Locust House Variations, A Weekly Fiction Column by Adam Gnade, “War Spring”

I’ve got the farmhouse to myself for a few days. It’s very quiet now. NPR news in the morning after farm chores while I clean up last night’s dinner and run a load of laundry then feed the housecats. Emails, texts returned, and I sit down and work on book edits. I give myself three hours to do this—three because after that I stop seeing the story and read through it while my thoughts go elsewhere. For three hours I can find what needs changing and add the sections it lacks and pick the right words, which is the most important thing. After that, no. Writing, I can go all day. Edits take a different kind of measured, restrained focus.

Today because it’s nice out, I set up work at the wooden table under a red canvas umbrella on the back deck. Below me, the chickens sun themselves in the grass, the rooster lying on his side, sticking a gray leg out in the air and holding it steady for a moment. Then a wing stretched straight, the sun warming his purple-black feathers. You can tell it feels good after months of winter storms and snowy days and so much prairie wind. Right now—not the smallest breeze, not enough to move the new blades of grass or push my hair back from my forehead or stir the pages of the manuscript in my hand.

The green grass that came up this week feels like a victory and there haven’t been many of those lately. The news today is about the Russian airstrike on civilians sheltering in a theater, how there could be as many as 1,500 people trapped below the wreckage. Experts debate whether Putin will use nukes if NATO imposes a no-fly zone, and the experts agree, yes. Yes, he will. If pushed, he will.

After my three hours of edits, I go back inside and read the news on my phone. The first article in the Times newsletter I get every day reads, “Spring returns to the Northern Hemisphere this weekend. The season is an eternal metaphor for optimism, for hope and light and possibility, and even if the past few years have taught us to moderate our anticipation of seasonal renewal, this year’s equinox feels notable. We’re coming out of a long winter. Fingers crossed, eyes open, hopeful for sunnier days ahead.”

These days everything feels metaphorical to the point where it’s overkill. Spring isn’t just spring. Neither is winter or “sunnier days ahead.” Everything is symbolic now, charged with importance, electric, fraught, exhausting.

After a series of breezy, optimistic tips on enjoying spring, it’s back to the hard stuff. Continued bombing in Ukraine. Biden warns China against sending financial help to Russia. A new COVID outbreak hits Hong Kong.

The future is uncertain, but perhaps it’s always this way. Maybe people felt like this during the Cold War, during the Cuban Missile Crisis. All I know is how it is today, how today feels, today in this moment, this small piece of time where it seems like we are perched on the edge of something different, something new and drastic, and if we were to step over the edge? The fall would be spectacular, catastrophic.

I get up and leave my phone on the table and stand at the window. On the couch, the young black cat and the white and brown one cuddle, soft cat-arms wrapped around each other, eyes shut, the black one’s head under his older friend’s chin, asleep in a patch of sun. It’s the best thing I’ve seen all day.

I can feel the warmth through the glass on my face—my face that hasn’t felt real sun in ages. Maybe that’s a metaphor too, but I don’t have the time or patience to speculate.

Tomorrow is the first day of spring, though it feels like it’s here already. No, not “feels.” “Is.” It’s here. What do we do now?Adam Gnade

Purchase Locust House here.