Rainy Road by Graphter Sawyer, @graphtersawyer (tumblr)
When the rain comes, the boy runs. The rain pelts against the foggy window. The boy nearly trips climbing on top of the seal to see it, his face pressed into the cold glass, eyes begging to single out a single droplet of the trillions that deluge. His eyes widen in delight at the prospect of tasting one.
Are they sweet like kool aid? Maybe spicy like his mother’s water, the kind he sees her drink when he sneaks out of bed to watch the show where people in shiny clothes and painted faces sing under blinding lights. He once sipped it when she left on a commercial break. It made his throat burn and dizzied him. Then he returned to bed to sleep off the sickness the spicy water caused.
He hopes it tastes like kool aid, or milk, or some other sweet substance. He doesn’t like the spicy, briny water she drinks.
The boy goes to his room. He rifles through piles of clothes until he finds his green coat. It’s bright green like the frogs he sees on the television when his grandpa or his uncle comes over to take care of his mother and turns the small screen on to distract him. He puts the coat on and searches for his boots. The boy doesn’t know that he has any, but on the television, children always do, so he supposes the same must go for him.
The boy doesn’t find any boots, but he does find black leather shoes. Boots are leather as well, he knows, so they will do fine in the rain. He slips them on and stuffs the laces inside, ignoring the tightness in his feet. He thinks his mother bought the shoes two church services ago, the Chocolate Bunny holiday where he eats candy and picks up rainbow eggs.
His shoes clack against the hardwood of the apartment as he ambles through the living room. He crosses the red rug. His mother lies on the sofa. She doesn’t snore but snuffles through her dreams. A glass bottle of apple juice and a tiny cup sit on the coffee table with a copy of a book, Mob. He kisses her on the cheek, tasting pear that must have found its way there in her slumber.
He leaves the apartment, closing the door quietly. The boy presses the button on the elevator that points towards the ceiling.
The boy takes the elevator to the roof, glancing at the rainy road playing like a piano. He blinks away the cold rain on his lashes before closing his eyes and stretching out his tongue. He doesn’t get many rain drops, but he tastes enough. They’re not spicy. They’re not sweet either. They’re better than that, Heaven. He stands on his tippy toes to drink more, to quench his thirst for the liquid Manna the God his grandpa talks about rains down on him like He did to Israel thousands of years ago.
He continues to drink, even as the water falls harder and strikes his tongue with small punches. He drinks until large hands grip his arms and squeak against his frog coat as opposition to the dancing winds above.
The boy opens his eyes. He can barely see his uncle above, but he does.
What’re you doing out here? his uncle asks.
The boy shivers, suddenly feeling cold now that the fun was over. His socks are soaking wet, and the wind bangs against his cheeks. He’s thankful when his uncle lifts him off the ground and walks inside. He rests his cheek on the soft, black leather of the man’s jacket as they ride the elevator to the apartment.
The television runs on a low volume when they enter. His mother’s juice has been stowed away, and she sits with a cup of tea and fleece blanket on the sofa. He’s wet, she says, presumably to the boy’s uncle.
His uncle nods.
He tunes out whatever words the man uses to explain the matter. He misses drinking the rain. Never has such a moment ever came. He wishes he could go back and drink more, let the water beat his tongue black and blue.
The boy’s uncle removes the coat and wet clothing. He puts the boy in the bathtub with steaming hot water, drops one of the color pellets that changes the water’s color, bombing the tub water into red.
So, the boy smiles now. He smiles and swishes the near scalding tropical punch up and around his torso.
His uncle says, Is it warm enough?
The boy nods. He can’t complain, after all.
The soap smells like bubblegum, and the boy’s scalp is soothed as his uncle runs fingers through his curls. The man hums a song the boy knows quietly. It’s an ode to a name he can’t remember.
His mother appears as an apparition in the doorway, leans against the door jam. She’s abandoned her coffee and crosses her arms. She looks sad, the corners of her lips folded downwards. How’s work? she says.
He turns to his uncle.
The man’s chocolate eyes are focused on the top of the boy’s head; he never looks anywhere else during bathtime, though the boy doesn’t know the exact reasoning behind it. It’s fine, he mutters after a solid minute.
You’re up for a promotion? the boy’s mother asks.
Yeah. His uncle helps the boy out of the bathtub and pulls out the stopper before wrapping the boy in a towel.
I might pass it up.
Why? She hands the man the boy’s pajamas.
The boy shimmies into them with the help of his uncle.
I’ll have to go to North Carolina if I get it, his uncle says. And--
And? His mother sighs. I know-- I can handle him. I-I don’t need you and Dad here.
There’s a school, the boy’s uncle digresses. It’s called Bright Cottage. It’s for… kids like him. Special kids.
He’s not special.
He’ll make friends. It’s by Dad’s house. You can figure things out.
