After the Rain, Before the Storm
by Raquel D. Bailey
They were waiting; waiting for the hum of the wind-driven rains to cease; for the heavy, dark clouds to part. Their new home stood humbly at the foot of an Irish hill in the County of Wicklow. But the wall of rain drowned nature’s scenery for miles.
Ashley and Ben would peer out of the window, listening for the calming of the downpour and listening for distant laughter of children from the meadow.
To pass the time, Ashley helped Ben learn to read, lace his boots, make his bed and set the dinner table, in the time they wished they could have used to find new friends.
It was a very muggy summer and Ben was tired of lacing shoes, making beds and shining silverware. As he and Ashley stood in the dining room, shining the tarnished silverware, the clouds quietly parted and a spectrum of afternoon sunrays blanketed the oak table. Distant laughter echoed in the evaporating mist. Children.
Mom called down the stairs. “Summer’s finally made it to Wicklow. It’s high time we planted seeds in our garden.” Mom advised Ben and Ashley to wait for the floodwaters to dry before playing in the meadow by Loch Dean.
Ben tripped over his laces and apron while racing up the staircase. Ashley smiled and followed behind.
“See, Ben, look. It’s over there!”
“There, where that black hawk is circling in the sky. That’s the Fiery Hill mom told me about last night, where a great king’s castle once stood.”
“Last night, when?”
“When you were asleep.”
“Indeed.” Ashley admired the illuminated view from the window that covered the mountain’s peak like a halo.
“What’s up there, Ashley?”
“Mom says her grandma told her, after the rains wash away all the soil, nothing but gold dust covers the peak of the hillside, and we’re going to get it for mom and dad so we can buy everything in the whole wide world. We will be rich!”
“Mom says we can’t go outside yet because it’s not safe and it’s wet. Dad says the water monsters will wash you into Loch Dean and take you away forever.”
“No such thing, silly. You stay here and watch from the window.” Ashley flung her apron behind the bed, tightened the belt around her waist and laced up her old brown boots. “If mom and dad ask where I am, tell them I am in the bathroom in the cellar.”
“You mean lie? You’re gonna get in trouble!”
“Shhhh. I’ll be right back, Ben. I promise. When I reach the top of the mountain, start counting down from 100 and I’ll be back before you even make it to 1.”
“Okay.” Ben whimpered reluctantly, wishing he could escape to the hillside with her.
Ashley went down the stairs and out the front door while mom was taking a bubble bath and their father was muddling around in his new tool shed, hammering anything he found loose.
Ben stood anxiously waiting at the bedroom window, watching Ashley climb the hill as she disappeared into the fiery light surrounding her. His mouth dropped open when she was gone. No sound. Not a sound.
Ben could feel his little heartbeat in each of his fingertips. He waited.
Suddenly from the fiery peak of the hill, Ashley, as nimble as a deer, made her way back down the hillside with her hands clutched together. So overwhelmed with joy, Ben began hopping as he held on to the window drapery. He had forgotten to count down from 100 as he was more relieved that his big sister was safe.
Ben quickly laced up his shoes and made a dash for the front door to let Ashley in. They smiled at each other, looking toward the den. “Let’s go in there, Ben.”
Creeping into the den, Ashley whispered, “Make sure you close the door behind us, Ben.” The door creaked till it shut. “The light is much too bright.”
“Lemme see. I wanna see, too!” Ben whined in a whisper.
“Okay. Okay. Mom and dad will be so happy! Just think, Ben, you will be able to get all the toys and candy you want, I can buy the most beautiful dresses and shoes... Oh, and mom and dad can buy another house!” Prancing around the room, tangling herself in her joy, Ashley clutched her palms tightly and didn’t open her hands. Ben’s smile began to turn into frustration.
“What is it? What’s in your hand, Ashley?”
“It’s gold dust, just like mom said.”
“Lemme see. Lemme see it!” Ben’s voice began to rise with mounting curiosity.
“Okay. Promise to be quiet and I’ll show you before I give it to mom and dad. If you raise your voice, you will get us in trouble.”
“I promise, now lemme see da dust.” Ben’s lisp tickled Ashley as she agreed and slowly opened her hands. His smile lit up the whole room but it was not as bright as the glow within her palms that began to bounce off the walls.
“Look, Ben! We’re rich, we’ve got gold! We’re rich!” Ashley’s eyes were glowing in its light. The palms of her hands even appeared to be plated in gold. She froze in the moment, making wish after wish. She was so lost in the richness of the hill, she had almost forgotten to breath.
“Yaaay! Daddy! We’re rich! Mom! Ashley’s got gold dust from the hill. Daddy, come, come see! I saw it!” Ben stood in front of Ashley, gasping for air.
“Shhh!” Ashley tried to quiet Ben but he was too amazed at the sight of shimmering dust he’d never seen before. Ben made a quick dash out the den, through the dining room and to the shed. “No wait, Ben.”
Pulling their father into the house, Ben chanted. “Come see. Come see, daddy. It’s gold dust! Ashley’s got gold. She won’t give me any!”
Their mother heard the commotion and wrapped a towel around her hairdo; she hopped out of the tub and threw on her pink bathrobe.
With so much chatter, no one noticed the heavy storm clouds quickly setting in. The meadow went from green to gray over Wicklow and the fiery peak of the hill hid behind the weight of the clouds as if it went up in smoke. One raindrop fell. And then another.
“What is all this fuss?” their mother snapped as she rushed down the stairs.
“I have no idea, honey. Ben says Ashley has gold dust. He wants us to see.”
Their mother gasped as her cheeks went a little pale while she murmured something incoherent. Scrambling in her slippers to keep up with Ben, they headed to the den and pushed the door wide open.
Just as the last ray of sun slithered off the peak of the hill, the glow in Ashley’s hand faded. The light in her eyes had died. A teardrop fell into her palm as mom and dad caught a snapshot of an unexplainable glistening light.
“Show them, Ash. They want to see da gold dust!” Ben tugged on Ashley’s arm as their mom and dad approached. Nothing but a mound of ash trickled into the air and settled on the wooden floor.
“That’s not gold, those are ashes, Ashley! Where did you put da gold, Ashley? Mommy, she hid it from us so she can keep it for herself. They want to see it, Ashley.”
Ashley could only look at her mother with unforgiving eyes. She didn’t understand.
Her mother paused in the doorway in utter disbelief, though she didn’t doubt her own eyes. She stood gazing at the mound of ashes on the floor.
“Okay, Ashley. You and Ben had better clean up this mess and get ready for supper. I’ve got things to do before then,” their father demanded as he exited the room.
Ashley and Ben each received a kiss on the head from their mother and slowly made their way to the bathroom to wash up and set the table for dinner.
* * *
Ben lives in Dublin, where he has a comfortable position as a banker. Ashley still lives in Wicklow, waiting for the black hawk to circle the hilltop again. She watches her children play in the meadow between the rains. Ashley and Ben have not had much to say to each other for a long time now.
Copyright © 2009 by Raquel D. Bailey