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By Matt Mitchell
I light my candle and look up to where I’d often seen her looking when she was here: to the western sky. What for? Rain, I guess. I’m Earl Harper. I farm soy and corn. Her name is Adelie. You might think I’m sweet on her, and you’d be right. I love her, too. She resides on Primrose Lane. I say that in the present tense because I believe she’s still there, even though she hasn’t taken a step in almost forty years. I remember the day she showed up in Pratchard. I’ll never forget it. *** Dan and I were sitting with our chairs tilted back against the front wall of the town mercantile. Dan had a bottle of Coke in his hand and I was sitting on his left listening to the creaking of the rusty metal 7-Up sign that was swinging lazily back and forth above us. Dan was a good man who was always trying to sell me “salvation.” I was never willing to buy it, though. I’d spent too much of my life watching crops wither and die because it wouldn’t rain. My family had gone that route, too. My mother withered up on the inside and died. Same as everyone else I’d ever loved. It’d only rained a little over the past two years and times were very tough. I’d had no crop to speak of the previous year and, as a result, no income. I’d signed a loan at the bank that year to irrigate, but there wasn’t enough water. That put me in dire straits. Dan would have had me to pray for rain, but I’d seen the good it would do for someone with all the faith in the world to get down on their knees and pray for rain and get another month of drought in response. What good was faith for a man like me? I reckon I was drying up, too. Salvation was just another hypocritical promise
in the face of death. Either way, you always dry up and die. Just like the land. I was about to change the subject and complain about the heat, but then Dan saw something that made me sit up and take a look. "Who's this coming here?" "Got me," I answered. I pushed my hat back and dropped my chair’s front legs back down to the porch, trying to see who it was. It didn’t take long to find out. She was as pretty as a spring morning. She parked right in front of the mercantile and got out of that old beat up pickup she drove. She was wearing one of those soft, flowing spring dresses. She walked right by me and Dan and when she did I swear I smelled rain. I hopped to my feet and skittered down to the sidewalk because I couldn’t see the sky from under the porch, but when I looked up there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. “I thought I smelled rain,” I said. “Me, too.” Dan scrubbed the stubble on his chin for a moment, but then he shrugged passively. He was the town postmaster; rain didn’t interest him like it did me. She came back out directly, and I asked her what her name was. “Adelie.” “Where you from? If you don’t mind my asking.” “I’m from Louisiana, but my granny left me her house down on Primrose Lane.” “You didn’t bring any rain with you from Louisiana, did you?” I asked. She looked up at the sky. “Maybe,” she said with a smile, and I couldn’t say another word; I had a lump in my throat the size of a sweet potato. I fell in love with her that day standing out by the mercantile. I know it sounds phony, but it wasn’t. She had a bag of items she’d bought in the mercantile, so I took the bag and put it in the back of her old truck. Then I opened her door for her. She brushed by me and again I caught the unmistakable, overpowering smell of rain.
I felt light headed – the smell of rain will do that to a man that hasn’t had it for a while. It sounds dumb, but it’s true. It’s like a drug; it’ll get you high. And it had been ten long months since the last puddle had gathered on Primrose Lane or anywhere else in Bratscomb County. I think she’d turned to look at me when she sat down, but my eyes were closed and my head was tilted upwards. I tried to pull that smell of rain out of the air and hold on to it for as long as I could. It was the most beautiful smell on earth. It always will be. “Harper!” Dan said from the porch. “You gonna keep that young lady from her duties all the day?” I looked back at him and then at her and I must have blushed mightily, because she did too. “Harper, is it?” she asked. “Yes, ma’am,” I said. “Thank you for helping me.” “You’re welcome.” I pushed the door of her truck closed and gave her what must have been an awfully timid grin. She gave a grin back, though, and said that there were some things she needed help with out at the house. She asked me if I could come give her a hand – If I didn’t have anything else to do, she said. Dan the Postmaster popped up from his seat and howled. “To do!” he said. “He hasn’t had anything to do in two years! I’ll drive him over myself, my dear. And if you make banana pudding near as well as your dear grandmother did, I would love for you to stir up a batch!” She said it might not be as good as her granny’s, but she would certainly try. I agreed to assist her the next day. My mouth said goodbye, but my eyes were scanning the horizon for clouds. But the smell of rain was gone, and I began to think, Is it coming from her? I watched the truck disappear down the black highway that ran through brown, dusty earth. My farm was a good fifteen miles outside of town, so before I headed home early that evening I decided to make a pass down Primrose Lane.
