The Rain Man
Day: Thursday, August 23rd, 1989
Location: Sitting room at home.
Situation: The changes children make.
“Okay, Clarence, two times two makes, how many?” Bernie sat and watched his youngest son as he screwed his forehead in concentration over the math problem.
Hearing a snigger from the other side of the table, Bernie cast his stern gaze at his elder son, his narrow face elongated further with consternation, and he raised a brow at the older child, lips pursed.
“Dad, you know when you’re supposed to multiply, like they do in class…” Clarence raised his face, peering at his father with determination.
“And the teacher always says, that we have to see it in our mind,” Clarence continued.
“That’s if you have a mind,” Jonathon mumbled under his breath.
“Jon, let your brother work through his problem without your remarks,” Bernie fixed a pale grey eye on the boy. Some children understood complex problems so easy, whereas others found simple things beyond them.
“Don’t matter anyhow, he’s four and a half. What’s he gonna do with that when he grows up?” Jonathon continued.
Jonathon whirled the new formation he’d been working on around his head, the dull lights within swirling darker and more troubled the quicker they picked up speed. Flashes began emanating from the mass that Jonathan held between his hands, as the wind in the small room began to hum with static.
“You’re supposed to practice that outside, Jon. That way, you won’t ruin your mother’s furniture with stray discharge.”
Jonathon sighed, pressing his hands together, and smothering the small raincloud that had manifested in his hands and looked at his father sheepishly, “Sorry, Dad.”
Bernie turned back to his younger son, watching his face as he concentrated on the simple math problem on the page before him. Clarence had been tapping his fingers together rhythmically, trying to understand the question that his father had given him. Bernie looked around to room, hoping to find something that would assist in an explanation, when he spotted a jar of glass beads.
Pushing back the chair, he stood, reaching across the space to grip the jar before he dropped back into his seat.
“Clarence, look at this.”
“Oh, Dad. Mum never lets me play with those,” Clarence’s eyes had lit up like comets in the sky, “How come you let me play with them?”
“No, Clarence, it’s so I can show you how to work out the problem on the page. See here…” Bernie shook out a number of beads onto the table, scrabbling to contain them as they rolled around heading for the edge and freedom.
“Read the problem on the page,” Bernie told Clarence.
“Uh, two multiply by two.” A small crease appeared between his dark blue eyes as he looked up at his father, and shook the thin, pale grey hair back from his forehead.
“Okay, see here. I have two beads, and what you have to do, is think of it as another way to add numbers together.”
“But, Dad. How can multiply be the same as add?” Clarence’s eyes flashed in dismay.
“Hold on a minute, and I’ll show you,” Bernie told him, gently laying a hand on his shoulder to calm the small boy down. “See, I have two beads, and I need how many?”
“Multiply it by… two?”
“That’s right, so I need another…”
“Two?” Clarence asked.
“That’s right,” Bernie beamed at him proudly. “So I have two and another two.” Bernie looked at him to make sure he understood.
Clarence looked at the beads on the table and nodded his head slowly.
“So, Clarence, how many do we have on the table now?”
“One, two, three… four?” Clarence counted the small glass orbs, pushing them against each other across the smooth table top.
“That’s it! We have four beads,” Bernie smiled at the boy encouragingly. “So the answer to the problem, is?”
“That’s right, Clarence. Look, you use that method for any number,” Bernie told him, “Let’s try it with a bigger number, okay?”
Clarence looked at his father, slight fear and apprehension colouring his cheeks, “Okay.”
“Remember what I said, its just numbers adding to other numbers. Let’s try nine multiplied by six.” Bernie said hopefully.
Clarence gulped, gathered up some of the beads and began counting them out. Laying them in heaps of nines, as he laid out six groups. Bernie knew that the concept was easy for him; it was the execution that Clarence was finding hard.
When he had all the beads laid out. He began sorting them into more manageable piles, moving a bead from the end onto a pile of nine to make it ten, until five of the piles had ten and the last pile now had four.
Clarence looked up at his father in triumph, “Look, Dad. I did it. It’s fifty-four!”
“Yay, that’s how it’s done. Soon you wont need the beads and you can do it in your mind, easy-peasy,” Bernie hugged the small boy, whose wide smile almost took up his whole face.
The phone rang in the hallway, and Bernie listened as his wife exchanged pleasantries with the caller, before giving a small, shy laugh and tutting. “Bernie, dear, it’s for you.”
