|Announcing: Hobart’s First Annual Mini Book Contest
prize: $500 and publication as the first installment of our new Short Flight/Long Drive "minibook" series
The weatherman said red rain was on the way again, so we bought a blue tarp and covered our car. Last week when it rained red for the first time, two children died. No one knows whether or not the rain did it, but Jackie and I tell the kids to stay inside because we don’t want to be taking any risks. They played in the puddles last time. They rolled in them and screamed for help.
“Someone stabbed me!” Ginny said. “They cut me!”
“Look at all the blood!” Curtis said.
While they writhed on the ground, the neighbor kids traced their bodies in chalk and strung yellow streamers around the area. And later, they knocked on our door. The girl wore a blue hat with Sheriff penned in black, and the boy wore a cowboy hat that sunk low over his forehead. He also had a cardboard badge pinned to his shirt and cardboard spurs stuck against his boots. When I opened the door, he tipped his hat back and touched his sopping badge. “We’ve got some questions for you,” he said. “And we don’t want no lies.”
The girl crossed her arms, then uncrossed them and stuck her finger in my chest. Then the boy stepped into the house and held his badge up to my face. “I hope we all feel like cooperating,” he said.
I laughed and said I’m all about cooperation right as I heard Jackie coming up behind me. She put her hand on my shoulder and looked at the neighbor kids. “I’m glad to see we can all have some fun,” she said. And then she said, “But why don’t you two go on home and get cleaned up?”
When the neighbor kids left and Curtis and Ginny came inside, we laughed at their crimson clothes and ruby faces. And after Jackie tossed their clothes into the wash, we watched the news. That’s when we heard about the two children who had died. The newscasters said it may have been the red rain. They interviewed a scientist. “We didn’t think it was toxic,” he said. He shook his head no, no, no. “But,” he said, “sometimes we’re wrong.”
The kids giggled and said these people don’t know what they’re talking about! Jackie and I nodded our heads and told them how sometimes people make a big deal out of nothing. But after they went to bed, Jackie said to me: “But it could be something?” And she started to say, “And if it’s something…” but then she stopped, and we just turned on the TV and sat there, staring. They interviewed more scientists on satellites and the scientists said they’ve never seen anything like it. On one channel, they said, “It may take some time.” And on another, they said, “We just can’t really say what we’re dealing with.”
After we switched the TV off, Jackie turned and looked past me and down the hallway. “What if the kids?” she said.
And I said, “Not our kids.” But before we went to bed, we checked their rooms. We watched them breathe.
So today, as soon as we heard that the rains were coming again, we told the kids they’re not to leave the basement until we say so. They said, please, please, we want to see. But when Jackie said, “I’m gonna count to three,” and I told them they can see from the basement windows, they went on downstairs, though they just kept on saying how it’s not the same, it’s not the same at all.
Me and Jackie are sitting in the living room now, watching TV, and in the basement Ginny is screaming at Curtis that he’s not being fair. On TV, it’s the news, and there’s the weatherman shaking his head and sighing. The other anchors are telling him it’s not his fault, and in the right hand corner of the screen, there’s one of those graphics, but it’s just this big red question mark, like what are we supposed to do?
The doorbell rings and Jackie doesn’t even take her eyes off the TV, so I get up and take a look out the window. It’s the Hansons and their kids. The boy’s got his cowboy hat on again and those cardboard spurs. They ring the doorbell a second time and I open the door.
“Hey, partner,” I say to the boy.
Mary Hanson bends down and brushes some lint from his shoulder. “Isn’t he cute?” she says.
“We’ve got some cute kids,” Craig Hanson says.
He walks into the house and his family follows. “We were thinking we’d come on over and hunker down with you guys. We thought who should do this alone? We don’t have to do this alone?”
Mary Hanson says these are some tough times, and so we’ve got to tough them out together.
I nod and tell them sure, let’s all hunker down, makes sense to me.
“I brought some wine,” Craig says. “It’s vintage. I was waiting for a special occasion. And I thought, why not?”
He takes the wine into the kitchen and begins opening drawers, looking for a corkscrew, I guess. Mary asks me, where are our kids? I tell her in the basement. I tell her we want to be safe.
“Safety’s important,” she says. “I like the way you think.” And she tells her kids to get on down to the basement too. She says they can play the game with the chalk and the streamers down there. Her kids don’t fight with her. They just run to the basement door and they’re going so fast down the stairs, all the thumping makes me think they’re falling. But then I hear Ginny: “You scared me!” And I know everything’s OK.
