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Floodwater

It’s been raining for two weeks now. Shiny, stabby rain, so that when Momma gets me and Benjamin out of the car we have to run for it so our skin doesn’t get all red and blotchy. At first, she laughed when we came inside, and her hair glimmered like a fairy’s. I knew mine did, too, and it made me feel beautiful, but now she doesn’t laugh, and her mouth disappears and she doesn’t talk until Daddy gets home.

When Daddy comes in, her voice goes all hush-hush, and she turns up the television, so I can’t hear. Benjamin watches, too, but he doesn’t understand. He only knows a few words and messes up my name every time. Kay-yee he says with an extra y instead of the l, but I don’t mind. It’s cute, and it makes me happy when he says my name.

“They’ve cancelled school,” I hear her say, and I can’t help it, I squeal and jump up and down. She shoots me a look that says Cut it out, missy, and so instead I plop down on my butt and give Benjamin a squeeze. His little hands catch in my hair, and he laughs.

Daddy’s voice is rumble and quiet, and Momma drops her voice a little, and when I look over at them, she has her head pressed in Daddy’s chest, and he’s running his hands over her back like he does to me or Benjamin when we’ve had a bad dream. Maybe Momma had a bad dream, too.

“There’s something inside of it, Trey. I can smell it,” Momma says, and Daddy shushes her, presses her to him even tighter so I can’t see her face, only her hair.

“It’s just rain, Lily. Just a lot of rain. It’ll stop soon, and everything will be fine.”

Momma leans back, and her face is all shimmery and covered with rain. She looks up at Daddy, and he runs his thumbs under her eyes and kisses her on the forehead.

“I’ll start dinner,” he says, and Momma turns and sees me watching. She tries to smile, but it’s not a very good one. I smile back at her and grab Benjamin’s hand and get him to wave, but she’s turned away, and so I pretend Benjamin’s waving at the sun we haven’t seen in such a long time.

“Come back, sun,” I say and Benjamin laughs.

I decide that tomorrow I’m going to see if I can re-read all of my Anne of Green Gables books in one day. Rain is the best for reading.

Momma goes to bed early, and so Daddy is the one who gives Benjamin his bath. I help, and Benjamin splashes water all over me, but it’s okay because he’s just a baby and doesn’t really know how to control his arms yet.

“Is Momma sad?” I ask Daddy, and he puts his hand over the top of my head, and I squirm out from under it because it feels like there’s a huge spider sitting there.

“She’s just tired, Kayley. She’ll be back to normal soon,” he says, but his voice is all stretched out and doesn’t sound like him. I don’t like it, so I cover my ears with my hands and jiggle them to try and get it out, but it’s like the sound crawled inside like a little mouse and ate up all my forget.

We have to be quiet while we get ready for bed, and Daddy doesn’t zoom Benjamin around like he usually does. When I bring him my worn out copy of The Boxcar Children, he sighs.

“Not tonight, bug. It’s way past your bedtime,” he says.

“But Momma always reads a chapter.”

He sighs. “A few pages, okay? And then it’s straight to sleep.”

I snuggle in next to him, so I can feel the rumblies from his voice against my arm. He smells like oranges. I think it’s the special soap he uses. He keeps it in the garage and Momma always makes him use it if he’s been working out there. I tried it once, but it was scratchy, and so sometimes I sneak out there and unscrew the top and stick my nose over it because it smells so nice.

He stops way before Momma would have. I open my mouth to complain, but he frowns before I can say anything, so I scramble into bed.

“Can you pop the sheet and make it floaty?” I ask him.

“Just once.” The air inside the room goes all staticky, and then he snaps the sheet over me, and it hangs above me for a second like a ghost and then drifts over my face with a little poof of air, and I’m all tucked in and safe.

“Okay. I’m ready,” I say, and he bends down and presses his lips to my cheek. They’re dry and chapped.

“Love you,” he says.

I kiss him back and give him an extra one for Momma plus two ‘I love yous.’

“If you whisper it to her while she’s asleep, she’ll know I said it in her dream,” I say, and even though it’s dark, I can see him smile back at me. A real one this time.

