Anifre knew the others would soon know what she'd known all of this time, but they—the residents of Little Black—would never readily say anything. They'd simply stare at her neck, then her shoulders, her arms, her elbow's crook. They’d linger there, too civil and provincial to let their gazes drop to her wrists, to her hands' unconscious flutterings at her stomach. But this couldn't go on for much longer. Soon the sisters from The Church of Ezekiel of the Holy Wheel would don their white frocks, tie their gold chains around their waists, the death of Christ tapping their hips when they walked & prayed & danced & shook; soon the sisters would tie a white rag around their oil-slicked hair and stop Anifre--on her way to the grocery, or on her way to the bus stop, or on her way to the large path that ended at water. There was nowhere she could fully hide.
The sanctifying sisters would finger their crosses, pull them into their hands, press the gold into their baptized palms, and raise their crosses to Anifre's forehead; the youngest sister— Anifre's own sibling—would cross Anifre's shoulders, her back, her arms, her breasts, leaving paths of crosses no one could follow.
Anifre screamed. Inside of her dream only her dream could hear her; inside of her dream, her dreaming drowned her. Anifre felt the carefully placed traps in her stomach scream.
Once she'd dreamt her stomach opened up and released thousands of butterflies. She laughed and tried to catch one, which turned into a giant dragonfly and tried to sting her. She laughed, cried, choked on confusion, and the insect turned into a common housefly, sat on her knee, and said something to her she'd never forgive herself for. She raised her hand to kill the fly and remembered her stomach, open, emptied.
Anifre bent her knees, put her right hand on the wooden floorboard & gently sat on the porch. She placed her feet on the first step, stuffed her skirt between her legs, making gauchos. She wanted a slice of her mother's red velvet, but the ants hadn't scattered, despite the promise of a thunderstorm. The air smelled of dogwood, chlorine, & dog fur, Anifre's sweat, her hot hair. She wanted the sky's sweat on her.
A box, containing two books she needed to read & one she wanted to read, sat unopened. She used the box as a table, let it hold a pack of tarot cards (that she wouldn't use because her sister said a tarot reader who bought her own cards & read from that deck died before she got to the end of her hand), a pack of playing cards (for her favorite game of solitaire), & a short glass of iced lemon mint tea. Still no rain.
"Masa il kheer." Anifre put her head close to the box. "Behind you." Her brother stood at the screen door, a smile and then a frown and back to the smile. "What's in the box, Free?" She shook her head and pulled the box closer to her hip. The tea tumbled, the cards barely moved. "Tarot cards, Free? What will they say to you? Your stomach will open and out will walk a forest, plant itself on the streets in your dreams?"
Her brother had been dead before he'd any time to speak of life. When he came to her, he always managed to be older, more intuitive, forceful. Before she had a chance to disinvite him, he was beside her, fingers on her cards, eying her eyes. Pointless to look away, he had a way of always getting to her pupils before her lids closed down. "Tell me, Free. What is in there?" He tapped the box, looked at her stomach.
Anifre felt the dizzy weight of clouds tumbling in the sky. She could see them turning shapes, faster. Still no rain. The clouds moved and turned, migrated from one town to the next. They puffed and heaved and sighed and coughed, dry coughs, dry sighs, dry heaves, dry puffs of air. She looked at her brother and used the cup's mouth as cover. An ant was floating on a cube of ice, another was stuck to the cup's dew.
They heard the sound & their memories' record skipped a beat. Their mother hadn't sung in years, but her voice seemed to put that other, more familiar voice out of their minds. She sang without music, a few feet from the open living room window. Then, she stopped and that other voice took over. "All night & day/just chippin away/it's all in a day's work/trying hard to defend/ the time I spend alone." They'd heard her. “What cha gonna do for me?”
And now Anifre had to leave. The signs, unperturbed, began to thunder & crack in her stomach, a miniature hurricane closing in. She wanted to tell her brother everything she remembered, before it was too late to forget. But her mother's voice, pouring out of the million holes in the screened windows, left a sharp reminder. No one wanted to protect her. They were all after the same thing: the knowledge that sat in Anifre.
