The rain fell swiftly, asking no questions on its way down. Bloated droplets raced to the soggy earth below. The sky was gray and swollen with storm clouds that appeared to roll through the sky like giant grey and black caterpillars. The rain and thunder denied all other lesser sounds, and lighting cut bright gashes in the colorless sky.
The storm made Little Lydia Banks even sadder. “Little” was what her daddy had once called her, even though she had never liked the nickname. She wasn’t that little after all. She was five. She missed being called that now.
Lydia could either stay inside where there was nothing to do but watch her mommy pack her things and cry, or sit on the porch and look for frogs hopping in the rain. She hated seeing her mommy cry. Lydia stood on the steps of the drooping porch of her house, sullenly watching frogs leaping over rain puddles, and wishing she could hop away too.
Somewhere in the world it’s not raining, she thought as she watched the rain stream off her porch. Maybe…China. I wish I was there. She sighed and watched a stray leaf spin round and round in a puddle.
“Me and mommy will be leaving soon, but I bet we’re not going to China,” she said aloud. In fact, she knew they were going to stay with Aunt Shelly. The thought of being so far away from her daddy made her sad.
One time when she was younger she had asked where the rain came from, and her daddy had told her a Big Man up in heaven was crying. Lydia had asked if he was so big, why couldn’t she see him?
Her daddy had told her it was because she was so little, his Little Lydia. Lydia had not found this amusing. When she had learned to write her name, she had showed it to her daddy and said “See Daddy? L-Y-D-I-A spells LYDIA. NOT Little.”
He had burst out laughing and hugged her, saying how proud he was of his Little Lydia. She had laughed too even though she knew she was just Lydia.
“Lydia,” her mother called, “get your things in the truck.” Stephanie Banks appeared in the doorway, her long blond hair hanging limply down to her shoulders. Lydia always thought her mother was beautiful, like the fairies she pictured when her daddy used to read her stories, but now she was like a princess who had lost her prince, sad and lonely.
“OK, mommy,” she said. “But the Big Man is crying a lot today.”
Michael Banks hated the rain. He hadn’t always disliked the rain. In fact, he had enjoyed sitting on his porch with his wife and daughter, watching the empty fields around them soak with lakes of water. Today though, the rain only served to remind him that his wife and daughter were gone. He couldn’t remember how long it had been since they had left. His head was cloudy more often than not now, and he almost felt like he wasn’t really there. He knew he was seeing through a pain-choked veil. He sat on the porch, drinking a cold beer, and wondered where his family had gone.
They had lived in this house surrounded by farmland for the past six years. Michael was a mechanic, but he had a green thumb. He had loved planting and tending his vegetable garden, and Lydia had liked helping him harvest the fruits and vegetables. His wife had often cooked wonderful dishes from the bounty of his work, and she had been working in the garden herself more lately.
Michael’s father had owned an Auto Repair shop, and Michael used to help him by doing small jobs when he was a child. He eventually worked his way up to bigger and more complicated jobs as a teenager, and discovered he had a natural talent as a mechanic. He also enjoyed the work. Machines were simple things once you understood how they operated, and he found peace in fixing people’s vehicles. Michael’s dad had seen that love, and had deeded the repair shop to Michael. When his dad died, Michael found that being an owner was a different beast than the one he knew. He had hired a shop manager two months later, when he could stand the paperwork no more, and gone back to working as a mechanic. Michael’s dad used to tell Michael that his destiny was in his last name, and that one day he would have a bank full of money, but Michael wasn’t concerned with money.
What do you think now, Pop? Michael thought, closing his eyes and listening to the soft plop plop of the rain. The normally soothing sound was giving him a headache. I’ve lost everything, he thought. I’d settle for just holding Stephanie or touching Little’s pretty soft hair again. But his wife had left him, and taken Lydia without one word to him. His little girl. Michael put his hand over his throbbing forehead. He had thought things were going well.
Michael got up from the porch step and went inside, the door creaking on the way. The entry all that had once held framed pictures of his family along its entire length seemed to stare at him with a blank face. There was some furniture left, but all of Steph’s and Little’s personal things were gone. What the house lacked in objects it made up for in memories.
He walked through the empty living room where he and Steph had often sat together, watching TV or talking until they were both too tired to stay up any longer. Where did you go, babe? He walked into Little’s room, seeing her stripped bed and thinking about the stories he read to her. Then he saw the giraffe painted in yellow and black and brown, and that destroyed the wall within him. Tears slipped down his cheeks, and he pushed the ghosts of his memory aside turned away from the empty room.
He walked to the old-fashioned refrigerator in the kitchen and pulled out another beer. Beer was the only thing left in the fridge. There was not even any butter. What made you leave? he wondered. Was it the drinking? Michael was not a drunk, but there were a few times he had drank too much and made an ass out of himself. Stephanie didn’t drink, and he knew she disapproved of his drinking spells. He had even gotten into a fight a couple of weeks ago at a local bar.
Michael was embarrassed to remember that. He couldn’t remember Stephanie’s reaction when he had told her about it, but he was sure she had not been happy. He took a long swig of beer, tipping the can back and spilling cold beer down his chin. He didn’t mind. It reminded him that he was alive.