Primrose Lane was one of the few parts of the whole county that was shaded by a wealth of old oaks and hickories. Bratscomb County was flat and featureless, except for corn and wheat fields. Trees were rare. But Primrose Lane was a lovely stretch of road, with trees on both sides and some down the middle that predated the town proper. It was the first time I’d been down Primrose Lane in a couple years, and I have to say I was kind of shocked to see it like it was: the trees were all but leafless. The remaining leaves were brown or yellow. The lovely green lawns that I’d cut when I was a kid during the summer, once a blanket of soft green, were little more than dust. The entire stretch of road, once green and pretty, was now brown and dying – just like everything else in the world; my world, at least. Adelie’s home was near the end of the street, owning both of the last two lots on the street. It was a beautiful old house, and as I drove by that night I slowed to a crawl. I had my window down and I was straining to smell that wonderful aroma that for some strange reason clung to her. It wasn’t perfume, I was sure of that. She hadn’t doused herself with anything made by a human that smelled that much of a rolling thunderhead. There were a few lights on, and they glowed orange and warm. I suddenly longed to be inside there with her. As I was drifting away on the wings of that strong reverie I saw a flutter of something in the back yard and I slammed on the brakes. I was right in front of her house, and looking back behind it down the side I could just make out a shape moving there. My first thought was that it was laundry on a line, that she’d forgotten to bring it in, and it was whipping about in the wind. It was laundry, all right, but it was on her, not on the line. I shut off the truck and stepped out onto the street and walked toward her a little. She didn’t seem to have heard me, or she was on the same wings of reverie I’d just been on. She was in a small clearing, soaking up moonbeams in her long brown hair, wearing a long silky robe that flowed softly in the breeze. Her chin was tilted up toward the sky. I felt awkward suddenly, like I was snooping, so I called out to her.
“Adelie!” I said, but she either didn’t hear me or was ignoring me. I took a few steps closer and called out again, but she still didn’t hear me. I felt like a peeper again, so I shamefully got back in my truck and drove away. As I drove to the farm that night I couldn’t stop thinking about her. I was so worried that she wouldn’t like me. We were about the same age, she might have been a few years older than me, but here I was just an old hick farmer, and her living on Primrose Lane, the prettiest house and street in the whole county! And she... she was the prettiest woman by far. *** The next day Dan and I drove over to her house and she put us straight to work. It felt good, like I was useful, to work a day like that. It had been so long since I’d done anything – all my tractors were so well greased and clean they might have slid across a field without touching the soil. Adelie brought lemonade at lunch and fed us sandwiches and banana pudding. I can say this much, if her grandmother made a better pudding I might have died to taste it; Adelie’s was the best I’d ever had. Dan said it was “like manna from heaven.” I reckon he was right. Whenever she was near me that day I got woozy, like I was in a daydream. I just couldn’t escape that intoxicating smell of her! It was so wonderful, I can’t begin to describe how much so. She invited us to stay for dinner, and I quickly said yes, but Dan declined. He had to get home to his wife who would be looking for him, but he said we should enjoy ourselves in his absence. She agreed. I think I may have swooned. Along about dark I was repairing the banister at the foot of the stairs in the living room. Once I finished I walked to the kitchen to see if I could help, but Adelie wasn’t there. The smell of her overpowered her cooking so much that it seemed there should have been a sound of thunder from
