by Sue Mitchell

She pauses on the sagging veranda to stare at the horizon. The rains are late, about seven years late, but the metalled sky looks promising — or threatening. The peeling paint on the post she holds to support herself is already warm. Perspiration trickles down her neck, into nooks and crannies she doesn’t wish to acknowledge. The towering cumulus clouds share the same palette as her bruises, hinting at an as yet unleashed violence. The crackle of electricity raises the hair on her neck and arms.

Supporting her swollen belly with one hand she manoeuvres down the creaking steps and crosses the barren yard to the semi-derelict chicken coop. Balancing the bucket on a fence post, she unhooks the twisted wire loop that secures the gate. The chickens flutter and fuss around her ankles, pecking at each other in an orgy of anticipation, until she scatters the feed.

The detonation of thunder disorientates her, then the pain in her lower back explodes and she doubles over, sinking to the dusty ground in a torment of agony. The splatter of fat raindrops batters her hunched back, instantly drenching her light summer dress. Clinging to the fence post, she claws her way almost upright before realising some of the wetness is hers. A torrent of pain rips through her again, forcing her back down on hands and knees. The chickens take indignant refuge in their coop.

Panting and wild-eyed she scrambles outside the gate, dragging it closed behind her. Unable to reach the wire, she trusts the chickens won’t stray too far in this unprecedented storm. Collapsed on the muddy ground, she screams, again and again, as her baby tears her apart. Copper smelling blood mingles with the sloppy mud, painting abstract pictures of hope. The bundle of flesh she expels screams lustily when the rain smacks its delicate red skin.

A daughter. She will cop so much trouble when he gets home.

Since their parents’ funeral three years ago she hadn’t seen or spoken to anyone. Her brother insisted they needed no one else. His rudeness and aggression secured their isolation. He was apoplectic when she told him she was pregnant. He demanded she abort the baby, never expecting she’d have the courage to refuse. The kaleidoscope of bruises she wears all over her skinny body bear witness to his outrage. On one occasion he’d even tried to drown her in the bath. Still the baby had clung on, growing ever larger, proclaiming their sin. He promised her that if she kept it, if it survived his frequent beatings, that he would drown or strangle it at birth. She has no reason to disbelieve him.

Both new mother and daughter lie in the mud as the storm rages over them. Only one of them continues screaming. The final convulsion delivers the placenta, jerking the girl into action. She gathers her newborn into her bedraggled skirt and crawls back to the house. The cacophonous juggernaut of thunder rolls over her, its fearful wrath forcing her lower, but she fights back, refusing to be defeated. Not again.

She locates her sharpest paring knife, carefully knotting and slicing the umbilical cord. She wraps her daughter in a washed soft tee shirt, then a thick towel. There are no baby clothes waiting for this secret child. She strips off her soaked dress and wipes herself dry, her adoring gaze fixed on her daughter. She picks her up, crooning nonsense to hush the whimpering. Instinctively the baby suckles and a newfound contentment fills them both. The relentless rain drums an incessant lullaby on the tin roof, welcoming the storm born baby.

Having dressed while her daughter slept, the girl makes a decision. Her daughter has survived so far and against all odds. A beautiful and perfect baby. She will defend her baby at all costs. Surely, when her brother sees his daughter his paternal instincts will kick in.

“Your name is Rain, and I’m your mummy,” she tells the baby. “We’re going to fetch your daddy then we’re going to town to find a doctor. I’m going to take the best ever care of you, Rain. I won’t let anyone ever hurt you.”

Exhausted but determined, she shrugs into her brothers work worn Drizabone, tucking Rain inside. The storm is still raging, and the baked earth is flooding, unable to absorb so much moisture so quickly.

She grabs the keys to the rusty Toyota, rehearsing what she’ll say to her brother when she presents him with their perfect daughter. She runs her fingers gently over the silky smooth age worn stock of the rifle poking from behind the seat, reassuring herself she has a means of protecting her daughter. She straps herself in, with Rain still cocooned to her chest. In her sleep Rain is smiling with baby wind which enchants her mother.

