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by W.A. Smith


These things: the cat, long ill with a stomach disorder and blind in one eye, dropped dead on the back porch in the middle of his dinner.

One of the rose bushes opened into audacious crimson while the other, standing right beside, sharing the same old nutrients and encouragement, refused comment.

Two children, twin daughters of the young Korean couple up the street, fell from the roof where they'd been playing astronaut. One girl cracked her left leg, the other her right. Both were clean, ingenuous fractures.

An earthquake shuddered and rolled, and the ramshackle mansion so long seated on the hill at the end of the street disappeared. Only the hand-carved front door remains, abandoned on the sogged green slope amid bricks, glass and boards.

The mailman twice delivered letters that were clearly intended for my father, a retired Marine aviator who lived in this house during peace-time years and left one evening in a pine box draped with the flag.

A friend of mine, despondent over lost love and too much cocaine, telephoned at 3am to say he was considering suicide. He wondered if I had any novel ideas. I figured suicide ought to be a confidential sort of arrangement and added that perhaps there was no such thing anymore as a novel one—but finally I did suggest he nail himself to the curvy, soaring maple in his backyard. My friend was persuaded auto-annihilation should have a personal, self-igniting touch to it, observing that crucifixion would require outside help with the hammering. The idea was therefore discarded.

Some mob or organization in one of the Latin American principalities put an explosive device in a bus and snuffed out four American nuns who had traveled to that tropical wonderland to spread the word.

Friday it rained. Saturday the same. Sunday, early, the sun flared up like Christ come back—then side-stepped into a black cumulonimbus shaped like a 1968 Buick, and the sheets of articulate rain which immediately followed gave Friday and Saturday the cast of summer postcards.

In other words, it didn't have the texture of a time when I should be laying any plans. I read a little: Hamsun's Hunger and Oë's A Personal Matter. And I made a cake that fell as if it had been foretold in the directions on the side of the box. Flat Brown Cake they might have called it.

I also read my father's mail with genuine interest. One letter was from the Social Security Administration, said he had some benefits headed his way. The other was a curious note, handwritten in forthright, devoted language, from a lad who had read a newspaper article about the old Marine. The kid said more than anything he yearned to be an excellent aviator when he grew up. His chief concern was how to get to it, how to make his lucid inspiration into wings. I typed a reply: Flying is for doves and fools, I said, yet it can be elevating. The Marines, on the other hand, are no joy at all. I was forced into it by a jingoistic, diabolical father and a half-witted mother who honored Doris Day above all else. If you're dead set on flying, try one of the commercial airlines. The stewardesses are mostly pretty, the meals aren't bad, kamikazes are few and far between.

I read and reread my response, considering I had done my dead father a service, not to mention his young apprentice. Then I walked in the rain to the P O. It seemed to me the envelope in my pocket was singing its sound advice.

Later, the Korean girls are healing well enough. The mansion is still missing from the end of the street, and officials of the local Preservation Society, in an effort to soften the fact that they were unable to preserve this one, will be fastening a commemorative plaque to the deserted lot, soon as the rain lets up. The four nuns—most of them—have been returned home and buried in the USA; parts were necessarily left in Latin America. Their names were Rebecca, Sarah, Mary and Shirley. It is absolutely the first time I have ever heard of a nun named Shirley. A great commotion is brewing over their murders, the act has been called barbaric. The international press is in a lather. A church spokesperson has confirmed that these women were servants of the Lord, their work will go on. I wonder if this continuing labor will be accompanied by more disintegrating buses, but I keep it to myself. Walter, the cat, with his turquoise cornea, has also gone to ground. He was seventeen years old for a day. His work will not go on. One of a kind, old Walt was, and I've nearly decided not to get another cat for a long time. The rose bushes, one vibrant and the other dormant, I leave to the rain.

My friend tried to hang himself and found it resistibly painful. He called to tell me suicide is not all it's cracked up to be. He says he'll take the harder road, life, and write stories instead.

"Too young to die," he remarks, quite without humor, snorting routinely to hold his nose together.

I do not have the moolah for cocaine, and the lost love of my life was lost so long ago, it is difficult to remember the attraction. I am alone but not lonely. I am young. If the sun will show its face for a day or two, everything could be turned around and redesigned—a new way of seeing might be attempted.

I am immovable. The weather seals me in. The nuns' death and the cat's death are surely connected somehow. My father stalks this hushed place whispering, shouting, things like: The Marines are a sharp bunch who make it safe for you to be the fool you are. This ghost has a way about him, and what he says is not entirely lost on me—plus I feel rotten for reading his mail.

