A summer of hot winds and fiery tempers. The sharks stopped biting and irregular tides left jellyfish washed up on shore, lingering just long enough to get a last sting in before dying. No rain: just that ceaseless wind cracking paint, turning doorknobs, and unpeeling the wallpaper. The old salters, veteran fishers and crabbers, cursed the moon. They gnashed their teeth and ate sand that ground the lining of their stomachs and intestines. Later a few of them crapped little chunks of glass that some mistook for diamonds. The rest of us prayed for rain.   

    Each day my wife, Lena, and I thought it might come: dark greenish clouds bunched across the horizon, and we watched the crop-dusters seed the afternoon clouds. You could tell that the birds wheeling overhead were optimistic about it, too, fluting the edges of the kingfisher sky until the wind wore them out and shouldered them away. Still, we eyed the sky with a strange mixture of suspicion and hope, our breaths crimped tight at our ribs. We prayed that those clouds would stay just for once, that the terrible wind pushing everything from us would stop. But the rain still didn’t come and our pleas went sailing on that wind to the small timber towns deep in the hills where loggers shook their heads in unbounded wonderment at the abundance of their rainfall.


Perhaps it takes a desert to produce a mirage. Perhaps we were driven mad by the sand and the heat. But we didn’t give up. We knew the rain would come. And we were right.

    It started first in our fractured sleep. Clouds gathered, rusting over our salt scorched sky and we could smell ozone of an approaching lightning storm. I dreamed of slugmullion and thought I tasted rain in my soup, under my tongue. Corky, our next-door neighbor, said he felt a quickening in his blood. Lena said it was more like a whistling behind the eardrum. But we all agreed that we felt it dropping down, falling upon the soft palette of our dreams, fat drops of water falling so fast and in such volume that within minutes we feared our trailers would upend and float on a flash flood constructed entirely in the imaginations of our night-time dreaming.

    After seven days and nights, an eerie calm settled over the sea. That’s how we knew it was really coming, at last, not only in our dreams, but here, now. We awoke rumpled, in our dirty clothes, wiping the salt from the corners of our eyes, feeling a sudden and colossal thirst. Overhead the sky was the color of a fresh bruise that would take weeks to heal. I could feel the air reaching saturation, equal parts air and water, uniformly wet. Lena noticed it first; the wind had stopped. She tipped her head to one side and pounded her ear with a flattened palm. That’s when it came: On the tongue and in the hand, falling lightly and with the grace of the petals of flush cherry blooms, each drop a perfect blossom of translucence. Rain drops as round as coins began to fall and suddenly we were millionaires with jewel-studded skin. We lay in massive puddles, backstroking. We drank water from our cupped palms and shoes. We took off our clothes and felt no shame. I watched the rain tamp down the sand and for the first time in months, I felt good, the water working on my heart, allowing it to expand, growing large enough for anything.

    It rained like this for a week, then two. Church attendance swelled and an atmosphere of goodwill prevailed. The sharks started biting again and at last, we thought we had what we wanted. Then the sewers backed up and drainage ditches overflowed. Sandbag crews were dispatched, but too late. After the third week of rain, street signs and tombstones, the very caskets from the graves, lifted from the mud and bumped along a flood river to the sea. Garbage, the hulks of abandoned vehicles, crab pots, and bones of our grandmothers and grandfathers jammed the beach, bucking gently on the tides, awaiting passage to another shore. We thought it was water we wanted, thought it was like looking at the hand of God untying the corset stays of the heavens. We saw then that we were wrong and we began to curse that deep deep need for something more, for miracles here under this ungoverned sky, cursing the part of us that always wants.


People are complaining, so much water within and without. They want the wind back to push this water away. Who can blame them? But I know what will happen next. I can see it unraveling before my eyes: first the heat, then the salt. With lips cracked and flaking, we’ll wish for water once again. But it’ll be wind, unstitching us bit by bit, a crossbow humming an ancient tune, the dark wind muscling through us. Then us, waiting for rain, sure it is rain we need to fill us, we who are still only partially complete, partially not, the wind having carried the best parts of us away.




Gina Ochner writes:  “I live and work in Keizer, Oregon with my husband and children. When I’m not writing, I’m helping my kids at school or learning as much as I can about Russia and Latvia.  Short story collections include The Necessary Grace to Fall and People I Wanted to Be. A novel entitled The Russian Dreambook of Colour and Flight is forthcoming from Portobello press in the UK and from Houghton-Harcourt.”





Back to Freight Stories No. 2

 

Gina Ochsner

Wanting