There used to be water in Cali­fornia; snow­melt rushing through rav­ines to coalesce laugh­ingly as lakes and lagoons and other summer indul­gences. That was long away and far ago, in some strange before time when the land wasn’t riven with cracks and the heat had some kind of relief in the form of shade.

My brother says he remem­bers it but I reckon he’s fib­bing. Ma says the last run­ning water she remem­bers was 2019, so he would’ve been four. I was two, so I can’t even remember washing in it but Ma swears we did, dunked com­pletely under some­times whether we liked it or not.

It’s hard to ima­gine that, these days, now that it’s 25 a gallon from the Lakes and all the little ones sucking on the corner of a sweet rag trying to make it last.

Funny to think that once, Cali­fornia was the place everyone was run­ning to – in the old pic­tures there’s orch­ards and plenty and El Dorado Road which means gold. The exodus the other way was a lot shorter – rich folk taking planes and everyone else just walking, walking, walking forever. Not us, though.

I think at first, Ma thought that we could make do because we were already crafting our own place. We were part of some move­ment called Trans­ition Towns, people who saw the writing on the wall and told anyone who’d listen what was coming down those moun­tains – well, truth be told, what wasn’t going to come down those moun­tains any more – and we had most everything pre­pared: canned food, and hot­houses, and water laid in, and rain tanks and all of it.

And then, as it turned out, we ended up making do because we were some of the only ones left and while the state couldn’t sup­port 30 mil­lion, it did okay for 30 thou­sand, in the end.

My brother, he says if it hadn’t been for Pres­ident Clinton, things would have been a lot worse, a lot sooner, but Cali­fornia was on her side and so she did her best to take care of us back, even though it was a losing battle.

As for me, some days I go down to the old tree with the sign that says “Water” with an arrow pointing, as though it’s some simple matter to walk in that dir­ec­tion and there’ll be some magic device that you wave your hand over and water will spring out of it, fresh and pure and quenching, just when you need it. Or that it’s an x on a map for buried treasure and you only have to dig down so far and you’ll have a tower of water pushing up frantic out of the earth in its haste to get to you.

And I sit under the tree stump and I look out at the brown earth, and I ima­gine the old film of chil­dren playing under sprink­lers, I think they were called, or when those fire things burst and the kids ran in the spray, or ice blocks and I wonder if there wasn’t any­thing else we could have done.