Nothing Above but Rain by Michael Chaney
Rain on the metal roof. The fire Stu pokes with a coat hanger hisses. His face twists into a singed knot. Smoke braids up through the hole in the clamorous ceiling, where all three of them witness the storm wash its purple hands of the sky.
Wendy thinks about poison. Oil rainbowing floodwater, hepatitis vivid. She wonders if her son Bobby would ever get over it if she did what she wanted to Stu with that two-by-four.
“I hear something,” Bobby shouts.
Rain metal roof. Rustpeel and woodmold. The wallpaper Grandma Eula said looked like clubs on a fancy deck of cards frowns from the wall’s wooden ribs.
Murmuring grows into a motorboat. It ferries them, relief and resentment, to the church.
A minister they hadn’t officially met welcomes them. Once, high on corned beef hash and disability checks, Stu joked about baby rapers and preachers at the diner where the minister treated widowers to breakfast. Baby rapers. Stu insisted the glowering men had not heard. Wendy melted in the booth.
At the church they are one tribe of blankets. They watch as windows squeeze dust into splendor. And though no robed effulgence wafts down to tuck them in under the warming covers of a dying planet, strangenesses come to pass. “I want to show you something.” That verbal trap door is a nickel in a dime-store miracle. It gums the flood- drenched soles of hand-you-down sneakers and other Holy Coats. And it finds all three of them in different shadows around the church at the same time.
“I want to show you something,” says the minister, leading Stu through the rain to the barn—its opening door an oboe for hay bails and light, wet soil and gasoline. “The tractor needs an oil change and I know a few boys who probably never seen that.”
“I don’t know. Things are different on a tractor.”
“Come on, Stu. Won’t you try?”
Stu blinks at the chewed tips of his boots. “I’ll try.”
As Stu gathers materials, he whistles a tune—his grandfather’s, a hymn whose title neither would recognize.
In the chapel, old Mrs. Chettham rummages her purse. Wendy pines for another blanket. She dreads what this woman will show her. How Grandma Eula hated this woman. A seahag at the end of the world lost in her crocodile bag of tricks. Wendy is about to turn away when the old woman perks up—Here it is, I found it. She passes Wendy something small and metal. A fake coin stamped Second Place, 1955. A good luck token, says Chettham, won at the county fair. Your grandmother won first, she says. How I loved Eula, she says. The coin is a hot circle in Wendy’s palm.
Bobby follows John Jr. to the second story office. The other boy signals for him to creep to the window. They peek over the sill at the white dog on the patio. John Jr. whispers. Its name is Bentley and Bobby should call to it without letting it see. Bentley, Bobby says in a deep voice. Bentley, he says again. An ear tip twitches. Then Bentley and Bentley again more deeply. Slowly, the dog sniffs for its name in the mysteries above.
Hailing from Cleveland, where even the flowers are grey, Michael Chaney has planted verdant things in NANO Fiction, Hobart, Coe Review, The Madhatters Review, and other fields where verbal poppies grow. He currently lives in Vermont, where even the clouds are green.