Four minutes and twenty-two seconds later, the park has emptied completely. In the grass, puddles spring up like ant colonies, silent and teeming. I watch you lift your white skirt to your thighs as you wade in under beckoning palm trees, the sky receding for you, so that your face drinks up the darkening clouds and grows indistinct behind a haze of rain. I have waited a long time for your smile, and for this moment that has neither beginning nor end, as is the way with all healings—but simple too, like a single drop of rain aloft in the air.
Afterward, you laugh at me, your wet silly-string hair on my neck, your chest flattened softly against mine; you are soaked through to your bare feet, which are brown still from mud puddles. You are powerful today, and you know it. How easy it was for you to make the rain.
. . .
In bright places—like movie theaters when the lights go up, or parking lots at midday, or in modern kitchens, shopping mall atriums, hospital clinics, salons, hotel bathrooms—flaws show up worse. Tara has two long wrinkles that run together to form an upside down ‘y’ in the middle of her forehead, right between her eyebrows, which are slender and silver-red and perfectly curved like fish gills. People notice the wrinkles only when she’s under bright lights. They notice that her eyes are slightly different colors—one hazel, one brown—only when she looks straight at them or when they study her portrait that hangs in the hallway downstairs. Daniel Wingard painted it for her, when they were in art class together in the days before Seta. Tara doesn’t have the heart to take it off the wall. He told her he would come back for it. If she hadn’t known better, she would say he had unusual powers, too, because when he left that day, after staring at her portrait and then at her, after kissing her and wiping rainwater from her eyes, and tears—after all that he stepped out through the door and disappeared.
The man she’s meeting for dinner tonight at Seven Arches is not like Daniel. Harrison is too logical, too predictable. She’s amazed she has lasted this long with him. Of course, she knows why. It’s because she has been careful. She has schooled her face, she has dressed appropriately, she has evaded questions. Her fourteen-year-old daughter Seta says her mother is cruel, and that Harrison is broken somehow, or is gay. Why else after two months of not getting any does he still want to go on a date? Tara tells Seta that she is too young to be thinking things like that. She tells her to watch her tongue, and then, in her mind, wonders if Seta is right, and then wonders if Seta is not right, if it is not a false dichotomy. She wonders—and this idea makes her skin feel tight—if Harrison is not playing some sort of game with her, peeling her secrets back slowly, tenderly. Today, she is trying not to think of such things.
Today, Tara has on blue, an early 90s style one-piece dress with cap sleeves and a scooped neck. It ties in the back, which is a good thing, because otherwise she’d drown in the dress. Being thin—Seta calls her stick-mom, endearingly—when she finds herself engulfed in fabric, even when it’s lightweight cotton, she feels suffocated. She’s barefoot, as usual, and thinks about neglecting shoes for the evening, too, but decides against it. Seven Arches doesn’t usually mind, but Harrison will. Daniel used to chide her for being so worried. How could you put someone to flight by such innocuous habits as going places shoeless? It’s why Tara loved him—because of that thoroughly genuine acceptance of anything and everything. Except her. In the end, he couldn’t take it, and how could she blame him?
She slips on her shoes, nice, flat white ones that Seta left behind when she went to camp for the weekend. For a moment, Tara feels nauseous, as if she’s just run too long too fast. After all, a voice whispers, won’t it hurt less if you do your own peeling? Even though Tara wears shoes to the museum every day, she takes them off as soon as she gets there. She’s much more comfortable barefoot.
She considers powder for the furrow between her eyebrows as she stares into the mirror over her bathroom counter. She only has one bulb above the vanity actually screwed into its socket. The rest are merely place holders. The single light is not enough to see furrows by unless she leans very close to the mirror. Seta thinks her mother’s abhorrence of bright places is ridiculous, and Tara has often found the bulbs screwed in, which requires her to climb up onto the counter—making her knees sore—to loosen them up again.
Powder, Tara decides, would hide the furrow, but the furrow is part of her, an integral, meaningful part that ought not to be kept secret from Harrison. Shoes are one thing, but her face is another. She’s had many people confounded by her face, which is heart-shaped and marked on one side by a dark scar the size of a baby fist. Powder has never been able to hide the scar.
