by Francine Witte
Hasn’t rained for six months now. Dad likes it because he doesn’t have to fix the hole in the roof. Mom likes it because no one is tracking in any mud. Whenever we watch the news, and the weatherbot comes on, Dad says this is soooo depresso and switches to another channel.
My brother Dean is big into astronomy. He has a telescope and it pokes straight up from the attic through the hole in the roof. Dean says there’s another Earth and it’s just like ours. He says there’s a family that is kind of like us.
The weatherbot is really a woman. I call her a bot because I hate her. Mom hates her, too. We all know that we hate her because she looks just like the neighbor lady Dad was caught kissing that time. Her hair is fluffy and blonde in the same way, and there is something about her eyes. I’m sure Dad sees the resemblance but he pretends it’s the lack of rain that bothers him when she comes on the screen.
One time, when it used to rain, Mom thought it might be nice to invite the neighbor lady over for dinner. I could hear Mom on the phone inviting her—‘Feel free to bring your children,’ Mom was saying, ‘I have two—13 and 15.’ She was lying. I was never 13. I skipped it just like an elevator. Besides, 14 felt like the beginning of things. Boys, and makeup and well…life.
When the neighbor lady came over, it was pouring, and even though she was as careful as she could be, she still tracked mud into the house, and Mom was fussing behind her as she led her into the living room. She sat on the couch and Mom took her shoes to dry near the stove. She was beautiful in a way my mother had no time for. Her face unlined, her nails, oval and glittered, the way I wanted to wear mine.
She told us she had no kids, and she was alone in the house waiting for her husband to join her the next week. Mom said, ‘I hope you like roast beef.’ The neighbor smiled her perfecttooth smile, yes, she said, very much. My father came in just then and he looked at her in a way I’d never seen him look at anyone before, fixed and pinlike, the way I’d seen Dean get when he was looking up at planets.
Dean says Other Earth is flooding with rain. He says the father in our parallel family is packing his clothes, throwing everything into a duffel bag and leaving in a rowboat. He says the father is waving goodbye to the mother who is staying behind to make roast beef. Dean says the boy in the family is in their attic, looking through a telescope and he is staring directly at us. When I ask what the girl is doing, he looks again and says, ‘there is no girl.’
I start wearing eyeliner and scarlet lipstick I find in Mom’s dressing table drawer. I’m 15 now, so it’s okay. I think of the weatherbot and the lady next door and how I want to look like them. When I come down to breakfast, Mom says, I’m not 15, I’m 14, remember? and that’s still too young. I go back upstairs and I wonder how old you have to be till people finally see you.
Dad leaves one day and never comes back. Mom calls the police and goes next door to ask the neighbor lady if she’s seen my father, but she’s gone, too. Only her husband now, who is standing on the porch looking up at the sky. He turns to look at Mom and invites her in for coffee, but she hustles herself home and says we are a smaller family now and that’s just that.
After Dad is gone a month, it starts to rain and rain and rain. Dean’s telescope is only useful now to plug up the roof and keep the rain from coming in. Mom tells us not to watch TV because she doesn’t want to see the weatherbot, but I sneak it anyway when Mom goes out to buy groceries. I like to see how the weatherbot wears her hair. I want to look at her eyes. One time when Dad didn’t leave the room, he said this woman talks with her eyes. I wonder if that was because of her eyeliner or something else. Like maybe there was a star galaxy inside her.
The rain keeps on, and Mom hires a man to fix the roof. He pulls out the ruined telescope and says the hole was probably from pesty squirrels and there ain’t no outer space anyhow. Mom is happy to have the roof all normal again and she invites the roofman to stay for dinner. She asks him if he likes roast beef. She goes upstairs and when she comes back down, her lips are suddenly scarlet.
At dinner, Dean tells the roofman about Other Earth, but how he’ll have to forget it because his telescope is ruined. The roofman leans back in his chair, Dad’s chair, and says listen, one earth is plenty and can he please have more delicious roast beef.
Mom smiles, her eyes lit up and pretty. Not even eyeliner. I’m glad she’s finally happy but I start to think about Other Earth and how the rain must have stopped. I think about the family that is just like us and how the mother is probably not happy. Maybe the father came back and the girl who wasn’t there is there now. I wonder if the boy who was looking at us notices Dean isn’t watching and if he will stop watching us.
I’m thinking about all this and also the millions of stars between here and Other Earth and what happens to them on these rainy nights when no one can see them and that’s when Mom tells me to eat my roast beef, it’s getting cold. I say I’m not that hungry and the roofman says, ‘c’mon you wanna keep up your strength for all the romeos who must be calling.’ I tell him I’m only 14 and too young to date. Mom smiles again when I say that and says now that the roof is fixed, life can get back to normal.
Later that night, in bed, I think about the floods on Other Earth and Mom worrying again about the mud on everyone’s shoes. I think how she will marry the roofman and he will start watching the weatherbot and talking about her eyes and what if some other neighbor lady moves in next door. I snuggle under my covers. I figure that life is just a series of things that happen and then unhappen and happen again. I fall asleep to the rain on the roof a steady thrum, almost like the sound of the stars that no one sees falling down right out of the sky.
Francine Witte’s poetry and fiction have appeared in Smokelong Quarterly, Wigleaf, Mid-American Review, and Passages North. Her latest books are Dressed All Wrong for This (Blue Light Press,) The Way of the Wind (AdHoc fiction,) and The Theory of Flesh (Kelsay Books.) Her chapbook, The Cake, The Smoke, The Moon (flash fiction) will be published by ELJ September, 2021. She is flash fiction editor for Flash Boulevard and The South Florida Poetry Journal. She lives in NYC.