“Coming!” he threw the words behind him. “Jon, help your brother to do the rest of these, there’s a good chap?”
Jonathon looked up from his own complex mathematical problems, sighing slightly, and nodding his head. Bernie patted his older son on the shoulder, squeezing gently, before he moved off into the hallway, and took the phone from his wife.
“Who?” he asked quietly.
“Felix,” she mumbled back, as she turned and went into the sitting room where the children did their homework.
“Hello, Felix. What can I do for you?”
“Bernie, I know you’re not supposed to be working till Monday,” his tinny, metallic voice rattled in Bernie’s ear, “But we have a special, that’s right up your street.”
“Oh, how so?”
“Well, Jules was supposed to do it, but he’s out. Flu!” Felix sounded as though he was cleaning his nails, completely unconcerned with Jules’ predicament, or anything other than getting his job done. “So, you’re next on the list.”
“Oh, I didn’t know we took turns?” Bernie looked at his reflection in the hall mirror, noting the lines spreading across his forehead and out from the corners of his eyes.
“Under normal circumstances, it’s not necessary,” Felix told him, “But this is different. So, your co-ordinates are… fifteen-point-three-two-six-five-seven-two, by minus seventy-six, fifteen-seven-two-two-seven. Got that?”
“Did you say, three-five-six-two-seven-two, or three-two-six-five-seven-two?”
Bernie, pay attention! Fifteen-point-three-two-six-five-seven-two. Five, seven, two,” Felix said angrily. “ You can’t afford to mess this up.”
“I was just making sure, that’s all.”
Well… off you go. Report back when you’re done.”
“As always,” Bernie said, resigned.
“Right.” Felix said.
The phone clicked, falling silent before the dial tone snapped back in. Bernie still stared at his reflection. His pale grey cheeks had somehow become narrower as he’d spoken with Felix. He replaced the phone on the holder, and stepped back, his narrow shoulders drooping.
Time to get ready. To wear the clothes that made him who he really was, other than a loving husband and father. Time to don the attire that he’d taken up all those years ago; so long ago that he could barely remember the first time.
Stepping from the bedroom he shared with his wife, Bernie held his hat in his hands. He stopped before the mirror in the hallway, surveying the long garment he wore. The grey waterproof material would shield him from the cold and rain, although he rarely felt the touch of the elements anymore.
Long sleeves tapered his slim arms, encasing his slender fingers in coils that resembled the crests of waves on the oceans. Loose tendrils floated from the wrists, draping down elegantly towards the floor. These would allow the winds to pass around his arms when he lifted them to the sky and called the rain.
The cloak was shot through with silver, like the reflection of lightening flashes, with black and dark grey, like the sound of thunder. The more he studied his reflection, the more pronounced the sound of the wind, as it picked up, welcoming him. Shot through the cloak, were purple sparks that reminded him of the bruising in the sky, the undersides of clouds and the eye at the heart of the hurricane.
“I thought you were home for the weekend,” his wife said, reaching towards the cloak with awe. “When will you be back?”
“I’m not sure.” Bernie reached up, positioning the hat atop his head, the long chains of crystals forming raindrops around his head and face, draping to the floor like sprays of moving water. The wide overfilled brim covered his features, darkening them like the advent of a storm, and causing his already pale features to show harsher, under the darkening canopy. The hat resembled the mushroom cloud of a destructive tornado, wide and foreboding, and the sadness of Bernie’s features did little to lighten the unsettling feeling.
“Well,” she reached a hand to touch his cheek, and drew it back quickly, hissing from the touch of cold that stung her palm.
“Sorry,” Bernie said, with a sad smile, “I always forget that I change as soon as I wear this.” His hands ran up and down his body, and he shrugged his narrow shoulders, his mouth folding inwards.
“No, it’s my fault. I always forget,” she rubbed her palm against her leg, seeking warmth to lessen the sting. Her face softened, “Don’t worry, D ear, it’s your job. There has to be balance.”
Bernie gave a sad smile, “Yes, sweetie, I know. Guess I’ll be off.”
His wife stepped back as he raised his arms, bringing up the co-ordinates in his mind. A faint hum, as though wind were whistling from far away, a sound like ran pattering on rocks or sand, drifted towards them, and with a zap like lightening, Bernie disappeared, a faint whiff of sulphur replacing him in the hallway.