Harrison asked her about the scar on their first date, and it caught her off guard. So off guard that she told him. Her mother had done it with a pink origami bird Tara had made to hang on one of the mobiles in her mother’s preschool classroom. Her mother had lit the bird with her cigarette lighter and made Tara hold it to her face, her mother’s hand on her wrist. But then she shrugged. Things like that happened a lot back then, said Tara.
They had been outside near the park. The sun was sinking, the bright lip spreading fire-fingers over the ocean, casting feathery shadows by way of palm fronds. He was looking at her as if he might paw at her, as her father used to, or claw at her, the way her mother had. Or maybe he’d just wanted a kiss, because he brought his face down and her body trembled with terror and desire, and so the rain came because she had called it—as wet and solid a wall as there’d ever been.
. . .
Maybe it had been the burn after all, the bright fire that had opened up inside her chest a rush of power that made the clouds form faster and spill. Her best friend used to let her spend the night, and often she and Kyla would steal out from the small mountain house where Kyla and her mother lived alone, past rows of blackberry bushes, always freshly devoid of berries for jams and pies, and up past the little river that ran, if you followed it, all the way down to the bottom of the hill and turned into roadside gullies that kept the streets from flooding. There was a meadow up there, and after Tara’s face healed, she went up with Kyla and watched the stars blink out of the darkness. But what happened, Kyla wanted to know. She kept pestering, and when she wasn’t asking, she was staring, staring so hard and unblinking that she missed the star. And Tara didn’t tell her about it. Oh, she told Kyla about the scar that was still brown and a little puffy like paint puckering as it dried; it had only just begun to peel off at the edges near her jaw. Tara wasn’t even sad about the scar anymore, because her brother was going to take her away to live with him in his apartment in Charlotte, and that meant she’d wouldn’t have to smell her mother with all that perfume and alcohol wheeling through the house when her father wasn’t home—and when he was home, Tara wouldn’t have to be his princess anymore.
She used to like it, being her father’s princess. She’d told Kyla about all the times her father would cuddle with her on the sofa, holding her tight to him like his doll, stroking her hair and her neck and her arms: his sweet little princess. Back then, she would tell Kyla to make her jealous, because Kyla didn’t have a father. He’d gone away before Kyla was born, and Kyla said her mother was never going to get remarried because the Bible said you couldn’t or you’d be an adulteress. (She pronounced it a-dull-dress; Tara remembers thinking the word sounded funny.) But lately, being her father’s princess was more difficult. The scar was easier to talk about. The pain went away quickly, leaving just a dull itch, and the whole thing had been brought on by a bad day. People do things when they get angry, she said, staring up at the stars while Kyla’s head was still turned toward her, eyes opened up like tin cans of tuna fish, all the white exposed. That’s why Kyla missed the star that fell, why she didn’t get to make a wish and why Tara did, and why, perhaps, the rain comes now whenever Tara calls it.
Once, Kyla told her she was very selfish. Look, she said, you should make it rain where people are thirsty, or where there are fires, not just whenever you want it to. They had been out on the little wooden footbridge that lets you go from one side of the river to the other without having to cross a mile up or down where it narrows and splits. It was an old bridge that had many initials carved into it with hearts and crosses (they were carving their own initials along with the letters BFF); birds’ and hornets’ nests could be alternately found in the crisscrossed wood making up the supports, and spider webs too, often beaded with water droplets, stretched between the age-warped slats. It had been very hot that day, and the sky was a blue so bright with sunlight, the white clouds looked as though they were near enough to reach out and pluck like dandelions. The green fleece of the mountains, usually wrung round with mist, was visible all the way up. So Tara had made it rain, because she was sweating, and because sweating was so sticky and salty and reminded her of her father. She and Kyla were both eight years old; Tara’s brother had only managed to let her visit on weekends because her mother said she was still too young to be alone so often by herself.
You could make it rain in Texas where my Aunt Rachel is, said Kyla. She says it’s always hot there. Or in New Mexico where Richard is.
My mom’s friend. She visits him sometimes.
