The drought broke us. There is no other way to put it. For the first few months, everyone in the village believed it would rain. We believed we would wake one morning to open skies flinging out its wash of belief in us. Then we believed we could hunt: until the grasses dried up and our game moved on to the established territories of other villages. Then we thought we might fish. The banks of the lakes and rivers began to walk away from us a little each day, and the fish packed their small sets of belongings and left for someplace unknown to us.
Government relief came with payments to be made, and a distribution system based on power and worth and warehousing. What provender that did make it to the people - who regarded themselves yet as an entity, united in their experience of collective want - was divided by the strong and wasted on speculation.
So we dusted off our old magic. One village over a rainmaker offered to dance in our fields for the sum of only one of our daughters to add to his stable of foreign wives, and we thought: no matter, one less mouth to feed.
And so he came and unfolded his ceremonial cloth and laid it solemnly out. From a satchel he had stored in his cart he unloaded all manner of sacred and scientific object. We had not seen the likes of it since our rainmaker had passed on and was then buried with his effects at the base of the radio tower. No one of our village had wanted to take on the rainmaker’s stock of tools and his slowly dissolving trade. No one thought the magic would work in a land of better sensibilities. We could barely remember the powders. We had forgotten the chants, or the drama in the chants. We but merely recognized the shape of the rattles. A box of teeth this alien rainmaker shook looked like the remains of extinct prey, or like the canines our histories tell us our ancestors grew in their own mouths.
When it was all put out, he danced. He leapt and spun and stopped at the carpet to gather a pinch of this and a snarl of that, a smudge of something displaced, to raise a rattle and shake it as though in the face of a contentiously dry God. At one point he ran into the field as though to escape, and as fast ran back, his breath no heavier than a child’s sigh. And around again he went and began a clamor of bells, a flagellation of animal hair, a canticle of shells.
We thought: we are getting a deal out of this. We thought: look at how meticulously he weaves his will into the weather.
For two hours or more his administration of the natural order went on, and then he gathered his things and his prize, Shana, and left. She sat in the back of his cart, folded in on herself as though an abandoned trove of wash day clothes, her hood pulled down about her cheeks and one eye staring back at the people of the village who had abandoned her to womanhood in an unknown place. Shana was never that good at planting or weaving; nor was she the most substantial of the family’s sisters; nor was she a passingly comely child. Finding a match for her might have rested on sturdiness alone. Her head bobbed with each rut the cart greeted, and she made no attempt to keep her body righted in a line of apparent womanly substance or domestic dignity, as befits service. No matter the outcome, the price was good for us.
Two weeks later the rains began. They beat hard on the land as if thumping the ground to listen for its ripeness. The ground beat back. The rains ran off and the rivers filled and the banks of the lakes and rivers came back to us: came back closer than before and we moved our possessions to the second floors of our homes and arable land was now lake bed and still it rained. All the village thought, “How are we so deserving? Why is there now so much rain for us?”
And some of the younger amongst us adoringly looked over to the radio tower and the sacred land squirming at its feet; and, if only idly, boys considered for a moment how many wives a rainmaker must support, and what cleansing anger he could deliver upon his in-laws. They rubbed the insides of their thighs and ran a hidden finger barely by the uncertainty of their withering testicles and thought, “There. The implements are buried there. We could learn. Why wouldn’t we?” They each tried to think of other ways of getting a wife; of simple machinations that would find them a mate who would bob in the backs of their wagons already beaten and think, “I am no prize”.
The water, ripening with each of its conquering waves, gently laughed.
Ken Poyner's collections of short fiction, Constant Animals and Avenging Cartography, and his latest collections of poetry, Victims of a Failed Civics and The Book of Robot, can be obtained from Barking Moose Press, www.barkingmoosepress.com. He serves as bewildering eye-candy at his wife’s power lifting affairs. His poetry lately has been sunning in Analog, Asimov’s, Poet Lore; and his fiction has yowled in Spank the Carp, Red Truck, Café Irreal. www.kpoyner.com.