The rain was falling so hard that if it didn’t hit you on the way down, it bounced high enough to hit you from the ground. These were the kind of afternoons Sara liked best. When all the stores closed and everyone hid inside their houses, or, when the tornado sirens go off, as they tend to, their basements. Sara was outside dancing. Skipping through puddles, spinning pirouettes on the curb by the supermarket and belly flopping into the waist deep reservoir that the rain made where Highway Ten’s access road elbowed by the flower shop. Even the highway was empty and it seemed as if the whole world was hers.
“You’re soaking wet, Sara Jean!” Sara scolded, imitating her mother, “I was worried sick about you!”
Sara laughed. She almost never got yelled at and she never caught colds, or any kind of illness from the rain. The only time she ever got sick was from kids at school— dirty kids with runny noses who vomit in the cafeteria.
She found a few small rocks by a crumbling parking block behind the flower shop and tried to skip them in the little lake.
Two years before, on an afternoon when her older brother Timmy was home sick, Sara’s father had showed up at her first grade class and signed her out of school early for the day. He took her down to the Mississippi River by the Coon Rapids Dam and they walked along the water. Sara got too close to the edge and almost fell into the churning water but her daddy caught her arm and they bought a soda from a machine. He told her that her mom had asked him to leave, and that he was moving away.
“When are you going to come back?” Sara had asked him.“I don’t know. That’s up to your mom,” he said, skipping a stone along the river. Sara had never seen anyone skip a rock before, and her eyes opened wide.
“How did you do that?” she asked, amazed.
Her father chuckled, and showed her how to hold the rock with her index finger along the edge. How to angle her arm just right so that the rock bounced and didn’t just sink. After half an hour she had it down and could skip the rock for two bounces every time. The wind picked up a little and Sara shivered. The sun was going down. Her father took one last stone and with a grunt, threw it as far down the river as he could, then hoisted Sara onto his shoulders and walked back to his truck.
The next day was Saturday and Sara woke up early, before even Timmy was out of bed. Her father’s truck was gone. She ran into an overwhelming scent of burned coffee in the kitchen. Her mom sat absolutely still in her old tan bathrobe, holding a coffee mug with both hands. Protecting it.
“Mom, where’s Daddy? I want to try to skip rocks again today; I think I can get three! I really do!”
“Your father’s gone, Sara,” her mother said without moving any part of her body except her lips.
“When will he be back?” Sara was already thinking of where to find the flattest rocks. She’d seen some by a bike rack the day before.
“That’s up to him, but I don’t think he’ll be coming back.”
“Sara, I need you to go outside and play now. Mommy needs quiet.”
So Sara went outside and played in the sandbox with her Barbies. She buried the little Skipper doll and had Ken walking around trying to find her while Barbie sat in her little pink convertible with her little pink cell phone to her ear.
The rocks didn’t skip well and Sara got tired of seeing them sink so quickly so she decided to walk to the library about half a mile up the access road. The ditches were filled with turgid water which constantly spilled over the curb onto the pavement. It curled over itself on the way to the low point by the flower shop where the storm drains were filled up and had stopped performing their function entirely.
Timmy used to take her out after a rain. They would find little pine needles and race them along the side of the road like tiny canoes. Whoever’s needle made it to the drain first had to eat the other’s green vegetables that night. Sometimes, if it was green beans, Timmy would eat them, even if he’d won. Sara had almost choked on them once. After that, Timmy said he hated green beans whenever they were served, but he would always sneak them off of Sara’s plate and put them onto his own. Sara couldn’t eat them now or she’d throw up.
Timmy was four years older than her. A few months after Sara’s father had taught her to skip rocks Timmy had ridden his bike down to the dam to look for him. And never came back. Sara had helped her mom put up pieces of paper with Timmy’s picture on them for awhile, but they stopped after a year. Her mom stopped drinking coffee in the morning, and started sleeping until the afternoon everyday. She quit her job as a receptionist and started working at a bar not far away.
The tornado sirens by the bank across the street started whirring.
Mocking her mother’s voice, Sara reprimanded herself. “Sara Jean! What are you doing outside with the tornado warning going off? Get your little tushy in this car right now!” Her mother never left the house when it rained.
Up ahead Sara saw something sticking out of the ditch between the highway and access road by Arby’s. She couldn’t quite make out what it was, but it hadn’t been there the day before, so it was adventure time. She shook her hair out quickly and tied it back with the rubber band she had on her wrist. She could feel big lumps in it but Detective Sara Jean always wore her hair in a ponytail.
“Now, to the mystery!” she shouted, looking around quickly to make sure there were no cars on the road, which of course there weren’t. Even before the sirens had started no one had been out. Sara hadn’t seen one car driving.
Skipping up to the mystery object, she couldn’t help but smile. She loved mysteries. She used to go to the library with her neighbor Tina, and she would check out as many Nancy Drew books as they would let her take. Then, when she’d read all of them, she read all of the Choose Your Own Adventure books, going through each possible scenario after she played out her favorite. But just before second grade, Tina got really sick, and her mom said they had to move to be closer to a hospital in Pennsylvania. Now no one would take her to the library, and until she turned twelve she needed a parent with her to check out books.
