Waiting for the Rain to Fall
by Shawn Radcliffe
Word of my father’s dying reaches me even here, in the middle of the river. To the east, a single mountain towers above the earth, watching me with gray eyes. A fine mist shrouds its snow-covered peak, and a ring of thicker clouds obscures the sawtooth rocks below. Standing here, alone in the river, I feel the mountain gnawing at me with its icy teeth—the runoff still flowing strong, even now toward the end of autumn. In spite of the fresh resin on the seams of my waders, I feel the mountain’s chilly bite in my legs.
I had hoped to finish stringing the water traps across the river before I was pulled away again. It will be winter soon and the current, emboldened by the coming rain, will fight any attempt of mine to continue my research. But I have come too far to turn back now—how many months spent preparing and calibrating the overly sensitive equipment, not to mention slogging through algae-choked waters? I can’t afford to waste any more time on my father.
I turn my back on the mountain and shield my eyes against the glare of the afternoon sun that cuts through the overcast sky. A week ago, a thick blanket of clouds rolled in from the ocean, but so far there hasn’t been any rain. Earlier today, my instruments detected a drop in air pressure, and I feel a hint of cold wetness in the air. All around me, the grasses and vegetation are soaking up moisture—bringing to life the sweet smells of my childhood.
On the hillside, a small figure makes its way down the winding path toward the river—a tiny crooked man, leaning heavily on a cane. It must be old Silas, bringing a sense of urgency to my father’s unspoken message. In my memories, Silas has always been old, even when I was a child. But he moves even more slowly now, like the imperceptible creep of algae across the surface of the river. His mind, though, remains as quick as when I first studied with him long ago.
I could leave the river and meet him halfway, but I need to finish my work before winter sets in. And as my father always said about telling stories, “Rushing the ending won’t get you the answers you seek.” Before I turn back to the water traps, I watch Silas for a moment longer as he makes his way slowly along the switchbacks through the thick heather. Fortunately, it will be some time before he reaches me.
I move deeper into the river, treading carefully across the mud-covered rocks beneath my feet. Each step coincides with a sucking sound and a gentle tug on my waders. I feel a pinprick of cold on my right foot—it spreads outwards, numbing my toes as it passes. A seam must have cracked on the waders, pushed and pulled by the strong current and the grip of the mud. Of course I can fix them when I return to my workshop—but for now I must continue checking the equipment.
As I make my way closer to the center of the river, I steady myself with the rope strung between trees on opposite banks. This lifeline tethers the small boxes filled with instruments just above the water line. The current here is stronger, making it difficult to stand upright—the first winter rain must have fallen up north, beyond the Gate of the Gods. I should tell Silas, but he probably already knows.
I first met Silas at my father’s house when I was barely ten. Every weekend my father hosted gatherings for other local storytellers. Men and women, many of whom I had never seen before, sat or stood for hours in the main room of our house, the strangers packed in so tightly that food had to be passed around the room on tattered books stained from previous events.
Back then, my father’s house was cluttered with many such books—as it is now—but the thick scent of mildew was absent. In the front of the room, near the fireplace, a large spot of light lit the armchair where it still sits today. The edges of the circle of light shifted as the chandelier swung in the sweet-smelling breeze coming through the windows, and dozens of tiny candles flickered erratically.
My mother hated these events, and did what she could to keep them from happening—distracting my father with errands to be run, or repairs to be made around the house. But even her best efforts couldn’t keep the parties away forever. Many were spontaneous—a few locals followed my father home from the pub down the street, and as news spread, people soon arrived from around the city.
One by one men and women filed through the front door, and one by one they sent waves of agony across my mother’s face. She was a very private woman who had, unfortunately, married a very public man. The only thing that spared her these events was her death at an early age, shortly after my father sent me away.
Even at ten, I was too young to attend these raucous affairs myself. My father always put me to bed early, saying only, “Someday, son, you’ll be asked to join us. Until then, these stories have no place in your life.” I protested, of course, just as my own son would, but my father was determined to keep me out of his inner sanctum for as long as possible.
