“The Rain Dance” by Matt Charles
“I don’t think I can stand the rain anymore,” Debra said, spinning her cup of coffee on the kitchen table.
Randy sat opposite her and could see out the window over the sink, and the rain was coming down harder than it had in the last two weeks. It had rained in various bursts for a month, coming down in torrents for a day, and then turning to a fine mist. It hadn’t stopped. The rain kept coming.
“I feel like it’s leaking into the apartment,” she said and Randy nodded, even though the water wasn’t getting in. It was just the humidity that gave everything a soggy feel. This was the same conversation they had been having for three days.
Debra stood and pressed her face against the glass door to their balcony. They lived on the second floor of a three-floor apartment building. Randy was glad they didn’t live on the first floor. Ms. Hutchins, an elderly woman who complained of her arthritis every time Randy saw her, had water coming in her apartment. She said she tried to stop it by putting towels in the doorways, but they only worked for so long.
“It’s cold,” Debra said, laying her cheek on the glass. Randy watched the water pour down the outside of the door. It looked like Debra was under a waterfall. The water made everything look distorted like looking at the horizon during a heat wave. He could see the grill in the backyard that he and Debra used to cook hot dogs on the fourth of July while fireworks went off in the background. They couldn’t see the fireworks, but when Randy suggested they see if they would have a better view from up in the apartment, Deb hugged him and said hearing them was just fine. There was water coming up to the top of the grill, even though it was on a slight hill. “Won’t it ever stop?”
“It has to eventually. At some point God has to run out of tears,” Randy said. Debra looked back at him and shook her head. Randy thought that would get her to smile or at least stop her from being miserable for just a moment. “Come finish your coffee.”
Debra’s hair was messy and knotted and her eyes had dark bags under them. Some of the moisture from the window stuck to the side of her face and Randy wiped at it with his hand. She wiped the same spot with her hand, then pulled her shirt up to get the remainder of the water. It was the same shirt Deb had slept in for the last two years, a faded t-shirt from her old college, the slogan of the school long washed away. She took a small sip of her coffee and dropped her mug on the floor. It shattered. Randy got a towel to clean it up.
“That was my favorite mug,” she said. “We got it in Dollywood.”
“I know. We’ll get another one, one day.”
“We might have to sail there,” she said and Randy thought she would laugh. He hadn’t heard that sound in a month.
“We’ll have to pick up some animals on the way.”
As Randy started to mop up the coffee and porcelain, the ceiling started to thud. It was faint at first then started to pick up tempo. There was a beat in there, Randy knew it, but it was too many different rhythms at once and he couldn’t make it out.
“Again?” Debra asked. “Don’t they ever stop?”
Randy looked outside at the slanted lines of rain. It was coming down harder than ever.
“I guess they don’t.”
The thudding slowed down and so did the rain. It was a slow drizzle and Randy opened the door. The cold air came in and he crossed his arms over his chest.
“You know it’s not done. Close the door. It’s cold.”
“Don’t you want some fresh air?”
“Only if it’s dry.”
Randy closed the door and picked up the rest of the coffee mug. The mug, before being broken, had a big picture of Dolly Parton’s face on it. He was holding the left side of her face now, on a broken shard of the mug. He never understood why they put a headshot of her on the mug when the thing that made her famous was below her shoulders. He put her on top of the pile of trash around the can. Neither of them had taken the trash out since the raining and flooding had started.
The phone rang and Debra answered. She nodded and said “okay” a few times and then put her hand to her mouth. She hung up without saying goodbye.
“Ms. Hutchins is gone,” she said. “She tried to get her mail by floating to the mailboxes on a raft made out of cardboard. The last anyone saw of her, she was trying to paddle with her hands against the current going down the highway. They suspect she was carried out to sea.”
“We live in Kansas.”
“I just want it to stop.”
The stomping started again and Debra groaned. The light above the kitchen table was shaking and Randy watched her rub her temples. He looked outside and the rain started coming down harder again in big drops that sounded heavy when they hit the windows.
