She has the kind of home-grown beauty that makes you feel safe. You know there must be a God, and a heaven, because there's an angel here before you. You know she'd smell like peaches and cream and harmony, if you could only get close enough.

Her name is Mary Sue. It is afternoon in Kansas, somewhere west of Topeka. She is sixteen, with the face of a goddess and hands calloused by manual labor. She is standing at the front of a large white farmhouse, framed in golden sunlight.

Windchimes sing from the window, a squeaky porch swing their only accompaniment. Windmills stand like guards, larger than life and stoic in the distance. You are surrounded by flat land that runs for days before it meets the horizon. Only heaven gets so close to the sky. This is God's country.

Thick, brown boots clunk as she takes the porch steps in a series of quick shuffles. Mary Sue wipes the last bead of sweat from her brow with a dingy bandana. The day's work is over but 5 A.M. comes all too soon. The screen door slams behind her, a testament to her entry.

Over supper she listens to her parents talk about crops and neighbors and their resistance to change, the way dinosaurs must have before extinction.

She eats a hearty plate of fried chicken, potatoes and pole beans smothered in greasy, home-cooked attention. After a cold glass of milk and some warm apple pie, she leaves the table as quietly as she joined it. Everything in its right place, the day is done.

But a storm is brewing in our angel's heart, like the white lightning of a purple Kansas evening just before the sky opens. She is angry and restless, the way a sixteen-year-old should be. Soon she'll grow out of this place.

She'll blame her hurt and confusion on the prairie and she'll load up the '56 and leave for the city. Mary Sue will drop the "Sue" and ask her friends to call her Maria. She'll fight the men at first, but not for long; she will be calloused in different ways.

Years later, the prairie will come to her in a dream. She'll remember the watchful stance of the mighty windmills, the house's afternoon song. Heaven so close to earth and how the summer lightning lit the sky before the rain came. Mary Sue will remember how good it felt to finish a day's work when she could see the results of her labor in the harvest.

In God's country, angels are the salt of the earth. They are born with the souls of farmers and, like the wheat and grain, they always return to the land.

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