Tara didn’t tell Kyla about the time she’d made it rain in the house. Her parents’ room had been soaked, spoiling the oak dresser and causing the new red comforter to stain the beige sheets. Her father thought it was faulty roofing; he’d had to replace the ceiling.
. . .
Tara has to drive because walking downtown to Seven Arches would make her late. She doesn’t mind driving. It gives her something mindless to do while she thinks. Harrison is not the first man she has dated since Daniel divorced her five years ago. Her last boyfriend waited a week before he realized he wouldn’t be able to get her in bed any time soon, and fled. Before that was a man whom she dated for six months and never knew. He would wrap himself up so she could never see him; even when he was naked, it was as if he were wearing floor-length trench coats all the time, and turtlenecks and cold-weather gloves. She felt sorry for him then—a man whose aura mimicked Tara’s own lighting habits: keeping it dark for the sake of privacy, for protection. But later, she realized his vulnerability had been a ruse to keep Tara out, to keep her at a comfortable, useable distance until he was done with her.
Tara flips down the visor and frowns into her mirror, watching the furrow on her brow crease like a gorge between soft mountains. She touches her face, the scar on her cheek, and then flicks her eyes back to the road, swerving around a pothole. Without the scar, she would look a lot like Seta, she thinks wistfully, and pushes the visor back up as she turns left at the light, locating the modern chrome angles of Seven Arches on the right a few blocks down.
. . .
She allows the valet to take her car and smiles at him, knowing that he finds her attractive by the way his eyes linger on her face a bit too politely, as if he is making an effort to keep them from straying elsewhere. Somehow, this makes her feel guilty. She should not have worn a dress with such a low cut. She remembers Kyla always wore dresses cut low enough for the both of them when they went out together. But she is without Kyla, has been for many years, ever since Tara left for college and found Daniel.
The restaurant smells the way it always does, full of bread and spices, garlic and leeks being the most powerful, and the bright flavors of jalapeño, pungent onion, and a whole array of more foreign seasonings from the rainbow of curries to the barely discernible toasted seaweed the Japanese call nori, all lacing the air with tiny stingers, so that she blinks wetly a few times under the cool shadowed alcove where the hostess behind the bamboo podium asks for her name.
“Tara, party of two.”
She is always early for dinner with Harrison, mainly because she knows he values punctuality more than he can admit. He can be counted on to march through those glass doors at exactly seven thirty, by his watch, which means seven twenty-eight by the astronomical clock to which she’s set her cell phone. She sits on one of the red cushioned benches and declines a server who asks her if she would like a drink while waiting. She usually doesn’t drink. Sometimes a martini, extra dry, with two olives if she’s feeling gleeful and safe. Tonight, Tara feels apprehensive. She feels stalked, like prey, cornered, like an oyster under the prying knife. Harrison cannot possibly love her. It’s absurd. He doesn’t even know her. He’s never seen, for instance, her favorite artist hanging in her studio above the antique telephone in the corner—because he’s never come over—nor has he met her daughter. Only that once has he seen her call the rain. And he made jokes afterward about downloading her brain into his phone so he could get the forecast without using the internet.
Tara’s hair was so pale orange that day, like a sun-bleached life vest. He’d said it was like silly string, that she always made him smile. He’d said there were parts of her too deep for him to access, and in him, also—and then Tara’s breath catches because he said afterward that she was a bridge builder, a woman who made rivers to swim across, and she hadn’t known what he meant. She remembers that it was hard, harder than it ever has been, to make the clouds come. Because she had to think of him covering her, wet with his own sweat and her unwilling saliva and her thighs slick with him, and then of her pushing him away through layers of water that drowned him and made him indistinguishable and harmless. She didn’t like thinking of Harrison that way. What are you thinking, Daniel had asked her the last time she’d made it rain for him. She’d thought she could tell him, because even if it was hard, it gave her so much pleasure to see him smile when the clouds filled in the sky and burned the heat away. He was horrified; she was a monster. She should have known better. She will never tell Harrison.
. . .
An employee opens the door for him with an inclined head, and Tara watches Harrison’s eyes settle on her as he strides inside. He is tall and dark of face and hair, with features that made her wonder, when they met, if he was Arab, although he denied it, smiling, and said he was a healthy mix of Spanish and Indian. Dot, he’d said, not feather, to which addition she hadn’t known quite how to respond.
