The rain of Moses
Okay okay, she said.
I will remember to dance, she said. Outside, she said. In the rain.
Especially if it does rain, he said.
They both looked up to see the sky and they didn't laugh.
The man was dead. He had white hair standing on end and a striped polyester shirt and red-red slacks held up by suspenders. He was sitting in a booth at the doughnut place with his right arm splayed out across the stain-scarred table top, his hand palm up next to the still-steaming cup of coffee. His head lolled. His wrinkles went hard. He was dead.
The clerks and the customers were standing around him, talking about it. The man was there like he'd always been there. His fifth of peppermint schnapps tucked under his now-dead leg. Someone called the medics but before they arrived, flashing lights over the last hill, the group decided he was dead and instead of talking about saving him they went on to try and remember him and to say something for life and for death, for man and for God.
He died quietly, someone said. He died like he lived, someone said. He was a good man, someone said, a good husband and a good father and a good friend. A good American and a good Christian, someone said. Yeah. He will be remembered.
Moses was silent. His back was to the man and the talking. Looking out at the window at the rain clouds that were only shedding shadows where they were rushing over the brush-covered ground, he was waiting for it to rain and he had nothing to say.
The proverbs for the dead man continued. Moses ignored them. The abstractions and the invocations projecting pasts and prattling about permanent things, he ignored it all. Moses and the dead man didn't care about memorials or want to talk about how who had been good. Moses looked quietly out the window.
In another time, on another day, he would have said something. He would have had something to say. He would have joined the living in the talking and he would have talked for them in the words of God. He would have extrapolated and examplized, have remembered and reminded. He would have pointed to the man in the booth and the doughnuts in the back-lit case and the vapor coming off the coffee. He would have pointed to the earth and pointed to the sky and he would have said a sermon. But he couldn't remember the words.
He smelled the coffee steam. He smelled the sweat of the people in the way it mixed with the sugar and the dough. The medics opened the swinging glass door with a bell ring and they came in with the smell of sterilizers and they let in the smell of the sweeping wind as it carried in the coming of the rain.
He remembered the rain. He waited for its coming again.
It had been raining when he heard the council's decision. He had been in a motel outside of New Palestine, in Indiana, laying on the one-blanket bed with a single light on and a black Bible open to the words of the prophets. The motel phone rang twice, red light fluttering out to the room, before he answered and heard. It hadn't been unexpected. Into the phone he was silent and the Brother with the news, Brother Jeremy Lee, he said We don't have to listen to this. We don't have to listen to this. We know and we can go on. He hung up and had laid there, staring at an oil spot above a picture of fish jumping in a river and he stared in an unshared silence until the storm came over and he slept. It had rained for two days and he had stayed in the motel, had opened the window blinds and the windows, had taken out the sceens and had listened to the falling.
It had been raining the first time he left the church. His father was preaching again about the year where King Uzziah died and preaching about the coming of the Holy Ghost and he had silently slipped from the revival. He had gone out into the dark and danced with Susanna until the rain fell. The long grass brushing their legs in the thick dark, out past where the lights shone out of the sanctuary. From the church he could hear his father preaching. Not the words. Just the structures of the cadences. They danced to that and then the rain hit and she made a funny, fake-serious face and raised her hands above her head, like a hallelujah umbrella. He had turned his face upwards to the falling sky and laughed and felt the drops thumping the inside of his mouth. The rain washed his face. The rain blocked out the words. The rain came down like peace. The rain came down and he said he loved her and she couldn't hear him and her hair straggled stringy, dripping water. Later he heard she had changed her name to Shoshonah, married an earnest and handsome man and moved to Thailand. That was a long time ago.
When the dead man was gone, the people at the doughnut place stood in a circle in a silence. They returned to their tables and to the rest of the day and the clerk wiped the table wet with a rag and carried off the coffee.
Well, someone said, I got to get going. Well, someone said, I'll see you.
A clerk leaned on the counter with elbows out wide and a man looked at her and she looked outside and said she hoped it didn't rain. It probably will, the man said. It'd better not, she said. I'm going to an outdoor concert. You make me feel old, he said, I used to go all the time and I used to dance outside. Now I just feel old. They talked and they didn't laugh and they both looked up to see the sky.
Moses looked out, his face silent. He drank his coffee. It was half-hot like he wanted. He watched a sparrow poke at an upturned bug, but grow bored and go off to a bush. He watched the clouds move together over across the highway. He watched a man in a suit carry an unopened umbrella. He took another drink.
Moses; The words of Moses; The disciple of Moses.