Her red-rimmed eyes widen. No… No, I can make it work. I can handle him.
He’s five. Five year olds-- even the good ones-- are a handful.
He can go to kindergarten near here.
It won’t be forever. You’ll be moving closer there soon anyway, right? You’ve been planning to.
How much is the school?
If I get the promotion, I can swing it. If not, Dad can chip in too.
She picks the boy up.
He doesn’t know why being held by his mother is so unfamiliar. He feels more comfortable in his grandpa’s strong, tight arms. He’s practically falling in his mother’s loose grip. Still, he gives her a peck on the cheek. He loves her despite her maternity or lack thereof.
When the rain comes again, the boy doesn’t have time to drink in the music. He’s being whisked away by his grandpa, out of his room, out of the apartment, away from his mother’s spicy juice and the frog show.
His mother stands in the kitchen hunched over the sink.
The boy looks to see if she’s following. He whines and tries his best to let his grandpa know they’re leaving her.
The grey-haired man ignores his pleas.
So the boy collapses onto the ground. He won’t leave her. His mother always comes with them when they go to his grandpa’s house, and they say he’s going there, so he needs to make sure that happens.
Then the boy’s grandpa tells him that his mother is, in fact, not coming, which is wrong. Because she always comes. She never leaves him.
The boy screams and screams until he can’t breathe. Then he gasps for air quietly, tears cascading down his face. He wipes a cheek with the back of his hand. Salty mucus runs out of his nose and down his lips.
His grandpa cleans his nose and picks him up.
The boy sniffles. He turns to look for his mother, but she’s gone.
He will see his grandmother, according to his grandpa.
He only sees her at church services. She doesn’t look like his mother or uncle or grandpa.
The boy concedes to his grandpa’s quiet whisperings and lays his head on the man’s shoulder, wrapping his arms around his grandpa’s neck. His vision is obscured by tears and his smushed cheek. He watches a blurry apartment and the peary scent of his mother’s apple juice leave him as he falls into an exhausted stupor.
When the rain comes at his grandpa’s house, the boy is made of lead, not ivory. His limbs are too heavy to lift and drag out to drink rain. He’s drier than the Sahara, his tears having run out long ago. He doesn’t like the superhero bed sheets that smell of lavender, or the boring animal show his grandparents watch with cinnamon tea and potato chips.
So, he lies on his bed and listens to the water go down the gutters and to the ground. Are the gutters like peppermint straws that paint the water their own flavor? Maybe Heaven is now Candyland. The boy thinks that makes sense.
The boy’s grandpa comes into the room. You’re already up? he asks, opening the blinds to reveal a dark, rainy morning.
He doesn’t remember sleeping, only being put to bed and the rain. The boy reaches for his grandpa.
The boy follows the man with his eyes as clothes are pulled out of a blue dresser and a lamp is turned on.
Say good morning.
Say good morning, the boy responds.
When it rains at kindergarten, the boy doesn’t see his grandpa there to pick him up. The man usually comes in the last profusion of caregivers’ cars. The boy sits on the yellow bench under the awning. Other kids sit beside him, a girl in pigtails with long black bangs that go down to her eyes, a boy with a small gaming device that beeps like the microwave when it’s done.
The boy is surprised when he sees a green car pull up into the driveline with a screech, leaving black marks on the wet concrete.
His mother exits and fumbles with her umbrella. She’s walking straight to him when the principal, whose blue eyes will forever encapsulate his, steps between them.
How can I help you? she asks.
I’m his mother.
His grandfather takes him here and picks him up.
That’s my dad.
Do you have any I.D.?
She grumbles but takes out her sparkly black wallet and shows it to the woman.
Do you know her?
The boy grins and nods, happy his mother is coming back for him. He hasn’t been sure she would since his grandparents take him to church and she’s never there. He stands to grab her hand.
His mother puts him in the car without his booster and buckles him up. Bo, he says.
Hm? the boy’s mother asks.
Bo, he says again, pointing to the seat belt.
Your grandfather has it.
Your grandfather has it?
She shuts the car door, and they’re off within seconds.
When it rains in the first day of the first month of the boy’s first year in kindergarten, his mother doesn’t come.
The principal asks where she is, and the boy doesn’t know. She asks for his mother’s telephone number, but he doesn’t know that either. The old principal-- the one with blue eyes. This one has brown ones and no idea how to contact his mother.
He thinks the office should have a number on file. The office is closed. She should have a key to the office. She’s the principal--
The boy doesn’t know his mother’s number or how to tell her he doesn’t know her number. His eyes hurt from the oncoming tears. He just wants to drink rain and wait for his mother to come. He knows she will, her or his grandpa.
Then the woman he sees next door to his grandpa’s house in the rose garden is in front of him. She waves and greets him and kneels. She explains that she’s his grandpa’s neighbor and that she will call him and that he doesn’t have to cry anymore.