I may not have been old enough to sit among my father’s strange friends, but I always managed to catch a glimpse of the adult world below—the one that filled our house until the early hours of the morning. After my mother tucked me into bed—she was eager for any excuse to leave the room—I invariably snuck back to the top of the stairs, my head pressed against the railing. Above me, the portrait of my father’s own father looked down at me disapprovingly from where it hung askew in the hallway.
That year, the parties went on for weeks. It was deep winter, and the rain had been particularly heavy, with temperatures hovering just above freezing. Each night, my mother and some of the neighborhood women scurried back and forth from the kitchen carrying platters filled with sliced meats and cheeses, loaves of fresh-baked bread, and jugs of home-brewed wine and beer.
The stories told below in that shapeshifting circle of light were unlike any I had heard before—more violent and wild than the gentle, loving tales that we memorized in school. Witches, goblins, and other supernatural beings, cities filled with people stealing, neighbors killing neighbors, machines that belched smoke into the sky and blotted out the sun the way our clouds did during winter.
I often fell asleep at the top of the stairs, waking only when my mother carried me back to bed, her bare feet tapping softly on the cold oak floor of the hallway. Even as she tucked me into my warm bed, beneath a thick goose down comforter, the stories stayed with me and filled my dreams with wild adventures, or occasionally thoughts too terrifying to recall.
One night, just after the start of the new year, as I peered between the banisters at the gathering below, I saw Silas for the first time up close. Every child in school had heard of him, but few had ever been near enough to see the gap between his bottom teeth or the streaks of gray in his tangled white beard—or to smell the unmistakable odor of a man whose years outnumbered the yellowing books that surrounded the armchair by the fireplace. Most of my friends crossed the street to avoid walking directly in front of his house. But we still couldn’t steer clear of Silas completely. Even though a thick layer of tangled hedges blocked his windows from our peering eyes, strange chanting reached our ears from inside the dark walls of that mysterious building at the edge of the city.
That rainy night in my father’s house, Silas was the storyteller—just as others had taken their turn before him. My father sat close by, his eyes wide as Silas spoke words that seemed more like music than speech. I listened carefully, trying to hold onto the words, but they danced around me like fireflies, and then slipped into and out of my mind until my eyelids grew sluggish. I fought the heaviness that enveloped me, but the room began to blur, first shifting back and forth, and finally spinning wildly until I dropped off.
Even as I slept—was I really sleeping?—I could hear Silas’ voice. My mind, though, was no longer my own. It had become words tied together in a jumble inside my young skull. My heart raced. I tried to move my arms and legs, but they were frozen like the mountain that looked down upon our city. I yelled, hoping to rouse myself with the sound of my own voice, but all I could muster was a guttural, animal-like moan.
Then Silas was hovering near me. I couldn’t open my eyes, but I could feel him there beside me, speaking words—no, sounds!—that calmed me. His voice became more clear. “There boy, don’t be afraid,” he said. “This is Silas. Ah, yes, Silas, you know old Silas! Follow my words, boy, follow them closely.” I felt his hand resting on my chest, drawing air into my lungs with his fingers. “Don’t worry, boy, you’re safe. Move toward the sound of my voice. Return to us … that’s right, boy. Come back into the world of light, closer my boy, almost there … good, now open your eyes.”
When I opened my eyes, my father was standing over me, his face heavy with anger. He had never before raised a hand to me, except once when I brought one of his prized books to school. At this moment, though, I thought he was going to strike me hard enough to knock me down the stairs.
Silas, crouched on the floor beside me, one hand cradling my head above his knees, spoke only my father’s name, his voice soft—not reprimanding. My father looked down at Silas, who held his gaze for a few moments, and then my father nodded and looked at me.
“Get to bed, son. You have a big day tomorrow,” he said, the last words he spoke to me for ten years. The next day, my father sent me to live with Silas, the start of my apprenticeship in the old ways.
By the time Silas reaches the river’s edge, I am adjusting the last of the water traps. Next spring I will have my answers—if the ropes strung across the river stay in place. When I retrieve the instruments from the river, I should know whether the algae that has choked our waterways for the past two summers is a passing bloom or a sign of a more serious imbalance.