somewhere outside. That was when I heard it, and it was what I’d expected to hear: the unmistakable sound of distant thunder. I ran out the back door and there she was, in the same spot I’d seen her in the night before, and the wind whipped through her dress. I spent a moment in agony trying to figure out what was more beautiful: her or the rumbling thundercloud I saw gaining momentum in the west. She was staring up at it, in the same direction she’d been looking the night before. Her hands were folded together up under her chin. Looking back, I remember that she was always looking up at the western sky. At least in the short time I knew her she was. She would never turn her back to the west for long without turning back. She never stayed indoors for long, either, unless there were windows open and she could see the sky. In her bedroom, she’d moved the head of the bed right up under the window on the west wall of the house. How wonderful she was. I ran to her in my excitement, but when I got there, she didn’t seem to notice me. I was afraid to frighten her, so I spoke her name softly. “Adelie.” She turned to face me with a giant, beautiful smile on her face. “Isn’t it wonderful?” she asked me, and hugged me tightly. “Wonderful,” I said, dizzy at her nearness, intoxicated by her smell and the smell of the coming rain, impossibly the same. We held hands and walked back inside and she fed me the grandest meal I’d had in ages. Since my mom had died, at least. I had butter beans, cornbread, roasted chicken and sliced tomatoes. I ate until food was almost coming out of my ears. About halfway through dinner, I heard a giant, fat raindrop splat on top of the tin roof of the back porch. All the windows and doors were open, of course, and there came a rapid patter of a dozen more drops, fat as balloons, plopping across the tin roof. I looked at her and smiled. She was already smiling. I couldn’t look at her face for long at that moment, though, without wanting to laugh out loud and burst into tears at the same time. It made me feel like the biggest galloot that ever lived.
When I’d eaten all I could, she brought me hot coffee and I sat and sipped it. The thundershower rumbled above like a symphony orchestra. I stared at the puddles forming in the light that spilled into the back yard from the porch. She cleaned away the dishes that I’d offered to take care of, and I sat, struggling with all my manhood not to get all misty eyed with the emotions that were raging through me because of the rain, or maybe it was her? I just sat there as impassive as possible, watching the world soak up life. I was lost in feeling; my love for her intermingled with my love of the rainfall. When she finished the dishes she walked up behind me and put her hands on my shoulders. I swear I felt lightning pass between us, a swift electrical surge of ecstasy that I would never experience again. She was the rain. She was the storm. These things I knew. For someone who didn’t believe in God, it’s awfully hard to have any hope for the future. Some might disagree, and that’s fine, but that’s the way I felt for a long time: Godless and hopeless. Adelie cared for me that evening in the midst of the rains that fell. She let me work again, made me feel useful, and then she fed me. When that was done and all I could do was try to keep a tap on the emotion that was boiling over out of me, she laid hands on me and made me holy. At least, that’s what it felt like. She started asking me questions about my life. I was sitting there at the kitchen table. She stood behind me with her hands on my shoulders. Sometimes she would lean on my shoulder on her elbow, and I could feel her hair tickle my ear and my neck. My heart was pounding so hard I thought it might explode. I told her about my mom and my dad, both dead of cancer. I talked about my how my brother died in a car accident. Then I spoke of my farm, long dead from drought. Now it would be brought back to life with rain. She took my hand and led me out to the porch. We stood there for a long time, holding hands, and listening to the rain showering down on the earth from God. She took my other hand so that I was forced to face her. I was afraid. She was so small, and I was such a big dumb country boy. I didn’t want to make a mistake, but she stood on her tiptoes to kiss me on the
