E. M. Wright
At first, the rain felt like water we could breathe. Baby frogs exploded from the grass like soda bubbles when we ran outside at recess time. Mist formed jewels on our hair and eyelashes. We inhaled the rain, paddling our feet in puddles and licking diamonds from our arms, but then we grew bored with rain. Mud weighted our shoes so that it was hard to run. The frogs grew fat and sulky, peering at us from the muck. Their bellows sounded like monsters calling for their mothers. Miss Walters said that frogs started their lives as water creatures and changed into land creatures. She said most frogs lived seven to nine years. If we were frogs, we would be getting ready to die.
The sky turned the color of milk and the rain stopped feeling breathable. It spattered on our bare arms like it wanted to hurt us. The field where we’d run filled with water. We could grow rice, Miss Walters said, if we had sunlight. Some of us remembered the feel of sunlight, and some of us lied and said we didn’t because to have forgotten the sun felt like something that should be true. In another part of the world the sun still shone. Sunflowers could grow there, Miss Walters told us, if they had water. All the water was with us. All the sunlight was far away in a place where people had dry, sunburnt skin. We examined the puckered, moist tips of our fingers. Sunflowers, Miss Walters said, turn their heads from east to west, following the sun across the sky. We paused to imagine a field filled with sunflowers instead of frogs: acres of flowers, each as big as a face, gazing toward the sun.
Someone rich donated a box of rain jackets to our classroom. All the jackets were the color of grape Skittles. Some of us didn’t like purple, but Miss Walters said to wear them anyway. They covered us to below our knees and hung down over our fingertips. We wrote thank you notes to the donor. Some of us drew yellow suns on our thank you notes, some of us drew rainbows, and some of us drew nothing at all.
The raindrops grew fatter and fell harder until they felt like a hundred thousand fingers tapping our shoulders. At recess time we pushed our desks against the walls and listened to the songs stored on Miss Walters’s phone. A woman’s voice rippled like water as we crouched and wiggled and leaped into the air. Drums thudded loud enough to drown the rain.
Instead of a school bus, we floated to school in a pontoon boat with a blue and white canopy and plastic lawn chairs that skidded on the wet deck. The tops of cars curved out of the water around us in a hopscotch of empty windows. Snails clung to the deck and sides of our boat, disappearing into their curling shells when we cupped them in our palms. Some of us were afraid of falling into the water. Some of us climbed out of our chairs to trail our fingers through the water, grasping for floating, sodden leaves. We held each other’s hands for safety when we entered and exited the boat.
On the day rain fell like upended pails of water, the boat wasn’t there when the dismissal bell rang. We ate tater tots and Sloppy Joes in the cafeteria beneath its long, dark windows. We’d never been in the cafeteria at night before. The janitor walked behind the tables with his mop, but the floor stayed wet. None of us wanted to splash our feet in the puddles.
After dinner we went upstairs to our classroom. Some of us made pillows from our rain jackets. Some of us spread out our jackets like blankets. The rain sounded like hammering fists. Some of us cried for our parents and some of us didn’t. Miss Walters traced constellations on the ceiling with the beam of her flashlight. Imagine, she said. Cassiopeia. Pegasus. We grew quiet and still. We imagined the silence of stars in a dark, clear sky. We imagined a queen and a flying horse.
The next morning was Saturday. The janitor pushed waves of water back and forth across the cafeteria floor with his mop, until Miss Walters took his arm and sat him at a table with a tray of chicken nuggets. Eat, she said. We pulled our knees up under our chins to keep our feet dry and ate. After we finished we went upstairs to our classroom and didn’t go downstairs anymore.
We emptied our pencil boxes and put the empty boxes in the corners to catch the rain that rolled from the ceiling. We asked Miss Walters for math worksheets because it felt better to do something than nothing. Beneath us, the water swallowed the cafeteria. At lunchtime we ate pretzels and raisins from Miss Walters’s supply closet.
When the water began to lap at the top of the stairs, Miss Walters gathered us for read aloud time. We sat at her feet in the dim, liquid light as she held up a picture book to show us the long curve of a dolphin spine, vertebrae nested together like the stacking blocks we played with when we were little. You have the same bones as dolphins, Miss Walters said. We touched the ridges of each other’s spines through our t-shirts. On the next page she showed us the finger bones hidden inside dolphin flippers. You are all natural swimmers, she said. Some of us had taken swim lessons and some of us hadn’t. The swimmers breaststroked air, trying to show the non-swimmers how to move. All of us cried. It will be all right, Miss Walters told the swimmers and non-swimmers. Imagine yourselves as dolphins.
Water seeped into the carpet beneath us. Rain poured down the walls and overflowed our pencil boxes. We imagined ourselves as dolphins.
E.M. Wright’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in Berkeley Fiction Review, The South Carolina Review, Ghost Parachute, and elsewhere. She holds an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts.