|The Laughing Rain
By R. D. Flavin
I got my first
suspicion the house was haunted the day we moved in. It was the hottest
day of the year and you can well imagine what moving into a new home was
like. Large, meaty men carrying our furniture from their truck and
Mom and Grandma screaming out where each piece was supposed to go.
The movers could see Grandma's cane and dark sunglasses, but they were
tired and just wanted to finish the job, so much so they were taking directions
from a blind woman! Dad made sure he stayed out of the way and that
there were plenty of cold beers for the men. With the occasional
lemonade to help against the heat, I spent the afternoon in the front yard
trying to teach Fritz, our dog, to play catch and fetch. Those furniture
movers sweat more than anyone I've ever known.
favorite chair came off of the truck carried high and over the head of
one of the movers, I remember Dad saying to Grandma, "They've got your
chair, Jill... Should I tell them to put it in the kitchen next to
"Don't you dare!"
Grandma screamed. "It goes on the front porch, like we discussed!"
"Where does this
go?" the man carrying the chair asked impatiently.
the porch, for now," Mom called out from the living room. "We'll
move it ourselves later!"
yelled, summoning me. Her nickname for me, despite what you think,
was NOT inspired by my short stature, but rather for my collection of water–pistols
and super-soakers, with which I was well known to cause much discomfort
With a grunt,
I threw the tossing–stick past a bewildered Fritz and ran to Grandma's
side. Slipping my hand into hers, I politely asked, "What do you
First, like always,
she gave me THE GROPE. Her thin, shaking hand patted my head, making
circles in my hair, and then rubbed my ears and pinched my nose.
She did this with everyone though, and I was prepared for it. Next,
likewise as always, came THE HUG. Grandma didn't weigh that much,
so her arms around you were a little like what a Christmas tree must feel
when you hang tinsel from it. Finally, came THE SIGH. A tiny
"humph" of exhalation, so Grandma could collect herself.
my chair in the rear of the western corner of the porch, facing east,"
Grandma instructed me.
I gave my dad
a look that screamed in need of direction. He jerked his head to
the left side of the porch, choosing between the two possible choices of
left or right. We were soon corrected.
Can't you feel the afternoon sun in the west?" Grandma scolded me.
"Move my chair to the right side of the porch, if you please!"
mom called out to Grandma, "I asked you not to address the child as 'dummy'..."
"Hey, it was
a fifty-fifty shot!" I joked, moving the chair to its predestined place.
A gruff cheer
rang out from the three exhausted movers, announcing they had finished
the job and desired more cold beers and a big tip. My dad handed
out the beers, passed one of the men a dark bottle of something, and gave
each a clean, crisp fifty dollar bill. Mom emerged from the living
room with her checkbook in hand and saying something about "ten dollars
off, if you mention this ad..." A figure was shouted out and Mom
busied herself making out the check.
I heard Grandma's
cane tapping across the porch and turning, saw her trying to locate her
chair. As her cane made wide, searching sweeps of the porch, I noticed
the chair I had just a moment before placed, was now missing! It
yelled. "Where's my chair?"
My mouth refused
to move. Words were an impossibility in my astonished state.
I stood dumb and motionless, staring at the now empty spot where I had
moments before placed the chair.
chair, Jill," Dad announced, carrying the chair from one side of the porch
to the other. "Weren't you asked to move your Grandmother's chair?"
he asked, pushing me aside with the bottom of the chair.
"But, ...I ...did!"
"Well, the chair
certainly didn't MOVE itself back to the wrong side of the porch!" Grandma
did! It moved!" I screamed, my mouth working once more.
"Enjoy the haunted
house, kid," I heard one of the furniture movers say, as he slammed down
his empty beer can on our front porch. I got a good look into the
mover's eyes as he said those words, but all I saw was weariness and a
few broken blood–vessels.
The house was
haunted, but on that miserably hot, late-summer's day, I was the only one
to suspect it, because of the chair that moved itself. Maybe the
furniture mover suspected it also, but the chances are about even he was
just being conversational with a youngster.
As the movers
drove away in their truck and my family began the task of "setting up house,"
I resumed attempting to teach Fritz how to fetch. I'd never had an
unexplainable occurrence happen to me before and felt confused. The
thought of living in a real "haunted" house was intriguing, yet scary.
At the time, however, such thoughts couldn't last long, and I passed the
afternoon and into the evening playing with Fritz. I was, admittedly,
trying not to think too much about our haunted, although spacious and lovely,
as I walked Grandma to her chair on the front porch, I told her about the
movement of the chair. My suggestions for ley lines and disturbed
magnetic polarities were met with dismissal.
"You're the one
who's disturbed, Squirt! You get it from your father!" Grandma tossed
off. Even before her recent diabetes–induced blindness, she was often
available, perhaps too often, for a quick retort, muttered insult, or surgical
whining that cut straight to the hearer's heart. It was true, I was
disturbed, but not how she implied.
"Well, the chair
DID move, and seeing that it was YOUR chair, your special grandmother powers
were undoubtedly magically transferred to the chair!" I joked, half–believing
my own words.
"Oh, stop it!"
she pleaded. "Everyone's had a rough day, with the move and all,
and I don't have the strength to listen to your childish claims of ghosts,
monsters, or men from outer space. Just sit here quietly and keep
me company. Can you do that?"