It's the rain holding me. It carries every voice I've heard or overheard, the fabric of a cocoon. I am bathed in information. I don't think I'm making this up, these are voices to be reckoned with—coding as random and substantial as the furniture in this room. No wind. Only rain coming straight down, crystal drops striking the tree limbs and bleeding roses in exactly the same way each time. The water is very clean, and this clarity is significantly enhanced by what has become a cloudless sky, almost bright, although the hermit sun is nowhere to be seen. How is it water seeps constantly from a cloudless sky? And how are voices carried for such duration?

My daddy says his father was understandably jingoistic, never diabolical. He remarks bitterly that his mother had more wits and sensitivity in her pinkie finger than I've got in my whole-entire body. You have no right, he tells me. It's true, I believe him. They were my grandparents, after all. Their blood runs in me. Still it rains as if there were no yesterday. Sometime soon I intend to go out and see if the voices are the same out there as they are in here.

My lost love insinuates I did not care—and I say I cared too much, far too much. Clearly and emphatically I state nobody could love the way I wanted to love. Clear as a madman talking to himself; emphatic as a politician barking promises in just about any town you've got.

Most pilots were fly-boys once, my father informs me. I'm certain he's right. The rain howls low like Walt wanting to be let in. I do not move toward the door or away from it.

She says, Can't we just wash each other's wounds and walk away? She says it several times; she doesn't think I listen to her. I don't want to walk away. I'm tired of leaving one spent venture and moving on to the next.

Unsuddenly the mailman is at the door, something's in the box. I cannot get up, although I might like to. Perhaps the enthusiastic lad is sending me half-fare tickets to Hawaii, or he's personally going to fly me to the rain forests of the Amazon where voices come in foreign tongues and do not speak directly to me. That would be a pleasant change. The unopened rose bush I observe so closely trembles without a motion, effortlessly clenched.

The earth has turned to mud and there seems to be no turning back. I almost expect the truant mansion to reappear, carried whole and set down again on its hallowed hill by the water flowing so purposefully through the streets. The Korean family just ripped by on a large raft. They looked fed-up with the naturalization process. They had their refrigerator with them, the twins' hard white legs were sealed and glistening in clear plastic wrap. This neighborhood may be coming apart at the seams.

The friend who considered suicide says he's begun a short story, speaking by way of the rain because the phone lines have been down for some time. He tells me his story concerns a place where it never rains, the people pray for a downpour. “Any god who satisfies their craving will be the one they choose,” he says. I suggest he stick to what he knows, and his voice becomes hollow, serene, as though the lynching finally took.

"Sometimes you go too far," the new writer says.

The nuns swoosh by in four inner tubes lashed together with rope. Shirley is in the lead tube, her short dark hair is blown back. Her face blurs as if she's still in the newspaper, yet she's gallant and determined. All of them are grinning and lifting their legs up high so their sharp little black shoes won't touch the churning water. I think they have grenades hooked to their habits. They don't utter a word, but I can tell they're bound for the principalities of Latin America, coursing downstreet with divine momentum.

"You could use this Marine aviator!" I scream, but they're gone.

Softly a grizzled voice in foul-weather gear says, Latin is a dead language and so is America. The pronouncement of this sentence has the cadence of water pouring into a funnel.

Is the sky dark because the mind of the rain has changed, or is it night coming on? I can't see the clock from where I am. I'm trying to remember going to high school or college, attempting to recall parties and weddings and class reunions, talking with other people, maybe getting a little drunk, running a risk or two. But I can't remember much. Whatever voice I hear, the information remains unchanged.

So it's come to this: speaking only of itself, tirelessly chanting the one fertile word: rain.





About the Author


W. A. Smith was born in Charleston, SC, and now lives in beautiful downtown New Jersey. He has had stories published in a variety of national publications, including New England Review, Cimarron Review, Crucible, Five Fingers Review, Berkeley Fiction Review and Algonquin Books' annual anthology, New Stories From the South, edited by Shannon Ravenel. This is his first online publication. His collection of stories (His Last Nine Words) and novel (Here In The Clear Blue) are both looking for a friendly publisher with deep pockets. Yeah, right. His second novel is in some stage or other of progress. He's also co-written two screenplays, neither of which, apparently, are vital to the cash flow in Hollywood He can be reached by e-mailing wastoo@scfworld.com.