This was what my mother told me at night, ever since I was as an infant—she’d poke my forehead, whisper, You’re going to win. Alive was winning. My mother didn’t care what the doctors said about my brain, the likely outcome. And she didn’t care what my father feared, or what my sister thought. My father was a mortician, so he was always silent. He’d pat my shoulder when we’d leave the doctor’s office, but wouldn’t say anything. And my sister, who was almost a teenager, seemed skeptical of everything, sometimes even of me.
But then something happened.
We were driving home from my third brain surgery. I was five years old. That was the day the rain looked like meteor showers—thousands of raindrops of light, making everything brighter, the water on the ground shiny like bubble soap. My mother rolled down her window and stuck out her arm. When the rain touched her skin, it spread like liquid silver for a few seconds before her body absorbed it. So startled, she got out the car and stared up at the sky, her face soaking up the silver water. Then she said, “Troy, get out of the car. Stand here.” And I did. The rain felt different—it was hot, tingled (hissed) when it touched my skin. When we got home, my father and sister dashed inside, fearing the worst, but my mother and I huddled outside the car and let the warm, silver rain drench us.
That was three years ago. Since that day, nobody has died, and my brain hasn’t hurt. But there have been problems: overpopulation, food shortages, loss of my father’s old job (and then our house). But mostly people have been confused about the origin of this new rain: Was an alien race poisoning us? How could a world function without death, a world where nobody went to heaven, or worse? But my mother didn’t care about any of it. She didn’t listen to the warnings to stay indoors when it rained: studies were still being completed on the properties of this rain, if there were long-term effects from exposure. She acted as if her only prayer had been answered. She’d shout gleefully anytime it rained, “Troy, it’s raining.” And I’d run outside and stand there for hours, marveling at the liquid silver rain coating my skin and my body absorbing it.
But when I shouted from outside two days ago that the old rain was back—it was cold again, and clear—my mother screamed from the porch: “Get out of that rain, Troy!” My father hurried down the stairs. He stared as my mother frantically dried me off.
Within days, news reporters were outside Mount Sinai hospital in New York, where a little girl who was younger than me was really sick.
My family was like the rest of the world—glued to the television, expecting a close call, the streak of days of no deaths to continue. As we watched, transfixed to the screen, my sister suddenly asked me, “Troy, does your head hurt?”
I could feel everybody looking at me—could sense the weight of my father’s silence, the fear in my mother’s breathing. I quickly shook my head and kept my eyes focused on the television. My head was hurting again, but only a little.
The night that little girl died, the entire world fell silent. I didn’t wait for my mother to come to me. I went into my parent’s bedroom. She was crying—hard. I crawled in beside her. I believed in my mother, in what she had me do—standing outside in the hot rain, allowing my body to store loads of that healing water inside of me. I’d convince my father too. But he had to leave the house earlier that night. The world needed him again.
Kenneth A. Fleming’s short fiction has been a finalist in Glimmer Train’s Family Matters contest, Pleiades’s 2018 G. B. Crump Prize in Experimental Fiction, and BOOTH’s 2020 Unexpected Literature Prize. He holds an MA in writing from Johns Hopkins University and his work appears in Shenandoah, Joyland, storySouth, and BOOTH. He is the South editor at Joyland, and he is finishing up a collection of short fiction. You can find him on Twitter @kflemingwriter.
Photography by: Daniele Levis Pelusi