“Newsflash: “Reports just in indicate a potentially severe weather formation building out in the North Atlantic heading on a trajectory towards Puerto Rico and the Caribbean. The weather office are monitoring the build-up, but say at this time, there is nothing to worry about. The winds within the storm do not at this time, indicate that a hurricane could be possible, but this being storm season, we are keeping our ears open. We here at NBSC-One news will keep you posted.”
Bernie surveyed the waves as they rose and fell around him. He appeared to stand on a platform out in the open water, neither moving, nor being moved as the wind picked up speed around him. He could feel the negative ions as they rose in the air, pushing and pulling warmth as the sea cooled, while the humidity in the atmosphere rose, growing and fuelling the storm around it.
There was a beauty to the catastrophe, as it built and became something different from a mere weather front. Bernie had been nurturing the storm from the open sea, now it had acquired the force of tornadoes within it. The sky swirled and bucked as though wild horses were pulling the storm behind them.
Thunder crashed, and lightening ripped the sky to shreds, and all the while, Bernie strode along within the storm, directing it, coaxing it when he must and easing the anger and ferocity when he felt the need.
Bernie was a true storm master, one of the best that ever was. He remembered the great storms of his grandfather in the autumn of nineteen hundred. He’d created a storm so devastating, that it had razed almost a third of a low-lying city, on an island off of Texas in the Gulf of Mexico. Bernie knew that he himself, had called into being a few powerful windstorms that had been recorded in history as having exceeded human expectations, but he had a job to do, and he never wanted it to be said that he didn’t pay attention to detail.
“Newsflash: The Met office has just raised the severity of the approaching storm to a category 4, and are warning residents of Texas, Louisiana, Florida and Georgia to seek higher ground where necessary, and if that isn’t possible, they are urging residents to stay at home, unless their journey’s are necessary. All reports so far, are indicating that the storm, which is currently in the Gulf of Mexico and had swept past the Bahamas and Cuba late last night, to be travelling at around sixty miles per hour, with winds circling at close to a hundred miles an hour or more. The eye of the storm, as seen from satellite pictures, is said to be moving at a steady pace, and scientists are still unsure as to where the hurricane will touch land. Please stay tuned to up dates as they happen. This is Dean Sandler at NBSC-One news.”
The hum of the wind, caught Bernie’s voice and threw it outwards, his soothing tones, echoed back and forth from the clouds that engulfed him on either side. His pale skin shone, washed clean some hours ago, as the spray from the storm surges had washed back over his arms and dampened his cloak and hat.
Thankfully, Bernie thought to himself, he was dry now, and could continue his march forward, the destination clear in his mind of where he needed to go.
At this time of the year, so close to harvest season for many of the people who lived in the area, the Hurricane that Bernie pushed ahead of himself, would be the end of many of their livelihoods, but Bernie knew that many would not see the dawn, much less worry about the fate of their wealth. This was the balance that Bernie was here to ensure. There was always a price to pay.
His voice took on a melodious tone, weaving and twisting, just as the wind rose and fell, the rain and hail beat down upon the parched, dry earth, causing build-up in flood waters, that quickly swept over small dams and sea walls, overflowing.
Bernie stood within the eye of the storm, his booted feet, making no marks upon the earth where he trod. He moved the storm forward, his pace steady and unwavering. He never moved forward in a straight line, for that would be unfair. Instead he wove from one side to the other, almost creating a zig-zag pattern as he went.
His voiced dipped, seeking the heart of the storm, which rose to meet him, the vibrations from his chest, echoed throughout the storm. Lightening flashed so fast, that the thunder had ceased some time ago, barely able to keep up with his mistress. The flashes lanced down towards the ground, striking deep gouges in the brittle earth, ripping and tearing large holes, which were soon filled with water and ice particles.
Trees were ripped from their roots. Buildings dismantled piece by piece, which were in turn, scattered through the whirling winds, never to be melded into anything that would slightly resemble what they had become, or what they had once been.
Bernie stopped, the chiming of his crystal beads that tinkled in the air, so innocent and unassuming, quieted, as did the wind, almost as though the storm were taking a deep breath, readying itself for the final onslaught.
