The End of All Things Sounds Like Rainfall
Mama closes all the curtains tight, but I still see the faint red glow. She yells when I try to pull the fabric back. It has sunflowers on it. She picks up the laundry basket, the one for toys, and starts collecting. She takes little cars from the carpet and drops them in with the stuffed animals and building blocks. I hear an explosion and then police sirens, but those fade away.
“You want chocolate?” Mama says. She reaches on top of the china cabinet, the one full of picture frames. I don’t know anyone in the photos, never met a single one. I ask Mama how come, and she just says that all those people died a long time ago. Mama brings down a hidden candy bar and hands it to me.
I watch her disappear down the hall. She steps into the closet, the one with the washer and dryer, and reemerges, arms loaded with sheets, only to disappear again into her bedroom. I wait, making sure she doesn’t come right back out.
I walk to the sunflower curtains and hold the fabric for a moment. It feels rough and scratchy. People are screaming outside. Earlier, when there was more than just buzzing static on the TV, Mama started crying as the news anchor said goodbye. Then it cut to footage of the sky on fire. I asked Mama where that was, where did they have clouds that looked like they were boiling. She just turned the TV off and hushed me. But I think she was hushing herself.
I pull the curtains apart only so far to leave a crack big enough for one eye. Outside there is so much smoke in the air that it’s like a foggy morning. The red glow looks far away, but I can’t be sure because of the smoke. The light bleeds around all the edges of everything, like sunset. It pulses. Maybe it’s growing. Maybe it’s not sunset but more like sunrise. It’s going to keep coming until all the city is red, until all the houses on the block are red. Maybe it’s coming for me and Mama.
Someone runs across our lawn, just a shadow in the smoke. It turns and looks at the window so I pull the curtain closed, tight. I hope the shadow doesn’t try to come through the door. Mama installed extra locks when we moved in, and we’re all closed up now, latches and bolts and chains. But the shadow could still try to break it down. It could punch right through the glass and drag me out into the smoke.
I find Mama in her room putting new sheets on her bed. I don’t disturb her, just stay in the hallway, peeping in. She doesn’t notice I’m there. She pulls on the last corner of the fresh sheets and then lies face down on the bed. Mama likes the way warm, clean sheets smell. It is probably one her most favorite things ever.
She’s crying again. I want to rush over to her and hold her hand and smooth her hair like she does to me when I feel bad. If I feel sick, she’ll give me ginger ale and popsicles and chicken soup, but it doesn’t really work until she sits on my bed and wipes my face with a wet washcloth and rubs my stomach. I did this for her once when she was upset, crying when she broke Grandma’s old baking dish. I petted her hand and told her it was all right and that we could fix it, but she just kept crying.
I back away from her bedroom door, tip-toeing to the living room so she won’t hear me. No one has broken in through the window or door. The red glow is brighter around the curtains. I eat the candy bar while sitting on the couch. The chocolate is pale in spots and tastes chalky. I don’t finish it, instead tucking the wrapper around what remains, and then I throw it back on top of the china cabinet.
Most of the photos inside the cabinet are of Grandma. Grandma on the beach in a big hat. Grandma leaning against an old truck with her arm around a young Mama. Mama says that she died way before I was born, and the sound in her voice makes it seem like it was life times ago. That’s how Mama usually likes to divide all things. From the moment of my birth, time is all years and months and days and minutes. But before I’m born, time stretches back infinite and unending.
A siren starts to wail. It’s the disaster siren at the fire station. The wailing breaks, sputters for a second, until it comes back on, and at the same time, the lights in the house flicker. Mama appears in the hallway just as the lights die completely. She disappears into darkness. Then the siren dies, too.
“Buddy?” Mama says. She sounds frightened.
So many people start screaming. It’s like every person on the block screaming at once. All their voices together sound like some kind of monster, screeching and bloodthirsty.
Before Mama can stop me, I run over and rip the curtains open. I pull too hard, and the rod jumps up off the supports. The sunflowers tumble to the carpet. The smoke has thinned. Other houses on the block are like ghosts, hazy, almost there. The glow is red and orange and yellow now, a strange rippling, pulsing blur of lights. Streaks of fire rain down from the sky. A house catches ablaze across from us. Black smoke reaches from the roof like a column. A person on fire dashes out the front door and collapses into the street.
I start screaming, but Mama grabs me. She tries to pick me up, like when she used to cradle me, but I’m too big now. I’ve been too big for a while. Instead she kneels, holding me, petting my back. I stop screaming but still shake. Wet nose, wet face. I wipe with my shirtsleeve.
A glowing red rock flies through the window, shattering the glass. It rolls across the carpet, steaming, leaving a trail of charcoal dust. The smoke pours into the living room, and it tastes like burning rubber. We both start choking. Mama pulls me along to the hall closet. She shuts us inside and stuffs sheets under the gap. We have very little room, but she sits on the floor and pulls me into her lap.
“What do we do, Mama?” I say.
She smoothes the back of my hair. “What do you like?” she asks.
“I like you.”
“But what makes you so giddy-happy it makes you dizzy?”
“I’m not sure,” I say. I try to think about something that makes me feel that way, what Mama calls giddy-happy, but it’s like when she said it all happy thoughts went right out of my head. It’s like I can’t remember what happy is. “What’s yours, Mama?”
She makes a little sigh. Happy-sad. “Helping my mama shuck ears of corn,” she says.
“Why that?” I start to taste the burning rubber.
“Because I love corn,” Mama says. “And I like the way the silk feels between my fingers, so soft. And we always did it together, on the porch, putting the scraps into a plastic bag. And it meant it must have been summer time. That way when I remember it, no matter when, it is always a little bit summer.”
My chest is tight. It feels hard to breath now. Mama stops rubbing my back. With my ear to her chest, I hear her short little breaths. But then they are not there anymore. I’m just lying in her limp arms. The chorus of screaming almost seems like it’s ready to break through the closet door. Like the house is being torn apart by wild creatures.
I close up my eyes and try not to listen to the screaming or to Mama’s silent chest. Mama had asked me what my favorite thing was. She loved remembering ears of corn because it reminded her of summer. My favorite part of summer is thunderstorms with really heavy rain. Rain that falls so fast it’s blinding. I like rain so heavy that the ground can’t absorb the water fast enough, and the lawn turns into a lake. I like to lie on my back in the water. It’s warm like a bath. I let the rain wash over me, open my mouth and let it fill me up.
The rain is so deafening, pounding the ground around my head. It pounds and pounds until it’s like static, like white noise. My ears are full of rain hitting the ground, the roof, the street, the window. It’s so constant and loud it’s like I can’t hear it anymore. The rain is so heavy it’s like it’s not even there. It’s almost like silence.
Thomas Price is a writer living in New Orleans, where he obtained an MFA from the Creative Writing Workshop at UNO. His fiction has appeared in The Chattahoochee Review, The Barcelona Review, and The Los Angeles Review, where he was a finalist for their 2017 Flash Fiction Award. Find him on Twitter.
Image: Flickr / Geoff Sloan