It is a slow day, and grey as if the dust has bled into the sky. The few thin, shabby trees offer little shade in the directionless glare but the children scatter into the yard regardless, magpie jubilant at their early release from the sweltering tin schoolroom.
Emmy is last out the door, clomping the Lucky Shoes down as hard as her skinny legs can manage. She loves the sounds they make, floorboard crash, leathery scuff and clop in the dirt at the bottom of the stairs, kicking reluctant puffs of dust into the humid air. The heavy brown shoolshoes lend weight and substance to her ethereal existence, four feet of scabbykneed girlstuff. Emmy is nine.
“Rii-iita!” she pipes, squinting. “Wait up!”
Rita waits, her stiff blue plaid uniform sticking to the sweat on her back. A lazy dust devil loops though the afternoon haze of the country schoolyard and Emmy slows her pace, airborne topsoil forming a dark film of grime on her legs in the sticky heat.
“Mrs Stoneham made me do the blackboards. She reckons it’s gunna rain this afternoon. What’re you doing?” she says as she catches up. Rita is down on one knee, rummaging through her satchel. She is nearly forty days younger than Emmy, just as thin, and taller as she rises awkwardly. “Saved it!” she says, and pulls a battered green apple from the satchel-clobber of rulers and books. Emmy’s face lights up. “Ha!” she says, reaching for the bruised prize. “First bite cause I’m the oldest!”
“No way!” says Rita in mock indignation, swinging her fruit-bearing limb behind her back. “I get first bite cause I’m the tallest!” “First bite cause I’m the most beautiful,” retorts Emmy, hammily combing her hair with her fingers. “Nah, says Rita, “First bite cause I can run the fastest,” and sets off for home at a sprint, Emmy at her heels.
Three miles home. By the time the girls are halfway, their dash has slackened to a torpid loiter, the apple has long since been shared and the core stowed safely in Rita’s satchel for a horse-bribe.
“It’s hot,” says Rita. “Yeah,” says Emmy, “and yuck as well, sticky. Weird.” “Have you ever seen it rain?” says Rita. “Yeah, course I have,” says Emmy. 1939 is half her life ago, before her brother went away, but she can remember it like a half-submerged dream: standing with him on the verandah, watching the distant cloud shed its dark veil on the horizon. “Rain,” he’d said, “but not close enough to do us any good,” and they had watched until the veil thinned and vanished.
“Aw, bull!” says Rita. “Have so,” says Emmy. “It”s like as if God painted the air blue under the cloud.” She scuffs the Lucky Shoes through the dry roadside grass stubble. “That’s not rain!” says Rita. “Rain’s what makes the ground wet overnight, everyone knows that.” “Stan said it was rain.” “Yes well if Stan said ‘You are an elephant’ would you believe him?”
Emmy’s mum hadn’t wanted Stan to become a soldier, but it was Stan’s soldier’s pay that kept them through the long dry while the sheep died and other families went broke and moved away. Emmy had written to Stan and told him about her new shoes, and he had replied, saying that the shoes must make her feel very lucky.
As a matter of fact they do, every time she puts them on she feel heavier and more real, like nothing could hurt her. Lucky.
She clomps the Lucky Shoes down hard and thinks that it’d be real lucky if it started to rain right now so that she could show she was right.
They are within sight of Rita’s house when a scatter of small thuds poke fingerprint craters in the dust around them. “Look at the clouds!” yells Rita, and squeals in alarm as the first cold needles smack hatbrim and girlskin. Rita’s squeals become shrieks of abject terror and she bolts for home, bawling.
Emmy stares stricken at the roiling forms above her and tries not to flinch as the smattering gives way to a torrent. Squinting through her lashes she can just make out the individual drops as they race toward her. She can hardly see the house ahead when she turns to run after her friend.
The women had been hard at the cards when the first huge drops struck the roof like nails, but they are out on the verandah breathing the damp scent of the flood by the time Rita pounds howling up the stairs. Emmy stops a few feet from the house, arms by her sides, throws her head back and tries to catch some rain in her mouth.
Rita’s mother laughs sympathetically as she holds her wet and sobbing child to her breast, and Emmy’s mother scolds “Emmy! Emmy, get up here before you catch your death!”
But Emmy knows nothing can hurt her, and as the Lucky Shoes make splats up the stairs she trumpets, radiant, “I’ve seen inside the rain!”
About the Contributor
Kay Orchison is a multidisciplinary artist from Sydney, Australia. He makes digital and alternative-process photographic prints, installation art, and short films. He also writes and performs music. He is married to Dr Louise Crabtree and is currently the primary carer for their three children. They live in Petersham, NSW. More information and artwork can be found at http://www.110hz.com/
Unanimous Night - Michael Brennan
Brennan is an Australian poet. Picking just one of his books to list here was tricky. All his books speak to grief and loss but none more strongly than Unanimous Night. This is not to say it's all he does, he can be riotous and surreal and tender and uplifiting. Of the couple of thousand books in my house the one I return to every time I need a belly laugh is his Autoethnographic. If fiction provides doors out of the world, poetry furnishes lenses through which you can experience it more intensely. None are sharper than Brennan's.
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