Life in the Delta Marsh in 2051 is carrying on, thanks to a community’s philosophy of Sharing, which functions as a way to keep population numbers afloat; monogamy is (mostly) a way of the past. In Rona S. Fernadez’s “The Rains,” however, Sharing doesn’t come without its frictions. Tess, our protagonist, is “one of the last holdouts of true monogamy.” But what happens when her partner doesn’t feel the same? Climate change serves as a backdrop to this tense, emotional narrative. What changes will the rains bring?
Tess joined the others in handing sacks down, her anxiety dissolving with the familiarity of collective effort. Handing sacks of nuts and grains assembly-line fashion comforted her. She felt useful. She belonged. And despite the rain, it felt almost like a fiesta, with people joking and laughed, trying to keep their spirits up. But in the backs of their minds were memories of those who had perished in previous years, among them: Tess’s husband Alex, who’d gone to shore up the levees one last time and slipped into the rising marsh waters; Baba Drake who’d gone back home to fetch his guitar and never came back; and the worst of all, two-year-old Shyanne and her mother, whose bodies were found in a pond created by the floodwaters less than twenty feet from their home. No one talked of these lost ones, for fear and sadness was not useful now.
Delta Marsh, November 2051
The three months since the baby died had been a purgatory of waiting. First, for the bleeding to cease, then for grief to stop sawing at her bones like a rusty cleaver. When it was done, it settled inside Tess’s flesh as unwanted weight she would never shed. Later, a brief, ephemeral hope hung before her like a white cloud, only to be blown away by more waiting: For two weeks, she had to take those damned herbs, or Pablo would barely touch her.
The tiresome waiting plagued Tess each day: as she pumped water from the well; when she sat in at the Council meeting where they declared a long storm was coming, maybe the biggest in years; when she hammered dead a grayish rat she found burrowing inside a sack of potatoes in the basement; when she lay next to Pablo at night, wishing he would do more than kiss her and stroke her back. Tonight, the two weeks, the waiting, were ending. The moon would be close to full, too, and Tess silently prayed as she knelt in her garden that afternoon, picking purslane: Let my womb be open and wide as the moon.
Then, a light mist began to dampen her face and hands, then shifted into a light drizzle. Tess sat back on her heels, her eyes catching a sliver of rainbow into the sky, and almost began to weep. A jolt of panic streaked through her. Now I have to hurry. Senny, her five-year-old daughter, whose hair was black and glossy as raven wing, stood and gazed at the sky.
“Mommy!” She raised her small palms in a gesture both joyful and prayerful. But as much as Tess wished it, there was no time now to dance in the rain.
“Let’s finish,” Tess said, moving her hands faster. That was life at Delta Marsh: so much waiting and waiting, then a sudden change—rainclouds gathered, or lightning cracked the sky in half, and then everything had to move fast fast fast.
“You know what this means, right?”
Senny stared at Tess. “We got to move down to Circle House?”
“Yes. And what does that mean?”
The girl’s brows tried to touch each other in the smooth space above her nose.
“Means we need food,” she concluded. She’d always been a fast learner. She copied Tess, pulling the small tender leaves and stems off the low bush more quickly.
A muted anxiety tightened Tess’s throat. She might only have a day or two alone with Pablo now, and then they’d have to sleep in the same bed with Senny—not to mention in the same big room with the rest of the village—at the Circle House. No privacy. She mentally revised her list of chores for the day: Start packing the cans. Fetch the sleeping pads, tarps and duffel bags from the basement. Bring Senny over to the Wongs’s. Make dinner. Make tea. Wash my face, my privates. Change clothes.
Once they were finished, they went in and put dry clothes on, then raincoats before they ran to the Wongs’s house across the road. The rain came in fatter drops now.