He sniffles and nods and lets her sit beside him. He sees her daughter sitting on a different bench, humming to herself with a tablet that lights her caramel face.
His grandfather comes when it begins to rain harder. He soaks himself in the process of getting the boy into the car.
The boy tastes rain.
When the rain stops for a season, the boy is sad.
His grandfather and uncle like to take him to the backyard and play in the pool, but the water is too cold. Then they suggest he have a popsicle. The boy likes those. He shares one with his grandmother, who lounges on the patio chair with a magazine.
The boy’s mouth makes suckling sounds; cold grape is a welcome trade from the heavenly water-less existence he’s been dealing with the past month. Bo? he asks his grandmother, opening his mouth for another lick.
She hums. Who’s that dear?
He wants the popsicle back, the boy’s mother snaps. He forgets his mother is there sometimes. She’s quiet and floats around the house. He sees her when he gets home from kindergarten in the living room. She’s always in the kitchen in the mornings when he eats breakfast. She doesn’t talk to him much, though he wishes she would.
Oh, his grandmother replies, tone equally biting and hostile. Here you are. She stuck the frozen treat in his mouth.
He wonders why she doesn’t just hand it to him. He’s not a baby, after all, and she’s not even eating it.
The boy’s mother is different now. She’s become withdrawn, grown grey and thin, her eyes empty of all feeling, smiles lopsided. He moves to go sit with her.
His grandmother pulls him back closer to her, smushing his cheek into her sweaty bosom.
He pushes back, a small whine escaping his purple-tinged lips.
His mother’s eyes shift their focus from a random spot on the ground to him. They brighten slightly. Let him come, she says.
The boy’s grandmother ignores her, prompting his mother to come to her feet. C’mon, she says whisply to the boy, holding her hand out for him.
His grandmother finally releases him, and the boy takes to his mother.
Her hand was smoother than a bar of soap. Do you know where Grandpa’s study is? she asks.
The boy yawns as they walk into the kitchen. He likes the way his mouth stretches and eyes water when he yawns, and the cool air is a nice exchange from the unforgiving scorch beyond the ribbed patio door.
Where’s Grandpa’s study? his mother asks again.
He leads her through the wood paneled floors of his grandparents’ home, their feet making the occasional panel creak. They then reach the mahogany doors that close off the study from the rest of the home.
The boy often sits in the study with his grandpa. The man lets him do his homework and color under the desk. He always plays a certain monotonous, baritone voice. The boy doesn’t know whose voice it is. Just that his grandpa likes it and listens to it all day as he works.
His mother twists the brass handle, and they enter the room. She clicks the lights on and comes behind the desk.
He stands in the doorway, waiting for his mother to finish patiently; the boy is nothing if not patient. He gazes at the portrait on the left wall. It’s from when his mother and uncle were teenagers. Her hair is streaked hot pink and her eyes have black all around them.
The contrast between then and now is amazing really, the boy thinks.
When the rain comes back and the boy starts the first grade, his mother leaves. The boy doesn’t know where she goes, but she’s not as his grandpa’s house anymore. His uncle is gone too, but his grandpa says his uncle went to North Carolina for a job, and that he’s coming back for Thanksgiving. He won’t say where his mother has gone though.
The boy likes first grade. His teacher is tall and has skin like the chocolate bars his grandmother buys at the pharmacy when they go to get her prescriptions. Her hair isn’t like his mother’s. It’s puffy and reminds him of a dandelion. She wears sparkly colors on her eyelids and lipsticks too. The think he likes most, though, is that she doesn’t mind his silence, doesn’t ask him to repeat things like his grandmother does either.
Because it’s raining, the kids have to play inside. The boy doesn’t mind, as he doesn’t usually go outside for recess. He plays blocks in the corner. Most kids don’t like blocks, so he’s alone.
That is, until the boy’s teacher comes over and takes a seat in front of his obelisk. He enjoys building obelisks. His uncle makes them. He’s what people call an architect. The boy thinks he might want to be an architect when he’s older. His uncle says he will be a good one.
Hello, the teacher says. Are you building the Washington Monument?
The boy doesn’t know what that is, so he shrugs.
It’s in D.C., the capital of America.
It’s also shaped that way.
The boy searches for his orange pyramid.
She holds it out him.
He takes the smooth, wooden block and tops his structure off. A smile creeps onto his face.
It’s as pretty as raindrops on windows.
George Washington was the first president, you know.
George Washington was the first president, you know, he says.
She grins. Mmhm. He was born 1732.
He was born 1732. The boy likes to let her know he’s listening. Rain? He asks her, gesturing to his tower.
It’s beautiful. You’re very talented.
The boy can’t help but beam. Rain, he says bashfully, his cheeks burning.
