June 12, 2010 by The Citron Review
by Brittany Michelson
The mid day heat had ceased. The sun left only thin warmth, long golden rays spraying across the hungry sky. The idea of rain was imprinted in our brains, though we had forgotten the sound of it. We wept with the trees for even an inclination of moisture. I loved to watch my mother in the garden, her sand paper hands pulling the dry leaves from the azaleas.
I crouched behind the Manzanita tree, where my mother couldn’t see me. My fingers traced the twisted branches, which blocked the blind beams shooting down from the sun. My mother worked quickly and with steady skill. Spring’s nourished green plants were weathered from the summer heat; a few lone stragglers fought to survive the drought.
More than a hundred days without rain in Northern Arizona.
I could hear the rise and fall of my mother’s breath, her knees covered in dark, gritty soil, which resembled a bed of crushed Oreo cookies. She was humming the tune of a bird or a piano or a rain call.
I snapped a branch off the Manzanita; it broke easily. Digging into the ground I watched for a color change, past the flaky crust and down, searching for the moist filling.
For weeks it had been dry, and concerned neighbors worked in an effort to thin the forest. The fire from earlier in the summer had left the trees limp and worn, their leaves drained of color. They were open wounds, vulnerable and ready to ignite, feeble branches waiting to snap.
As I sat near the Manzanita, I thought back to the day of the fire three weeks earlier. I could still hear the sirens scream as they raced through the forest, the way the chaotic blur of mumbled voices and the non-distinctive jargon of panic surrounded everything. I could almost feel the ghost-like chill I’d felt that day, even though the air had been thick and pulsating, as heat waves smoldered and tumbled. I remembered the turmoil of scrambling to grab what we could, with only enough time to spare the live animals and a few pictures off the walls.
The smell of burnt plastic, wood, cinders and ash had filled my nasal passages and my eyes burned from the billowing clouds of smoke that turned the sky charcoal orange. I’d wished it were only the painted sky in a haunted house, but it was not Halloween.
“Britt! Where are you? Are you out here?” My mother had called.
Her words were urgent, signaling our departure from the family home. I could see flames rolling over the mountain like a dragon’s fiery breath.
“Come on honey!”
Wait. We can’t just leave. I have to save a few things, I’d thought.
I sat with that vivid memory circulating, when I felt the smooth shield of the Manzanita and knew I was protected.
“It looks like rain,” my mother said. She was now beside me, her face hopeful.
The sky rumbled like an upset stomach. The smell of Ponderosa trees lingered in the air, a swirl of must and damp and pine and moisture. Angry clouds tossed and turned, a rage of mixed emotions parading in the darkening sky.
The first drop fell with relief from a stubborn rain cloud, then another, and another. I could feel the moisture in the plants, in the trees, in every flower. I tasted the cool pure water; my tongue reached up to the sky. I felt the mud between my toes and liked the way it squished, the earth turning cool and slimy. My body began to move, a silhouette in the faint moonshine, a shape arching with the curved figure of rhythm. The rain encircled me in a silver shower. I let the rain soak into my bones and wash me through and through until I was flooded with hope, whole and new.
Brittany Michelson is a former high school English and Spanish teacher, who also taught English as a Second Language in Ecuador. She resides in Los Angeles, where she is working on her MFA at Antioch University. She writes fiction and nonfiction, as well as children’s picture books.