He is wearing brown loafers, pleated khakis, and a lightweight navy blue coat over a white button up. When he sees her, he grins, and greets her with a light kiss on the cheek. His chin is scratchy, and he smells of grass, as if he has been golfing, which he does often. She breathes him in.
“This place looks fantastic,” he says, sitting beside her and checking his watch.
Tara knows he is on time, precisely, to the very second if he had not stopped to kiss her, which makes the kiss doubly precious.
“I thought you’d like it,” she says, inhaling deeply through her nose. He also smells warm, relaxed; he’s been bustling about all day and has only just paused to let his heart stop racing. Tara’s heart is racing. “Did I tell you they have koalas?”
His lips part, stretching to one side, and his eyebrows drift upward like feathers. “That one you’ll have to explain.”
“You’ll see when we go through the arches. They have skylights for them. Some restaurants have wall-length exotic fish tanks. I don’t see how keeping koalas is any different. Did you know they sleep most of the time—about twenty hours a day because they have to produce an anti-toxin to digest all the poisonous eucalyptus leaves they eat?”
She talks too fast. She always does when she gets nervous. And about unimportant things. But Harrison seems interested rather than put off. He asks her about the restaurant, how long it has been open, who the owners are, is it a chain, and what made them decide to use chrome for the exterior.
“It’s basically steel on steel frame,” she is saying as she takes Harrison’s arm. They move through the restaurant, beneath three arches. The arches are the mediums out of which are crafted the new seven world wonders. They pass through the Great Wall of China, meticulously chiseled rectangles of rock strung over and above them; the beautiful white Taj Mahal cuts deep into the face of the second arch, the relief like a mirage, growing in the eye; they walk through the façade of the Chichén Itzá temple—surrounding the square arch are lurid frescoes depicting in a visual round the Mayan ziggurat’s obsessive geometry. A short steep flight of chrome steps descends into a room awash with Mayan gold.
“You have to see the others,” says Tara as the waiter shows them to their table, unfolding their napkins. “The ones with the koalas. In the back.” She wrinkles her nose. “Because of the smell.” The sommelier offers them a specialty wine and Harrison nods without consulting Tara. The lights in this room are dim, and shadows sink like blotches on Harrison’s face.
“I can’t believe I’ve never been here,” Harrison says. He lifts the napkin from his lap, and replaces it seam-side down.
Tara stares at him, at how his face has been transformed by the shadows. “You haven’t been in town all that long.”
“Long enough to find you,” says Harrison, with a lift of his glass. He swirls the wine and tastes it, absorbs the red into his tongue.
Tara cringes because his words are too genuine-sounding, too much like something Daniel might have said once, long ago. She feels herself closing up, her skin tightening. She must concentrate; it wouldn’t do to bring the rain indoors again.
. . .
The second time she brought the rain indoors was, like the first, an accident. It was that same day Daniel stared at her and kissed her and told her he was leaving. He said he felt like a parent in too many ways. Always protecting, always loving, always hoping that she could accept his love, that she would accept herself. It wasn’t because of the rain, he said, which made her cry, because she knew it wasn’t. It was about the reason she could bring the rain at all, the reason she’d whispered to that falling star. She doesn’t even remember what she said to it. Give me strength, maybe, or Make him go away, or maybe just Help me. And then because she looked like a little girl again, he must have wanted to take her in his arms. So he did, but he was leaving, and Tara couldn’t help it, and the rain came before she could say what she wanted to say, the only words that might have kept him with her. She mouthed them, her lips already wet from the water falling straight out of the ceiling, three syllables, but she couldn’t say them. Love. She has never been able to pronounce words that have no ontology.
When the door shut, the rain fizzled out like a defective firework.
. . .
He is talking now of work, and of golf. So, she was right. He did, in fact, play golf today. He is not calloused toward her, talking this way; on their first she told him that if she is not talking, it’s not because she’s uninterested. It is because she’s thinking, and she cannot think and talk at the same time. He often stops mid-sentence to check on her, just a flicker of his eyes that she knows is registering her comfort level, and for this she appreciates him so much more than she ever has anyone before, for this small concern.