I am not too worried about the ropes failing, because my son helped me fasten them to the sturdiest trees. Even at seven, McKenzie’s hands are skilled with tying knots. I could have used him here again today, but he spends most of his time at my father’s house, waiting for his grandfather to tell him another story.
Silas stands on the riverbank, his hands folded in front of him—the man has infinite patience, something I experienced often during my training. I securely fasten the lid on the last box, and say goodbye to the instruments that will take samples of the river all winter, like tiny birds sipping at the surface of a fountain. I make my way slowly back to shore, my right foot heavier with each step. I wiggle my toes, and with what little sensation I have left in them, feel water sloshing around my foot—the seam on the waders has burst.
I am close to shore, but not near enough to hear the words that Silas shouts at me. Cold water rushes into the waders, filling them up quickly and dissolving my legs, reducing them to thin sheets of muscles and nerves clinging desperately to bone. I grip the rope tightly for support, but hesitate to put my full weight on it for fear of knocking the water traps out of alignment. East of here, the mountain mocks me with its immovable coldness, and it digs its icy teeth further into my body.
Each step is slow and methodical, but the current pushes me further from my goal of dry land. I let my tool bag fall from my hand, and catch a glimpse of it as the river sweeps it away toward the city. I fight the river and the mountain, but soon I taste algae and my mind sinks deeper, chasing after my body as it falls from the sky. I call out, but hear only churning water, my ears burned by those strange unintelligible words. I think of McKenzie sitting alone at home in his grandfather’s house and I struggle harder, but can no longer tell what I am fighting against. The water around me flashes black and white mixed together with thick green slime. I reach out for whatever is nearby but my hands slip free and I am churning again, rolling and rolling away from my work.
I feel a tug. My jacket is snagged on a branch, or a rock. My head is still underwater, but I move toward the light again and I see someone peering down at me. It is Silas, his face a blur of liquid as he shakes my shoulders and drags me from the river. He holds me firmly around the waist, his old, wrinkled hands keeping me from being swept away. “You were almost lost, my boy,” he shouts over the sound of the raging waters. His voice pierces the cold that has sunk deep into my mind.
We reach the shore and Silas lowers me to the ground with a soft grunt, and he helps me take off my waders. He is gnarled like an old tree, but he looks the same as he did when I was a boy, sitting in his shrine room memorizing chants and learning how to focus my overactive mind.
I rest my head on the ground, a rock my only pillow. The sweat on my brow mingles with the fog rolling off the river, but there’s something else. A drop of rain, and then another. Winter has come, and my work is unfinished. “My instruments,” I say, “I must double-check the water traps.”
“Never mind those, boy. Your father is dying.” He must have seen the look of disbelief in my eyes, because he adds, “It’s real this time.”
The walk home from the river is miserable. The rain picked up as soon as we stepped onto the path leading from the river’s edge. My feet, still wet and numb, drag beneath me as I stumble along the narrow dirt path with my gear slung over my shoulders. Silas senses my mood and distracts me with talk, a recurring conversation between us, one he brings up every time he visits me in my workshop.
“Tell me, boy,” he says. “Why do you need all of those gadgets?” In spite of his general distaste for modern things, Silas always seems interested in my work.
“I’m using the instruments to monitor the river. I hope to determine if the algal blooms are connected to changes in the weather patterns. If so, I should be able to find ways to keep the river healthy.”
“Oh, so you think you can predict the weather?”
“In a sense, yes,” I say. Of all the people in the city, Silas is the one who is most in tune with the changing of the seasons. Few others can match his predictions, like when the rain will fall at the end of autumn, or when it will stop at the beginning of summer. Without him, farmers wouldn’t know when to plant their crops, or how long to expect winter to last.
“Don’t worry,” I say, “My methods will never compare to your skills.” I smile slightly, hoping that I haven’t offended him and add, “But what happens when you’re gone? Who will predict the weather then?”
In the past, whenever I asked him that question, Silas would show his wide toothless grin and say, “Haven’t you heard what people in the city say about me? I’m going to live forever.” But today he grabs at his long white beard and stares past me to the mountain in the distance, its peak wrapped tightly to keep out the prying eyes of young boys. He says—using my name for the first time tonight—“I don’t know, Johann. I don’t know.”
