01 Feb In The Rain
My father only hit me one time.
Open palm across my jaw when I was 7.
Once in my life. Been 40 years, but I can still feel it. The sound of the slap, the sting and the shock.
I’m sitting now right where it happened. At the window, halfway up the stairs of my childhood home.
Remembering the look on his face as he struck me. For years I thought that expression was anger.
I was about as wrong as you can get.
I’m alone in the house. Sat here on the steps, a drink in hand. Through the dirty old glass I can see the night falling, creeping over the fields, bringing the stars and the cold. The quiet here reminds me of being a boy.
My brothers not long gone. He had a lot to say tonight, which ain’t like him. Left me with a lot to think about. Unexpected truth can do that.
So here I am. Looking through my memories with fresh eyes.
Every family got a strange habit or two they think is normal. All thinkin nothing of it until they grow up and realise it was out of the ordinary. For us, my sisters and brother and I, it was the rain.
Whenever it came down, we all had to get inside and sit in the living room together. Every time, no exceptions. Mom and the 4 kids. My father locked all the doors, not a word spoken, then stood at the kitchen window staring out. Always watchin the same spot too, a fenced off field to the north, maybe 500 yards from the house. Most of the time, few minutes would pass, he would sigh and say “Alright.” Then we could all go back about our business as if nothing had happened.
Sometimes though, once or twice a year if I’m remembering right, he would pull the shutter down. Double check all the doors were locked and then come sit with us in silence till the rain went off. We all talked and played and whatever else but he never said a word. Just listened.
I think I was 4, maybe 5 years old, when I realised not every family done this.
We were all out in town when it got to raining and everyone just continued on as if nothing had happened. I remember how confused I was, waiting at the doors to the nearest shop in a near panic. My mother, leaning down to whisper so noone would hear, said “Thats only for at home honey, okay?”
We lived on what had once been a farm, one of the biggest in the county. My grandparents on my fathers side had owned it since they married. Never could find out who they bought it from. The land was, and still is, incredibly fertile. Thats how my family made its money, 50 years of selling livestock and produce at a rate you wouldn’t believe.
My father left home when he was 16, just like his 3 brothers. He had college paid for and plenty of money to get him started in life. But, as he told me many times, a headstart don’t guarantee a win. He met my mother, fell in love, dropped out of school and whittled away his savings trying to find what he wanted to do with his life.
When the time came and my grandparents passed, my mother and father were broke and out of work.
They had been left the land in the will. In truth, it wasn’t much of a farm any more. My grandparents had tired of the work when they didn’t need the money and let the land go wild. I knew my father hadn’t wanted to move back, he muttered it under his breath enough times. It had always seemed crazy to me, but in the end they didn’t have no choice. It was in the will that the house and land wasn’t to be sold, not in any circumstance.
So my parents moved in.
They had been desperate for children for years, especially my mother, without any luck. Then within a month of moving to the farm, she fell pregnant with my brother, John. And that was that. They took to looking after the land, making a living off of selling the fruit and vegetables that were still growing there.
Then a new child every year. I was the last. John, Suzie, Sylvia and me, Austin.
It was late November, few days before my 8th birthday when it happened.
Storm had come in overnight from the east, clouds so thick the sky was still black as night for sunrise. That rain coming down was so loud you could hardly hear yourself speak, wind felt like it was moving the house. My father had pulled down the shutters and come in to sit with us all, looking as tired as I had ever seen him. I remember it was awful warm in the house. I was sat in my mothers lap and we had both dozed off. My brother was drawing with that coloured pecil set he loved, the girls playing some board game I’ve forgotten the name of.
I woke because I needed to go to the toilet. I slipped down off my mothers knee and saw my father had also fallen asleep. First and only time it happened.
I didn’t want to wake them. I knew it was wrong, that I shouldn’t leave the room on my own but… I don’t know. Why do little children do the things they do? I crept out, no-one even raised their heads.
I felt it when I reached the stairs.
I’ve tried to describe it before but I can’t find the words. Something cold and heavy, pulling at me from out in the rain. It seemed to flood in through the window, an invisible wave, reaching, searching, calling. Just a feeling.
I walked to the window. In the memory, the world seems very far away, like I was walking in a dream. I looked out through the glass, through the sheets of rain across the darkened fields.
There was something out there, in the shadows of the clouds.
It saw me.
Then my father hit me.
I didn’t wake for almost a day.
My mom was holding my hand, clear from her face she had been crying. It wasn’t like waking from a regular sleep, I remember that. Everything seemed… darker, somehow. Things held in my hand still felt far away, voices came to me as if through water.
Hard to explain it.
My father apologised. Sat down with just the two of us and said he was sorry about hitting me but he had no choice, and I was never to do that again. I had to understand, to swear to him, when it rained in those fields I wasn’t to leave the living room. I promised.
For weeks after I would wake in the night, shaking and screaming. When my sisters asked me what I had dreamt about I could never tell them. In all honesty, I didn’t know. All that was left was that call, that pulling inside and the feeling of being watched.
My brother took a turn to sit with me one night, until I could get back to sleep. I remember him asking me, “Why did you do it, Austin?”
“I had to pee, John.”
“No, not that. The window. Why were you opening the window?”
The next year was when we lost my mother.
