The Rainmaker Goddess, hallowed as she is, rolls over in her sleep and farts.
I don’t know what to do about this.
I look to her protectors, just visible on the porch through the curtains, and I think about asking them, ‘does the rain Goddess usually fart, or is this some sort of anomaly?’, but if I open the door, swollen in the jamb with the heat and the rain, the noise might wake her.
She needs her rest.
Outside, the hammer of rain is broken only by the sound of rolling thunder and the low voices of her protectors, rolling cigarettes or spitting tobacco. She made this, the rain. I’d not seen her do magic before. The Goddess pulled the clouds across the sky with her furrowed brow, then drew the rain down with her tears and the townsfolk all dropped to the ground, muddy and thankful.
The Goddess farts again, louder this time, and she groans.
‘Was that me?’ she says, her voice muffled by the couch cushion. She sits up, her face creased from the pillows and her hair sticking up on one side. Her bullet-proof vest has ridden up and she yanks it down.
I don’t know what to tell her. I think for a second.
‘No, it was me. My most sincere apologies, Goddess.’
‘I told you before, Evie. Stop with the Goddess stuff. My name is Sharon, but please, call me Shaz.’
‘Sincere apologies, Hallowed Shaz.’
‘Fuck me,’ she says, hanging her head. ‘Evie, why do you have to lay on all this hallowed shit? You’re making me nervous and nervous is bad.’
She gets up off the couch and starts pacing around the room, her crumpled slip sliding over her thighs. We’d appointed her the mayor’s house, with the nicest bed in town, but she just kept falling asleep on the couch. And farting. They were mostly just loud, and not pungent, and I tried to ignore them because attending to the Goddess is such an honour. I don’t even know why they picked me. The mayor’s wife gave me her second-best dress and even though it was a little too big, I felt really special in it as I sat in the mayor’s house and not in my plastic-topped shack with nothing to do but sleep until the next day in the dustfield.
The silence makes me nervous too, and The Goddess is still pacing so I try to think of something to say, fast.
‘Have you always been able to summon the rain?’
She stops pacing, but her nightgown takes a second to catch up with her, rippling over her knees.
‘No. Hasn’t anyone told you about me?’ she says.
‘Not really. Just that you bring the rains.’
‘And you know it comes with my mood?’
‘How do you feel when it rains?’ she asks. ‘Like, after the initial happiness and the ceremony? Once it’s been going for a few days and everything is dirty and there’s nothing to do.’
‘Oh, um, like still very pleased and thankful,’ I tell her, lying.
She opens the door and gestures to one of her protectors. Another gruff voice says, ‘Shaz, get away from the door,’ but the Goddess just snaps her fingers and another guard passes her the smoke she’s just rolled. The protector and the Goddess lean in towards each other and the flame catches between them.
‘Mind if I smoke in here? It’s kind of wet out there.’
‘No, Goddess Shaz.’
‘Good. So how does it really make you feel? Once it’s been pattering all low and grey for a few days? Be honest.’
The Goddess wants me to be honest, caring for her in the best house in town, in the mayor’s wife’s second-best dress that’s a little too big and after my mother near ripped my hair outta my head brushing it up nice. After they told me to tend and tend only and keep my mouth shut. I picture the stern town fathers with their dusty hats and parched, wrinkly faces, then I look to Shaz, soft and round like the rain.
‘I feel… miserable. Bored and dirty and sad.’
A grin spreads over her face and outside there’s a flash of lightning and a roll of thunder, coming almost at the same time. The storm is here.
‘Well, that’s how I do it.’
‘“The Goddess pulls the clouds across the sky with her furrowed brow, then draws the rain down with her tears,”’ she quotes, from the ceremony. ‘I have to make myself feel like that to get it started. And the best way to keep it going, is to make myself feel the way you feel when it won’t stop and you’re stuck inside all tetchy and going out of your mind with boredom.’
‘Oh,’ I say. ‘Should we stop talking? Do you need to be more bored, Hallowed Shaz?’
‘Nah, fuck it,’ she says and outside the rain gets heavier. I can hear the rustle of her protectors trying to shield themselves from the downpour, see them peering through the faded curtains. ‘They want rain, let’s give them rain. So wait, what was your question?’
‘Have you always been able to do this? Make the rain come with your mood?’
