I had one sentence strike me late one night, and the below little slice grew from it. The sentence was, "She's always sad when it rains." The below is first-draft rough, it hasn't been truly edited for content or grammar (I did have a lovely friend glance a quick eye over it, but it's changed since then). It's mostly just a bit of an exercise to flex my writing muscles with the hopes that when I open my laptop after I get through work deadlines, the words will still be there.
"She's always sad when it rains."
He looked up when Billy murmured the quiet words. Billy knelt in front of the window, leaning forward with his nose practically pressed against the glass, watching intently as the rain splattered against the other side of the transparent surface.
For a moment, he watched Billy watching the rain and wondered whether his son had actually spoken or if he'd imagined the words. Billy rose slightly higher on his haunches as two droplets joined together and sped toward the windowsill at twice the speed of those around them. He smiled as he recalled fondly that Billy had always liked those ones best. A long time ago, Billy had told him that he imagined the glittering drops were in a race and that by joining together they became stronger and faster. 'Just like you and mummy,' he’d added with a smile.
The memory broke his heart because he knew Billy only watched the raindrops now because it was something else to concentrate besides the sound of sobbing coming from upstairs. He was certain now that Billy had spoken and he needed to offer his son what solace he could.
"Mummy's sad at other times too," he said. He didn’t mean for his voice to take on the tone parents always seemed to use when explaining things to children, but it had slipped out regardless.
"I know," Billy said, looking down at his hands for a moment.
He longed for a better way to comfort his son, but no longer had the right words. If he'd ever had them, that part of the parenting job had always fallen to his wife. No longer though, now it was all up to him.
"But always when it rains,” Billy added, looking up at him with sad eyes.
"Yeah." He nodded, surprised that Billy was astute enough to notice that simple fact. Then again, he thought, kids are often clever like that. Give them enough time and they'll find reason in the most complicated concepts. Even if it consisted of patterns and knowledge that would bypass some of the most capable adults. Sometimes especially then. "Always when it rains."
"Why?" Billy asked, turning completely away from the raindrops and their races down the cold glass for a moment. "Is it because of us?"
He nodded sadly, again fighting against the rising suspicion that Billy knew far more than a boy of ten really should.
Although, he reasoned, maybe that's to be expected, under the circumstances.
Yet that knowledge wasn’t enough to help him escape the pain.
Perhaps it never would be.
"Isn't there something we can do to make her feel better?" Billy looked desperate for an answer.
He wanted to give Billy a solution, even had words poised on his tongue ready to unleash at a moment’s notice, but he couldn’t. The words would have been lies and the last thing he wanted to do was lie to Billy. Not when the two of them could only rely on each other now. The truth was that there was little they could do; certainly nothing they hadn't tried already.
Billy's dad looked up at the ceiling, as though he’d be able to see through it to where his wife was no doubt sitting on the floor by at the foot of the bed.
"We could try talking to her," he suggested after his eyes rested back on the sight of his son's sorrowful eyes. It hasn't fixed it before, but it can't really hurt to try again, can it? Maybe it’ll help Billy even if it doesn’t help her.
"Maybe we can talk her into moving somewhere really sunny?" Billy suggested. "Then the rain won't be able to make her sad."
He smiled indulgently. "Like where?" They’d played this game before, but Billy was always surprising him with a range of weird and wonderful new suggestions.
"But she won't know anyone there. And what would she do for a job?"
He smiled despite himself Billy's small face screwed up as he concentrated on another destination. Billy’s eyes squeezed tightly shut and mouth pressed so tightly into a tiny 'o' that it almost disappeared completely. "Maybe she can go visit Aunty Sheree in Queensland?"
"That might be a better idea."
"Can we tell her our idea?" Billy was practically bouncing up and down on the spot.
Even as he watched, the heaviness that had seemed to envelope Billy moments earlier evaporated as the hope that they’d found a solution for her sadness took root and grew.
