Book In The Rain
The lights from Grand Traverse lit up the evening sky, shading the heavy clouds orange, and the clouds farther away became lavender over patches of indigo seas. The lavender spread and soon the seas vanished behind their curtain. In the trees there wasn’t any breeze; it was silent out in the countryside.
Far from the city in the lush fields there was a wide dirt road that went off the main road that followed for a quarter mile along thick brush and then went along a field that spanned to the next line of woods nearly a mile away. Parties of poplar, oak, and birch came further on, far apart in well-lighted space so almost no tree was touching branches with another.
Beneath a small, low white oak sat a little boy who, on his haunches, was reading a book. The book was a hardcover in dark blue, and the writing on the side was so faded one could not see the title. He read slowly and quietly, mouthing the sentences as he went, sometimes saying them aloud too. His eyes were steady and they flickered in the moments of suspense and relaxed during the calmer moments. He wore a faded school shirt and trousers and worn wool socks and had beside him a pair of rugged brown shoes that were too small for him and were about to split in the toes. Sitting there quaintly, speaking the dialogue aloud, holding the book on his knees, reading close to the pages, his hair slanted in their curls that frequently fell over his light gray eyes, gradually turning a page before reaching the end, he read aloud to himself everything he imagined while reading, as if he were all alone in a vast desert with not a soul to hear his childish voice.
He was teased for reading tough books at school but he didn’t pay heed to those who bothered him. He would arrive at school with a new book almost every two weeks and no one understood him. Really he was only being himself whereas everyone else couldn’t perceive what his world meant to him. His world was somewhere else, but his home was right beside him. He made a home in everything he read, knowing that he was different in his own affection. He understood the words and grammar and most of the language even with his youthfulness. He had gone through book after book, classic after classic, and he found no end to his imagination.
Above him the skies howled a jagged, booming roar, as if he were by the sea listening to the waves crash upon shore. He looked up vaguely and his eyes dilated and the lavender clouds were darker now, as the day was reaching its peak when the sun was on the edge of disappearing. The sunset was glowing faintly over the trees where he couldn’t see and he wished to know how much daylight he had left. Again the waves fell and he could almost hear the water being formed up in the clouds, ready to drop anytime. He heard the sky growl, like the rocking of a ship on a stormy sea; far away the rain started falling and, looking behind him saw the spray in the light over Grand Traverse. When the breeze came whirling behind him he stiffened and quickly went back to his book.
He was nearly finished with the book. There was enough light for him to keep reading and he spoke a little louder now. The breeze was soft around him and he got goose bumps while he read. He began to read the sentences faster, mispronouncing words and reading them over again. All he wanted was to finish the book before the lights went out. If it started to rain here he had little to no cover under the oak tree, and he didn’t want to stop reading. Being so near to the end of the book he felt he had to finish; he couldn’t leave it for to-morrow because all of the suspense leading up to where he was now would make the ending seem dull without everything else to bring out its full luster. He didn’t want to rush the story, he couldn’t stand reading something so wonderful so far and then miss a part that would make it all the better.
The breeze blew stronger and cooler on the boy. High above him waves roared in their descent and, falling lightly on his school shirt, the sea dropped its waters as if out of a faucet, and to him it seemed like the rain was falling solely on him. He looked up as the rain dropped and as it fell in greater proportions he protected the book with his arm hanging over it and held the book lower between his knees and hips. The breeze blew his hair around a little and falling droplets of diamonds made their pitter-patter rhythm on his clothes. His socks were becoming soaked now and, putting the book on his lap and lowering his knees, slipped his shoes on. He wriggled them around and began reading again. With eyes moving quickly along the rails of sentences he turned a page and lifted the right of the book and saw he hadn’t very much left to go.
All around waves burst in rapid succession and the spring rains were letting down their heavy beads of glass onto the boy. The rain came down in great drops that landed on the boy’s clothes and were soaking them through. The breeze made him feel cold under his wet shirt. He lowered his knees so he was sitting cross-legged, his ankles one over the other, his head and shoulders bent over the book to keep it out of the rain. The breeze didn’t help as it blew the heavy rain down under him onto the pages. The drops would splash onto the page and he would wipe them off with the side of his hand.
The oak behind him and the other trees nearby all had their branches drooped and the breeze blew them along with the rain. Around the boy the oak branches seemed to reach down to him, as if they wanted to take hold of his hand and walk him home. He would have told the tree not to, but he was too focused.
