Rainwater ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
The bell rang and recess was over. The students marched solemnly back into the classroom and took their seats. In a few minutes the teacher, Miss White, noticed that somebody was missing.
“Has anybody seen Shirley Watson?” she asked.
She waited for an answer and, receiving none, stood up and went to the window. She saw, without looking very hard, little Shirley Watson, dirty hair and ugly plaid dress, sitting on the asphalt on the playground.
“Does anybody know why Shirley Watson didn’t come in when the bell rang?”
Nobody had an answer for that, either, so Miss White told the class to begin reading on page thirty-nine in their social studies books and she would be back in a couple of minutes. If anybody made any noise, she said, Miss Periwinkle in the next classroom would hear them and come in and rip their little heads off.
She went down the three flights of stairs and out the door. As she approached, Shirley Watson, sitting on the ground, turned and looked at her and then looked away.
“Didn’t you hear the bell, Shirley?” she asked.
“I heard it,” Shirley said quietly.
“Well, why didn’t you come in when you were supposed to? Are you sick?”
“No, I’m not sick.”
“I can’t get up.”
“Why not? Did you hurt your leg?”
“No, I wet my pants.”
“Oh, Shirley! Why didn’t you go to the restroom when everybody else went?”
“I didn’t have to go then.”
“So it just came on you all of a sudden?”
“I guess so.”
“Well, you can’t sit there all day. Do you want me to bring you some paper towels?”
“You can just go on home, then, and get yourself cleaned up. You’re excused for the rest of the day.”
“I can’t go home. There’s nobody there. The door’s locked and I don’t have a key.”
“Do you want me to call your mother?”
“She’s in Atlantic City.”
“You father, then?”
“He’s been drunk for three days.”
“Don’t you have an older sister?”
“In the hospital.”
“Come on inside, then, and we’ll get you cleaned up the best we can.”
“I’m not getting up.”
“You don’t have to be embarrassed in front of me. Nobody will see you. Everybody’s in class now.”
“I’m not getting up.”
“Is it something worse than just wetting your pants?”
“Is there anything worse than that?”
“Nobody will see you. Nobody will laugh at you. Nobody will make fun of you.”
“They already have.”
“At recess. Everybody knows about it.”
“When I asked the class, nobody knew where you were.”
“Well, isn’t that just like them?”
“I have to go back now and tend to my class,” Miss White said, “but you just stay where you are and we’ll think of something to do.”
“I’m not getting up.”
Miss White went back upstairs to her classroom and proceeded with the social studies lesson. During the next forty-five minutes, she went to the window to check on Shirley again two or three times, but after that forgot all about her.
One of those sudden spring thunderstorms blew up out of the southwest. The wind blew, the sky turned black, and thunder rumbled alarmingly close. When the rain started to pour down in sheets was when Miss White remembered Shirley Watson.
“Will somebody go out to the playground and tell Shirley Watson to come in out of the rain right now?” she said.
“I’ll go!” Lester Jackson said.
“That’s very gallant of you, Lester,” Miss White said, but she knew that gallantry was the farthest thing from Lester’s mind. He only wanted an excuse to go outside and experience the rainstorm firsthand.
“Now, where were we?” she said after Lester had left the room.
In five minutes Lester came back, drenched to the skin. “She ain’t there,” he said.
“I said she ain’t there.”
“Did you look all over?”
“The best I could in a cyclone.”
“Well, it’s not exactly a cyclone, but thank you, all the same.”
The storm didn’t let up for the next half hour. With every lightning bolt and thunderclap, Miss White found the class increasingly past the point of learning anything. Some of the children were scared almost to the point of tears, while others wanted to laugh and jump up out of their seats, finding that the storm added a welcome zest to the afternoon.
“Would somebody like to tell us a story?” Miss White asked.
While Myrna Hollander was giving a rambling and not very interesting account of how her great-grandparents had been killed in a storm just like this one in Texas, Miss White stood up and went to the window again.
Since the playground was on a slope, there was a sort of trough at the end of the slope where the rainwater collected to run off into the storm drain. There, in the trough, was Shirley Watson, face down in the water, arms outstretched. In a minute she floated out of sight and disappeared into the storm drain.
Miss White thought she should probably go and get some kind of help but, from the look of things, it was already too late. Tomorrow there would be one less grubby little girl in the world. She, Miss White, felt quite absolved of any responsibility. She was sorry for Shirley Watson, of course, but she had done all that was humanly possible. She had her entire class as witnesses, if it ever came to that.
She put the incident out of her mind and enjoyed a restful evening at home. In her snug little singles apartment, she broiled herself a steak and watched TV. On the ten o’clock news was no mention of a little girl found in a storm drain, so everything was all right. The less said about it, the better.
In the morning before the day began Miss White was astonished to see Shirley Watson walk into the room with a couple of other girls. She looked, for the first time, clean and well-groomed. She wore a bright, new-looking, yellow dress with white trim. Her hair had been washed and combed, parted neatly on the side.
Miss White called Shirley aside and said, “I’m glad to see you here today.”
Shirley smiled, showing sparkling teeth, and said, “Why wouldn’t I be here today?”
“Wasn’t there a little trouble yesterday? A little accident?”
“Not that I know of,” Shirley said innocently. “I didn’t have any accident.”
“All right, dear. Take your seat. The bell is about to ring.”
All day long Miss White found herself, at odd moments, studying Shirley Watson from the front of the room. When Shirley looked back at her with an ever-so-slight but knowing smile, Miss White looked away quickly. The question that remained unasked hung in the air between them.
Copyright © 2016 by Allen Kopp