Mom Told Me So
I wish it would rain again. It doesn’t happen enough here. I think I get my love of the rain from Mom. I like the smell, and the sound too. I used to just like the rain because of those things, but now I suppose we all have to like it.
Something went wrong with the sun. One day, it just flared too bright, I guess, and people started burning up. Just for standing outside for a minute. I know because it happened to my brother. One moment he was laughing and playing football outside with his friends. The next, he burned up. I know because my parents told me.
Now we live in our basement because it’s cool and dark there. We got rid of our TV, too, because Mom and Dad said the TVs all went wrong. If you were watching them when it happened, your brain became rotted. I know because Mom and Dad told me about Aunt Jenny. One minute she was watching her game shows and the next her brain shriveled inside of her skull, and she died. Just like my brother.
Things get pretty boring down here, just the three of us. Mom just sits and sews. Dad just throws his tennis ball against the wall. Pop, thunk, pop, thunk, all day long. I used to play with my dolls, but now Mom says I’m much too old for that, so she tried to teach me how to sew. I hated it almost as much as I hate being stuck in this stupid basement.
One day I got so bored and frustrated that I frowned and pouted all day. When Mom saw me she quickly shook her head. “Don’t make faces like that, Jude,” she said. “Your cousin Anne did that, and her face froze like that. She never smiled again.” I nodded quickly and rearranged my expression to mirror the same blank face Mom and Dad always wear.
We also don’t have very much food down here. Mom and Dad took away all of the chocolate we used to have because they said if I eat it my face will get covered in red, painful bumps that can take over your whole face, unless you pop them, which leaves deep scars that make you ugly and never ever go away. Instead, we have carrots. Mom and Dad say if I eat them my eyes will become so great that I’ll be able to see through walls and see perfectly, even when it’s dark in our little basement. They say I’ll need that vision when the sun blows up forever and the whole world goes dark.
Sometimes Dad goes upstairs. “Just making sure the windows are closed,” he says. (Because the sun is mean and persistent, he says, and could sneak in through the windows and burn us up down here.) I’m not allowed to go upstairs unless it’s raining out. When it’s raining I can go outside too. I used to tell Dad, when he would come back downstairs, that he smelled like fresh-cut grass. He would shake his head and ruffle my hair. I felt childish. After all, how could he smell like grass if he’d only gone upstairs? So I quit telling him this, but still I get a whiff of grass sometimes when he passes.
Today, when Dad comes back downstairs, he’s grinning, and I know what that means. He gives a quiet nod, and I rush upstairs and throw open the front door, reveling in the puttering of the rain. I don’t go far, just sit in our driveway and let myself be drenched. I don’t see many friends anymore, but today I see Thomas, from before. He has a red hood covering his head. I wave at him and he joins me in the driveway. “I’ve missed you,” he says.
I nod my head. “Me too,” I say.
“I hate the rain,” he says.
I stare at him. “But when it rains you can be outside,” I say.
I look up at the sky and try to catch some of the droplets on my tongue. It ends up going in my eyes and I giggle. The sound of the rain slapping the pavement is so loud that it’s difficult to hear Thomas’s replies.
I didn’t realize until now that Thomas has been staring at me with a strange look on his face. I shake my head. “Don’t make that face,” I say, “It’ll freeze that way.”
Thomas looks away. “Yesterday was beautiful, wasn’t it?” he says. “The sun was shining, and it was so warm. I saw your father out front mowing the lawn. Why don’t you ever come outside anymore, Jude?”
I’m about to laugh at his dumb joke, but I hear a door slam under the sound of the rain, and Mom grabs my arm roughly and hauls me inside, kicking the door shut behind us. She pulls me down to the basement and throws me onto the ground. I cry out but try to keep my face expressionless. Mom has never been this rough with me.
“You must never speak to people outside anymore, Jude,” says my mother, her face red and expression pinched.
“Momma, don’t, your face will get stuck,” I tell her.
Mom nods and looks down for a moment. When she looks up, tears are in her eyes but her expression is neutral. “You must never speak to anyone from the outside again, because people are starting to go crazy. They think they can just walk outside in the sun. Do you know what happens, Jude? They burn up. Their skin becomes black and starts to crackle, their eyes melt down their cheeks, and they become a pile of ash. I don’t want the craziness to rub off on you. I know it can, because your friend is starting to think about going outside. We’re staying inside for a while, okay Jude?”
I nod quickly, but I don’t tell Mom that Thomas is so crazy he thought he was outside yesterday, too. My dad would never be so stupid as to go out when the sun is shining, and obviously Thomas hadn’t either, he was just crazy enough to think he had. I hope he isn’t really crazy enough to try to go outside in the sun. He would die. I know it’s true. I know because Mom told me so.