Rainy days and mondays
© Joanne Harris
You’d think you’d need to apply to be a raingod. That when someone was dishing out the heavenly attributes, they might just have stopped to think for a moment about what it might mean to the recipient - to be rained on, day in, day out, winter and summer, morning and night. Though to be fair, it isn’t just rain; all kinds of precipitation apply, including snow of all kinds, sleet, mizzle, drizzle, sudden downpours, Scotch mist, London fog, April showers, lightning storms, hail, tropical monsoons and of course plain old rain; light, moderate, heavy, and all other possible variants thereof.
But someone has to do it; and for the past five thousand or so years in this place, that someone has been me.
Of course I have Aspects all over the planet. In the rainforests of South America I still exist as Chac, of the Mayans, or Tlaloc, the Aztec god, spouse of Chalchiuhtlicue of the Jade Skirt; in parts of Africa I walk as Hevioso, keeper of the celestial draught; in Australia as Bara, the monsoon deity, forever at war with Mamariga, the dry wind. I have seen dragons in China, kami in Japan; as Yu Chi, the Master of Rains, I defeated Huang Di in the time of the Yellow Emperor. I was Taranis the Thunderer; Enlil, the Barley-Sprouter; Triton, the Calmer of Storms. I was revered; loved; worshipped; blessed; cursed; entreated and invoked.
Nowadays, I just do my best to keep dry.
You know, it’s tough being a raingod past his prime. In the old days, rain mattered; a winter storm brought fear and awe; a summer shower was cause for celebration. Nowadays the weather forecasters have it all stitched up. Nowadays you just watch the people go by with their raincoats on and their umbrellas unfurled and you think; why bother?
Of course, I couldn’t have chosen a worse location to settle down. Manhattan, New York; where nobody notices anything; where the sidewalks are slick with takeaway grease and the elements are just another part of the city’s big twenty-four-hour light-show. And yet they are aware of me – on some subconscious level, I sense that they are – depressed and sour-faced as they are, turning up their collars at my approach, glancing at the sky with bewildered expressions as the month’s average rainfall doubles, trebles, in a single day.
I’ve been here twelve months. That’s twice as long as I usually stay in any one place. But New York suits me; I like the way the neon shines through the wet windowpanes of my little fourth-floor two-room flat; I like the hot sour smell of summer rain on dusty pavements; the crack of electricity over the tall buildings; the crystal-powder snow.
My present name is Arthur Pluviôse. Sounds kinda French, my landlord says, with a trace of disapproval. I tell him (quite truthfully) that I have never been to France (although I’ve heard that another of my Aspects still lives in Paris - as a cabaret dancer, it so happens, specializing in wet T-shirts and working under the sobriquet Reine Beau). I myself have no particular occupation. I’m still living off the earnings from my former job as aide to a quack rainmaker from the Southern states, who, after a lifetime of fraudulent claims, finally went mad in the summer of last year, after a visit to the little farming town of Deuteronomy, Texas resulted in a freak six months’ worth of uninterrupted rain.
I still think back to Deuteronomy with some nostalgia. That was the last of the great freak rainstorms, corn washed clean away, clouds louring overhead, thunder rolling like a wagon train across the sky. A man could be proud of that kind of work; making a difference; wide open spaces; walking the land like he owned it instead of the other way around.
This city’s different, though. At first I didn’t see it – just another forest of city block trees, all glass and concrete dark in the rain, neon stuttering over dripping store-fronts, and people in black overcoats, heads down, eyes lowered, the occasional pinwheel umbrella shape tumbling gaily down the street – oh yes, I thought; I’d seen this all before. London; Moscow; Rome; all cities are the same under the rain. All people, too.
And then I met her. The girl. You know who I mean. I’d seen her from my window a couple of times; you can’t miss her, she stands out in a crowd. Hair to her waist; eyes like the sea; even in the rain she was wearing a yellow dress.
This time she’d stopped to shelter in the lobby. My lobby. Happenstance, you see. I happened to be on my way down; I happened to see her; she was soaked to the skin and crying bitterly. I led her into my bare little room with the rain-grey curtains and the cloud-grey carpet, gave her one of my sweaters to wear and made her a cup of lemon tea.
“Damn rain,” she said.