‘Nah. I was an attendee once, like you. The Rainmaker then, was she a piece of work! She’d been at it for fifteen years and could barely hold a sunshower anymore, she was so wasted from it. She gave it to me.’
‘She gave it to you? What an honour!’
‘You’d think, right? And I felt that way at first,’ she says, tapping her ash into one of the mayor’s best china teacups. ‘I don’t know, after six years of ‘Goddess’ this and ‘hallowed’ that, and feeling like shit all the time, plus the whole Big Water wanting my head on a pike, well… It doesn’t feel so honorific anymore. I’ve been thinking…’
The Goddess exhales a giant plume and crushes the cigarette out into the cup. She looks so tired. I watch the last of the smoke wave slowly up to the ceiling, the way it curls and comes back again. I almost don’t hear her when she says it.
‘You want it?’
‘Me?’ It’s the first thing that pops out of my mouth, and I’m instantly shamed, the feeling curling through me like the smoke, zapping across my chest like lightning. ‘I mean, um, I mean, thank you, Goddess.’
I think of getting away from this town, from the dried-out husks of my mother and father, from breaking up the solid earth in the fields, from hunger and our plastic-roofed shack and the way that every day is the same, the same, the same.
Except for when the Goddess comes.
‘You’ll see so many places, so many different kinds of people, but most of those places you’ll only see from a gap in the curtains. Men from the watercorp will come and try to stop you, to kill you, but other men will fall at your feet in the mud and praise you and the protectors are strong and true and they’ll keep you safe. It hurts, inside, to bring the rain, but the smell and the feel of it coming will jam your heart up with so much joy sometimes that you’ll have to try to crush it away or the rain will stop. When you feel good, everything’s golden, when you feel bad it’s always grey, and if you get mad scary things can happen. It’s boring and it’s exhilarating and you’ll love it and you’ll fucking hate it.’
Images zing through my head; the ceremony, storm clouds rolling in, my feet in dust as the drops start to spatter, the tears on my face getting lost in the rain.
‘Yes,’ I say. The hitch in my voice tells her I’ll take it all, but she still whispers the worst and the best of it to me as she takes my hand, then takes my face in her hands and crushes her body to mine.
‘Please,’ I tell her and the Rainmaker Goddess, Hallowed Shaz, steps away from me and her mouth is open, spilling out sunshine and clouds and tiny tornados, hurricanes, zaps of lightning. The mayor’s best trinkets shake and spill off their shelves, rattling or breaking on the floor. The front door flies open and the protectors are saying, ‘No, Shaz, no,’ but I’ve lifted my head and opened my mouth and my whole self to her and it’s a little bit like the time I beckoned the treasurer’s son into the barn one night after the rain ceremony, but times a million, and with the whole sky.
I breathe out mists, and little wind-spouts spring from my fingers. Shaz smiles, seems lighter, emptier.
And the green dot appears on her head.
The door. She’s right in front of the door, and the sniper from Big Water doesn’t know that she’s poured it all into me, and there’s no sound before her head opens up, but just after. Crack.
And Shaz thuds to the floor.
And I wonder for a moment how a Goddess could be felled so easily by something as mundane as a bullet shot by some mercenary man hired by the men who want to own what falls from the sky, but then I remember she isn’t the Goddess anymore.
I’m not only some attendant in the mayor’s wife’s second-best dress floating a bit too big around her, I’ve got the sky inside me too.
When I go to the door, the sky rages outside. When I scream, the sky screams too, and pours with rain harder than any I’ve ever seen. The baked earth cannot hold it. It rips out the crops, tears up the trees, sends the tillers rushing on new rivers I’ve made to find the mercenary.
They do find him, a few days after. Bloated and water-logged with his rifle strapped across his shoulder. I hear it in passing, as we head to the next town, the next engagement of the Rainmaker Goddess, me, wrapped in Kevlar and picking the dust out of my nose with my pinky nail, the clouds roiling behind us.
Image: Antii Paakonen
Marlee Jane Ward is a writer, reader and weirdo from Melbourne. Her short fiction has been published in Interfictions, Apex, Terraform, Aurealis, Andromeda Spaceways Magazine and more. Her debut novella, Welcome to Orphancorp, won the Viva La Novella Prize and the Victorian Premiers Award for YA Fiction. The sequel, Psynode, comes out in May through Seizure. She loves cats, babes and making a spectacle of herself.