Bernie heard a whimper, and looked down. He saw a small child, stuck tightly into the crevasse between two rocks, as though jammed there by someone and forgotten. The child raised deep blue eyes at him, eyes that reminded him of his own children, who sat safe and sound at home. Never to be subjected to the ravages of nature that were guided by Bernie and Storm Masters such as he.
“Come child,” Bernie said, reaching down a hand towards the child.
The small boy shook his head, a look of fear across his face.
“It’s okay, I will not harm you,” Bernie smiled slightly, his pale grey face looking like death, “You will be safe with me.”
“Mama,” the small boy choked, coughing into his hand. His face was pale with cold and fear, but he held his gaze steady on Bernie’s face. “Mama?” he queried again.
“Your mother?” Bernie asked, cocking his head to one side. “I have no idea where she could be.” Bernie held out his hand again, and the child stretched forth a small thin arm, and grasped Bernie’s cold fingers with his own.
Bernie felt the chill that emanated from the child, as though he were more than just frozen to the bone. It was as though he had sat in a deep freezer without protection, yet somehow his life had remained. The child was aware, showing no outward signs of fatigue or exposure. Bernie wondered at this, as he opened his cloak and closed its folds around the child, offering warmth and comfort.
“What is your name?” Bernie asked the boy.
“And why are you so far from home, Ben?”
“Mama said I was to stay here and someone would come for me,” He wiped the water and tears from his face, pulling up on his nose in a long draft that turned his face red and his nose crimson.
“Why would your mother do such a thing?” Bernie asked, perplexed.
“She said I wasn’t like other children,” Ben’s mouth turned down, as though he had heard the admonishment too many times for it to not touch that place in his heart that bled each time it was spoken.
Bernie looked down into the child’s face, studying his pale features and large blue eyes. Surely, Felix could not have sent him for this reason? It was too coincidental that he had been the one to bring the storm, and find a child at the same time.
He ignored the forming questions, he still had a storm to run to it’s end, before he could sit and think on the questions of the child, clutched securely under his cloak, as though he belonged there.
The child’s pale face peered out from between the folds of the garment, unafraid as the winds picked up once again, throwing their merciless anger at the earth, animals and flora around them.
The child sat motionless, tucked up against his side, as Bernie tried to ignore him while he called the winds and rain to do his bidding. He raised his arms, feeling the static as it ran down into his fingers, like small pinpricks of energy, forming negative ions that travelled upwards and disappeared into the dark, bruised under-belly of the clouds.
“Why are the clouds that colour?” asked Ben, his face rapt with interest.
“There are many reasons why the clouds have these colours,” Bernie explained. “Sometimes, it comes from us, as we manipulate them, and sometimes, the clouds are a deep grey from the water and ice that is within them. When that weight is gone, the clouds will disperse and the colour will be lighter, less dark.”
“I can feel the clouds. Here,” said Ben, tapping his chest, “My mama always said that I called the rain. But it wasn’t like that. I can’t call the rain, I never knew how.” His face had turned as cloudy as the sky, like inky stains on paper.
Bernie said nothing.
Continuing his walk through the storm, he noticed that they were nearing a city, and he knew that the storm would ride through before petering out at the other side. Bernie gathered his voice, humming softly as the swirling mass of wind and rain, hailstones the size of small rocks, and just as deadly, rammed downwards, destroying and changing the face of the landscape as they fell.
“Newsflash: The Met office has issued evacuation notices for the following three towns and outlying areas. Lafayette, Baton Rouge and New Orleans have been notified they are in the path of the approaching hurricane, which is heading, resolutely, their way. Reports confirm wind speeds in excess of one-hundred and twenty miles per hour, and the hurricane having a reach of almost three miles wide. The category three hurricane has now been upgraded to a category five, and residents are advised to get out of its way, if at all possible. Let’s go over to Richard Healy, our on the ground reporter, out there in Lafayette, Louisiana. Richard, are you with us?”
“Yes, Dean. And I must tell you, this is one frightening reality for those residents still on the ground.” He panted breathlessly.
“How so, Richard?”
“The National Guard have been out since early this morning, encouraging residents to leave, but there are those who refused, stating they had nowhere to go. Others are down playing the severity of the storm, and I can tell you, Dean, these winds are already being felt, here in Lafayette,” Richard explained.
“What does it look like out there?”
“Trees are bent beyond recognition. Houses are already under water, with storm surges being recorded closer to the coast as almost 15 feet high and rising. But that’s not the worst,” Richard sounded as though just standing in place was beyond him.
