Patrick E. McLean
Patrick E. McLean
What the Rain Brought

What the Rain Brought


The summer was immense. It was so hot that the mud dried in the blasted cracks in the yard as all the crops died. Across the range, cattle moaned as they cropped the dried grass and pawed at the creek bed for water. And still, the sun hammered the earth.

Each day they would scan the sky for clouds, and each day this sky was as pure and blue as a tropical ocean. They were drowning in sunshine.

Each day the kids would pump water from the well and take a bucket to the garden, trying to save as many plants as they could. The children were tiny but determined against the immensity of the land.

Even if they could have saved the garden there wouldn’t be enough silage for the cows come winter.

The next day the well ran dry. They took the wagon 15 miles to the river to fill every container they had with water. When they returned they found that the cattle had eaten the well-watered garden. His children cried.

The cattle smelled the water collected in the milk jugs and pans and jars in the back of the wagon. They crowded close aggressively large but gentle with dehydration.

Ethan drove the wagon right up to the porch and handed the water inside straight from the back. He unhitched the horses and led them around to a back window where his wife gave them water from a pot.

He bedded them down in the barn, the hay on the floor so dry he worried that his boots might spark a fire by grinding against the boards.

Back in the house, the children were quiet. Ethan looked at the window and hung his head. Finally he said, “We leave in the morning. Back to the river and we’ll head South.”

Mary gasped a little and said, “but what about our things? We can’t just leave…”

“There’s no water,” he said, his voice growing sharp with her for the first time maybe ever.

She nodded, pressed her lips together, and tried not to cry. But she was weary, weary to the bone. The tears came, silent and huge dropping to the dry boards below. Crying made her feel better and feel worse. He went outside, kicking his way through the dying cattle. He doubted they’d have the strength to make the drive to the river, but he leave them loose and perhaps some of them would survive.

He came back after supper. That night he couldn’t sleep for the cattle lowing outside and chewing the wood of the house. He stared at the ceiling and thought of everything needed of him that he could not provide. Then he thought it would be good to cry but no tears would come. He felt better about himself for not wasting water. He knew he would need his strength, but he could not sleep. 

The air hung heavy in the house and the sound of livestock filled the air. He thought about closing the windows to shut out the pitiful lowing of the cattle, but it was just too hot. 

The next morning everyone was slow to get up. The night’s heat had wrung every drop of water out of them. By the time he got the horses hitched it was nearly noon and none of them had eaten. Mary cried and the children cried and he could not get them off the porch. He raised his voice and cursed at his children for the first time. Then he begged them. Then he threatened his wife. But still, they sat on the porch of the dry, dying farm and wept.

Out of frustration, Ethan kicked one of the cows and it fell over as if dead. That broke the spell of his anger. All of them looked at the dead animal and it sank in. Without rain nothing would live here. It was time to go.

Ethan loaded the last of their scant possessions into the back of the wagon. Mary climbed onto the buckboard refusing to speak or even look at him. As if somehow this was all his fault. 

As he stepped up onto the Wagon, he heard it. The sound was so strange, he did not recognize it. He thought that maybe the axle had cracked or part of the barn had fallen in. Then he felt the wind. And smelled the moisture. 

Again there was thunder and the cow he had taken for dead rose from the ground. He could see the darkening — clouds by God — behind the barn. He jumped off the wagon and ran to see. 

Thunderheads, miles away across the plain, but coming towards them fast. And with them sheets of rain. Lighting lanced into the Earth and he howled with laughter and sang and as the first drops hit them. 

The skies open up and the water poured forth on the land, swelling the broken Earth, Ethan fell to his knees and wept with joy and relief. Mary and the girls had taken cover in the barn and she called to him to see if he was all right.

Ethan rose, baptized anew, and joined his family in the barn. 

Mary said, “Look at you. You’re soaked.”

She brushed the wet hair from his face.

He seized her hand and kissed it.

Patrick E. McLean
Patrick E. McLean
Short fiction every week and serial novel "A Town Called Nowhere"