The whole of the affair started and ended with rain.
She was a cautious driver. Her paternal grandmother was killed on a deserted road five miles from the house; she wasn’t wearing a seatbelt and swerved (everyone said to avoid an animal because she was caring in that way) and she careened into a ditch. The coroner’s report said that she fractured her neck and she suffered blunt force trauma to the chest. The report preceded the internet, and so she did not know what blunt force trauma was at the time. The diagram accompanying the report was wholly useless, but she understood that it was painful.
It killed those her grandmother left behind.
The death for the left behind was temporary, though, for her father was always an erratic driver. He drove as though demons were on his tail and he was chasing the devil, weaving in and out of traffic. He himself survived many accidents, and when last she saw him, he had survived another wife. Her mother counted herself lucky as she left before his string of tragic affairs.
But she herself was a cautious driver. She did not text while driving, though she found herself daydreaming a great deal. In the car on the road she imagined herself in a film—always a tragic film, and her imaginings always took place at the climax. Her music—droll and forgettable—served as the soundtrack.
In her driving recitations she was dying or leaving or in some way irreparably injured. On this day she was revealing to her husband (in her post driving life she was single, painfully so) that she did not love him.
She stood, she imagined, in the rain. She was leaving him and he was crying and she was crying, too. She held out her hands to the rain and she laughed. “Rain,” she imagined herself crying. “It makes all things clean.”
Remarkably, as tears welled in her eyes, it began to rain. She was not religious, but she thought it poignant that rain fell as her tears.
In the corner of her eye she discerned it.
A solitary drop fell from a cloudless sky and landed smoothly on the passenger window. It slid down slowly, leaving a trail of itself in its wake. She was transfixed by this drop, which, to her, resembled a face. Crystalline and otherworldly, the rain’s formation on the glass held her. The face itself was not unique, and could she look back, she would not know why she stared at the drop for so long.
She would not look back. She would careen into the back of the tractor trailer and, unlike her grandmother, she would not suffer blunt force trauma. She would fracture her neck and that would be enough. She would not hear that her organs would be harvested and she would save countless lives and she would not feel the shaking hands pressed lightly against her and she would not hear the voice that beckoned her back.
They spoke of him in whispers. He was old enough to know his own prognosis (he even knew the word prognosis), but they were cautious around him. His mother tried to smile at him at awkward moments, which was the absolute worst. Nothing felt like the speedy flight of death the way a mom’s pursed, doe-eyed smile in the middle of a lame cartoon. Sometimes he thought that she felt like “reminding” him that he would die before he left the donor’s list was cruel. She didn’t seem to understand that talking as though there would be a next year was even more cruel.
He hated the pictures on the walls of the hospital. He was sick, that he knew. He had always been some type of sick. He had never drawn one of the framed pictures, though. He was terminal and it didn’t get worse than that, but he had never been given the chance to say no. He would have said no, of course. The drawings with the tiny card giving the name and age of the artist made his heart leap painfully in his chest. Emily Frank, age 6. Joshua Turner, age 4. Evelyn Landry, age 14. He wondered—and he was certain others did the same—if the artists were still alive. He supposed you had to be a hospital lifer to have enough time to decorate.
His heart was failing even at birth, and he had made it to thirteen. It didn’t seem like enough time, but he figured that ninety wouldn’t seem like enough either. When he was admitted last year and they told him The News, he wanted to be mature. He didn’t want his mom to see him cry. He was supposed to be strong. She called him her rock so often he’d began to believe it. He made it, at first. He didn’t cry at all.
But then he saw those damned pictures. His mom called him those damned pictures, and he didn’t think she’d mind that he thought of them that way. He saw those damned pictures and he thought, “I’m not going to have time to draw one,” and he couldn’t help it. He didn’t cry. He wept.
His breath came in rattled, drawn out gasps now. There wasn’t much they could do. His mom left the room frequently, claiming sneezes and needed a breath of air. He knew she wanted to dry her eyes without him seeing.
The storm came upon the hospital quickly. He liked the rain. It was comforting and quiet, and it made him tired. He could see the green beyond the hospital—the campus (he wasn’t sure why it was called a campus) was surrounded by hills and trees and the vivacity of nature. He could see his mom return but he stared out the window. When the rain began the two images for a moment joined, and it looked as though he and his mom were crying the same thin, streaking tears. They stared out the window so long they did not hear the urgency in the doctor’s voice. The borrowed tears drew him and he couldn’t focus.
He heard the words through a vacuum, and the wet from the rain dripped from his chin and onto the gown. He commented on the rain in the room before laughing lightly at his mistake. He turned to meet his mom’s eyes, and saw that she had rain on her face, too. She kissed the rain from his cheeks before backing away. He would have a long day. He hoped it would still be raining when he got out.
He had been in the room for so long, he didn’t think he would leave. He didn’t want the sun and blues. He wanted rain to wash him and make him clean.
When he awoke his eyes were drawn again to the window. He was, according to his mom, in “recovery.” She gripped his hand so hard it hurt. The rain still soaked her cheek. He turned to gaze out of the window. The pane was still dripping, and in the drops he imagined a face. An immense sadness threatened to overwhelm him, and he gasped for air, deep heaving gasps that were nothing to do with his new heart and sore lungs. Panicked, his mother offered him a cup of water.
“Rain,” he insisted. “I want to taste the rain.”
She left the room, and might have been gone for thirty seconds or thirty minutes. She returned with a cup, rainwater barely clearing the bottom.
“This isn’t clean,” his mother whispered, but he smiled softly. It was his smile, but older. A lived smile.
“It’s rain, Mama,” he replied. “And it makes all things clean.”