I gave her a towel to dry her hair. She was a true blonde; hair like the sun as it first opens its eye from behind a stormcloud. She had some kind of a foreign name - Swedish or something - though her friends called her Sunny, and there were little daisies embroidered on the hem of her yellow dress - or maybe they were real daisies, I don’t know – and she was wearing summer sandals made of green string, and I fell in love with her right there and then, slam, bang, without any warning, like a hailstorm out of the blue.
“I know,” I said. “You should have taken an umbrella.”
“I don’t have one,” said Sunny.
“Help yourself,” I told her, opening a cupboard door and showing her the contents.
For a while she studied them; blue eyes widening.
Well, I guess I do have rather a lot of umbrellas. Black umbrellas with teak handles; silk umbrellas with ivory handles; sensible blue foldable umbrellas that fit in a pocket; frivolous fruity red umbrellas; children’s umbrellas with stand-up frog eyes; transparent umbrellas like jellyfish hoods; umbrellas emblazoned with works of art (Monet’s water-lilies, Lowry’s little men, Cézanne’s sleepy-sloe-eyed beauties); psychedelic English golfing umbrellas; American college umbrellas in fraternity colours; chic French umbrellas with the caption, Merde, il pleut!
She looked at them for a long time. “I guess you must really like umbrellas,” she said, wiping her eyes.
“I’m a collector,” I said. “Go on, choose one.”
“I wouldn’t like to spoil your collection.”
“I don’t mind. I’d be happy.” Outside it was raining harder than ever. “Please,” I said. “I think it’s going to be a wet summer.”
She chose one then; a sky-blue umbrella with a slim silver-gilt handle and a pattern of daisies. It suited her, and I said so, aware that something quite unprecedented was happening to me. Alarm bells were ringing in my mind, but I could hardly hear them for the angel voices that seemed to follow her around wherever she went.
“Thank you,” said Sunny, and then she was crying again, her face in her hands like a little girl, the umbrella held up against her chest. “I’m sorry,” she said, hiccupping a little. “It’s just the rain. I can’t bear it. Like in the song, you know? Rainy days and Mondays always get me down. It’s so cold. And it gets so dark…” – She broke off and gave me a forced smile. “I’m sorry,” she said again, “I know it’s stupid, but I just hate it. Does that sound crazy?”
I swallowed my pride. Even a raingod has it, you know, and I have to say I’d considered that rainstorm one of my finest. “Of course not,” I said, taking her hand. “You’ve probably got that – what do you call it? – that SAD thing – Seasonal Affective Disorder. Right?”
“I guess.” She smiled again, and it was like daybreak. Birds sang, flowers flowered, assorted wildlife gambolled joyously through the springtime forests. Oh, I had it, all right. I had it bad.
“Look,” I said. “The rain’s stopped.”
It gave me heartburn to do it, but it was worth it just for the expression on her face. I wiggled my big toe, and the clouds opened, just a little. In a wheatfield in Kansas, workers were astonished to see fat clumps of snow drifting from a hitherto cloudless sky.
Over our heads, a single feather of sunlight fluttered down.
“Look, a rainbow,” said Sunny.
“Hm. Whaddya know.” I once had an Aspect, - as Ngalyod, the Rainbow Serpent – that could conjure up a highway right across the worlds into the Kingdom of the Dead. I lifted my little finger. In Kinshasa the rainy season arrived nearly three months early. In Manhattan the rainbow brightened, the rainbow doubled, and suddenly half of the city was alight in a sevenfold blaze of colour.
“Wow,” said Sunny.
“Couldn’t have had the rainbow if we hadn’t had the rain.”
She looked at me with those amazing eyes. “Can we go out in it?”
“Sure, if you like.”
I chose an umbrella – brown, with a pattern of concentric circles – and together – she with her own umbrella of blue skies and daisies - we went out once more into the street. The sun glittered on the flat blue puddles as she stamped and splashed them with her sandaled feet. Light rain fell, but with a cheery sound, like small hands clapping. Storm clouds gathered, sensing my approach, but I dispersed them as best I could with a discreet wave of the hand. In Okinawa, Japan, a freak hailstorm blitzed a shopping mall, causing fourteen million dollars’ worth of damage.
Around us, rainbows dervish-danced.
“This is crazy,” said Sunny, laughing. “I’ve never seen anything like this before.”
Smiling, I nodded. I doubt anyone else in New York had, either.
