The Water Man (A Stranger Comes to Town)

The air was so dry her skin was cracking. It split first across the knuckles, blossoms of blood blooming in the creases. Then along the edges of her fingers, small slits that stung when she tried to wash the dishes.


Her hands looked fifty years older than she was. A skin with a story. She had no story, just stinging hands and a growing pile of dirty dishes.


The drought that began in the hills spilled into the valley. The trees shrunk into themselves, dropping brown paper leaves. The creek beds were thirsty sand boxes.


Conserve, they were urged. She was conserving water, she thought, by not washing the dishes. By not shampooing her hair, letting grease coat each strand.


“I have this great lotion,” her neighbor said, catching her in the yard one day. “I can bring you a bottle. You can’t let your skin dry out like that, you’ll do permanent damage.”


She looked down at her hands.


“Have you heard about the Water Man?” Her neighbor continued. “He’s claiming he can make it rain, if enough people join in. He’s camped out at the Country Inn.”


“What does he want, money?”


“Just dancing,” said her neighbor, “some kind of rain dancing.”


What else could she do? If she was going to wear the skin of an old woman, she might as well have done something with it. His aging cadillac was the only car at the Country Inn, parked across two spaces outside number eight.


He answered on the third knock, the top buttons of his shirt undone, his hair askew. He had deep lines around the edges of his eyes, as if he had spent a lot of time laughing, or squinting into the sun.


She stepped into the room and put her arms around him. He shut the door behind her.  A moment without light, their bodies pressed together. He smelled of sweat and old books and underneath, the dark smell of rain on a summer night. Her eyes adjusted to the light and she saw the dim outline of the bed.


Afterwards, lying in the darkness, she heard the first drops of rain hit the roof.

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