We all sit in the living room with Jackie and she’s still watching TV.
The TV says: Well, should we go back to the weather center again?
Then Craig brings in the wine and four glasses and sets them on the table. He pours the wine and gives us each a glass. He and Mary sit on the loveseat next to the couch. We drink our wine and I’ve got my hand on Jackie’s thigh.
“We live in a funny world,” Craig says. And he laughs.
Jackie nods her head and turns the TV off. “We don’t need to watch this,” she says.
“You’re right,” Craig says. “They don’t know anything, those people.”
Craig finishes his glass and pours himself some more wine. Mary looks at him, like slow down, we don’t need you drunk. “I think you had enough back home, like four glasses ago,” she says.
“It’s a special day,” Craig says.
Jackie says you can’t call this special. And she says it in that voice, all sharp and quick, and I know she’s upset.
“Maybe special isn’t the right word,” I say. “Maybe we should say strange. Or eccentric. Maybe we should say it’s an eccentric day.”
“It’s the same thing,” Craig says.
“It’s not,” Mary says.
Craig leans forward and sets his wine on the table. “We could get a dictionary,” he says.
“That’s not what he means,” Mary says.
“That’s not what I mean,” I say.
“So then what do you mean?” Craig says. “What does it mean when the sky turns pink and the rain starts to fall?”
“It means just that,” I say.
Jackie stands and walks to the windows by the front door.
Craig finishes his second glass of wine. “It’s a special day,” he says.
“You’re drunk,” Mary says.
“I just like to drink,” he says. “It doesn’t mean I’m drunk. And why shouldn’t I be drunk? It’s a special day.”
“Fine,” Mary says.
“You don’t know anything,” he says.
I get up and go stand with Jackie by the windows. I put my hand on her shoulder. “I like how eccentric sounds,” I say.
“It sounds good,” Jackie says. “But I don’t think it matters.”
I lower my arm from her shoulder and wrap it around her waist as we look up at the clouds. The sky stretches to the horizon, pink, like the sun’s already setting, and the clouds, whirling way up, are traced in a thin red, like they’re absorbing the color that surrounds them. When the rain begins to fall, it splatters against the windows. The blue tarp over our car seems to bleed, and the street turns red.
I walk back into the living room, and Jackie stays at the windows. Craig has the dictionary out on the table.
“I looked it up,” he says. “I looked up eccentric, and it means peculiar, right, and so I looked up peculiar, and it means special.”
“That’s excellent,” Mary says. “You’re a smart man.”
“So they’re the same thing,” Craig says.
I point to the windows and Mary says, oh well, there we go.
The three of us walk over and stand with Jackie. In the basement, the kids are clapping and yelling rain rain rain! After a minute or two, the rain starts to rush from the gutters and there’s this red waterfall right outside the window, and it’s just so beautiful. I grab Jackie’s hand and squeeze. Then my stomach does that roller coaster thing, like dropping to the floor. And I say, “Hey guys. The kids. I can’t hear the kids anymore?”
Craig finishes off another glass of wine and nods his head. He sets the glass on the floor. “Weird,” he says.
We’re at the window for a few more seconds, and it’s quiet except for the rain rushing all over the place, and then we all know what’s happened. I still have Jackie’s hand and finally she squeezes back. When she turns and runs for the basement door, all of us follow behind. We thump thump thump down the stairs, and there are the windows with the screens popped out. Outside, Curtis and Ginny are lying in the yard and the neighbor kids are stringing yellow streamers around the area. Jackie and Mary start screaming about getting inside and being safe and oh god you need to get inside.
When the neighbor kids finally run back to the windows, they’re dripping red, and the boy takes off his cowboy hat in the basement and dumps out the rain. It spreads across the carpet and seeps in, staining. Mary’s got a towel and she’s drying off her kids, but Jackie keeps yelling because Curtis and Ginny are still out there lying in the yard. I say I’ll go and get them, and she stops yelling for a second, and tells me yes yes, but be careful, oh god. So I crawl out the window and when the rain hits me it’s all warm and I just want to lie down and let it fall all over my body. I run to Curtis and Ginny and they’re both soaking wet and the red’s covering all of them. I look around and everything’s changing, going so red, and I bend down and shake them and I say let’s get going, we need to get going, we’ve got to go! But they don’t move. They just lie there. And the rain, it keeps on falling.