"We can try," he replied cautiously. He didn't want to dash Billy's hopes, or shatter the smile that appeared to reach from almost ear to ear on his son's small face. He knew better than to expect his wife to listen; she'd stopped listening to them a lifetime ago.
He crept up the stairs with Billy just in front. Both of them walked slowly, taking small tentative steps, as they followed the sound of sobbing. Billy muttered under his breath, counting counted each of the steps it took to reach the top. He knew Billy was using it as another distraction technique, but he was willing to indulge his son if it made things easier. Billy was just a few paces ahead of him as they neared the bedroom.
"I think she'll like this idea, Daddy." Billy turned to face him with a face was so full of enthusiasm that it would have been cruel to dash the hope in him with tempered words.
Just as he’d expected her to be, his wife, Billy’s mother, was curled on the floor with her head resting against the foot of the perfectly made king-sized bed. Wrapped tightly in her arms was a photo of the three of them. He smiled at the memory of the day the photo was taken—almost three years ago now. Billy had run amuck, forcing both he and his wife into a chase until the instant the photographer had said, 'Say cheese'. Billy had instantly frozen in place with a big, goofy grin. As a result of the chase, both he and his wife looked completely frazzled and tired when the shutter clicked.
Who knew nine-year olds could be so energetic?
It wasn't the best photo of the three of them individually, but it was the one which best represented their life. Or at least, the life they'd had before.
"Mummy?" Billy called again, disrupting his father's thoughts. Billy’s little voice held a desperate tone this time, edged with the onset of tears.
He mentally scolded himself for not warning Billy that this could be the outcome. It was possible this would always be the outcome, no matter how many times they followed the sounds of her tears in an attempt to soothe her.
He glanced around the space which he'd once shared with the fragile woman in front of him. Scattered all around the room were various piles of moving paraphernalia, boxes and packing tape, scissors and garment bags. None of the items came as a great surprise to him; it seemed like an age had passed since she'd decided to move out. She hadn’t been able to follow through with that choice yet though. It still made his heart ache to see her in pain and not be able to do anything to fix it. Not that he and Billy hadn't tried, she just seemed impervious to all of their varied attempts.
"Mummy?" Billy's lip trembled as he called for her again.
The whole thing was hardest on Billy. As astute as Billy might have been, it was all wiped away in the face of a mother who didn't respond to desperate pleas for attention. That would have been enough to shatter any young child.
He wished there was more he could do to help both his son and his wife. It was hard on him, but he could bear the load. Because he understood why.
He could understand why his wife no longer spoke to them and why his son hadn't aged a day in the last two years. He didn't like it—hated it in fact, would have done anything to change it—but he understood. He lived with the hope that one day things would change, but he grasped the fact that it might never. He wondered whether one day the rain wouldn’t make her sad and Billy could be free of his worries—worries a child shouldn’t have to face.
"She still can't hear us, can she Daddy?"
Billy's tear-stained cheeks made him angry at the world all over again.
Maybe if it hadn't been raining that night, things would be different now, he thought as he allowed the all-consuming rage to settle over him. If he closed his eyes, he could see it all happening again. He could hear the sounds of the squealing tires, feel the blind panic that raced through his veins as he'd woken--his first thought, Where's Billy?
By then it was already too late for Billy and, although he hadn't realized it immediately, it was already too late for himself too.
"She won't ever be able to hear us, will she?" Billy sniffed as he looked down at his feet. He shuffled from side to side as he watched his mother's tears begin anew.
Give them enough time and they'll find reason in the most complicated concepts, patterns and knowledge that would bypass even the most capable adult.
He gave Billy a small smile. He dreaded the day Billy’s hope to faded completely—he drew so much of his own strength from it. "Maybe not," he said. "But we'll be here for her anyway, won't we?"
Billy wrapped his arms around her waist. She'd never feel him there, but it made Billy feel better. "We'll be her angels."
"I like that; her angels. We'll keep her safe, won't we, mate?"
Billy smiled and nodded. "And maybe one day, she won't always be sad when it rains."