “It’s a four-storey walk-up, but the bedrooms are huge, and the super seemed really nice. Only ten minutes from school.” She wanted you to choose CMU. You picked UW. Now, she is silent; you fill in the void. “One of our neighbours must be Mennonite. There was a cross-stitch hanging from their door with Psalm 23:6 in Low German. I didn’t even know there was a Plautdietsch Bible. Does Oma have one?”

            “Is that what this is about? Are you and Hailey . . . that way?”

            “What? Mom, no. We’ve been friends since kindergarten. I don’t have a girlfriend yet. That’s not why I told you. I’m trying—”

            “Then how can you know?” she asks, looking at you for the first time. There’s anger and fear bunched up like thunderclouds behind her overcast irises, waiting to burst. “Maybe it’s all in your head. The sin is not in the thinking, it’s in the doing. You need to pray. Ask God for more strength.”

            “God made me this way. Can’t you see that?”

            Brakes screech in front of the Petro-Can. She nearly missed the turnoff. The smell of burnt rubber wafts through the vents. Two black lines disfigure the highway. When she parks outside the cream-brick confines of the Menno Home for the Aged, you think she may crack, but then her face rearranges itself. The moisture at the edge of her eyes is drawn inward, leaving them dry as the crumbling fields beyond.

            “When we get inside, you will wish your Oma happy birthday but remain otherwise silent,” she says, reaching out to smooth your skirt and worry an errant curl back into place. “Do I make myself clear?”

            “As mud,” you say, slamming the car door behind you.


K.R. Byggdin is the author of Wonder World (Enfield & Wizenty 2022), a novel that explores the possibilities of queer belonging in a small Mennonite town. Their writing has also been published in journals and anthologies across Canada, the UK, and New Zealand. Born and raised on the Prairies, they now live on the East Coast.

K.R.’s novel Wonder World is the February selection in the Winnipeg Free Press book club. It is available in stores now!

You can also read our 5 Questions interview with KR here.