I had often heard how people talked about Silas in the city. When I was his apprentice for so many years, before I left to focus on science, my friends would ask me if he was immortal. I laughed at their narrow-mindedness, but today I wonder if it really is true.
Silas, even though he’s old and bent, was still able to drag me out of the river, while my father—who once lifted an ox over his head to impress my mother before they were married—has been reduced to a frail bird hidden beneath a mountain of blankets. After my father’s last seizure, when I carried him upstairs to his bedroom, I thought he might crumble in my arms, disintegrate into dust and be washed away by the rain. Why had the passage of time wreaked so much havoc on my father, but spared my old teacher?
Silas is quiet for the rest of the walk back to my father’s house. This is nothing unusual. In the past, I spent many hours in meditation next to him, but this time his silence makes me uneasy. He walks beside me like a wet shadow reeking of river stench. I shiver and look over at him. His face is calm and focused on the road ahead, not at all the grim specter that I carry in my mind.
When we reach the house, I turn to him and ask, “Silas, why does my father still tell the old stories?”
“Eh, my boy?” he says. “Why does your father tell stories? He has always told them, since he was younger than you are now. You might as well ask why he continues to breathe, even on his deathbed.”
Silas has never been one to answer directly. He will circle a question until he comes at you from behind, catching you unguarded. “But the stories are something from my father’s youth,” I say. “He’s an old man now, clinging to the past like he clings to life.”
“What? You would have your father let go and slip away quietly?” Silas looks at me with the unblinking eyes of a forest salamander and says, “Ah, I see, if your father were to die, you’d have more time for your experiments.”
“No, that’s not at all what I meant,” I say, struggling to keep my ground. “I only wanted to know why my father never learned a trade, you know, something like hunting or fishing, or even weaving or …”
“Science?” Silas completes my thought. I nod my head, looking past him at the edge of the forest.
“My dear boy, your chosen profession is not everything. I should ask you why you didn’t follow in your father’s footsteps. The stories that your father tells are not just in books, they’re in the blood—and in your family they run deep.”
I pause, feeling Silas’ words circling me like a pack of wild dogs waiting for their prey to tire. “Those stories are not mine,” I say. “They belong to my father. The world of experiments and hypotheses—that is what I connect to and how I understand the world.”
“I think, my boy, you and your father are not as far apart as you imagine.” Silas’ voice fades slowly, the sound echoing in my mind while I search for words of my own. I hear animals scrambling in the brush nearby, small rodents digging for food—they must have noticed the rain and are preparing for winter.
Silas takes me by the shoulders and looks me in the eye and says, “Johann, a man will continue telling stories until there is nothing left to say.”
With that, he leaves me standing alone outside my father’s house. He walks into the darkness that has settled over the city, the darkness that will be our constant companion until the rainy season passes. His robes flow behind him like a shadow that follows but doesn’t obey. I watch him until he slips around the corner toward his own home—and then I turn to face my own shadows.
My father has been dying for several months now, in fits and starts, distracting me from my work with his deathbed summons. This is his final act of disapproval against my chosen profession, his stories against my science. Since the first seizure at the beginning of summer, his mind has moved like winter’s day and night, passing from grayness into darkness and back again. Until now, he has always returned to us. Returned to sit in the chair by the fire and tell the old stories, my son resting by his feet.
“In the time before the rain,” he always began, “our people had not yet settled in this place, and they lived in the land of the sun to the east.”
“What was that place like?” McKenzie would say. He is a good boy and always asks questions to keep my father’s stories going, even though he stopped believing them long ago.
“The land to the east is beyond belief. Imagine, if you will, a sky of blue, with only soft, white clouds floating lazily above the earth, even in winter. The sun, unobscured by clouds shines down upon the land from sunrise until sunset. The sun burns bright, its heat felt within the depths of the soil, and the sunlight passes through the thickest of windows to warm the people inside their homes.”
At McKenzie’s age, I still believed. It would be another several years before I turned my own eyes and ears away from my father’s stories, and toward the predictability of gadgets—as Silas would say—like the water traps strung across the river. When I was younger, though, I only had a few simple devices—cups to gather water, bottles to hold air, even time pieces to monitor the growth of the forest.