What did I do wrong? The beer dulled the pain of his headache slightly, but once Michael started to think again, it came back with reinforcements.
Michael had been working long hours at the shop lately because one his mechanics had broken his arm. He hadn’t seen much of his family the past month, but still, Stephanie had given him no sign. He wondered if she had found another man, one who was more ambitious than he.
“I’m sorry,” he said out loud, not sure what he was apologizing for. His eyes filled with tears, and collapsed on the tile floor in a sobbing heap. Beside him, the beer poured its contents into the cold floor.
Stephanie stood in the center of the living room, thinking of all the movies they had seen in this room. They had laughed together at stupid comedies and she had screamed at the scary movies Michael insisted they watched. That was over now.
The room was mostly bare, as she had instructed the movers to take all the things she thought would not remind her of Michael too much. They had done their job swiftly. There wasn’t much to move. There was never much when it came to her and Michael. Their relationship had been simple. It had been more complicated towards the end, with Michael working late and drinking often. His long hours left little time for her and Lydia. All I wanted was you, Michael. Just you and me and… Little. Her eyes misted over at that thought. Little was his name for her. Stephanie gathered her courage and decided to go back for one last look at their bedroom.
She stopped at the door, looking in and seeing a different time. A time when she and Michael had laid in bed in the most secret part of the morning, making plans and telling each other about their dreams. She almost started crying again, but managed to control herself. She had cried so much lately. She walked out of the room and down the hall to Lydia’s room.
The sky blue paint that Michael had painted Lydia’s room was beginning to peel. He had even tried to paint a giraffe on the wall after he and Stephanie had taken her to the zoo and she had showed a particular affection for the long-necked animal.
She almost changed her mind about leaving the house when she saw the sloppy rendition of the giraffe at the zoo that Michael had worked so diligently on. No, I can’t go on living this way. For me and Lydia. We deserve better, she thought. We deserve-
A new life. Was that what she had wanted? Michael thought, still sprawled out on the floor. “I wanted to spend more time with you. I wanted to buy you nice clothes and give you everything you wanted. I just didn’t know you wanted more than I gave,” he said. He got off the kitchen floor and stepped around his spilled beer. He paced around the kitchen a while, because he could no longer sit.
When he and Stephanie had met, she had been 19 while he was 22. She had been enrolled in the community college a few miles from her parents’ house, even though she had received scholarships for bigger and better colleges. She had wanted to stay close to take care of her mother, who had Alzheimer’s. Her father had passed away when she was just 12.
She had driven into his life in a 1967 Volkswagen Bug. She brought it in to his father’s shop for repair, and was speaking with him at the counter. She had turned innocently, probably just checking out her surroundings while his father was writing up paper work, and their had eyes met. It was only for an instant, a flash of undefinable time, but he had felt a shock go through him. He had never suspected that true beauty, the kind that lives inside a person, could be communicated through one’s eyes until then.
She had turned back to him a few seconds later when his dad pointed at him, and she had smiled at him. If the look was a shock, that smile was a Tesla coil full of unspent electricity. Six months from that day, they were married and living in the house he was in now. They had Lydia a year after that. Stephanie’s mom had held Lydia the day she was born, and clarity seemed to return to her when she looked upon the baby. She had said she’d never seen anything so little and perfect. She had died a month later.
Stephanie had never gone back to college, even at Michael’s insistence that he would do anything to help her get there. She had been a bright veterinary student, but she kept telling Michael that taking care of Lydia for the first few years of her life was the best thing she could do for the world.
Michael wondered how long she had been secretly plotting to leave him, and take his daughter away.
Since that day at the hospital Lydia had been daddy’s little girl. Even though it was Stephanie that spent most of the day with her when she was a baby, her first word had still been Da-Da. Michael sometimes came home late in the evening exhausted from working long shifts and smelling of motor oil. He still managed to find time to read Lydia a story or play a game with her when she got older. Sometimes when he was off of work they would go in the city to the zoo or take a picnic by a lake that was a few miles from their house. Lydia was as beautiful as her mother. She had the same sunflower blond hair and the same warm blue eyes that radiated compassion and kindness. She was his Little Lydia.
Why? Why would Stephanie take Lydia away from him? He knew that she wasn’t as happy as she should be, but he would have never suspected this.
“Mommy, do we have to go?” Lydia asked.
Stephanie looked down at her Lydia, her perfect Lydia that looked so much like her father. “Yes, baby. It’s almost time now leave. Did you make sure you got everything?”
“Good then. Go put the rest of your stuff in the truck and we’ll be ready.”
“But what about daddy?” Lydia asked, her voice breaking.
“Oh, Lydia.” Stephanie scooped the girl up in her arms and held her close. They cried together. We have to let him go.”
Michael was done with crying. He was furious. His fists curled and uncurled as he thought about what his wife had done to him. Six years of marriage. Six years gone down the drain, he thought as he passed the kitchen. He wasn’t going to let it end this way. He had worked to get everything he had in life, and he would work to get his wife and child back.