The storm clatters on, the deluge continues and puddles are spreading to form shallow lakes. Driving slowly, she keeps up a susurration of verbal nonsense.

“Daddy left early this morning, he went to work in the gully by the far paddock. Yes, he did… yes, he did… and he’ll love baby Rain just as much as Mommy does… yes… yes, he will… he must… everyone will love baby Rain… my beautiful baby… perfect baby Rain… nothing will ever hurt you, Rain… Mommy will protect you, yes, she will… Mommy won’t let anyone ever hurt you. Never.”

The inexorable rain is now forming fast-flowing streams that nudge the Toyota’s tyres and bear desiccated detritus. She turns the wiper blades to their fastest setting. Hunched forward with one protective hand curved over Rain and the other hand gripping the steering wheel, she negotiates the rapidly changing landscape. She knows where her brother will be but the tracks are now swift streams and it’s proving a challenge to reach the paddock. Perhaps he’ll be pleased. Returning in the Toyota will be easier than on the quad bike and trailer.

She pulls up next to the gully. Its steep sides are crumbling under the brutal inundation. She reverses to avoid causing further damage. The gully is rushing with silted water, foaming and gnashing at the earthen walls, gouging bites that are swallowed whole by the voracious new river. Peering up and downstream, she spots her brother’s upturned trailer. The quad bike is still hooked up and is pressing her brother into the bank.

She presses the horn to get his attention. The clangorous storm has shrouded her arrival. Shuffling cautiously she waves to him.

Enraged by her unauthorised presence and maddened with pain, he screams at her.

“The winch… unwind the winch and throw it down here…”

Bending against the storm, she opens her coat to reveal Rain.

“Our daughter! I brought our beautiful daughter to see you!”

Rain screws up her face and wails furiously. Her mum returns her to the comparative dryness and safety under the Drizabone.

“You fucking stupid bitch! I warned you… I warned you, I’ll kill it… I’ll fucking kill you both! Stupid fucking bitches! Throw the goddamn cable…”

Stunned by his vitriol she steps back. The gully walls continue to crumble.

“The cable! I need the cable… my leg… think it’s broke… can’t move… trapped… throw the cable… then winch this shit off me! D’ya fucking hear me? Stupid fuckin’ bitch! Winch cable! Throw the winch cable down…”

Her eyes flicker between her helpless brother and the Toyota to which the winch is bolted and where the rifle nestles. She clasps Rain closer, frozen by indecision. She battles the tsunami of pain threatening to overwhelm her; only maternal determination to protect Rain keeps her upright.

She can feel a rumbling underfoot, not cattle, something else. Her brother is screaming and fighting to free himself from the quad bike when the wall of floodwater hits him. The scaturient waters envelope him in a deathly embrace, dragging him, the bike and the trailer downstream in an urgent orgy. She watches her brother clutched by the river, gaping mouth gurgling with filthy water. In this unchoreographed dance of lustful death he dashes his head on a submerged rock. The ravening river gleefully bears away his limp body.

Clutching the Drizabone tightly around them both, she clambers awkwardly back into the Toyota, a hesitant smile slowly spreading over her delicate features. She wipes the wetness from her cheeks and steers the Toyota towards the township, towards help.

“Daddy won’t be coming home, my darling. We were too late… he was beyond our help… it’s just us… the two of us… we’re both safe now…”

Back to the 2019 !Short Story Contest!

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4 Responses to “Rain”

  1. Heidi Says:

    This is wonderful- the use of imagery has left me speechless

  2. Defenestrationism.net » Blog Archive » And the Winners Are… Says:

    […] Grand Prize Winner is“Rain” by Sue […]

  3. Jane Nash Says:

    what a great story – very evocative –
    well done!

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