Daddy shuts the door behind him. I wish he hadn’t, but I’ll be in trouble if I get up, and so I turn over onto my belly and force my eyes closed even though I’m not sleepy. Above me, the rain is going tap, tap, tap on the roof, and it sounds louder than it usually is, but I can’t really tell if it is louder or if I just think it is.

Benjamin’s room is the one next to mine, and I can hear him in there fussing, but that’s normal. Momma says sometimes he just has to cry it out and then he’ll eventually learn to sleep on his own and be a big kid like me. But that’ll be a long time from now because I’m seven, and that’s a lot more than one.

There are shadows on the ceiling in the shape of raindrops. It looks like they’re inside, and I reach out a hand to them, but I can feel them stinging against my skin, and so I pull my hand away and wiggle my fingers under my blanket.

Before I fall asleep, the raindrops look like something else. Almost. But then sleeps pulls me down hard, and I dream about thunder and trees bent low, and underneath that, I can still hear Momma talking.

In the morning, Daddy wakes me up. The house is gray and still.

“Where’s Momma?”

“She doesn’t feel very good, so she’s still sleeping. Let’s be super quiet, okay?” He hugs me tight, and even though I’m worried about Momma, it makes me feel better.

“It won’t be like before?” I say, and his eyes look tired and sad.

“No. Not like before,” he says, and I nod.

He makes me cereal and Benjamin has bananas out of his special jars, and Daddy lets me help feed him. After breakfast, I draw a picture of the sun and some big purple and blue flowers. When Daddy isn’t looking I crumple it up and throw the picture in the trash. It makes me sad to look at it.

Momma still isn’t awake, and so Daddy turns on the television to a movie, but I’ve seen it lots of times, so it isn’t that interesting.

“Can you be a big girl and watch Benjamin for a second while I go and check on Momma?” Daddy asks, and I smile back at him even though I’m scared Momma is sad like she was before. I was going to have a baby sister, and Momma’s belly was so swollen she could hardly move. Daddy took her to the hospital, but when they came home, there was no baby with soft skin and curly hair like mine and Momma’s, and Momma went into her and Daddy’s bedroom and didn’t come out for a long, long time, and I had to be quiet. At nighttime, I would wake up and hear her crying.

Daddy told me the baby went into the ground and turned into the flowers in the spring, and so when the flowers came up that year, I tried to talk to them, but they only ever stared back at me, and I got mad and ripped them all out of the ground.

Benjamin came after that, and Momma got better, but sometimes she would still look sad, and I’d be extra nice to her because I knew she was remembering.

Daddy smiles back at me, and I pick up Benjamin and carry him over to the window. He wriggles away and crawls back to the blocks he was playing with. I lean my forehead against the glass and breath out, and the window goes foggy, and I wipe my hand over it. Outside, the rain is harder. It looks like thin sheet or a veil like in the old wedding magazines Momma still has from when her and Daddy got married. Little streams run down the street and into the drains that Daddy says are for storms, but I’ve seen cats sneaking in and out of there, so I think that’s where cats go when their people aren’t looking.

I can hear Momma talking, and her voice is like paper. Thin and light and easy to rip. I watch the rain shift, the wind pushing it so it looks alive, and for just a second, it looks like there’s something moving behind the water, and I blink and blink but the shape is still there. A hand outstretched, tiny fingers flexing and toes curling.

“What’ya see, bug?” Daddy’s voice is whisper soft.

“There’s something outside,” I say, and he comes to the window and bends down.

“Where?”

“There. A hand,” I say and point, but the rain is just the rain again, and I drop my finger. “It’s gone.”

“Want a snack?” Daddy says, but I shake my head and turn back to the window and hold my eyes open until they water, but I don’t see the hand again.

“I’m going to read,” I tell Daddy, and he hums a few bars of the Coltrane song he likes so much. That means okay, so I kiss Benjamin and go to my bedroom and close the door. I try to read, but the words get all fuzzy and smeared like the rain has found a way inside the room. I shake my head and then the words are normal again. Maybe my eyes are tired.