Tara cannot help thinking, while Harrison is talking, of his lips. Harrison’s lips, and what they would feel like on her. And then, because this scares her, she thinks of Daniel’s lips. And she has real memories, not just images conjured up by an active imagination, for what Daniel’s lips can do. But somewhere in the conversation—perhaps because the wine bottle is empty and she has not touched it and because she can imagine all that wine in his mouth, in his stomach—Harrison’s/Daniel’s lips become her father’s, and because she spends so much time thinking of her father, and because she does not want to remember her father, not ever, she remembers her brother. It is hardly an improvement.
. . .
When she was “old enough,” which really meant when her mother had finished divorcing her father and had no one to look after Tara when her mother was working, her brother finally took her to live with him. He left her in charge of unpacking boxes. Tara could not imagine living for four years with boxes and clothing and trash piled up in her house the way her brother had while taking classes at the university. In two months he would graduate, and it looked as if he had just moved in. So while he was at school, or working late at the diner with the blue awning Tara could never pronounce the name of, or wooing some new girlfriend or other, Tara organized the apartment. She stocked the cabinets with plasticware, cleaners, detergents, filled the newspaper bin, and took out the trash whenever it deluged onto the kitchen floor. She alphabetized books and movies, dusted light fixtures. Even though she was far too old for it—there was “old enough” and “too old” and somehow, unexpectedly, she had arrived at both during the same school year—she spoke to her flaking miniature nesting dolls, consoling them. Everything would be all right now. They had Kyla still for a friend and maybe one day, they would see mother again. And Tara encouraged them: at least they had escaped from their father.
Probability should have warned her brother she’d end up in his bedroom, if only to clean. She had run down to the laundromat with his sheets that smelled like little boys’ hands. She lifted the mattress to tuck in the flat sheet and saw the box half open, a magazine lying haphazardly on top with near pristine pages. She moved to tidy it. A glossy woman crouched on the cover with a glossy body. Every part of her was russet brown and tapering, ovular and taut, like oiled fish fillets smoothed over a shelled boiled egg. Her red tongue showed between white teeth and black hair surged around her face, a cloud rising with a slow but steady updraft. Tara had seen such magazines, tucked away in the drawer of her father’s nightstand.
Tara touched the woman’s shoulders, drawing a captivated finger over breasts that puckered out dark brown nipples, so different from her own flat ones. The ones beneath her finger were like enormous tomatoes. Or papayas. The woman had a hand stretched between her thighs protectively. Tara knew from experience that it was not so simple. There was a secret undertone without which the magazine wouldn’t have been nearly so popular. Need. Tara remembered need, though not like the woman’s. When she was little she would creep into her mother’s room and climb into her bed, hoping her mother would yell at her, because then, she would have a chance to explain why she crawled up in the first place. What her father had been doing in her room. How she didn’t want him to do it anymore. Maybe her mother would hold her and stroke her hair and hush her crying. Maybe she wouldn’t send her back to a room that had nightmares in it. Different nightmares hid behind the woman’s hand; they wanted out, though, just the same.
Tara began turning pages, first quickly, just to glance, just to see if any of the women looked like her, had diluted orange hair like hers, and then lingering, fingers, eyes, mouth pausing over the pictures: a tightening in obscure muscles, a vague, familiar tingling and warmth. Shame grew like a mushroom in her stomach.
He walked in then, and found her. He hit her for it, two hot blue spots on her arms where his huge hands picked her up and threw her into the living room. He had storm clouds in his eyes and static discharge, but she didn’t want him to send her home again, so she held back the rain. When the new girl, Mikaela, arrived with groceries, she asked Tara what was wrong.
She got into my porn, said her brother, who had opened the door just enough to peer out, groundhog nose first, and vanish.
Mikaela was sympathetic but brusque. She knew just the thing. Fishing through the counterfull of paper bags, she drew out a bunch of bananas, broke off two, and trotted out from the refrigerator a jar of old raspberry jam. She slathered the bananas and handed one to Tara.
Like this, said Mikaela.