There must be Aspects of us in every single part of the world. Old gods, lost gods, half-forgotten mortal gods, eking out a living in cabarets and travelling sideshows where once we had kingdoms of our own. It’s easy to forget oneself; to work in terms of human lifespan, moving regularly, finding ways to camouflage the skills we may have retained – the occasional healing, that unexpected flash of divine inspiration, the stormclouds gathering out of a blue August sky to settle sullenly on the parching land.
I wondered if she knew – whether she suspected, even in dreams –what she really was. Fragments of Aspect, scattered and sown over an ever-expanding world. Atum hatching from the solar egg; Theia, consort of Hyperion; Amaterasu in Japan; Tezcatlipoca in Mexico; or just Sól, the Bright One; sweet, simple Sunny with her daisy umbrella under the shining rain.
On the whole, I thought she didn’t know. She was too much a creature of the moment, was Sunny; in tears one second and laughing in delight the next. I’d never seen anything like it before. Oh, I’d met gods – Aspects - Incarnations. You sometimes do in my business, though most of them are broken-down old things, always moaning about their glory days and the lack of proper temples, and how worshippers aren’t what they used to be.
Sunny wasn’t like that. Even in New York, where nobody notices anything, people noticed her. Just in passing, from the corner of their eye, but they noticed her; faces brightened, bent backs straightened as if by magic; traffic cops with faces like dough relaxed imperceptibly as she went by; and very often people just stopped and looked up, or smelt the wind, or smiled suddenly without knowing why.
And what about me? Tell you the truth, it was killing me to keep up the pretence. My gut ached; my head was splitting; my fingers and toes were all in knots from wiggling and twitching the clouds away. All around the world things were happening beyond my control; a shower of fish in Mexico City; a mini-hurricane in Ealing, London; twelve centimetres of rainfall in less than ten minutes over a French village on the river Baïse. And there were live frogs in the rain. Green ones.
But Sunny was happy, and that’s what mattered. All around her rainbows danced; the rain sang; the sun shone from its bracket of purple cloud. It was killing me; and yet I wished it could last forever, sun and rain walking hand-in-hand along a busy street in Manhattan, New York.
She was wet, so I bought her some rubber boots – yellow, with ducks – to splash with in the puddles, and a blue raincoat with buttons shaped like little flowers. We ate ice-cream under the shelter of her daisy umbrella, and talked – she of a childhood in sunny Sweden or wherever it was she imagined she’d lived, I of my adventures in Deuteronomy, Texas. And all the time the rainbows danced, and people walked past with vague and bewildered expressions of delight and sometimes commented on the unusual weather, or, most often, said nothing at all.
I held out for a long, long time. For her sake I did, but even I couldn’t keep it up forever. My head was throbbing; my fingers itching to let the clouds do their worst. And at last they did; they obscured the sun, the rainbows died, the clapping hands became great hammering bolts of rain on the daisy umbrella, and just like that, her smile went in.
“Arthur? Please? I have to go.”
I looked at her. Tell the truth, I hadn’t stopped looking at her. “Rainy days, right?”
“That’s okay. It’s not your fault.”
“But I want you to know I had a real good time.” She smiled once, the shy smile of a little girl thanking a grown-up for the nice party. She turned - then she darted back towards me and dropped a kiss on my cheek. “Can we do this again?” she said. “Some time when it isn’t raining?”
“Sure we can,” I lied. “Anytime.”
Of course I knew even then that it was impossible. Even in my rosy haze I was already making plans to move out, to pack my bags and flee the city, perhaps even the continent itself. As it happened, I didn’t have to go that far. I simply moved out of my little flat, taking my umbrella collection with me. I ended up in a room in Brooklyn, where for some reason it now rains far more often than it does in Manhattan.
It wasn’t that I didn’t want to see her again – gods alive, I wanted it more than anything – but there was the business of our opposing Aspects to consider, and the repercussions that our meeting might have on the world. Hurricanes, twisters, tidal waves – even the truest romantic knows you can’t build a love affair on nothing but rainbows.
And so I let her go, and watched her all the long way down the street, yellow dress and daisy umbrella and all, and as she reached the end of the road I distinctly saw a wand of sunlight pierce the clouds and land directly onto the small bright figure walking out of my life forever.
“I love you,” I told her, as I stood there in the rain. Water ran down my face in cold little rivulets. My headache was gone, but there was a new pain in my heart that hadn’t been there a moment before.
Like I said, it was going to be a wet summer.