“Henry, come away from the window. It’s time to get back to work.”
Mrs. Jennings pushed her mottled brown glasses back toward her mottled brown eyes and dusted chalk off of her sleeve. Henry sighed, turning back to his desk, and pulled out his MacMillan Reader. Outside, the rain was coming down in little sheets of grey and white that danced and braided in the wind. It was hard to tell, with the water on the glass, but Henry thought he could just make out the shadows of his little town folding out against the sky.
The cold black drops were falling down with regularity on the bright red neck and white hair of the young man kneeling in front of the doors to the Holy Ghost Tabernacle AME Zion church. Tears were running down his cheeks almost as steadily as the rain, sometimes mixing with the drops running down the white whisps in front of his ears. He wondered a little, when he stopped to breathe, which of the drops falling from his chin were salt and which were sweet. It was all mixing in somehow, what he was doing here at the wrong end of town, in front of a vacant church where he could never be recognized. The church doors were locked and shut, but he was still praying, hoping for a different kind of door to open and let him in. The rain was falling harder now, and the young man shivered with the chill. The wind was picking up. He questioned significance that the tears from heaven now so greatly outnumbered all his own. Could God be crying with him? He lifted up his head again toward the hidden sun, and asked for God to please, please please forgive him for his sin.
Lightening flashed against the now black sky, and thunder clapped a beat in time with Mary’s hand across her husband’s face. The child inside her moved. John backed himself against the iron fence that walled in the apartment’s second-story porch and stared at her in disbelief. For a moment there was perfect sullen silence, and then the lightening flashed again. She seemed so much larger than him in her righteous indignation. The pain in his eyes rang louder than the stinging in her hand.
Her husband tried to speak.
“Mary, I’m sorry. Sarah was–“ then the compassionate thunder burned out his hateful words.
“Mistake,” he said. She echoed him.
“Mistake?” The agony in her voice only amplified the image on his face. The rain had plastered his hair to his scalp and his jacket to his arms. A bright red mark was forming on his left cheek. She hadn’t heard, he couldn’t repeat, how he hadn’t—he would never… How could he explain that to defend himself was the greatest humiliation he could ever know?
Mary sank down to her knees. Her husband didn’t comfort her. The greatest love of all her life was cold—too afraid to bend.
The child inside her moved.
Old Sam Brown looked at the frosted glass of the window in the church’s maintenance room, and watched it flicker white and gray with the lightening. It was raining hard now; he could hear it. Thank God he had fixed the storm windows in the nursery room last week. The old ones couldn’t have handled another hailstorm, and there wasn’t no use doing outside work today. He looked down on his gnarled hands and ashen arms. A body was getting too old to do handyman work. It was about time to retire. There was a lull in the rain then, and old Sam Brown heard a sound that he knew wasn’t no rain nor lightening.
Amy shut the door as gently as she could before she started running. The rain was coming down so thick, great white walls sweeping left and right, she couldn’t see more than two feet in front of her. There had to be some kind of irony in the fact that she had to go to a place called “Abortion Alternatives,” a place that dealt in solutions, answers, in families, in love, a place that dealt in faithfulness, to learn that her boyfriend had been so unfaithful to her. In that way. She couldn’t find her car. It was red. Old grass clippings that lined the sidewalk in delicious green clumps were all she could see in the miserable wet.
Her car was red, and fifteen paces farther left. Father. Her boyfriend was a father. A hateful man.
Her keys were wet. So ironic that she had to go to a place…Alternatives. Abortion Alternatives. She turned the key and hit the lights. A finger slipped. The top was coming down. The rain was coming in.
Alternatives. Abortion alternatives. So ironic. But there was one alternative they never mentioned. AIDS was such a slow and debilitating way for two lives to self-destruct.
“Well, come in, come in. It’s wet out there.”
“Yeah, I guess it is.”
“What did you say your name was? Jim?”
“Mine’s Sam. Old Sam Brown.” A gnarled brown hand grasped a slender one as white as milk.
“Thanks for letting me in. I- I’m sorry. I don’t mean to impose or anything—“
“Oh, now, none of that. This here’s a church, son. It ain’t just anybody’s house. The whole point is letting strangers in.”
“Here’s you a towel—a little stained—and I’ll get you something warm to drink.”
Fifty miles an hour on a deserted road, the water formed a blurry sheet on the window while huge watermelon drops danced up the side. Amy was almost dry, though her hands were still a little cold. Stiff. Her back ached.
She was going to die.
Somewhere in the two seconds between the nose of her car and the gray dancing wall that was the end of her world, something black and short cut in front of her. In a reflexive panic, Amy braked and pulled hard left. She heard a squealing sound as her car turned away from whatever it was in her path. A line of trees flashed in front of her, then a white wall above a strip of gray. The steering wheel. Amy let go of the steering wheel and pulled her foot of the brake. Another line of trees swung in front of her, then started closing in. Her head almost hit the window. She grabbed the wheel again and pulled right. The trees disappeared. The trees reappeared. The trees disappeared. Amy let go of the steering wheel and stamped on the brake. The car squealed. She closed her eyes and grabbed her ears and screamed.
When the world had stopped spinning, Amy opened her eyes. There was a single tree in front of her, surrounded by the misting walls of rain.
Amy let out a pent up sigh. That was so dangerous. She might have been… She could have… And then the baby… And yet she hadn’t hit a thing. Life was such a precious thing to be so frivolous with. Amy slowly relaxed and very gently eased her foot off of the gas.
The car lurched forward and hit a solitary tree.
“Well of course God can forgive you. He went through a great deal of trouble so he could do just that.”
It was raining. It had been raining all afternoon, but it was mostly just a drizzle now. The great glass doors of Westview Presbyterian Church were wide open, though, and there was a lot of laughing going on inside. Suddenly, a great crowd of people, ruff tuxedos and baby blue slender dresses, came pouring out. White haired men and eight-year-old Suzies formed a colonnade along the portico in front of the building and jostled shoulders with teary eyed mommas and old high school buds. Everyone was smiling. Somebody made a joke about it raining on the parade. It wasn’t funny. Everyone laughed anyway. Every pair of hands held little plastic bottles filled with blue liquid, and screw-top caps with little bubble wands. Hands waved furiously, excitedly blowing bubbles before their time.
And then they appeared
He was dashing, with a Sunday morning six-o’clock shadow and a special rented suit. She was starlight, with her cherry-colored, fist sized curls of hair cascading down her satin dress. Little bubbles flew across their runway to heaven, until they were whipped by the wind and burst by the falling drops of rain, like the promises he had meant to keep and her good intentions that went astray. But this was the kind of happiness that could only by amplified by rain.
The couple ran out beyond the portico and turned to face their audience in the drizzle. A limo pulled behind them, dripping with the white smeared remains of whipped cream graffiti. He winked at his best man and lurched her suddenly into a deep swooping kiss. Lightening cut across the sky. The sky let down one more set of curtains, running hair gel into his rented suit, and pulling out her curls until they dripped straight down, limp and heavy, like a newly washed cloth. Grinning, almost leering, she broke away, and beat him back to standing with the remains of her wet bouquet. Then, throwing the flowers into a mass of skirts and blue satin, the couple climbed into the car, and drove away.
“Henry? Henry. It’s your turn to read now.” Mrs. Jenkins pushed her mottled brown glasses up to her mottled brown eyes and closed her book on one finger.
“Yes, ma’am. Um…”
“You don’t know where we are, now, do you?”
“I didn’t think so. You’ve been staring out that window this entire time. What on earth have you been looking at?”
“Well. The rain. ”