My father once told me the same stories that he tells my son—of the time before, when the rain didn’t fall all winter. But after I went to live with Silas, my father’s stories lost their magic, and I stopped listening. I know that I should be the one to tell stories to my son, but I don’t have them in me. Besides, I want my legacy to McKenzie to be the reality of science, not soft-hearted fictions.
The door to my father’s house is unlocked. These days, not many people in the city keep their homes open at night, but my father insists that shutting out the world is the first step toward the downfall of society. I turn the doorknob quietly and push open the door. It’s like stepping into the dark recesses of my mind. The scent of old porridge on the wood stove, and the sweet eucalyptus hanging near the front door, stir the calm surfaces of my memories.
How often have I walked through this door since I was a small child? Over the course of my life, nothing has changed. Even when I didn’t speak to my father for ten years, returning home again was like stepping into a time capsule buried deep within the heart of the city. Inside his house, overstuffed bookcases line the walls, with piles of books growing from the desk near the window. I run a finger across a stack of books and pick up a thick layer of dust, my father’s own way of measuring the passage of time.
Upstairs, a distant whistle blows an erratic tune, labored like a great machine clogged with tar and soot. The whistle stops for a moment, and I hold my own breath until I hear air flowing again into the frail bellows trapped within my father’s chest.
Across the room, in the great armchair beneath the chandelier, McKenzie is curled up in a ball beneath a thick wool blanket, oblivious to the painful song playing upstairs. For the past few weeks, my father has been too sick to leave his bedroom. But still my son waits for him.
I take off my boots and leave them by the front door. I consider going upstairs to visit my father, but instead I cross the room to stand in front of the fireplace and warm myself before facing him one last time. There are fresh logs on the fire—my father’s nurse must be around somewhere.
The heat from the fire soaks through my wet clothes, searching for the depths of my soul. I watch McKenzie sleeping where my father used to tell his stories—and where Silas changed my life. My son is almost too large to sleep in the chair, his legs bent at a painful angle and his feet dangling off the side. The patterned blanket that covers him rises and falls in a steady rhythm, like the coming and going of the seasons, easy and predictable.
McKenzie opens his eyes slightly and peers at me standing over him near the fireplace. “Is it story time?” he whispers, his voice a soft rush of air, unlike my father’s sawtooth wheezing.
“No, McKenzie, grandfather is sleeping. There are no stories now.”
He looks at me for a moment, then falls back to sleep.
After my clothes have dried a little, I walk quietly upstairs to my father’s bedroom. His wheezing has softened—shifted to a gentle slurping sound, like a bird sipping at a pool of water.
I sit in the wooden chair next to my father’s bed. On the floor nearby, an almost finished fisherman’s knit hangs loosely out of the nurse’s basket. She started the sweater the night I carried my father up the narrow stairs, past the portrait of his father, and down the long hallway to his bedroom.
Unlike the main room downstairs, my father’s bedroom is free of clutter. A single dresser sits beside the window and a woven tapestry hangs on the wall opposite the bed. Everything in the house is the same as it was during my childhood, except for this tapestry. This curious object, fresh and vibrant, stands out against the backdrop of stagnation, free of the thick layers of dust that coat every other surface.
On the tapestry, an image of the sun beams down upon a small city covered in snow, tucked within the arms of two rivers that flow together. The city is unfamiliar but the shape and path of the rivers look like the ones that wrap alongside our own city. The sun, though, is foreign to me. Other than the few times I have scaled the snow-covered mountain to the east—before McKenzie was born—I have never seen the winter sun. Clouds blanket our valley from the end of autumn until early summer. This has been the way for as long as I have been alive, and before that, too. A winter of perpetual gray that, with the constant rain, gives birth to lush green vegetation.
I watch my father sleep, an unfamiliar activity for me. The shape of his body is barely visible beneath the thick layer of blankets. He sweats slightly, but the room doesn’t feel very hot—the fire has died down in the corner. I could open the window, but with the winter rain already here, I’m afraid to let in the moisture—no need to hasten the growth of mold on my father’s musty books.