My sisters and I were away north, spending the week with our Aunt Emilia and her kids. My brother had stayed with our parents to work on the farm. Neither him or my father would ever talk about what happened, not clearly anyhow.
There had been a terrible storm, lasting from dawn till dusk. They had been sitting together, waiting it out when the wind picked up worse than ever. The old oak next to the house came down. Caught the house on the way, tearing the wall and putting in the living room window. The rain washed in, across my mother, and she vanished.
I sat in that room for hours when we got home, just staring. On the marks the water had left on the wooden floor. At the rotted trunk and ruins of the tree.
We never saw her again.
Those few months after were the worst of my life.
The aftermath of it all. The police forever at the house, questioning us all. My father drinking, seemed like more and more every day. My sisters crying, my brother becoming quiet and distant. I didn’t handle it well of course, not any of it.
I had this memory of her, sitting with me, stuck in a loop in my head. We would have conversations in my imagination, I would daydream into them over and over. Then snap awake, back to the reality around me, and realise she was still gone. I started waking in the night crying again, but now no-one came to sit with me.
They had their own nightmares.
About 6 months had passed. I was out working on the fences with my father, right at the edge of our property. It was a beautiful day, little too hot if anything, barely a breeze. We had been out for hours when he stood up sharp and turned to the horizon.
“Austin, in the car, now.”
It was the first words he had spoken all day. I recognised that look on his face, the tone of his voice. Weather was turning. To this day I haven’t seen anything like it. A freak event, once in a lifetime for a storm to move that fast. The wind first, cold and sudden. You hear the thunder, distant but closing and the sky starts to darken.
My father was driving too fast, especially over the dirt roads we had out there. I could hear him, muttering under his breath as he drove.
“They’ll know. Not to leave the house. Even if I’m not there.
You’re sisters and brother will know.”
We hammered over boulders and across ditches, old car shaking so much I near fell out the seat. I remember seeing a drop of rain on the windscreen.
“You’ve got better sight than me, boy.” he said, eyes still on the road, “The field to the north of the house, you know the one. What do you see.”
I stared out where he asked.
“Someones opened the gate.”
“Christ – “
He slammed on the brakes. I felt the car fishtail, seatbelt cut into my neck and choked the breath out of me.
My father had gone deathly white. He pulled off his coat and threw it over my head, plunging me into darkness.
“Get down, don’t move.” he pressed it over me, pushing me down into the seat. There was a tremor in his voice I had never heard before. “Don’t look Austin. No matter what you hear, boy. Don’t look. And don’t make a sound.”
His hand was so tight on the back of my neck it hurt even through the jacket.
I could hear the rain now, on the roof and the glass. The wind shook the car.
Then I felt it.
That weight, that cold pull from out in the storm.
Something started to scrape slow down the side of the car.
My father shifted position, pulled something from the backseat and I heard a snap I recognised.
He had reached for his shotgun, then checked it was loaded.
The sound drew closer, louder. At the back door now. The howl of the metal, through the rain and wind, coming towards us.
Right by my door.
No sound but the rain and our breathing.
tap tap tap
On the glass, just inches from me.
I heard my father cock the shotgun.
tap tap tap
He took his hand from my back and shifted, I guess to get a better hold on the barrel.
A lighter scratching on the glass, something sliding down, then the rattle of the handle.
I was soaked in an icy sweat, unable to move, barely able breathe.
Then it stopped.
Faded out in a few seconds, even faster than it had come. I could hear my father crying.
He died a few years later.
John and Suzie had gone off to college, just me and Sylvie left.
He had been drinking heavier, hell of a lot heavier. Took to reading my mothers diary, listening to old music.
Couldn’t talk to him about it, christ almighty we tried.
It was raining heavy one morning, my sister and I were in the living room and we both fell asleep to the sound.
He just got up and walked out into it with his shotgun.
The sound of it firing woke us. Heard him shout, fire again.
I’ll never forget my sisters face, eyes so wide as we stared at each other across that room. The rain had stopped by the time we got to the door.
There was nothing there but the weapon lying in the wet grass.
He was gone.
So here I am, decades later.
Feels strange to even say that, you know? How can it be so long?
My brother called me here this morning, told me this story again from his side. The truth of it, or as much as he got from dad. The family had always known about what came with the rain. They never gave it a name, never talked about the details of what they saw. Came with the land, like a deal you signed up to by living here.
Who knows when it began. What it really was. Sometimes it came, sometimes it didn’t.
If the rain didn’t touch you it was no problem.
Used to be worth it for how fertile the land was. But not something you could live with forever. When kids got old enough they were told the truth, made to swear to never sell the land. And to stick to the deal.
Through tears he told me about seeing our mother taken.
“Window smashed, rain washed in across her and she was gone,” he said. “It took her, Austin.”
John says he’s leaving the country, can’t take the weight of this place anymore. I don’t blame him. Can’t say I don’t understand. He’s left it all to me, to do with as I please. My sisters aren’t interested, don’t even live in the country no more.
Not how I expected today to end, I’ll tell you that.
Here I am, leaning against the cold glass, too much to drink and too much to think about. Ain’t a good mix, I know.
I’m remembering my mother. Snatched away from us like smoke in the wind.
Remembering that open gate, blurred by rain.
That tapping on the glass of the car window.
Decades later and I can still feel it, you know.
There’s a storm coming