cheek. Then she kissed my lips, and I have never tasted sweeter honey. We kissed for a long time. She asked me if I’d ever made love before. I told her that I hadn’t, and it was true. She took me by my hand and led me to her bedroom. For a moment, I might have felt wrong about it, for going in there with her, but I loved her so strongly and absolutely by that time that I knew this could be nothing but right. Most people will criticize, I know; that I’d known her so short a time or that somebody of my ilk shouldn’t have done so anyway until married. I’m just a country farmer in Alabama, right? But a part of me believes that Adelie knew our time would be short, and that she knew I loved her. I fancy she loved me as well. She gave me all that she could, all she had, in the time that she had to give it. We weren’t married, but if I’d had a preacher there that night, I would’ve married her on the spot if she’d have had me. And I’ll tell you something else: I’ve not made love since, and likely never will. I wish this story could be told without having to share this particular bit of information, but it can’t. You have to understand that what happened between us was pure as light and wonderful as rain. I have no other words to describe it. *** When morning came the sky was gray and the rain still fell. She was no longer with me. I looked out the window. I could see her in her flowing dress standing in her now familiar place in the clearing. The thought suddenly occurred to me that she was soon to be leaving, and at that I got right up and ran out to her. When I spoke her name she turned to me and held out her hand. The skin on her arm, creamy and pale the night before, now had a dark tan. My concern intensified. “What’s happening?” I asked her. “Nature,” was all she said, and her voice was raspy. “Why?” I asked.
She shook her head and smiled. There was a tear in her eye to match mine. I took a step toward her, but a pained expression on her face stopped me cold. My arms dropped to my sides. I was defeated and I’d never had a chance at victory. She turned back to the west and stared up at the sky, turning her back to me. I went inside and made coffee and stared out the window at her. It rained all that day, and all that day I sat there in the window listening to it, watching her, and smelling them both. I cried constantly, because I could see she was different, that she was changing. Her feet seemed to melt right into the earth. She couldn’t come to me, even if she’d wanted. I went to the bedroom and lay there watching her. I fell asleep that evening without having eaten a bite all day, but neither had she. When I awoke, she was gone, and a yellow poplar stood twenty feet tall in the clearing where she’d stood for so long. I knew that I would never see her again. And I knew just as sure that she had taken all the love I had to give with her to wherever she went. *** In the end the rains did come, and I was blessed with salvation. The rain followed Adelie to my little farm and gave me life – in so many ways I can’t count them all. She proved to me that there is something to have faith in – that the rains will come, that life will go on. I now own that house on Primrose Lane. That night of thundershowers changed my life in many ways; one way it changed me was to make me a wealthy man. The irrigation work I’d done to try to save my farm during the drought did much more than that. After the rains came they never left me again, and even during the dry seasons from then on I had water. For two years I took care of that old house, waiting for the auction the county kept saying was “pending.” The auction finally came, and I made a winning bid on the property. I began spending half the year on Primrose Lane. As soon as the harvest was done I would pack up and move. When spring came I went
back to the farm. I did that for thirty-five years, and then I sold the farm and moved to Primrose Lane full time. Now, I stand here with my candle, my never-ending vigil to watch the western sky from that spot in the clearing where she stood, no longer a clearing, now adorned with a big, beautiful yellow poplar. I’ve read all those old stories about the rainmakers but I’ve yet to find one similar to what I saw of Adelie. And I don’t know if she was some sort of elemental, or wood nymph, or what. I do know she was a woman. I know I loved her, and I know that she made it rain. There’s not a sliver of doubt in my mind. I know that, and I know she sacrificed herself for that rain. Not for me, or because she wanted to save me or anything of the sort, she didn’t know what kind of trouble I was in. She did it for the rain. She did it for nature and life and for living her whole life smelling like rain. She gave up humanity to live with her feet planted in the soil, proper and tall. In a way I guess it defines order, in a way I’d never known possible. The words of God come down to us in rainfall, and we can soak them up and make things grow of them or we can leave them to dry and simply evaporate back into Heaven. I hung a wind chime on the branches of the tree I call Adelie.
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