“How much rain do they need?” Debra screamed and started hitting the ceiling with a broom. “Why do they need so much rain?”
“We live in an apartment. So do they. What could they possibly be growing on their balcony that needs this much water? Why don’t they just use the sink to water things like normal people?”
Randy hadn’t given it much thought. He tried to ignore the dancing and tried to block out the thought that it might actually be making the rain come down.
“I’m going up there,” she said.
“Don’t do that. You don’t have any proof.”
“Then I’ll get some.”
Randy thought about telling her to take an umbrella. Judging by the way the rain was falling, it wouldn’t matter. It would only keep her head dry. He knew there was no way to stop her from going up there to yell at the rain dancers. He told her to be careful and she went out the door to climb the stairs to the apartment above them. She didn’t answer.
Randy turned on the television and there was a reporter standing outside in the rain in a yellow raincoat in water up to his knees.
“ The county has issued a state of emergency for all residents. It’s advised that everyone stays indoors until the rain passes.”
In the background, Randy saw a ship floating by. It had big sails that billowed in the wind and a black flag was hoisted up high, but he couldn’t quite make it out.
“Also, every resident should barricade any doors and windows in the event of opportunists.”
There was a big explosion on the television set and the reporter ducked his head. A large iron ball went whizzing by the camera.
“I think it’s time we sign off, folks. Everybody, to your stations.”
Randy watched as the reporter and the camera crew climbed up into their boat. There were about twenty of them manning a small craft. Another bang rang through the air and a ball went crashing into the hull of the ship.
They fired the four cannons and Randy wondered where they found them. One of the cannonballs went through a sail on the other ship.
A shot was fired from the other ship and Randy jumped as the cannonball headed straight for the camera. The screen went fuzzy. It cut back to the studio and the anchors told everyone to stay indoors.
Debra came home.
Debra had feathers in her hair and lines of paint under her eyes.
“What the hell happened to you?”
“Well, I went up there to yell and when they answered the door, they invited me right in and we sat down and smoked. I think it was marijuana, Randy.”
“What the hell is going on in the world?”
“They’re very nice.”
“That’s all well and good, but what about the dancing?”
“They said they just can’t stop. They don’t know why. They are growing corn on their balcony.”
Randy walked to the glass door leading to the balcony and pressed his forehead to it. The glass was freezing. The rain was coming down in bursts.
“Why do we have a tribe of Indians living over us?” he asked.
“Native Americans,” Debra said, stroking one of her feathers.
“Fine, but why is a tribe of Native Americans living in our apartment building?”
“They’re Cherokee. They live here.”
“Did you watch the news?”
“They don’t have a TV. They get all their information from another tribe in a building a mile from here. Smoke signals!”
“There are pirates,” Randy said.
“Oh, they know. A war party has been sent out to deal with the pirates.”
“What about the rain? When will it stop?”
“Whenever they’re told to stop dancing.”
The beating on the ceiling started up again, this time stronger than ever before. Bits of white were falling from the ceiling onto the kitchen table and Debra stood up and started dancing too. Randy clenched his fists and started to beat them on the table to the same rhythm that Debra was dancing to. It started raining harder and when Randy looked outside, all he could see was water.
Debra came out of the bedroom wearing a headdress she made out of construction paper. It was a yellow paper headband with an orange feather in the middle and brown feathers flanking it. She glued them on with an Elmer’s glue stick that she found in a drawer in the kitchen. The feathers were crooked and had black lines drawn on them to try to make them look more realistic. Randy stared at her with a small bit of glazed doughnut hanging from his lip.
“Do you like it?” she asked.
“Why are you wearing that?”
Debra frowned and opened the fridge. She took out a package of turkey deli meat and slapped it on the counter.
“You ate the last doughnut,” she said.
“Only half. I thought you might want the other half.”
Randy pointed to the half-eaten doughnut sitting on a small white plate. He had cut it with a knife so each half was equal.
“No, thank you,” she said.
“Then why’d you ask about the doughnut?”
“Because I thought you would have eaten it by now.”
