The dry rain came, yet no one could see it except the homeless guy and me. We sat on the curb, watching the invisible drops crashing through the leaves.
“You see that?” he asked, as we shared a cigarette.
“Yeah, I see it,” I said, watching the women in sun dresses and the men in khakis go in and out of the stores.
“The dry rain is never good,” he said, taking the butt from my hand and drawing deeply.
“What does it mean?” I asked, looking at the road and seeing no drops of rain splattering on the blacktop, or on the trashcans set in the gutter waiting for the truck that would come in the morning.
“A change, changes always come after the dry rain,” he licked his lips. “Got another cigarette?”
“Yes.” I dug in my bag, pulling free a pack and handing it to him. I didn’t know him, he was just a guy I’d seen pushing a shopping cart to and fro. Sometimes I felt sorry for him and wanted to run out and give him things … things I couldn’t even discern, but it seemed he had all he needed in the shopping cart.
He took a cigarette from the pack, lighting it with an old butane silver lighter, which had something engraved on the outside. “Just watch,” he said, handing me back the pack.
I took the box and pulled out a butt and lighted it with a Bic, settling as well as I could on the curb.
“Just watch,” the old man said, dragging on a cigarette that probably only cost me about forty cents, but the cost and the waste made me nervous. Who was this old, unshaved man pushing a shopping cart down the streets?
“Just watch, it’s like clockwork, once the dry rain comes …. Don’t you see it?”
I looked back at the horizon and at the trees, and saw the rain falling. I looked at the ground and on the street and at the brick before us and saw no evidence of water, rain, or anything liquid.
“It’s not raining,” I said, settling in on the dirt behind the curb, resting my old bones into the dirt.
He glanced at me, drawing deeply on the cigarette, his eyebrows raised. “Now you don’t see it? You saw it a couple minutes ago.”
I looked into his eyes and wanted to deny what I had seen. I wanted to be reasonable. It wasn’t raining, but I had seen the rain. I shook my head, looking down at my lap, as a chastised child would do, and then looked into his weary eyes. “I saw the dry rain.”
He smiled. “Keep watching, it’s always this way.”
I found I was almost lying on the dirt in my denial, staring at the clouds in the sky and I felt drunk, although I hadn’t had a drink. I struggled to sit forward, to observe the things he wanted me to see, but my stomach retracted and would not bend or give.
The old man reached for me. He smiled as he set me up on my ass, and turned my face to the street and the things he needed me to see. “Just watch.” He pushed my hair from my eyes, and touched my jaw, making sure my eyes were focused on the block.
My eyes fell to where some ants struggled on a piece of something I couldn’t identify in a break in the blacktop crossing the expanse between us and the shoppers.
“Wake up, girl! You drunk?” He leaned into my face, and his smell shook me to the core. Was that garlic, onion, or cinnamon?
“I’m not drunk,” I declared, the scent of him sending a bright light through me. I sat forward, my eyes on the place he wanted me to see.
“Good to know, just never forget the dry rain.” He pointed to the trees lining the street.
I looked and saw it again. I wanted to sleep; it couldn’t be real.
He shook my leg.
I woke, and observed the trees hanging over the block. A shiver worked through my body as I saw the elusive rain. I turned and studied the old homeless man who traveled with a shopping cart, and I shook my head.
“Look!” He demanded, and I watched the street filling with people as the movies, restaurants, stores, and diners closed early, and the dry rain fell on them.
I lifted my eyes for a moment and saw the tree above me, it was a huge Magnolia, the limbs descending to the ground large enough to lift a truck, and I saw the dry rain. I felt drunk, stoned, and crazier than any good acid trip, but I wasn’t – I had simply stepped outside of the house. I knew the old man was telling me the truth, he was simply showing me reality. The ground called me again, but his hard bony arms pulled me forward like some skeletal cage.
“Look, God Damnit!”
I looked, I watched, and I felt the people thrown from their regular safe places. I saw anger, the stiff backs, the girls falling, and the women wailing. I witnessed three fights and saw the people slipping on dry ground as I looked above and saw the invisible rain falling. I was reminded of an ice rink I saw sometime in my past, but there was no ice, no rain, and yet the people stuttered, slid, and tried to grasp something solid as they left the familiar places. I glanced at the old man.
“ ‘nother cigarette?” he asked
I handed him the pack. “Keep it,” I said, no longer worried over the cents I may have or may have not spent.
“Take one,” he said, handing me a butt.
I thanked him, smiling, and happy for my own cigarette.
“You’ve seen the dry rain.”
I looked above, seeing the rain that didn’t exist crashing on the leaves, and turning my eyes to the chaos and screaming on the street, I nodded.
“Never forget, the dry rain is always about change,” he laughed, his eyes crinkling and resonating the words.
I smiled, laughed, and reached to hug him …
I woke later, cold and alone, on the sidewalk, and found my way back into my space. Luckily, it was my weekend off as I read of the death and chaos that happened outside of my apartment. I wondered if it was a dream, if the old guy with the shopping cart was simply an illusion, and I tried to find peace in the fact that I no longer saw him.
I spent two days sleeping on the screened in porch listening for the old man, and heard many who carried his sound, but they were not him. Sometimes it was just someone pushing a lawn mower; sometimes it was someone pushing a broken motorcycle.
The old man is gone. Maybe he disappeared in the chaos that happened in front of my windows, which made the news. I wish I’d given him more than half a pack of cigarettes.
So here I am today, watching the dry rain ….
I wonder what he would have said …