The Day Belongs to the Rain
~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp ~
The cool air came down from the north. The warm air came up from the south. When these two monolithic forces met somewhere in the middle, they engaged in fierce battle. The weather reports on the radio were dire: The storm is coming—if you aren’t in a safe place, go to one. Almost immediately, anxious mothers in plastic rain bonnets began showing up to pick up their children.
Miss Julian turned from the blackboard where she was explaining how to diagram a simple declarative sentence. Hardly anybody was paying attention to what she was saying. Most of the attention in the room was focused on the storm that was raging outside the windows. Some of the children looked worried; a couple of them were making no secret of the fact that they were afraid and about to cry. Others were enjoying the excitement that was making their day so much more interesting than they had expected. More than a few of them were blank and slack-jawed—it would take a bomb exploding to get a response from them.
“Does everybody see how to diagram a sentence now?” Miss Julian asked. “Are there any questions?”
“Are we going to die?” a boy in the third row asked.
“Of course not.”
The rain pelted the windows, louder now than it was a minute ago. The lightning crashed, the lights flickered and went out. Everybody in the room said “Oh!” as if on cue.
She knew they wouldn’t get any work done until the storm was over. “You may put away your language books,” she said, “and read your library books silently for the time being.”
A boy in the back of the room, unable to sit still any longer, stood up and went to the window. Then another boy joined him and after that another.
“What is this?” she said loudly from the front of the room. “Nobody told you to get out of your seats! School isn’t over!”
There was a knock on the door: another mother come to rescue her child from the storm. When the girl saw her mother, she went running into her arms like a war refugee. The mother and daughter left tearfully without looking back. In a few seconds, another mother came and after that they came in bunches.
Miss Melline, the fifth-grade teacher from down the hall, came to the door and motioned Miss Julian to step out into the hall.
“How are we doing in here?” Miss Melline asked, leaning in too close. She had hooded eyes like a frog.
“We’re all right,” Miss Julian said. “About half the class has already absconded.”
“Mine too,” Miss Melline said. “The little bastards. You’d think they’d never seen a thunderstorm before.”
“I wonder that they haven’t sent us word to send everybody home. Especially with the lights out.”
“I think they’re waiting for the rain to let up. If we send the students out in this raging storm, some of them will drown and the school will be faced with lawsuits.”
“I’m all for the shutting down for the day,” Miss Julian said.
“Amen to that,” Miss Melline said. She laughed idiotically and went back to her class.
The storm continued and didn’t seem to be weakening. By the time the principal’s office sent word to the teachers to send the students home early, Miss Julian only had five left who hadn’t been picked up. When she asked them if they could make it home all right, they said yes; they had just been waiting to be allowed to leave. They didn’t mind getting drenched if it meant getting to leave early.
“By morning they’ll have the lights on again,” Miss Julian said, “and everything will be back to normal.”
When she thought everybody had left and was getting ready to leave herself, she noticed someone sitting quietly in the back of the room, almost blending into the background as if he wasn’t there at all. On closer inspection, she saw it was Leander Nevins, the shabby, brown-eyed boy who never spoke unless spoken to.
“You can leave now, Leander,” she said.
“Is anything wrong?”
“Come on, then. Everybody has left. I can’t leave you here all alone.”
“I’d like to stay a while longer.”
“Are you afraid to go out in the rain?”
“Do you want me to call your mother to come and get you?”
He stood up from his desk and left the room without looking at her. She heard his footsteps going down the stairs. Relieved that everyone had finally left, she put on her coat and headscarf and locked the door. As she walked down the stairs, she was thinking about what she would do with her unexpected afternoon off. There was always laundry to do and shopping. Maybe she would just get into bed and listen to the rain on the roof.
While backing her car off the nearly empty teachers’ parking lot, she saw someone, no more than a blur, standing in the rain against the building. She couldn’t tell who it was at first, but when she rolled down the window she saw it was Leander Nevins. She motioned him over to the car.
“What’s the matter, Leander?” she asked.
“You need to get on home and get in out of the rain.”
“Where’s your jacket? You’re soaked through to the skin.”
“I couldn’t find it.”
“Well, get in. I’ll drive you home.”
“That’s okay. I’ll walk.”
“Get in, Leander! Now!”
He opened the passenger-side door and slid onto the seat beside her.
“Where’s your cap?” she asked.
