Mariah Montoya

Mariah writes from Idaho. Her work is published in Metaphorosis, Tyephouse Literary Magazine, Jersey Devil Press, The Bookends Review, and others.

The Ghost Rain

Lila had found where her husband died near the hayshed, and now she wanted to go outside for the annual Ghost Rain. She was going to find him again, she said. She was going to feel the remaining pieces of her husband pepper her cheeks and run wet fingers down her neck.

We tried to warn her, to remind her that the droplets of ghosts splashing from the heavens didn’t necessarily fall where their owners had died. She couldn’t just don her raincoat, march to the hayshed, and collect Jack’s ghost fragments in a tin can. The Ghost Rain was sporadic; other people’s ghost pieces would fall upon her too, and that would be dangerous.

But when had Lila ever listened to us? She’d never believed that Jack had died of an overdose. She’d thought he was poisoned, that his death was unnatural, unwarranted, undoable.

Thus, on the day of the Ghost Rain, as everyone else took cover—slamming windows, patching up holes in Grandma’s ceiling, wrapping our kids in protective waterproof ponchos—Lila bundled herself up in a gray windbreaker and marched out Grandma’s back door.

We pressed our faces to the various windowpanes, watching in horror. The kids quit crying. Grandma sucked in a gasp. The sound of rain pounding against her roof swelled.

“She’s really doing it, then?” Aunt Jane said, clutching the windowsill with whitened fingertips. On every Ghost Rain, the whole family got together to stay safe. Now it seemed we had gotten together to watch Lila stride halfway across the flooded yard, stop suddenly in her tracks, and throw her face toward the sky. She hadn’t made it to the hayshed yet, but she still let the drops of the dead from overhead splatter onto her outstretched tongue.

Her face changed. Where before it had been flushed with rebellious determination, now her eyes widened. Her chin dropped. Her arms dangled limply by her sides.

“She got a taste of the other ghosts,” Aunt Jane murmured. “Why couldn’t she have just left them alone? Let them water the dirt like we told her to? Why can’t she ever just listen?”

Aunt Jane was right, of course. Meteorologists warned that if a ghost droplet made contact with your skin, it would absorb into your being, merge with your blood, and surge through your heart until you died too. You’d never feel fully alive again, the meteorologists said. It was essential to avoid the droplets, which weren’t fully ghosts—just fragments of a dead person’s memory. These fragments were supposed to soak into the ground to continue their endless cycle: accumulation in the veins of the earth, where the caskets lay; evaporation, where the spirits of the newly dead journeyed; condensation, where heaven loomed; and the Ghost Rain again, a redundant fall that connected here with there.

As we watched, Lila shook her head like a wet dog, her strings of dripping hair whipping this way and that. She marched on toward Grandma’s hayshed, hands balled into fists. Her feet slogged through puddles, and the water that splashed onto her ankles melted into her skin.

She stood near the hayshed, on the patch of ground her husband had died, for a long time, unmoving even when the winds shrieked and thunder rumbled in the distance.

“She’s fading,” Aunt Jane whispered morosely. “She’s going to die out there.”

Indeed, Lila’s body was growing more and more transparent, until we could nearly see the horse corrals through her abdomen. Yet she stayed, waiting for a piece of Jack to find her.

At long last, the Ghost Rain slowed. The kids started whimpering again, squirming in their ponchos. Grandma collapsed into her rocking chair and Aunt Jane withdrew from the window, but the rest of us watched Lila shake excess water from her hair. She tramped back to the house, her body gray and wispy like rainclouds.

When she opened the back door and climbed the carpeted stairs to the living room, her footsteps didn’t make a sound. She saw us gaping. Her ghostly mouth stretched into a smile.

“I got a drop of ‘im,” she said. Her voice was nothing more than a draught whistling between tree branches. “Just a drop, but it’s the drop that says he loves me.” She patted herself on the chest with a palm the color of smudged glass.

“And what about the other drops you got, Lila?” Aunt Jane said. “Are you even Lila anymore, or are you just one big conglomeration of ghost bits trying to haunt us?”

“I am Lila,” Lila said, “and I am pieces of others too. If taking in the other ghosts meant I could feel Jack again, then so be it. We’re all going to join the rain sooner or later. We might as well embrace the memories of the dead if we want to be remembered too.” She paused, glassy eyes roving blankly over the kids. “I have a lot of people to go say ‘I love you’ to now.”

So later, after the Ghost Rain had completely trickled away and we had warmed Lila’s immaterial figure by the fire, she left to go water the people her other ghosts had left behind.

We couldn’t stifle our reluctant smiles, knowing the most important bit of Jack was with her: imbedded in her sweat glands, sparkling on her tongue, seeping from the corner of her eye.