"Tell me, Free." She grabbed her box, forgetting the tea, the cards, & heard the crash & thump & thought "thunder." She needed to get to the lake, but there was her brother's mouth in front of her, her brother's hand on her, his fingers unlike any song she wanted to hear. & there, her mother's heated voice, now suffocating the recorded voice. Soon, the sisters would be there. Anfire could feel them all, pressurized.
She thought if she imagined herself at the lake & nowhere else, this elsewhere imagining would transport her, would remove her brother's fingers from her forearm, her mother's singing voice from her feet. Anifre wanted to run or dance or walk into her mother's voice, but she needed to leave the porch before the sisters arrived, each of their hands itching to hold the others, to form a prayer circle around her.
When she was a barely a child, the Sanctified Sisters, mostly teenagers then, met her at the lake & noted her lack of timidity, her absence of clothing. Anifre was seven & hadn't released herself from pleasure mode. She wanted to feel the branches, leaves, trunks, pebbles, split open earth, potato bugs, bird remains, cloud leavings, let-alone cats, ladybugs, earthen worms, on her body. The peopled land, her body.
Anifre can't recall how it happened; first, it was her feet & the land, both damp from the morning's condensation, then, the Sanctified Sisters' sandalled feet & the land's woeful groan, then, the hands in communion with hands; Anifre encircled, the land's disappearance. & all around, girls short as saplings, resolute as weeds, their hands, tough branches, fingers raw in their desire to be entangled.
Later, Anifre would learn the word for those trees whose only desires were to twine until the original thing was hidden, hollowed, dying from the outside as slowly as it dies from the deepest interiors: strangler trees. The Sanctified Sisters, too, stranger stranglers.
The memory of the sisters' hands, their perfected circle, the winds' refusal to enter that circle, popped in her head. Her brother was dead. He couldn't hold her here. She imagined him evaporating & took one step, then another, then the second, the third, & was no longer on her mother's porch. Anifre walked away from the lake, the sisters would be there. Something like a snake slid in her ear, whispered.
Free at the lake
Free on the sidewalk
Free resting on someone's lawn
Free talking to the store clerks
Free waiting for the mailman
Once, Anifre touched her stomach, rubbed it, let her hand linger there. Once, Anifre touched the earth. Once, Anifre asked a question, then another, then sat too long, then looked too closely.
Anifre didn't let her feet lead her from Little Black; the road was too arduous to take alone. She recalled the thing the fly said to her in her dream, recalled her shame, the confusion of shame, & let her stomach guide her. She knew what was there would surprise the sisters, would shock the mother, would satisfy her. But Anifre wasn't ready to touch the thing that rooted & branched & sopped her moisture.
She could still feel it taking shape, the endosperm muscular & absolute, attaching to every wall of her intestines, blossoming in her stomach. Anifre longed for the days when the embryo sac & sperm nuclei were strangers, when the pollen grain itself was too new to desire. She wanted to swallow a few orchids, wanted the rain to drown her from the inside. But there would be no rain.
I'm not one who writes traditional plot-driven narratives, but mood-driven visual lyric narratives. I think of my stories as "art house" cinema, in a way. For "When the Rain Blows," the mood is one of surrendering to the (un)known world. The main character is being forced to transition from childhood to adulthood because of her free spirited nature. Her dead brother, who enters to harass her, to force her to reveal the secret of her bulging mid section, creates tension and anxiety for Anifre. It's a story that plays with ideas of the mystical nature of the South that often runs counter to the evangelical South, and the young girl who tries to figure out where she fits.
I'm influenced by the stories of Etgar Keret, Ludmilla Petrushevskya, Lorna Goodison, Edwidge Danticat, Roald Dahl, & Dionne Brand, all of whom I teach in my courses. Currently, I’m a Visiting Assistant Professor in the MFA program at LSU. My work can also be found in Blackbird, bluestem, Callaloo, Connotation, Crab Orchard Review, The Drunken Boat, Drunken Boat, Esque, Pyrta, Talking Writing, among others. The story here is part of a collection I’m working on called, Cognitive Disorders.
Metta Sama currently lives and works in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.