THE ONE-WAY RAIN: Reka

 
 
The court is becoming a nuisance. They squabble all the time, and when they don’t squabble they bicker. It’s a relief to be by herself, checking on her vegetables.

She got an early start today. The smell of spring, which is damp and sharp like scallions, reached her even in bed. Now the chocolate-dark mud clings to her feet as she skirts the cemetery. You don’t go into the cemetery, just as you don’t go into the woods. In either case you might never come out, but the cemetery is, at the moment, more awful to Reka, because she’s heard that some people have started digging up the graves. She really doesn’t want to meet those people. She doesn’t want to meet anybody, in fact, except the Traveler and of course her grandmother. Sometimes she daydreams of being reunited with her grandmother and crowning her with pearls, diadems, cornichons. Actually, she’s not sure about the cornichons. Tonight at lessons she will look it up.

In the scrub between the graveyard and the woods she keeps a small wild-looking garden. She stoops over it, and the bag with her empty jug inside slides up and smacks her on the back of the neck. She staggers around a little, amusing herself, before going back to the garden. Pushing up the sleeves of her parka and her three sweaters and her sweatshirt and her undershirt, she scratches away the soil around feather-tops waving in the wind. The ground is still cold enough to freeze her fingers, so she pulls out her hands and presses them against her mouth and blows on them. She can smell the thawing dirt. She tries again and manages to loosen a carrot. There it is! A carrot! It’s half-frozen too but she can’t wait, she dusts off the blind little tail and puts it in her mouth, sucking it like a popsicle. When she bites down she does something bad to one of her teeth but she doesn’t even care.

Before she leaves, she takes off the parka and some of her sweaters and slings on the bag—now full of carrots and onions—and puts her clothes back on over it. The cemetery and forest are quiet. Far off in the distance she can hear a moaning, oceanic sound that may be a vehicle accelerating on some remaining road. The sky is shining, so bright you can’t look at it, and she doesn’t know the word for that particular shade of blue. Above the trees, a thread of smoke sluggishly rises and is lost in the brilliance.

All at once she wants to climb the firehouse tower. She and her ladies will have a picnic, young tender . . . vealets in pastry and cornichons (it’s a pickle, she thinks now) and deviled eggs and jelly beans and wine. She picks her way along the edge of the woods, taking care not to stray into the trees, and across a stretch of shattered tarmac to the firehouse. Strands of dead ivy hang from its yellow bricks and the rivets on its heavy bolted doors are turning to rust. Sometimes people live here, but not often as the roof is mostly gone. She sticks her head into the tower doorway and listens. Now the steps. She has counted them: there are fifty-three. The stairwell smells of dead mouse. The tall slots in the walls let in plenty of sunlight, so she’s not afraid. At the top she puts her whole head out one of the slots. The air is fresh and cold, and she can see the park spread out below her like a ragged brown wool blanket. It’s so clear that she can see the brittle clustered lances of dead cattails, and the trampled-down paths leading through the rushes to the swamp, and even a bit beyond that to the blunt tops of the housing project, which glitter in the sun like something forgiven.

She turns around and looks out the back of the tower, towards her house. She can’t see it, of course, but she can make out the chipped rim of the overpass; between here and there is the ramble of eroded roads, abandoned excavations, collapsed chain-link fencing, uprooted trees (something she hates to see) and the odd intact house that makes up what used to be a neighborhood. To her right are the woods. They’re said to be full of drug addicts and Kidlanders, but they look airy and empty from up here, and there’s an old stone comfort station among the trees—she can see its miniature battlements through the branches. She lays her cheek on her folded arms. The sun is right on her face, warming her skin and making a dark kaleidoscope behind her eyelids. A sense of well-being unfolds inside her, stretching its limbs. Even with her eyes closed everything is beautiful.

She hears a bird singing and opens her eyes to look for it, which is how she sees the white people coming out of the woods. She crouches down so fast she almost falls on her onions and doesn’t have to look again to know that most of them are polices. They’re heading toward the market, but their words come back to her on a wintery wind: “clearance” and “timeline” and, most alarmingly, “shit or get off the pot.”

She sits for a while after they’re gone. Finally she raises herself to the windowsill again, and there’s the robin, obviously suprised to see her. He flies away, which is wise because even though she loves robins, she can’t help but wonder how they taste.