Tara was disgusted and astonished. It wasn’t that she didn’t know what Mikaela was doing, for she herself had moved more than bananas around in her mouth in that fashion. But Tara had had to do it. She’d been forced to, and it astounded her that someone would want to do all on her own what Mikaela was doing with that banana and jam. Tara held her own banana farther and farther from her as she watched Mikaela’s lips and tongue and hands play over jelly-slick banana skin, eyes half-closed. So that was what she looked like. Tara had a strange sensation that she was watching a private show for someone else; her own body felt too near, as if it had been sneaking up on her. The banana came out of Mikaela’s mouth with a wet pop. Well, are you just going to hold it? Mikaela took the banana from Tara’s hand, gently and firmly moving it sweet and slippery in and out and around and back and forth in Tara’s mouth, coaching with throaty urges: Not the teeth, relax, breathe, no, your lips go like this. Eventually, Tara gave in, wondering distantly how many people in the world could make her do what she didn’t want to do.
Late that evening after supper, she watched through a cracked door: her brother and Mikaela on the sheets she had washed, grunting like pigs or rubbery seals. She made her nesting dolls watch, told them that this is what life is like and that they should be glad they are not really alive.
. . .
They finish dinner, peer at the sleeping koalas, explore the other three arches. Tara has not eaten well; her stomach is knotted, her throat tight. She clutches Harrison’s hand too tightly, she is still talking too fast—about useless things, about the arches.
“Art that’s reproducible like this, made not for the sake of beauty but for advertisement—I used to think it was degrading to ‘real’ artists. But then I started to wonder what I meant by ‘real’ artists, because some time ago I got this crazy idea that curator wasn’t enough work,” (her voice is so high pitched!) “and so now I’m an agent too with no time, buying up all kinds of art. You know, I saw a piece come through once that looked like—well, it looked like a pile of feces, to be honest, on a blue field. Oils. And I sold it.”
Her car pulls up, driven by the valet. The seat will be pushed too far back, the rearview mirror will reflect the gray ceiling interior. She might even have to adjust the steering wheel in order to see over the dashboard.
“You look lovely tonight,” says Harrison into her hair, and his breath is heady alcohol, mixed with sour chocolate. He no longer makes her think of grass, as when he walked in. He is simply Harrison, and his lips brush her ear. She jerks back, an involuntary rigidity.
City lights blot out the moon and stars. There ought to be a slender crescent, and she should be able to see Lyra, too, and Cygnus.
She’s running, in her mind, and overhead, thunder rumbles.
“What’s the forecast?” asks Harrison. The valet waits patiently: the longer Tara takes, the more she feels obliged to pay him.
In response to Harrison’s question, Tara says nothing. She has no idea if it’s going to rain, or storm, or hail even. (The wind against her throat and ankles has picked up and dropped several degrees since arriving at the restaurant.) She has not called the thunder nor beckoned the rain, although she wants to. So, as reply, she takes his hand as if to read his palm. She is able, if she feels like it; strong, straight lines sprawl over his skin.
“What is it?” He looks aghast. “My death? I choose old age.”
Tara glances up, wondering if he is making fun of her, but he’s smiling fondly, and then he loops her arm around his waist, resting his chin on her head. The valets are still waiting.
“Do you want to come over tonight?” he asks into her hair.
She tightens, he feels it and lets her go. “I’ve got Seta’s shoes,” she says.
He must be conscious of his breath, for he sucks in as he speaks, making his words rasp slightly, as if he has a cold. “Isn’t she at camp?”
She wants desperately to call the rain: it will be safer, she’ll be wet, he’ll be wet, they can go home. Alone. Separately. But again, he surprises her.
“Then walk with me,” he says.
. . .
It’s a trap. She knows traps; they have a certain sharpness about them, a certain eeriness. He’ll spring it soon, whatever it is he wants her to do for him, he’ll spring it from where he’s standing by the park bench, and she’ll obey, because she always does.
“Make it rain,” he says. “Make it rain, then.” And he begins removing his shoes.
The grass is long, tickling her ankles. The palm trees rustle like sheaves of paper in the night air. The smell of metal from the skeletal playset, the wood, the sand, the salt spray off the water—all of it is perfect. More than perfect! If Daniel had asked her like this, she would have fetched him snow.