“And then you could get mad.”
Debra didn’t answer, but she adjusted her headdress. One of the feathers got knocked sideways.
“You didn’t let the glue dry,” Randy said.
Debra took out two slices of bread and started to make a turkey sandwich. She kept her eyes on the process of sandwich making. Her lips were pursed and a tiny bit of her tongue was poking out of the side of her mouth. Randy called that her homework face when she was still in college.
“The glue,” he said.
She layered turkey and American cheese on the sandwich.
“It didn’t dry. You’ll lose your feathers.”
She squeezed some mustard onto her sandwich.
“You should have let it dry.”
Debra took her sandwich with her into the bedroom and Randy stayed in the kitchen. He turned on the TV, but nothing came on. It was just static on every channel. He turned on the radio, but the only thing he could get was a fuzzy version of a Spanish-speaking soap opera. He didn’t know they did that on the radio. Outside, he could see that the rain was slowing again. It was a fine mist.
“Don’t turn our bed into a teepee,” he said
When he walked into the bedroom, Randy saw that his wife had turned his bed into a teepee. She used a broom handle to hold the thing upright and had it planted right in the middle of the bed. He could see the curve of Debra’s body against the down comforter she was using as a teepee. He pulled the flap aside and poked his head in.
Debra was sitting cross-legged on the bed with her empty plate next to her. There were crumbs on the sheets and Randy had to fight the urge to wipe them up. When they had first gotten married, Randy had to teach Debra not to eat in bed. The thought of food crumbs on his shirtless body sent his mind into a paranoia about cleanliness that it took him days to recover from. Debra had yellow streaks under her eyes, and Randy assumed she had found some old oil paint from when he had decided to try his hand at painting and had, ultimately, failed. He realized he had no talent for the visual arts when he tried to draw a duck and it came out looking more like a hippopotamus.
“What’s on your face?” he asked.
“What’s your war-paint made out of?”
She looked up at him, with her headdress of crooked construction paper feathers.
Randy started laughing before he could think to stop and his laughing shook the bed. It was a deep kind of laughter, the kind that had been stuck way down in his body and finally the clog had been cleared. The teepee toppled.
Randy uncovered himself and stood over the fallen teepee. He could see Debra’s shape underneath the blanket, but she wasn’t moving.
“Deb,” he said. “Come on out of that blanket. There’s no point staying under there all alone. Let’s go wash that mustard off your face.” He said it with the most soothing voice he could muster, trying to gently bring her into the bathroom. The smell was making him want pastrami.
“Please, at least come out of the blanket. It’s hot under there.”
Debra pulled the blanket down so her head was visible. “Better?”
“Much. Let’s clean you up.”
The ceiling started rattling as the upstairs neighbors started dancing. The rain outside picked up and soon, all the two could hear was the rumbling of feet and water. Randy took Debra’s hand and led her to the window.
“It’s deep,” he said.
A small dog floated by of a plank of wood. There was a barrel floating over by apartment 32D. The water had come up a full story. The bottom apartments had been completely flooded. Randy thought he saw one of his neighbors in a scuba suit, swimming by the staircase.
“We should go out,” he said.
“How? The water’s so deep. We don’t own a boat.”
“Let’s swim. Maybe the exercise’ll do us some good. And it’ll wash that mustard off your face.”
Debra opened the window. Drops of water came in and soaked the windowsill. It splashed on Debra’s face and some mustard started running down her cheek. She looked over the edge into the water.
“Fine,” she said. “But we jump in from here.”
She didn’t wait for Randy to answer. She wormed out the window and flipped into the water, landing feet first. Randy watched the water and for a moment he thought she wasn’t going to come back to the surface. There were bubbles, or at least Randy thought they were bubbles. It was hard to tell with all the rain landing on the surface of the newly formed lake in the middle of Kansas. He thought maybe the water wasn’t as deep as they thought and she had hit her head on a jungle gym when she dove in. He started to scream her name. Then Debra popped up out of the water laughing. He dove out the window and into the water, still wearing his shoes.