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This year’s rainy season was the shortest it’s been in a long time, just a few weeks of scattered showers. Folks in town were taking advantage of the good weather, and butterflies were flying to us from down south. Pa told me that an early spring meant we could get an early start on fixing up the shop, so he sent me to buy some paint and lumber from the Js’ hardware store.
The hot morning sun discouraged me from walking with any haste or hustle. Instead I took a roundabout path through the shady park where Suzy and her little brother, Sam, were playing. I stopped for a bit to drink from the water fountain, but the liquid was hot and acrid, like a rust-stained kettle. From the shade I watched the kids climb on the monkey bars. Sam’s little hands couldn't hold on to the hot metal, and he took a small tumble; but before he had a chance to consider crying, Suzy rushed to him and said, “Come on, don’t be a baby!” and pulled him to his feet. Sam looked at her for a moment, wiped his nose on his arm, and nodded. The two of them ran over to the seesaw and I meandered out of the park towards the Js’ place.
Jim’s old grand-dad owned a big plot on the edge of town where he gathered all manner of junk and scrap, some of which he managed to clean up and sell as hardware. Jim and his pals, Jack and Johnnie, never had anything better to do than to sit in the junkyard and drink, so when the old man got too old to mind the store, the boys sat in the shop instead. I never liked talking with the Js much, and their store had no A/C, so I was eager to get what Pa needed and get out before they could try to start a conversation.
A couple of weeks later, I was sitting on the porch in front of our shop with Mama when a sharp-looking red convertible pulled up to use one of the two gas pumps. Visitors in this town were rare, but occasionally tourists stopped at our place for gas and snacks on their way out of the state. Mama nudged me to stop me from gawking at the car and gestured for me to help them. As I approached I saw that a blonde woman was in the driver's seat, and a blonde man was the passenger. They wore matching sunglasses and wide, floppy hats tied with strings under their chins. “Howdy, folks.” I took the cap off of their gas tank and put the nozzle in.
“Howdy.” the woman said quietly to her passenger and giggled. She sounded genuine rather than mocking, but it still made me conscious of my diction. I walked around to the front of the car and began to wipe their windshield, which was covered in the remains of bugs.
“How’re you doin’ today?” I asked, carefully enunciating the “you”.
“Oh, we’re doing just great, thanks for asking!” The pair stepped out of the vehicle and removed their shades, and I was struck by their faces. Both looked gorgeous, like movie stars. I had never seen a man wearing makeup before. I walked behind them as they greeted Mama and entered the shop. “This really is such a lovely town, though I don’t understand how you can stand the heat.” The woman was fanning her face with a folded-up map.
“Well, it’s not so bad,” Mama walked up behind me and put an arm around my shoulder, “It’s only too hot for a few months out of the year, and you learn to live with it.”
“Rather have heat than rain, anyway.” Pa said from behind the counter. He looked at the visitors with the same unreadable nonexpression that he looked at everything with, and said little else as he took their money and gave them two colas and a pack of cigarettes. The two thanked us, and I walked out with them to put the nozzle back on the pump and the cap back on their tank, and I gave them directions on the quickest way to the interstate.
Late in the summer, the temperature had reached its peak. The town was quiet for the most part, as folks spent most of the day in their homes nursing on cold beverages. Once the sun went down, people did their best to work and socialize simultaneously. The local farmers complained that it was going to be a poor harvest this year and bemoaned the worthless, dead dirt. I spent most of my evenings wandering around outside of town. I loved Mama and Pa, but sweating in the same house as them all day was stifling. I had found an old hole in the ground about a mile or so away from the Js’s junkyard. It looked like a mineshaft that was abandoned before it was started. Inside was cramped and dark, and my lamp did little to light the way, but it was much cooler underground. I found a place where I could stand without hitting my head, and I could hang my lamp from a jagged rock jutting out of the wall. I spent a lot of time there reading, writing, drawing. One time I even found a unique-looking rock that was shone in the light and was translucent. I decided to keep the rock with me and carried it almost all of the time.
Autumn and winter passed our town with even less rain than last year. I heard Mama and Pa talking about the well and the reservoir. A few of the farmers left to work in other towns and send money and food back to their families here. On Sundays, Father Mauricio implored us all to pray for rain and conserve water where we could. Pa wasn’t doing well with the heat, and he was doing even worse after our A/C broke. I had to lug the thing all the way to the Js, and I had to sit and listen to the three of them prattle on about this and that and how hot it was. I didn’t mind listening to Jim’s old grand-dad, though. He always had a story if you brought him a cold beer; and once he got started, he could ramble on and on in that accent that refused to change. After days of sitting in their shop waiting for them to repair the A/C, I learned that spending time with the Js wasn't all bad. They were the only people in town around my age, and they were generous with their booze. I’d learned later on that they had taken my rock and sold it to buy bourbon.
I guess rain is one of those things you don’t think you’d miss until it’s gone. Pa made it through the next summer, but he was getting worse and wasn’t letting anyone know. He died in November. It seemed like a day fit for rain, but still, the rain never came. Instead, we gathered in black under blue skies and sunshine. No birds chirped. No one cried; not me, not Mama. Father Mauricio coughed his way through a few verses, accompanied only by the sound of the hot wind blowing on our faces.
I remember watching some artsy movie on t.v. one time. I can’t recall much about it, only that it was in black and white and I didn’t like it much. Maybe it was a sad movie. I think it took place in Seattle or London, or some rainy city where everything was wet. God, I’m thirsty.
I was spending a lot more time at the church. Even when there wasn't a service, I liked to sit in the large, quiet room. Sometimes I talked with Father Mauricio, but mostly we just sat in silence. One day, I asked him if God had left us. His dry, cracked lips hung open, but didn't move. His eyes weren’t looking at me anymore, they were looking past me at something far away. A week or so later, Father Mauricio moved out of town.
He wasn't the first to leave, and he wasn't the last. I don’t understand why Mama didn’t, but she wasn’t the same after Pa. I couldn’t leave Mama alone.
I had a strange dream. The world was dark, but in flashes of lightning I could make out the tumultuous, churning sea of grey above, pouring itself in scattered showers. I felt like I was dragging chains behind me, and my feet shifted as though I was walking through sand. Soon, freezing needles of rain fell on me, piercing my clothes and my skin. I looked up and opened my mouth to drink. The rain kept falling harder and harder. I could feel the chains pulling me down into the slurry as water pooled around me and filled my mouth faster than I could drink.
I woke up sweaty and parched. Thunder rumbled the walls of my bedroom. From the window, I saw lightning far in the distance, but the rain never came. I wanted to yell or cry, but my throat was too dry and all I managed was a hoarse cough.
I want to feel the rain again.