But this is Harrison. And Tara can’t do it. Not this time. Because she can’t look at him, because there is no trap, and she is as vulnerable as she once was before she knew how to call the rain.
. . .
It’s raining now. Without her summons. She runs two red lights. Her eyes are glued to the slick road in an unseeing daze. Her legs feel thick like jam; she looks down to make sure they are still there; she has lost a shoe. Seta will be upset. Seta will be upset anyway. She hates Tara’s moods, her mother’s sudden irrational flights. She will stare at Tara from under heavy, amber eyelids. Her mouth will open, snap shut without speaking, tighten, and then finally she will speak, regale her mother about her last boyfriend and how she snagged him, how she can’t believe her mother’s going to die a decrepit, celibate divorcee, how it’s just her luck, and whatever guy Seta ends up marrying is going to think Tara’s certifiable.
No, Seta doesn’t understand.
When Seta was born, there was a hurricane off the east coast. Category four, and everybody thought it would smash them. He held Seta up to the eerie fluorescent hospital lights, every twist of baby fat and every line in Daniel’s face visible for the light. They were both beautiful, like a picture from an age in which it was not in vogue to put on display all the dark abysses of the human soul. The nurses hurried about; Tara thought at one point that the doctors must have been wearing rollerskates, they were going so fast. But the hurry was the storm, and everyone was evacuating. Not Tara, though, because she was in labor, and not Daniel, because, he said inscrutably, he was in labor too.
She never did really understand it. How he could want nothing from her, and everything, and how giving herself to a man was still, at bottom, not giving. It still felt like he was taking her, and he knew it, and it was so confusing to want so badly the thing that hurt her most. The storm was coming, and Daniel begged her to stop it, to save Seta, he said to her. So she did. She drove the storm out into the ocean with a precision that astonished the meteorologists. And in the hospital bed, she knew she could never truly look at him again, because she would always see him holding her daughter while in a hospital bed she closed her eyes and imagined herself held like Seta and filled with need and fear, both enough to stop the storm.
Daniel said he would come back for his painting.
Tara stares at it in the dim hallway. He has captured the strangeness. Even Tara feels unnerved looking at her own face with its dull orange hair, odd thrust of jaw, and scar like a gouge in the canvas. Her eyes are staring into some other world, is what Tara thinks. Into the world where Daniel is.
She blinks because her eyes smart. Of course he will not come back for it. It was enough to know that his tongue in her mouth was not his tongue. What are you thinking, he had asked her the last time she made it rain for him. It was too much to hear it said. If she could do it again, she would say out loud a kind of charm: Where you are, I don’t have to control the rain. And he would never ask her to call the rain again. But that idea also makes her sad.
Two arms slide around her waist, but she does not scream.
“Harrison,” she breathes softly. He turns her into his chest, strokes her hair, and says he likes her portrait.
“Daniel did it,” she replies, and then realizes that Harrison is here, in her house, that he followed her home. His arms tighten, and she can feel his pulse in and out as if by the pull of the moon.
“Can I see your studio?” he asks, drawing her just slightly away from the wall.
“It was Seta’s baby room,” she says too quickly; “before that I used the sitting room by the door.” The hall is in semidarkness. On either side are staggered portraits and mirrors, her portrait being the one nearest the entrance. Seta says this arrangement makes the house cluttered, makes her feel as though there are creepers about. But this silent crowd of spectators is exactly what Tara likes about the hallway. Her house is always full, filled with people who look on, see everything, and do not judge. They never leave and they never close their eyes; they would never let anything happen to her, to Seta.
“I’m glad you’re safe,” says Harrison quietly, drawing her through the hall to the foot of the stairwell.
She can almost make out his mouth. And his glasses reflect the hooded light of the lamp from the sitting room behind them.
“I’ve only seen you in glasses once before,” says Tara. “They make you look distinguished.” Why is she always so nervous? Because she does not want him here. She wants to think she has lasted this long with him—two months without sex—because he does not know her, because she’s taken every precaution against his finding out how she calls the rain. She has a sudden fright: perhaps he’s been talking with Seta! How else could he know so much?
