If it was raining everywhere, a person would be concentrating on swimming or finding something to hold onto. They would not be thinking of dust. But inside each raindrop, he told Sophia when she was only five, there is a tiny particle of dust that makes a raindrop possible.
Her father told her that is why raindrops never get wet even if they are out in a downpour. Everything is made of dust, and the more it rains, the more things are constantly being made. Life is mysterious. Life is made of dust, and when she asked who said that her father simply pointed to the sky. Maybe that was why her mother was constantly dusting the dining room table. Maybe it rained in the dining room when Sophia wasn’t there, and went the water dried as the sun came in the window the dust was left behind. The living room was full of dust. It must have rained there, too, and Sophia’s daily task was to take an old patch of her father’s flannel pyjamas and dust the top of every book because the books were full of sadness. That was where dust came from.
Sophia would watch the rain fall from her bedroom window. The sky would turn grey. The air, especially in summer, would smell dusty if there was only a little rain. She would run her finger across the polished surface of the dining room table and draw sunflowers in the dust. Her mother never liked that. Her mother claimed Sophia was making more work for her by pointing out how little work had been done to keep the house tidy. If her father had come home the place had to be spic-and-span. There couldn’t be a particle of dust anywhere.
Sometimes a sunny day made Sophia cry. A shaft of light would be pouring through the window, and the light carried specks of dust. The minister had told her they were sunbeams, tiny gifts from heaven, but Sophia wanted to cry because she knew they were dust and her mother would be polishing the furniture with lemon oil to hide the dust or down on all fours in the kitchen floor. She would look up at Sophia, tell her to grab a scrub brush, and get to work. One day Sophia asked her mother if it rained in the dining room. “Don’t be preposterous,” her mother said.
That was a new word. Did preposterous have anything to do with pretending to be someone else or think something other than the truth? She’d heard the word imposter. An imposter was someone pretending to be someone or something they were not. A raindrop was actually dust pretending to be water when the two were not the same.
The minister from the church told Sophia her father was at rest, and she pictured him on a beach with the bright sun on his face. She imagined the wind picking up, blowing the sand over the footprints left by bathers who had gone home for the day. Her father stayed behind to watch the sunset, and she imagined him holding out his hand full of sand as he left it blow in the wind, and saying to her, “This is what Time looks like.” Her last gift to her was a handful of dust.
When she was alone, she would sit in her room and listen as the rain fell on the roof, how it pinged as it hit the metal covers on the chimneys, how it sounded like coins falling into a pile of change. Her father had disappeared on a rainy day. Her father had told her mother he no longer loved her. He had driven off. Maybe he would come back. Her mother said that wasn’t likely. Sophia had asked if her father still loved her. “If he loved you, he would have come back.”
Her mother had tried to tell her once that she and her father had never really loved each other though they had loved Sophia very much. She said she had wanted to clear the air the night her father left the house and drove away in the rain, saying that he needed to think, that he needed to clear his mind and cleanse his soul.
Her father had bought her a set of windchimes when she was very young, about the time he told her about the dust in the rain. At the base of each long, slender, silver pipe, a thin, brightly painted butterfly hung by a chain, and when she opened her window during a summer rainstorm on her last afternoon in the house where she had lived with her father and her mother, the sash was raised just enough to fill the air with the sudden scent of dust before and after the downpour.
But as she sat on her bed, trying not to remember what rain can do on a spring night when the sky loses control of itself and it cries buckets and doesn’t make any sense, the breeze through her bedroom window spun the butterflies, and she was certain she heard the song she and her father sang when they watched the rain together.
She went to the front door and reached for her raincoat, but at the last instant put it back on the hook. She stepped off the porch and lay down on the front lawn and could feel the grass growing beneath her, and underneath the grass was all the dust in the world to make the mud that gave things life. She poked her finger through the blades and pushed it down as far as she could and she knew her father was in there somewhere. The minister had said so. He was making more rain from every particle of dust he could carry to the sky.
Bruce Meyer is author or editor of 64 books of poetry, short fiction, flash fiction, non-fiction, and literary journalism. He was the 2019 winner of the Anton Chekhov Prize for Fiction, the Freefall Prize for Poetry, and a finalist for the Bath Short Story Prize, the Tom Gallon Prize for Fiction, and the Carter V. Cooper Prize for Short Stories. He lives in Barrie, Ontario.