I get up and go to the window and lift the blinds with the corner of my finger. If that thing is outside again, I don’t want it to see me. The blinds smell like dust, and it gets in my nose and makes me feel like I need to sneeze, but I swallow twice, and the feeling goes away.

The rain is harder now, and it’s like clouds have come down all the way to the tops of the trees and the sky is eating everything up. I squint and hold my breath so the dust doesn’t sneak in. I let my eyes go fuzzy so it’s like I’m looking through the rain instead of at it, and then I see it. The outline of a mouth. Eyes. I jump backward, and it’s just rain again.

I go back to the window, peer through, my back aching from standing that way, but I don’t see anything. I try to read, but I keep sneaking back over to the window and peeking through, and so I can’t really focus on the story. I look about fifty more times, but there’s never anything but rain.

There’s a little girl out there. A little girl made of rain. She must be afraid to hide the way she is. I don’t blame her. It would be hard to be made of rain instead of skin.

Momma gets up at lunch time, and I ask if I can eat in my room like a picnic so I can keep reading Anne of Green Gables, only I don’t really mean it. What I’m really going to do is look out the window some more, and I worry about telling a lie, but Momma says yes. Her eyes are pink, and she looks like she’s been crying. I want to hug her, but I don’t because I’m afraid she won’t hug me back.

The sandwich is peanut butter and honey. I pick at the crusts even though it’s my favorite. It takes all of my attention to watch the window. I don’t want to miss the girl when she comes back.

The water is higher now, and the street looks a little bit like the river we went camping by last summer only not as fast, and I don’t think there are fish in this one. It’s the color of mud and there’s bits of leaves in it, and I trace my fingers over the window, follow the water as it rushes down and down, and I’m watching so hard I don’t hear when my door opens.

“Not hungry?” Momma says, and I jump so I smack my forehead on the glass. It doesn’t really hurt, but I say ow anyway and rub my hand over the spot.

Momma’s standing in the doorway. She looks small. Like her skin is dried out and she’s shriveling up. She nods at my plate.

“I guess not,” I say, and she sits down on my bed.

“Come and sit with me,” she says and pats the spot next to her. I climb up. She still smells like sleep, and I lean my head against her shoulder. I keep waiting for her to say something, but she keeps quiet. We sit like that for what seems like a really long time.

Above us, the rain gets even louder, and she tightens her grip around my shoulders. When I crane my neck to look up at her, she has her eyes squeezed shut.

“Are you afraid?” I say. She doesn’t open her eyes.

“Mommies aren’t supposed to be afraid.”

“It’s just rain. It’s good for the plants.”

She doesn’t say anything, and I push my hand into hers and close my eyes, too. I can still see the outline of the little rain girl, so I look back to the window. I want to get up and go and look, but I don’t want Momma to be upset, so I stay still. All the stuff under my skin feels squirmy.

When Daddy walks in holding Benjamin, he comes and sinks down next to us. Even Benjamin is quiet. We all sit there and listen to the rain, and no one says a word.

Finally, Momma shifts and she clenches Daddy’s arm. “There. Right there? Can’t you . . . ” she says, but Daddy looks at her, and his face is serious, and she stops talking.

She doesn’t look back at us when she leaves, and Benjamin is fidgeting against Daddy, so he lets him down on the floor. I don’t say anything even though I don’t like it when Benjamin is in my room because he grabs at everything and then breaks it.

Daddy breathes out all of his air, and I try to keep myself from moving, but my legs jiggle. I want to go back to the window and keep looking outside.

The front door slams, and Daddy jumps up and runs out of the room. The car starts up outside, and I go to the window then because it means that Momma is leaving.

“Laura,” he shouts, but she’s already halfway down the street, and the car looks like a fish swimming through all of the water, and I’m afraid it’s going to swallow Momma up.

“Momma will be right back,” Daddy says when he comes back into my room. He scoops Benjamin up and leaves, but I can see his eyes, and they’re wet. I don’t think it’s from the rain.