“The Met office has reported three converging Hurricanes are heading towards us, almost from three different directions, as though the storm is being directed. The Met office is at a loss to understand how it’s possible. Wait… What’s that??… Hey you…” Richard could be heard shouting loudly at someone, “You need to get off the streets, it’s dangerous out here!”
“Richard, what’s going on?” Dean asked, concerned.
“Some people think this storm is a joke,” he spat angrily, “There’s a guy out here with his kid, walking along like it’s a day at the beach!”
“Well, you’re still out there. Perhaps he’s going to a shelter?”
“We’re practically the last people on the streets, and we’re in our truck, driving out of the area. The city is on lock down, and all residents who haven’t left, are either in the civic centre, or one of the stronger buildings. Some have been moved to the subway, but the threat of flooding has deterred many residents from underground facilities.”
“Well, we here at the studio hope that you find a safe place to hold up, while the hurricane passes,” Dean told him.
“Yep, we’re just now going inside the civic centre, where most of the residents from the area have come together to comfort and support each other. We probably won’t be able to continue broadcasting, as it’s reported we’ll more than likely lose our electricity, but we’ll be talking to residents and keep you informed anyway we can,” Richard said. The background noise had died down, and the eerie silence that pervaded, made it seem like a ghost town.
“Okay, Richard, you and the guys keep safe, and we’ll keep in touch as much as we can.”
“Thanks everyone. Wish us luck. This is Richard Healy, for NSBC-One news, here in Lafayette, Louisiana.”
“Thank you, Richard. This is NSBC-One news, returning you to your regular program.”
“Ben, would you like me to take you to the safety of shelter?” Bernie asked the boy.
“I don’t think anyone wants me there.” He’d lowered his head, and spoke softly, almost ashamed to say what was on his mind.
Bernie had stopped. Resting in the eye of the storm as the winds and rain swirled around them. The quiet at the centre was the peace that was missing around them. Bernie surveyed the destruction of houses as they were ripped from their foundations, trees that had stood strong and tall minutes before, lay like forgotten sticks across the streets and carefully laid out lawns before front doors that had nothing behind them.
Wide swathes of debris lay in carefully laid out piles all heading in the same direction.
The storm had lulled, awaiting Bernie, who’d questioned the child. If he took him to shelter, he wasn’t sure if he wouldn’t be called back, and he hated to return to a place once he’d been through. There always needed to be time for a city to recover; this was also balance. But to leave the child, was one thing, and to take him with him would forever change the destiny of the child that sat on his hip beneath his storm cloak.
The winds seemed to hiccup, a strange cough, almost like a gulping back of sadness, and Bernie looked up into the sky, wondering how that could be. He knew that the disturbance hadn’t come from himself, and looked at the small boy sharply.
Bernie saw that Ben’s eyes had become a blue so deep, they appeared black. His face so pale in the dim light that it shone with an inner grey pearlescence, bright and ghostly.
“Are you upset that I would leave you with these people?” Bernie looked deep into the eyes of the boy.
Ben nodded his head, gulping back his distress, which the wind mimicked.
Bernie breathed a sigh, his choice made for him.
“Newsflash: Reports have come in of a sudden cease to the hurricane. Storms and flooding that had been battering the states of Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi for the last three days, have abated. Where winds that were in excess of over one-hundred and twenty miles per hour have dwindled to no more than thirty, and the rain, which was lashing the life from the city has become no stronger than a spring shower. The hail and hurricanes that had threatened to rip the country apart are nowhere to be seen. Storm surges have abated and the water is receding to an extent that can be measured in minutes rather than the hours or days that had been predicted.
“No one knows the reason for the sudden cessation of the weather system, but you can be darn sure, that the three states are breathing a collective sigh of relief. We head now over to Lafayette, Louisiana to speak to Richard Healy, who only hours ago, was faced with suffering through a devastating hurricane inside the civic centre along with approximately forty percent of the city. Richard!”
“Dean, you can hear the sounds of jubilation behind me here in the civic centre. We don’t know which act of God has saved us, but you can be sure, there isn’t a dry eye in the house. We have had a reprieve…”
“Honey, I’m home. And we have a guest,” Bernie smoothed back the light grey hair of the small boy, “I think he’s going to be staying with us for a while.”