PodCastle Miniature 80: Days of Rain

by Rachael K. Jones

Read by Cat Rambo

A PodCastle Original!

When the wind smelled savory and the clouds looked like burnished
gold, Mom would round up all the pots, pans, buckets, and basins in
the house and send us outside to tuck them beneath the rain gutters
ahead of the chicken soup rain. The summer draft only fell once a
year, and you had to know how to read the signs, but with Mom on the
watch, we never missed a storm.

If we were extra quick about it, Mom would open the special freezer
where she kept the remains of the winter draught and scoop out a
cupful of peppermint snow for each of us: one for me, and one for
Marie. We’d sit side by side in the heavy summer’s heat while the
clouds piled up and up, layer upon layer of gold with pulsing light in
their dark hearts. Marie liked to lick at the mound of snow in her mug
as if it were ice cream, while I preferred to let the heat melt it to
a shimmering slush before I sipped, sending a peppermint-sweet
coolness running through my whole body, the essence of winter to
banish summer’s weight.

We’d barely sleep from anticipation, the rumbles above echoed in our
tummies. In the middle of the night, Marie shook me awake to watch
faerie fire skip between the thunderheads. Then the downpour
started–first just a drop or two tapping the glass, and then quicker,
faster, a rising tempo, a thundering heartbeat, a deluge of chicken
soup, the essence of summer raining from the sky.

At dawn, if school was out, Mom would let us play in the soup as it
poured down in warm sheets. Marie and I would put on red galoshes and
raincoats and charge out the door, with a shouted promise to be back
by dinner.

For hours we’d splash in fragrant puddles swirling with noodles like
earthworms. Or we would throw back our hoods and stand with our mouths
wide open, taking summer into every fiber of our being. It made you
feel warm through and through, like a heavy blanket, or a sister’s
hug.

Once, an old beater of a blue truck rumbled by too quickly and kicked
up a wave of soup from a pothole, soaking Marie’s leggings above her
galoshes. Her eyes filled up, and I thought she might cry, so I
stripped off my own raincoat and let the storm soak me until she
laughed and didn’t mind anymore.

We decided to go home a little early to change into dry clothes. When
we rounded the corner into our cul-de-sac, we were surprised to find
Mom in the street barefoot and coatless, stomping in a puddle, her
skirt hitched to her knees, shrieking like a child. For the first
time, it occurred to me she might have been a little girl once, too.

“Mom, you look silly!” said Marie, giggling. “What are you doing?” Mom
dropped her arms, looking a bit sheepish as she shooed us inside for
some lemonade and a shower. “Every year goes by faster,” she said.
“Sometimes you have to make it stand still.” And that was all the
explanation we got. I watched Mom closely the rest of that day, but I
couldn’t detect anything else strange about her. I thought she
lingered at the window, but I could be misremembering that.

Once Dad got home, we’d circle the house together collecting the
buckets and bowls of summer draught, which Mom and Dad would pour into
red jugs. These got packed in the freezer to be reopened at the right
time.

Mom said you shouldn’t open a draught too soon, or in the wrong
season. “That ruins the magic,” she warned. “The potency grows with
time.” So we’d wait until the snow fell, and the sun shrank, and the
darkness grew. There would come a day when I’d come down with a cold,
or Marie caught the flu, and only then would Mom fish out the first
red jug from the freezer and set it on the kitchen counter. It thawed
almost instantly from its own radiance. I swear there was no better
cure for a cough or a runny nose, and no better tonic against the
gloom. All winter, we’d sip mugs of rain and feel warm again.

Now many seasons stand between me and those days of rain.  I have
become the one who thaws the soup rather than the one who collects it,
first for my daughters and nieces, and later, for their children.
Marie and I buried our mother, and eventually, I buried Marie.

Life is a rain of many small joys punctuated by sudden, rending
losses. But joy adds up with time. It has always been about the joy.

And so when the wind smells savory, I take off my shoes and step
barefoot into a puddle and turn my face upward just like my mother did
and wait for the summer draught. When you are as old as I am, you’ll
feel drunk when you taste it, all the memories of bygone years
sweeping down in a torrent so bracing you will shriek like the child
you once were when you dance in the rain of chicken soup, your mother
and sister and all you’ve lost returned to you in living memory. And
when you feel old and hungry and dry inside, like cracked earth, that
is when you will see clouds of burnished gold, and know the time is
near.

When I miss my sister the most, that’s when I know the rain is coming.

Rated G.

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