Daddy turns on the television. Cartoons for Benjamin even though Momma says it’s not good for him. I go back to the window and pretend I’m watching for Momma to come home, but really I’m watching for the rain girl.

I must fall asleep because I close my eyes, and when I open them, it’s dark outside, and I’m tucked into my bed with my blanket pulled up around my chin. The rain is louder now. It almost sounds like thunder.

“Shhh. It’s okay.” Momma is sitting on the end of my bed, and I can see her smile even in the dark.

“Where did you go?”

“Not far. Down to the park and back. The roads were too bad to go anywhere else.”

I pause. Open my mouth and then close it because I want to tell her about the rain girl, but I wonder if I tell Momma if the girl won’t come back.

“Can you smell it, too? In the rain?” Momma asks, but I can barely hear her because she’s whispering.

“Smell what?”

“Like something dead. Like the time we were driving to school, and you asked me what that bad smell was.”

I open my nostrils real wide and breathe in a few times, but I can’t smell anything other than my room. “No,” I tell her, and she puts her hand against my leg and squeezes it. It kind of hurts, but I don’t tell her to stop. Outside, the rain sounds like it’s roaring.

She gets up and goes to the window, and I want to call her back because what if the rain finds a way to get inside and swoop her up, but I blink, and Momma’s still there.

“Sometimes, I think I can see her. The little girl she would have been. She’d have been three by now.  And the smell.”

The little rain girl. Momma sees her, too, and that makes her real, but I still don’t want to tell Momma that I’ve seen her because maybe I’m not supposed to. Maybe she’s like a secret, and she went away because I saw her, and that’s why Momma has been sad.

If it means the little rain girl will come back, I won’t look for her anymore.

Something knocks against the window, and it makes a loud banging sound. I jump and Momma says a bad word, and her hands flutter over her throat. She pulls back the blinds, but there’s nothing there but the rain.

“Must have been a branch or something,” she says. I push against my chest so my heart will calm down, but it hammers against my hand, and my throat is tight.

Momma keeps looking out at the rain, and she reaches out to the window but then drops her hand and turns away.

She leaves without telling me goodnight.

I stay awake for a long time and try to keep myself from wanting to go and look out the window, but wanting to makes me feel jumpy, and I stand up and then lie down again about a hundred times. Finally, I turn on the little reading lamp I got last summer with my allowance money and open Anne of Green Gables again, but all I can hear is the rain. I can’t concentrate, so I just lie there with my eyes closed and wait for the sun to come up.

Daddy gets up early, and I wait to hear him moving around in the kitchen before I get up, too. He’s turned on the television, and the people on the news are talking in loud, fast voices and there’s a map behind them all covered with orange stuff, and Daddy’s watching it. When he sees me, he rubs his hand over his forehead.

“You’re up early,” he says, but he’s still watching the television.

“The rain’s too loud.”

He looks at me then. The voices on the t.v. tangle together, and a lady says something that sounds angry, but there’s a man talking over her so I can’t tell what it is she’s saying.

“Yeah,” he says.

“Is there school?”

“Not today, bug.” He looks back up at the t.v. and then glances at the back door.

The backyard is full of little puddles. Everything looks muddy instead of green, and the rain looks like it’s coming up from the ground instead of from the sky. I sniff, try to find the smell Momma was talking about, but there’s nothing there.

Benjamin starts crying and so Daddy goes to get him out of his crib. I try not to look at the rain. I do really try, but it’s right there, and the window in the back door is so big, and the rain is everywhere so it’s hard not to see it.

At first there’s only the rain and the puddles and the mud, but then the rain moves, and it’s almost like it’s dancing. I can see hair and a face, but it’s only for a second, and then it’s gone.

“Momma’s looking for you,” I whisper, but the girl doesn’t come back no matter how hard I press my forehead against the glass in the door and stare.

Daddy comes back out with Benjamin and Momma is behind them. She looks out the back door, too. She makes a face, and I wonder if she’s smelling the bad thing she told me about.

“They’re saying it’s not going to let up anytime soon. There’s already flash flooding over in Sweetwater,” Daddy says, and Momma nods, but I don’t think she’s really listening because she isn’t looking at him. Her eyes look like glass you can’t really see through.