“Stephanie!” he screamed, and flung open the front door. He stomped over the porch and down the steps, ignoring the rain. He had to find his family. He would track them down and win his wife and daughter back. He wouldn’t do this. He wouldn’t let her-
He stopped, facing the front door. His blood froze as he looked at the closed door.
“What the hell,” he wondered out loud. He tentatively pushed the door open again and stepped through. He walked cautiously to the steps, stealing glances over his shoulder. He stepped down on the first one with no problem. He walked the last four faster and his foot was just about to touch the ground and-
The front door looked him in the face again. Now he was scared. He opened the door and ran through, leaping over the steps landing-
on the floor in the entry hall. He lay there, not understanding.
He looked at his shoes, which should have been wet from the rain. They were dry. He was breathing fast now, almost panting. What’s going on? he thought.
He stood up and backed down the hall, unconsciously seeking the comfort of his bedroom. When he got there, he saw a scrap of newspaper lying on the bed. Michael glanced at the photograph on the paper in bewilderment, and began to read.
Stephanie stood on the porch, staring at the truck. Then she made a decision. She opened the front door and marched to her bedroom. She reached in her pocket and threw the newspaper article down on the bed. It had been read many times, and it was faded and thin. Stephanie felt better at once. It was time to let go.
She walked back to the porch, and found Lydia waiting for her. The rain had almost died. “Mommy,” she asked, looking up at her, “do you think daddy is crying with the Big Man in heaven?”
Stephanie watched the sun peek out from behind the grey clouds. “No, honey. I bet he’s smiling at us right now.”
“But don’t you think he misses us?” Lydia asked.
Stephanie bent down to Lydia’s height. “I bet he does, but remember how he used to tell us that rain was God’s tears?”
Lydia nodded, her eyes brightening.
“Well there’s no reason for your daddy to cry because god cries all those tears for him. Your daddy is in heaven now, and one day we’ll see him again.”
Lydia, apparently satisfied with this explanation, ran off to the waiting truck. Stephanie stood on the porch and wondered how Michael really felt right now.
Michael finished reading the story, and sat in stunned silence. The article said that he had died almost a month ago. It said that a fight had broken out in a bar, and several men were beating up an old man. Michael had tried to help the old man, but one the other men had stabbed him. An ambulance was called, but the roads were wet from a thunderstorm and Michael had died before the EMTs arrived.
Michael sat and stared out into the distance. He remembered now. It was coming back to him slowly, like a garbled television transmission. He remembered lying there, feeling his life’s blood running out on the hard wood floor, and thinking about Stephanie and Lydia. He had focused on them so completely, that he had felt no pain. He had been smiling when the EMTs tried to revive him.
They’re gone now, he thought, but I’m the one who left them. He closed his eyes, but there were no tears this time. He loved them so much that he had been the one unable to let go. He walked back to the porch, slowly this time. He paused before the steps. He knew if he walked down them this time, he would not be stopped. He wasn’t sure where he would go, but he knew he had to let go. He closed his eyes, and walked down the stairs. “Goodbye, Stephanie. Goodbye Little. I love you,” he whispered, taking his final step. He thought he heard them whisper back.
“Goodbye, Michael,” Stephanie whispered to the house. “I’ll always love you. Always.”
“Look, mommy!” Lydia called from the truck. “I see a rainbow!”
Sure enough, a rainbow was beginning to form over the fields. Stephanie looked at its brilliant colors and thought that she had never seen a more beautiful rainbow. It was so bright, and the colors so intense. She smiled, and said “Thank you Michael.” A moment later the rainbow was gone, and the rain begin to fall again.
Adam L. Wilson is a strange man. He is marked strange not by his appearance or behavior, but by his motivations and methods. You see, Adam is a writer, but he doesn’t want anyone to know it. That isn’t entirely true, of course, but before you can believe any of this, ask yourself if I am known to you as a reliable narrator. No? Good.
Allow me to explain. Adam is married, and has had five wonderful spawns before he has reached his 30th birthday. He has dreamed of being a writer for years, but monetary and familial obligations have obscured his view of this dream. Instead, he has toiled away at occupations that have held little to no meaning to him, all for the sake of his family. Oh, and pizza. Adam really loves pizza.
So after nearly10 years of this all but financially pointless labor, the writing fever began to burn his ass too much to ignore. So what did he do? He began writing. In secret. It’s not that he doesn’t want to be discovered as a modern day Faulkner, and be wealthy and famous, but there is an important reason why he doesn’t want to be known yet. You see, he hasn’t told his wife of his writing ambition. His wife, nor anyone else in the world, save for a few paltry editors he guiltily submitted his writing to during down time at his office job. Not only that, but he wants to continue to hone his craft before he tries to make a mad dash to the publication feeding frenzy.
Unfortunately, sometimes a story will break out from his tight, almost maniacal grip and make a desperate effort to reach some hungry editor, and Adam sustains a wild hope that that hungry editor will find his story delectable and bite bite bite. Here is one of those stories. I hope you enjoy it. I certainly did. Just try not to let anyone know you read it, ok?