“I don’t know. I guess I lost it.”
She had a folded-up dinner napkin in her purse that she had been saving for just such an emergency. She took it out and gave it to him. He ran it over the top of his head and down his face.
“Thanks,” he said. “It sure is raining hard.”
“Where do you live?” she asked.
“I live out on the rural route.”
“Where is that?”
“Out of town. Out in the country.”
“You walk that far to school and back every day?”
She put the car in gear and lurched forward into the rain that was like being under water.
“I walk to the bus from my house and then I ride the bus the rest of the way. When I go home in the afternoons, I catch the bus at school and ride it as far as it goes and then walk the rest of the way.”
“Why aren’t you riding the bus today?”
“I guess I missed it.”
“Was it an accident that you missed it?”
“No, I just didn’t make it in time.”
“Is there some reason you don’t want to go home?” she asked.
“Your mother and father will be glad to see you. They’ll be glad to know you made it home safely in this storm.”
“I live with my grandma. My parents are gone.”
She looked over at him. She hoped he’d volunteer more information, but he didn’t. He shivered, so she turned on the car heater.
“There’s a heavy old shirt on the back seat,” she said. “You can put it on since you don’t have a jacket.”
“If you’re worried that it’s a girl’s shirt, it’s not. It belonged to my ex-husband.”
He leaned over the back seat, found the shirt and wrapped himself in it like a blanket.
Beyond the downtown business district she turned onto the old highway that went out into the country. There were no other cars on the road. Everybody else had the good sense to stay inside.
“It’s lonely this far out of town,” she said.
“Just a little bit farther and you can let me out,” Leander said.
“I’m not putting you out in this storm!” she said. “We’ll just wait it out together if we have to!”
The rain lashed the car, growing in intensity. The sky was all black. Small limbs and other flying debris slammed into the car. When she could no longer see the road, she pulled over onto the shoulder.
“We’ll just stay here for a little while until the storm lets up,” she said.
“I can walk the rest of the way from here,” Leander said.
“No! I’m not going to let you walk!”
“Well, all right, but, really, I don’t mind.”
“If anything should happen to you, don’t you think I’d be held responsible?”
“I don’t know.”
The twister that hit the car was like a many-armed, living thing. It lifted the car up, spun it around, and deposited it on the ground, on its top, in another location.
When she was lifted out of the car, she was only partially conscious. She knew that some part of her body hurt, but she didn’t know which part. She wasn’t fully conscious again until two days later, flat on her back in a hospital bed.
“I won’t ask what happened,” she said, “because I already know.”
“She’s waking up!” a nurse said.
“What was that she said?” a doctor asked.
“I said I already know what happened.”
“Do you know where you are?”
“It looks like a hospital. Am I going to live or die?”
“You have a brain concussion. You also have a couple of broken bones, but you’ll be all right. You don’t need to worry about a thing.”
“But there was another person with me in the car!”
“You were brought in alone.”
“No! There was a boy with me, one of my students. I was giving him a ride home because of the storm.”
“There was no report of another person in the car.”
“His name was Leander. He lives out on the rural route, he said. I was giving him a ride home because he missed the bus.”
“Could you have imagined it?”
“No! I didn’t imagine anything! I want to talk to the police!”
“No reports of any missing children,” the police said.
“He lived with his grandmother,” Miss Julian said. “On a farm someplace outside of town. She must be worried sick about him.”
“Do you know the grandmother’s name?”
“Do you have an address?”
“No, I don’t know anything about the family! I only know there was a boy in my car with me. His name was Leander. I was giving him a ride home in the storm because he missed his bus.”
“That’s not much to go on, ma’am.”
“He might be badly hurt.”
“We’ll be on the lookout for him. Unless he’s reported missing by family, though, there isn’t much we can do.”
She recovered from her injuries. She was written up in the local newspaper as one of the fortunate survivors of the storm. After a few weeks, she returned to the classroom.
No trace of Leander Nevins was ever found. He was a boy so insignificant that his disappearance wasn’t noted by the world.
That might have been the end of Leander, except that every now and then Miss Julian saw him fly by the window of her classroom, his arms extended like a bird’s wings. He looked longingly through the glass. He wanted to come inside and rejoin the class. “Look at me,” he seemed to be saying. “I am here.”
Copyright © 2022 by Allen Kopp