“We might need to leave if it gets worse.”

“We can’t leave,” Momma says, and her voice sounds like it’s full of rocks or sharp sticks. “What if she comes back, and I’m not here? What if she can’t find me?” Daddy looks at me, and I pretend to be watching the television.

“Not right now, Laura,” he says, and Momma pulls her lips back so all of her teeth show. Daddy puts his hands up like he’s going to hug her, but she backs away from him so he stops.

Benjamin starts crying, and Momma turns and glances at him, and she looks surprised. Like she’s never seen him before.

I go over to Benjamin and make funny faces until he stops crying. Momma and Daddy talk some more, but they’re whispering, and I can’t hear what they’re saying anymore. If Daddy takes us away, the rain girl won’t know to follow us. I look out the window again, and I can see the rain girl’s eyes. They’re closed, and her faced is tipped up to the sky, and her mouth is open, and she’s drinking and drinking and drinking.

“Momma,” I whisper, but she’s still talking to Daddy, and as soon as the word comes out, the girl vanishes.

“Why don’t you go to your room, honey? And take Benjamin with you?” Daddy says. Even though I’m tired of being in my room, I do what he says.

Daddy comes and gets Benjamin after what seems like a really long time, and he’s carrying the suitcase I used the last time we went to visit Grandma.

“Let’s pack you some clothes, honey. Just in case we need to take a trip.”

“Momma said,” I start, but Daddy frowns and so I don’t tell him we can’t leave. I pack my shirt that’s the color of the sky and my t-shirt with the little hearts all over it and my black sweater and three pairs of jeans and all of the underwear in my drawer.

Daddy puts a few other shirts in, too, and another pair of jeans and some socks. “Okay,” he says and then picks up Benjamin. “Let’s pack you up, too, little dude.” Daddy kisses the top of my head and then I’m alone, so I mush my face to the window and wait.

“Hello,” I say when the girl finally appears. Her hair glistens and disappears, and sometimes, I can see her eyes or her mouth, but sometimes I can’t. Once, I think I see her smiling.

“Is it her?” Momma stands outside the door, but she comes in and closes the door behind her.

“Yes,” I say because there’s no point telling her it isn’t.

“My little girl,” she says. I’m not sure if she’s talking about me or the girl outside.

Momma comes behind me, so close that her breath tickles over the back of my neck, and then she reaches over me and opens the window. The rain is warm like a bath, and it smells like flowers and cotton candy all mixed together. It doesn’t smell bad at all. Not the way Momma said.

She opens the window up all the way, and the rain is inside now, but she laughs and shakes her head so that the droplets go flying all over. I laugh to, and then together, we go out the window.

Momma’s hand is over mine, and she’s squeezing so I can’t let go, but I don’t want to because the rain feels so wonderful. Momma is laughing, and the sky is bright white, and everything looks so beautiful with the rain all over it.

Momma leads me down the driveway and into the street, and the water is up to my knees, and it tugs at me. I look everywhere for the little rain girl, but I don’t see her.

“Oh, please. Come back,” Momma says, and I realize she’s crying.

“Don’t be sad,” I tell her, and she kneels down next to me. The water rushes over her hands and arms, and she hugs me to her.

“Laura!” Daddy screams from the doorway, and he’s running, and Momma is crying and crying, and the little rain girl isn’t here.

I hold my breath when Momma pushes me under, and I look up from under the water at the sky’s white blank face.

From deep underneath, little fingers curl over mine.

About the Author

Kristi DeMeester is the author of Beneath, a novel published by Word Horde, and Everything That’s Underneath, a short fiction collection forthcoming from Apex Publications. Her short fiction has been reprinted or appeared in Ellen Datlow’s The Best Horror of the Year Volume 9, Year’s Best Weird Fiction Volumes 1 and 3, in addition to publications such as Black Static, Apex, and several others. In her spare time, she alternates between telling people how to pronounce her last name and how to spell her first. Find her online at www.kristidemeester.com.