She pulls on his arm away from the stairs, but he mounts another step. Now he is clutching her, his hand covers her forearm. “You ran two red lights and a stop sign.”
“That was you?” she laughs, remembering the pair of headlights she’d seen behind her in her review mirror—which she’d had to adjust after finally retrieving her car from the valet of Seven Arches.
“Tara,” but he stops, peering at her.
“Let’s make this easy,” says Tara urgently. “You think I’m this someone. I’m not. I don’t know who it is you think I am, but I’m not her. I’m a freak; I’m messed up. I have this power—the rain—I know, I know, you know—but there are other issues, too.” She wants to tell him about Daniel. And about her father. Why? What could he do? Invoke the gods? Perhaps an exorcism? She has begun to cry; at least, her eyes are wet. She blinks and shrugs out of his grip, turning her back to him. “You don’t want to get mixed up with someone like me.”
She can’t help but think about his lips, now that they’re on her, how different they are from Daniel’s, from anyone else’s. She hears her name when he stops for breath. “Tara.” He tastes of food and wine, and paradoxically, of hunger, too, and of fear. Or is that her fear? But she can’t tell them apart now, not her lips from his, not her tongue or shoulders, not the strong powerful curve of his back, which is softer than flesh has ever been, not her hands from his, or thighs, and is that his heart or hers, her stomach or his, and only now, at the foot of the stairs leading up to her bedroom and studio, only this very once has she ever wished they would shut their eyes, all those staring portraits, multiplied a thousand times by the mirrors, like a hall of witnesses.
The hall steeps in cool darkness. Tara sighs, and then jerks up toward the door, which is cracked open. For an instant, she is terrified Daniel has chosen this night of all nights to come back for his painting, but then Harrison mumbles something between her breasts, something about not wanting to click the door and scare her when he came in, and she relaxes.
Slowly. Staring slowly into the dark until her eyes adjust—they have been closed for so long—her gaze lights on the portraits, on the mirrors, on the lamp in the corner room with a brightness that does not reach them, and then on the top of Harrison’s head which, she has never noticed until now, is slightly balding. She cups her hand around the back of it, in his hair, as she might a suckling child. He has not peeled away her secrets, and yet they feel exposed somehow—but not as body unclothed, but as water to air, slowly evaporating. Where you are . . . But Daniel is not here; and Harrison is not a child in her arms, nor—for the first time in the arms of a man—does she feel a child in his and she knows something that is very strong, like the streak of a star falling . . . I don’t have to control the rain.
And then, because she is not fully satisfied, or perhaps because stars do not often fall singly, another flashes with a tail as long as the horizon.
I can if I want to.
Outside, it has stopped raining, and through the crack, Tara can hear the thrush of distant traffic, sparse in the midnight hours. She blinks up once more at the hallway, her eyes settling on her portrait.
Tomorrow, Tara will take it down. And they will go to the park, and she’ll ask Harrison to close his eyes.
. . .
But I don’t, because I don’t want to miss anything. Like the way you look today among a thousand people dressed for summer—and you and I in raincoats! And I let you run me under the trees where kites fly in the distance, where children hang like opossums from playground equipment and teenage couples chatter in low voices. Wanting sex, you accuse me of, laughingly, and I don’t deny it.
“So, make them all leave,” I say. “Make it rain. Make it rain for me.”
For me, I say. But I mean for you. And you chide me even before I can fix it. You shake your head: for me. And you throw off your raincoat, and I toss mine aside, and you wade through grass as high as your ankles, under swaying palm trees, hands and face upturned and arms outstretched. I’ve seen a hundred pictures of rain dancers, but none look like you.
It comes fast as you smile at me, and I cannot remember, at that moment, what your face looks like unsmiling; we are stuck in this moment that has neither beginning nor end, a single drop of rain aloft in the air, like a photograph.
Lora Rivera is currently finishing her MFA at the University of Arizona. She works as assistant literary agent for Claire Gerus Literary Agency in Tucson and lives with her husband and three cats. She writes literary and young adult fiction, as well as juvenile fantasy, a love she owes to a tiny used book store in her hometown of Daytona Beach, Florida.