Sitting in the rain his voice began to fade and he started to chatter in his teeth at times but he forced himself to hold his jaw still. He felt uneasy reading in the rain that soaked him through to his skin. He had always loved the rain and the beautiful scenes it left for him to see and remember. But this rain was different. To him this rain was trying to overturn him. The ringing of the big raindrops falling infuriated him. He tried to block the sound out but it only seemed to grow louder and closer. Alone in the rain with the dusk following close at hand, the boy read to the content of his heart’s pounding and his teeth’s chattering.
After the turn of a page the sea above him flashed altogether as if a lamp had been quickly turned on and off. The groan of the torrent in the sky echoed for long seconds and the clap of lightning came again and he could see the purple-white vein of light burst from the clouds out of the corner of his eye. Illuminating the fields of trees he saw silhouettes of high branches reaching for the clouds. He felt as if the clap were right above him but, peering upward saw only the looming arms of the oak shaking in the breeze. So he went on reading carefully.
Sea after sea crashed upon the shore of clouds and lamps flickered on and off as the rainfall had increased its pouring. The water cascaded off his shoulders and sprinkled onto his cheeks and his hair was becoming more and more soaked. The book he held in both hands was wrinkling at spots where raindrops had fallen. He did the best he could to keep the book safe and dry. His nose sniffled and he wished he could blow the wind away with a whistle and wished he could make the rain stop with a handclap and light a candle up in the sky. He thought he could see the moon behind the clouds but he wasn’t sure. He knew it was somewhere out in the sea swimming aimlessly and he wished the sun would also rise.
The smack of wood against wood he heard not too far away. He abruptly looked far to his left and saw the lights in the white house all on and a figure standing on the porch with the door flat toward him. The figure had long hair that flew wildly with the breeze and was dressed in a white nightgown. It was his mother standing there. He trembled in the cold and his hands felt frozen stiff. The shrill voice called out to him.
“Stephen! Stephen, come inside!”
He breathed deep and, in a broken, sharp voice, he answered.
“Ma, give me just a little longer!”
She called out to him again as if she did not hear.
“Stephen, please come inside now!”
He looked to the book and back to his mother’s silhouette on the porch in the distance and did not know where to go. The voice called again in a pleading tone.
“It’s time for bed, Stephen! Come in out of the rain!”
For only a moment he felt the cold rise off his skin and in that time he struggled up with sore knees and the cold returned and shivered him as he stood. He was a little short for his age.
With hands crossed over holding the book tight to his chest he trotted across the damp lawn hopping to and fro among puddles. His eyes felt to him as wet as the rain and he came to the end of the porch and looked up to his mother. She looked petrified and her eyes were wide in the electric light glowing from the kitchen. Walking to him she took him by the shoulder, leading him inside and shutting the door behind her. He took off his shoes and walked shamefully across the floor with his mother trailing alongside and she spoke to him frantically.
“You missed supper and now you’ve gone and caught cold.” She gazed down at his frowning face and he said nothing.
“What’re you doing out in the rain at this hour?”
“I was reading,” he said softly.
“How can you be reading in the rain?” She asked angrily.
They started up the stairs.
“I like it out there,” he said patiently, “ the air feels nice.”
“You catch cold doing foolish things like that, Stephen.”
“I was almost finished.”
“You can always read later.”
“I wanted to read it then.”
“It’s time for bed, Stephen.”
“Can’t I read ten more minutes?”
She stopped and knelt down in front of him.
“Stephen you’re filthy and you’ve missed supper and stayed awake late reading your foolish book. Don’t talk nonsense to me.”
“Ma, it’s not a foolish book, it’s good.”
“Quit talking foolishly now deary, and go on to bed.”
“I’ve only eight more pages, Ma.”
She stood up and glared at him.
“Give me that book,” she said snatching the book from his little arms. It slipped right out of his grasp.
“Ma, no,” he cried with shimmering eyes.
“Undress and go to sleep, Stephen. Don’t talk like an old fool to your mother.”
She left him lonesome in his room and he whimpered to himself when she slammed the door and his eyes and lips quivered. He undressed and put on his flannel pajamas and slipped into bed. Crying, he went to sleep never knowing if the story had a happy ending.
© Copyright 2016 Liam Strong. All rights reserved.