Apr/May 2015  •   Fiction

The Cruel Month

by Alex Keegan

Photograph by Rus Bowden

Photograph by Rus Bowden

It begins early, planes in the sky, the kitchen shaking. We huddle together, not sure why, as if our proximity will protect us. Then it is quiet. We stay like this for a long time, convinced if we uncouple, the noise will return, the sky will be black again.

That day, that night, another day, but then a child mewls, another gets up to go to the bathroom at the foot of the stairs. Eventually, we all stand up, but we are different. It begins to rain.

And now, 29 days later, all day it has rained. Women are crying. This is a summer of rain and planes, this is an August of dark, dark skies.

At night we talk of how it is now. A man says he would rather lose an arm than lose a leg. A man with two legs can run, he can kick, but better the left arm he says than the right. A man with one leg would be useless. A woman asks if losing a finger would be enough. She is afraid of scars.

There is no radio, no telephone. The policeman has run away. But tomorrow is September, and the train is due. There will be room on the train for someone to go to the coast and speak to the people in charge. Perhaps it will stop raining, and when it has not rained for an hour, for two hours, the sun will break through and we will go out and marvel. If it does not rain for a whole day, we will stay awake that night and pray. If it is dry in the morning, we will sing.

But it does not stop raining. When the train comes, it does not slow down. The driver is stern-faced, staring ahead, going too fast to take the curve and cross the rickety bridge safely. We hear the accident, and now we have no bridge, no train. There is little food.

The veranda is wet. We had a street once, but it is a river now. We are talking about crossing, going up to higher ground, but nobody can swim such a river. We do not pray any more, and now the lower rooms are wet.

I take Maria's hand. We do not speak, but we look at each other and go upstairs. The bed is not made, the room is dank. Once I was so great a lover.