In this allegory to quiet allegory, a citizenry stands in thrall to the fickle flux of dearth and excess, and the promise of new knowledge reveals but a revived status quo.
This was the time that came directly before the rains.
A man whose life was a treadmill, built out of sidewalks. Another man who never apologized for anything to anyone within three feet. A girl, aged seven, with knots in her hair and a crush on her older brother, who is a kite hanger, now in prison. A conversation on a telephone overheard by a boy who liked to hide in the pantry, smelling the opened sack of flour. A woman standing on the roof of her house, trying not to fall off or to fall over, trying to see into her neighbor’s backyard. A couple and their baby and four sturdy crows who belonged to the zebra in the smallish backyard. A textbook on the sidewalk, left there by a stranger. A story discarded. A Bible salesman, going door to door, when everybody already had a Bible and no one bothered reading anymore. A tortoise, a former pet, something moving slowly down the street, walking right . . . down . . . the . . . middle, unnoticed.
And the parched ground that one day presented itself as if it had always been that way.
And the ground curled up into the shape of a coy smile, and it gave up on everything again and again, and then it was dry as a pile of dust and ash the wind wouldn’t even bother to lift off the ground. The envy of a tumbleweed. The parched skin of the earth, embarrassed for itself. When barrenness becomes a danger.
The people contemplate a national day of mourning. They attempt to legislate the ground into rebirth, but they can’t. All politics are hopeless in the absence of imagination.
The sky blushed a phantom purple. An uneven cloud swallowed up the volume over their heads. The sound of static, of glass breaking, of someone blowing a candle out in a church. A secret no longer worth keeping.
And then it rained over everyone and everything.
The man, the other man, the girl, the conversation on the phone. It rained on the boy in the pantry, the stranger on the roof, and it rained on the tortoise. The Bibles were soaked and words ran together in a way that was somehow more appropriate, possibly, holier. It rained for days that began to lose shape when the next day brought nothing more than rain again. Nothing more than rain on the zebra, and on the crows.
It got so that the people couldn’t remember what clothes looked like, or hair, or driveways. Some lost their minds after the rains finally came. The wetness of a wet autumn, different from the wetness of winter, or vacation. There was so much rain they abandoned gratitude for something more useful.
And all at once, just when it seemed the rains would never stop, they suddenly did. The rains stopped and the sky opened up yellow and clean like a melon. The air had a sweetness to it like tears, and for the first time, a quiet fell out of somewhere and covered everything again.
Something had shifted in the people.
There was the time before the rains, and the time after the rains. And in the time after the rains, the people all fell into a queue and did what they were told to do by whatever kind of person or victim or answer was right there in front of them, willing to do just that.
Matty Byloos is the author of the short story collection Don’t Smell the Floss (Write Bloody Books, 2009) and is currently working on his first novel. He received an MFA from the Art Center College of Design, and his art has been exhibited nationally and internationally. His writing is featured or forthcoming in The Portland Review, Everyday Genius, Housefire, The Magazine of Bizarro Fiction, Matchbook, and others. He is the editor and publisher of Smalldoggies, and he hosts, along with Carrie Seitzinger, the Smalldoggies Reading Series in Portland, Oregon.