The Weatherman’s Heart
Rumors rolled through town that the weatherman was dying. We gathered around the television to see if we could tell.
What were we expecting? Parched, yellow skin, and brittle hair, and lips drawn back in a skull’s livid smile? The weatherman appeared unchanged. He was tall and tan with his dark hair parted on the right side, and he spoke of rain. That summer, the talk was always of rain: When it would come, how long it would last, whether it would be one of those fine passing mists or a real storm, good and strong, soaking the dry lawns and filling the birdbaths until they overflowed.
“He’s not dying,” said one of us with disgust as the news went to commercial.
“Is too,” insisted another. “My mom says he’s got sickness inside him. In his heart. He’ll be dead soon. Just wait and see.”
So we waited.
Under the blazing June sun, we ran wild through the long, empty days. We pried dried-out frogs from the creek bed with our mothers’ garden spades. We prepared toxic salads of crushed beetles and fungus scoured from rotting logs. We cupped our hands around moths, clapping away the white dust of their panic that stained our fingers and palms. Sometimes we imagined our parents in their offices, vents breathing a stale chill into their vacant faces, but we felt no pity for their plight. In their absence we could write our own laws: Tattle-tales faced abandonment; crybabies, thirty seconds beneath the hornets’ nest to prove their valor. We laughed, fought, swore, and formed hostilities and alliances that evaporated faster than gobs of spit on the sidewalk. And in the evenings, confined to our separate houses, the day’s filth reduced to grimy circles around bathtub drains, we looked on as our parents watched the forecast, dismayed to see the drought enduring and the weatherman still alive.
So we made a bargain: His heart for our rain.
The origins of this sacrificial arrangement remained elusive. It seemed to rise from the cracked earth and linger like a vapor in the air, and once we inhaled it we could think of nothing else. In the beginning our daydreams were modest. A swift, efficient heart attack. A night’s sleep that darkened to forever. As the earth hardened like concrete and the wildflowers bowed their wilted heads, our visions grew crueler. Lightning strikes, car crashes, nose-dives from the tops of buildings, drowning, burning, a ninja star to the back of the head. We shrieked these fates at one another like insults, digging fingers into sunburned arms. We could not believe the weatherman’s selfishness. We could not accept that he would dare to go on living and deny us the rain that was rightfully ours.
Romping through our adjoining backyards no longer satisfied us. We entered the sweltering shade of the woods where twigs snapped like matchsticks underfoot. We ventured into the pasture where cows nosed the yellow grass, a gleaming heat rising from their spotted backs.
Inevitably, the tunnel drew us. Once its yawning mouth had been a stand-in for every fear of every dark thing that slouched from basements and cracked closet doors, but our rage had filled us with a reckless bravery. We struck out. Our voices resounded grandly off the concrete walls: Death by fire! Death by decapitation! The creek had long since vanished. The tunnel was dry as a boneyard and deliciously cool. Nearest the entrance, we could make out the chalked slogans and initials of those who had come before. We may have spent a whole day down there, immune to hunger and thirst, squabbling over the laws of our new kingdom.
When we climbed back to the street, we encountered a world engulfed in darkness. The sky hung close as a ceiling. There was no breeze, yet every leaf seemed to quiver with some private anticipation. Raindrops began to fall on our stunned, upturned faces. Within moments it was a downpour. We ran through the pasture and the woods, slipping in our flooded sneakers. We had to use our hands as visors to keep the water from running into our eyes. Our backyards were seas of frothing mud and soaked, flattened grass. We sought shelter under the overhang of the nearest porch, watching as our bare vicious summer-world collapsed under the rain’s driving force. There was no thunder. Lightning did not flare and blister above the trees. There was only the rain, the long-sought rain, which now that it had arrived felt only like punishment—and that was when we remembered our bargain.
We fumbled for the door, patting down pockets for keys, forgetting in our horror which of us this home belonged to. We stumbled into the living room, trailing mud and water, and someone dove for the TV remote and there were several seconds of near hysteria as we searched for the right channel. A commercial was playing. A jingle for a grocery store. We managed to collect ourselves. We sat down and waited. Outside, water surged from the overwhelmed gutters and made long curtains through which nothing could be seen. The air conditioner clicked on. We sat there, shivering in our wet clothes, waiting for the weatherman to appear.
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