Instead I grab a handkerchief from the nightstand and wet it in the wash basin on the floor. I mop my father’s brow. His bald scalp is covered with brown spots—once sparse, they have spread to cover most of his skin, like a thick mat of algae starving a pond of its oxygen. My father moves slightly but doesn’t wake. I don’t know if he is aware of me in the room, or if I am just a shadow in his world of delusions. I set down the handkerchief and let my father sleep fitfully.
A single book sits on the nightstand. It is tattered and torn, the binding cracked and repaired several times. A mug of tea rests on top, untouched—no doubt left there by my father’s nurse. I pick up the mug and set it next to the book, wiping away the ring of moisture on the front cover with the sleeve of my shirt. My own books are in my workshop on the other side of the city, so I pick up this strange book. The cover and spine are bare—no author or title inscribed into the ornately adorned leather. It is old, though—very old.
I flip through the pages. Like the cover, they are worn and ragged, the corners of some pages turned down, while others are marked with pencil. Throughout the book, a few black-and-white woodcut illustrations break up the text. I find one drawing that resembles the tapestry on my father’s wall, with the sun warming a snow-covered city nestled between two rivers. Further back, another illustration shows a man reading a book out loud in an armchair while a boy sits by his feet. The man’s face is bright and cheery, while the child looks up at him with wide eyes. A few dozen pages before that, the same man holds a small baby while a woman watches from a nearby maternity bed.
I open to the beginning of the first chapter, and read silently to myself. In the old days, the book begins, after our people settled in this land, the winters were long and dark, and the rain fell for most of the year, driving the people indoors and sending them in search of stories to pass the time.
In the city wrapped within the arms of two rivers, the book continues, a young couple lived alone surrounded by darkness. Each day, they rose and went about their chores, the wife baking bread and making wine and beer to sell at the market, and the husband reading books and learning stories to share with the people who lived in the city. Then one day, a light broke through the darkness, when the woman told her husband that she was with child.
I continue reading, letting the gentle sipping sound within my father’s chest slip into the background. I notice details in the book that are familiar to me, events that remind me of my own childhood—hiking with my father along the river where my water traps hang now, coming home from school to find my mother in the kitchen baking bread, the late-night gatherings of storytellers at my father’s house.
All coincidences, I think, but I skim ahead, searching for the words that I expect to find, while my head fights to shut out this strange reality. Halfway through the book, I find the words I have been searching for, not just tonight, but for most of my adult life—from my time with Silas and beyond, to the first moment I held McKenzie in my arms, and recently during the long hours with him at the river as he reluctantly works alongside me, but turns his gaze elsewhere to his own interests.
Now the book is speaking directly to me: In the middle of a long winter, when the rain fell for many weeks, and the cold hung in the air like heavy branches, the boy was ten years old, and the time had come for him to begin his training. The book describes the night that I first saw Silas up close, peering through the banister as he told his story in the armchair below. But there are details of that night that I don’t remember, pieces that my young eyes were not privy to.
A week before that first meeting, my father asked Silas to train me in the old ways, a path that would take me ten years to complete. Unknown to me, my father had set the wheels of my life in motion, by sending me to live with a complete stranger. Silas did not stumble upon our house, like so many other visitors that night. It was no coincidence, as I had always believed, but a plan hatched between my father and my long-time mentor.
My father stirs beside me and I look up from the book. He turns his frail head toward me, lifting it ever so slightly from the pillow, his eyes clouded over with a thick fluid. He stares through me and says, “Johann, you’ve come.”
“I’m here, father.” I push my questions about the book deep into my mind and say instead, “Silas found me at the river.”
“Yes, I knew Silas would know where you were. He always knows these things.” My father’s voice is raspy, barely audible. I lean forward in the chair and smell bitter herbs on his breath, some concoction given to him by Silas, no doubt.
“You’re right. Silas always knows what’s best for everyone, doesn’t he?” I glance down at the book in my hand.
My father follows my gaze. “What are you doing with that book?” His voice, still weak, rises in anger, like the night he caught me at the top of the stairs listening to Silas’ story. But I notice something else. Something sitting just below the surface, a subtleness that I also heard on the last night in my childhood home … concern.