The scene is interrupted with a crash from outside. White lightning strikes a tree, and it falls, landing on the ground with a thundering thump.
The teacher’s eyes widen as she shoots up from the ground and to her desk in the corner. She grabs the phone and shakily dials a number, biting her lip as she presumably waits for whoever she’s calling to answer.
He returns to his blocks and leaves the teacher to her business.
When the rain becomes angry, the boy hides inside his grandparents’ living room with blankets and lukewarm hot chocolate. He wonders why the rain is mad, for the boy is nothing but kind to the rain. He plays with it when it knocks on his window. He pours it out the bucket that Grandpa uses to trap it. So, why is the rain angry?
Maybe its mother went away? If so, the boy can empathize with his friend--
It’s just rain, the boy’s grandpa’s deep baritone says.
The boy turns to the man and nods. He knows it’s just rain. They’re friends.
It’ll stop soon, son.
He nods yet again.
How about we go find your grandmother?
The boy shakes his head, but he’s already being dragged away from the angry pelts of his mother-less friend. He waves an apologetic farewell. Hopefully the rain will feel better tomorrow.
When the rain leaves for a while again, the boy befriends the Sun, who isn’t nearly as emphatic or kind as the rain. It’s passive aggressive rays sear the boy when he to play with his uncle and his grandpa. His supposed friend even burns his grandmother. It’s not nice or good or kind, and the boy plans to tell the rain such when it returns.
The queerest thing about the Sun, though, is how it brings the boy’s mother’s back during lunch on a Saturday as the boy shows his uncle the new horse he won at school. The boy almost doesn’t recognize her. She’s rounder and glowing and has a waddle. He knows it’s her when his grandpa shoves him towards her, and she shoves him into her bosom.
She calls him by his name and kisses him wetly on the forehead.
The boy should be happy to see her, but it’s been so long, and he doesn’t know the woman anymore, hasn’t smelled her juice or went outside in dress shoes. He’s used to being kissed by his grandmother, who gives dry kisses. He likes them better than the wet ones.
I have someone I want you to meet, she says as she pulls back, revealing a tall man with a clean-shaven face, a pot belly he’s failing to hide with a slightly loose shirt, a dark-brown cowboy hat, and salted sideburns. He smiles widely and says the boy’s name before saying his own.
A cowboy, the boy marvels to himself.
Cowboy walks up to the boy and holds a hand out.
The boy doesn’t take it. People’s hands have many germs, his grandmother always says, don’t touch them.
His uncle’s seat scrapes against the tile as he stands to shake the cowboy’s hand.
The boy relaxes slightly, surely his uncle will why find out why the cowboy has come.
His grandpa lowers behind him, lips to the boy’s ear.
He can feel the old man smile.
Cowboy, he whispers.
The boy nods.
Can you say that? Cowboy.
Cowboy, the boy responds easily.
The comment grabs the cowboy’s attention. He smiles as the boy once again and nods. Do you like cowboys? he asks in a patronizing tone that warms the boy’s blood.
The boy backs into his grandpa’s crouch.
His grandpa’s hand settles on his bony shoulder. All’s well.
You know, Cowboy says as he crouches in front of the boy, I have real horses. Maybe you could come out one day and ride one with your mom. He nods back to her.
She beams and nods quickly. He’d love that. Wouldn’t you?
And the boy doesn’t know why, but his blood gets warmer than before, and his eyes begin to burn and his bottom lip juts out. Then he tries to let words out, but they don’t come out right like always, and that makes him cry even more.
His mother reaches for him. Her hands are cold when they touch his hand.
The boy’s uncle snatches him up before she can lift him. He bounces the boy, which feels nice, except the words won’t come out, and bouncing won’t fix them. It’s okay, he says, voice a soft monotone as it always is. The boy’s long learned to find comfort in the inflectionless speech.
He hides his face in the soft cotton of the man’s polo, listening to apologies and explanations that don’t sound like the truth, even though the boy can’t be sure.
It seems the Sun brings the boy nothing good. He prays for the rain to come back.
The rain comes back, and the boy’s mother leaves with the Sun.
He feels he should be sad over the news, but he’s left as neutral as the car gear. His grandpa gives him a framed picture of his mother and sets it on the boy’s nightstand. He hides it under his bed when the man isn’t around.
The boy and the rain get along well. The rain is where he started, and where he’ll end.
His grandparents don’t understand.
They hide him from the rain, scold him when he goes to play, lock the porch gate, put his boots on the top shelf.
They say the rain will make him sick, that the rain’s what made him sick in the first place, gave him pneumonia and created history. Rain was the impetus. He’s nothing without the rain.
The boy doesn’t recall this, but he doesn’t recall much before his fourth birthday.
So, he sneaks out to play with the rain when he can, and when he can’t, he contents himself with talking through the glass window, watching the rainy road play it’s black keys again.