As Sara got closer to the thing in the ditch, she could see that it was the back end of a car. A grey-blue car whose entire front end was underwater leaving the back right window at eye level from the access road. It looked exactly like the car her Sunday School teacher, Ms. Johnson used to drive.
“Sara, can you stay after class for a few minutes please? I would like to talk to you,” Ms. Johnson had said in her tender voice as one Sunday School class was letting out.
“Yes, Ms. Johnson,” Sara replied. She didn’t want to stay. Her mom had told her that Timmy could come home any day and she wanted to be there when he did. Every time she made crafts in school she would make one for her mom and one for Timmy. She had a construction paper bouquet of flowers, a cut out of a turkey she made tracing her hand, a clay turtle, and a cottonball snowman for him. She thought he would like the turtle the most. He used to have a pet turtle named Jonas when Sara was just a baby. He used to tell her about all the tricks he could do. He was the best turtle ever, but he got out of the house one night and Mom had accidentally backed over him with her car.
When Ms. Johnson had finally ushered the other children out of the room, Sara was tired of sitting inside and was hopping from foot to foot, pretending she was playing hopscotch.
“Sara, I’m worried about you.” Ms. Johnson sat down in a chair next to where Sara was standing.
“What do you mean, Ms. Johnson?” Sara asked as she hit the imaginary four square.
“Well, you and your mother have been through a lot, no one would deny that.”
Sara nodded. She’d heard people say things like that before. They said it must be hard. They said she must miss Timmy. Sara used to tell them that she missed her father too, but that they would both be coming back soon, and that when she gets old enough, she’d go find where they are by the Dam and they’d all come back again. Then people started acting weird, and patting her head too hard, so now she just nodded.
“But you aren’t looking good, Sara. Are you eating enough, hon—”
Sara’s mom was suddenly looming right in front of the two, eyes hard slits, nose flared.
“We are just fine, Janet. I would appreciate it if you would stop questioning my parenting—goodbye.” She grabbed Sara’s arm and yanked her out of the church. They walked home so quickly that Sara had to run every other step so that she didn’t fall with her mom still pulling on her arm.
They never went back to church.
“Ms. Johnson?” Sara asked quietly. She had forgotten about Detective Sara Jean, and was trying to remember the hand gestures to go along with Jesus Loves You.
“Ms. Johnson, are you in there?” The water swirled around her knees as she stepped into the edge of the ditch to get a little closer. She cupped her hands around her face so she could look into the back window. No-one was inside, but the windshield was broken. Sara stepped back out of the ditch and onto the road, no longer in the mood for mysteries.
She turned to cross the street away from the highway. Towards Arby’s. Up against the curb the water worked its way around a pile of clothes.
“Ms. Johnson? Is that you?” Sara called as she hop-stepped through the ankle deep water in the road.
Within a few steps she could tell it wasn’t Ms. Johnson. It was a man. The top of his head was bald and very white, and there were wisps of blond hair coming from behind his ears. Sara walked around to the sidewalk so she could see him better. His mouth was open, and he was missing most of his teeth. His gums were a pale pink. Water rushed over his head as the rain continued to fall. Next to his nose there was a big rip, and she thought she could see teeth in there, but then she realized it was bone. He looked like a mannequin from the mall. She touched his face. It was cold. She touched her own face; it was cold too, but softer than his was. His eyes were open, but it didn’t look like he was looking at anything. They looked like someone had poured milk on top of them.
In her mother’s tone again, she scolded the body. “You see what happens when you go out in a tornado?” She shook her finger at the man.
His blond hair waved in the rushing water.“Do you hear me?” Sara shouted, “There’s no coming back!” She reached over without thinking and shook the man’s shoulder. “There’s no coming back! There’s no coming back,” her voice fell to a whisper, “there’s no coming back.”
Sara sat next to the body for a minute. Just looking at it. In the water she could almost make out her reflection. She was pale, her hair flat against her cheeks. The man’s hair waved into her reflection and for a second she thought she saw her mother. She stood up quickly and looked around for her.
There was no one but her and the man. Sara touched her face. It was cold. She could feel her hair blanketing her cheeks, smothering them, burying them. She shook her head violently, as if to shake the hair off of her head. Water sprayed from her split ends, but she couldn’t see. Her eyes were closed.
In the darkness she heard her brother. He was with her father, and they were laughing. She could hear water. They were waiting for her at the dam, she just knew it. She’d always known it. When Sara opened her eyes she noticed a long flat rock and picked it up. It would be perfect for skipping.
Zebulon Huset is a writer and photographer living in San Diego. He received his MFA from the University of Washington, and his writing has recently appeared in The Southern Review, Louisville Review, Meridian, North American Review, The Cortland Review, The Portland Review, The Maine Review and The Roanoke Review among others. He occasionally publishes a writing prompt blog (Notebooking Daily) and his flash fiction submission guide was reposted at The Review Review.
Rain was first published in Issue 15 of Apeiron Review.