“Nothing,” I say, “I was just browsing through it. I left my own books at home … “ I still feel the need to apologize to my father, like I did when I secretly took one of his books to school.
“Those stories are not meant for you,” he says harshly. But he catches himself, softening his tone. “I mean, the book is not yet finished.”
Our old arguments break through the surface of my mind. “Don’t lie to me, father. These aren’t just stories … this is my life.” I hold open the book to an illustration of me leaving my father’s house when I was ten, led by Silas, with my father peering at me from his bedroom window.
“Yes, yes, your life, my stories … it’s all the same … all the same.” The whistle in his chest cries out again, and he closes his eyes.
“But what does it mean?” I shake him lightly on the shoulders. “Why have you been writing these stories about me for so long? Why didn’t you ever show me this book?”
My father’s lips move, but I can’t hear his words. I lean even closer, and he digs his birdlike fingers into my forearm. He opens his eyes and speaks, his voice cracked like dry mud, “I wanted to get it right this time … just this once.”
He turns his gaze toward me and I peer into what used to be my father’s eyes—eyes that didn’t look upon me for ten years but still managed to turn my life into stories without my knowledge. As I look into those empty sensory organs, they capture the sadness, confusion, and anger on my face … but where can those images go? My father’s last view of me is trapped in a thick river choking under its own weight as darkness falls. His stories spill from the mouth of the river across the dry ocean floor.
I sit for some time beside my father’s body. The rain outside has settled into a steady winter pace, light but rhythmic, a gentle tapping on the earth and roofs and shutters that washes away the last memories of the summer sun. I hear what sounds like animals digging beneath the bushes, preparing for the darkness that has already fallen over the city. But a moment later I realize the windows are shut, and those sounds are not squirrels or mice, but my son moving in the armchair downstairs.
I stand up and tuck my father’s book into my bag and walk down the long hallway past my childhood bedroom—now cluttered with stacks of books—my feet slapping softly on the cold, oak floor. I pause at the top of the stairs, near the yellowing portrait of my grandfather, and peer over the railing at the room below. As a boy, I looked through these bars, locked out of a world by my father, a world of stories and people that I once longed to join. In the end, though, I rejected my father’s world for my own path along the rivers and in the forests.
The first subtle shift into winter daylight fills the spaces between my father’s books, and I see Silas sitting once again in the armchair below, looking as he did on the first day that we met. I know that he is not really there—this is only a story that I carry somewhere in my own mind. But even so, he speaks to me, speaks words from a visit to my workshop at the beginning of summer, when he told me that my father was sick. “There are moments in life that we can never get back, no matter how hard we try.” Silas stands and walks toward the front door, then turns to look at the armchair where McKenzie is waking and says, “Regret is the result of distraction, distraction from the present, and from the moments that, in the end, matter most.”
Silas fades away and I walk down the stairs. McKenzie stirs, rubbing his fists in his eyes. “Is it time for grandfather to tell another story?” he asks.
I shake my head. My father’s unfinished book hangs heavy on my shoulder, but I feel a lightness like the first hint of the summer sun. I realize I may never understand my father’s world. I look down at McKenzie and say, “Why don’t I tell you a story on our walk home?”
McKenzie looks puzzled for a moment and then smiles. He grabs his jacket from the coat rack by the front door. We step out into the fine mist and I wrap one arm around him, the other around the bag to keep the book dry. “How should I start?” I ask, searching for words to share with my son.
“How about, ‘In the time before the rain’?”
I smile, the steady drops of rain falling on my face. “Perfect,” I say. “That seems like the best place to start.”
We walk through the quiet city toward home. Only a few people have ventured outside on the first day of winter. In the distance, toward the edge of the city nearest the mountain, I hear a soft chanting, the unmistakable voice of Silas, and somewhere in there, beneath the sounds that once carried my mind far away, I hear my father’s stories.
About the Author
Shawn Radcliffe is an American lost in Canadian translation, living with his partner and her children near a donut shop intersection. Once a unicycling lab mole, he now writes about the world from the serene confines of a basement yoga room. His science writing, fiction, and poetry can be found at www.branain.com.
“Waiting for the Rain to Fall” © 2013 Shawn Radcliffe