I thought of
charging her five bucks for my silence, as Dad often said she was rich
and I should try to get my hands on as much of her money as possible--"She'll
find a way to take it with her!" But, I'd made ten earlier by sneaking
her some cream sherry in a coffee cup before dinner, and Mom got upset
if I made too much money off my old, blind grandmother. I sat next
to her chair and stared at the thousand and three stars in the night sky.
she said casually.
rocking. Well, it wasn't really 'rocking', as she didn't have a rocking–chair,
but that's how the family referred to it when Grandma would start swaying
back and forth in her chair and make this soft whistle-hiss sound by gently
forcing air through her front teeth. Sometimes we could make out
a melody, some catchy pop–song from the forties or fifties, but usually
it sounded like a tea kettle just beginning to boil. It made her
happy and we usually didn't speak about it.
had a similar fantastic imagination when she was your age," she said suddenly,
halting her rocking.
"What do you
mean?" I asked.
"She'd tie a
large bath-towel around her neck, like a cape," she laughed aloud, "and
would run around the house calling herself 'Superhero-Girl', or some such
I laughed along
with her for a moment, the image of my mother in a cape was amusing, and
added, "But, now she runs around the house with a towel wrapped around
her head and calls herself 'Super-Mom'!"
is going to super-ground you if you don't kiss your grandmother good night
and go wash up for bed," my mother threatened from the doorway. My
mother did have super–hearing and it was stupid of me to forget it.
Grandma," I said, kissing her on the cheek. Avoiding the power-rays
shooting from my mother's eyes, I squeezed past her, and made my way into
Squirt," I heard Grandma call after me.
and with prayers said, I lay in bed in my new room waiting for sleep to
come. It seemed to take forever, so I went over the incident with
Grandma's chair again, and again, and again. As waves of warm fuzziness
finally washed over me, the last thing I thought of before unconsciousness
seized me, was that the house was haunted, everyone knew it, but no one
wanted to admit it. This was closer to the truth than I realized
at the time.
The next morning
proved to be Dad's turn to grapple with the idea the new house was haunted.
As I sat down to a breakfast of pancakes and bacon, Mom and Dad were hotly
arguing over how our dog, Fritz, went from being tied up on the front porch
the night before, to being tied up in the backyard in the morning.
Grandma wasn't saying anything though, pancakes gave her flatulence, and
she was busy sopping pieces of bacon in syrup and shoving them dripping
into her mouth.
"It was the first
night here," my mother explained, "and you became confused because you
were so tired after the move. It's that simple!"
"Oh Sally, get
real!" my Dad answered. "We hired movers, remember? All I did
was hand out beers..."
"Like I said,"
Mom shot back, "...YOU WERE TIRED AFTER THE MOVE! Okay?"
Dad mumbled something
about monkeys flying out of his butt and stomped from the kitchen.
Mom banged a couple of pans in the sink and Grandma made a wet chortle
sound with a mouthful of bacon and syrup. I finished my breakfast
quietly, gave my dirty dish and silverware to my mother, who was still
seething with anger at my father, and went outside to play with Fritz.
A tall elm tree
stood erect, like a dark, silent sentry in our backyard, its leafy boughs
providing shade and protection to most of the yard and the rear of the
house. Head bowed in deep thought, hands clenched behind his back,
and kicking the first of the hundreds of leaves that would fall in the
coming weeks, Dad was walking in circles around the elm, talking to himself.
Fritz, off his leash and dizzily following Dad around the tree, began barking
when he saw me.
"Son, I've got
a proposition for you," my father said, looking up at me.
I answered. "Anything..."
He walked slowly
toward me, his squinting eyes betraying his troubled mood. "I'll
give you ten American dollars if you say you moved the dog from the front
porch to the backyard last night. How about it?"
I replied, "Okay. Dad. I moved Fritz from the front porch to the
backyard last night."
he said flatly.
You asked me to say something and I said it! Ya' owe me ten bucks,"
lying..." Dad's voice grew low and soft. Usually my Dad talked
to me as a father to a son, or an adult to a child, but every now and then,
he'd just talk... "Did you do it?" he asked.
"No, of course
not," I answered truthfully.
"Damn!" he swore.
"I knew it! Then, if you didn't do it, and your blind grandmother
and my too perfect wife, who would NEVER, EVER do such a thing, didn't
do it, that only leaves..."
"I don't think
so," he said, draping an arm across my shoulders. "We can blame the
Republicans for a lot," Dad continued, "but moving the dog in the middle
of the night probably isn't something that'll stick."
When Dad said
the word "stick," Fritz began to jump up and down excitedly. The
dog wanted to play and my father gave a shrug and a nod of approval.
As I went off to play with Fritz, I heard my father lament, "I hate mysteries!"
I wanted to turn and say something encouraging to him, but Fritz was running
through the backyard, out into a wide field that bordered our property.
I figured Dad needed some time to think and took off after the dog.
Our new backyard
ended abruptly with a wall of wild shrubs and mutant weeds, marking the
extent of our property. Guessing, I figured that years ago this was
the spot where the previous owners stopped mowing the lawn and everything
beyond was a charge of trespassing waiting to happen.
Fritz ran through
the bramble like it wasn't there, though it took me several minutes (and
an equal number of scratches) to follow. When I finally broke through
the tangle of thorns and obstinate branches, I discovered the dog sniffing
a low, cast–iron fence that surrounded a grave. Though I was raised
to have the utmost respect for people's feelings, their sense of loss when
someone close to them passes away, funerals, cemeteries, and all of that,
the presence of a grave a dozen feet from my backyard was too much to resist.
I climbed over the fence and had a closer look at the headstone.
Thanks to the
instruction booklets that come with video-games, my grammar was quite good
and I knew words a lot of kids my age didn't. Yet, probably because
of a vocabulary that included gross and disgusting expressions and descriptions,
when I saw the simple "R.I.P." on the headstone, it moved, saddened, and
way–creeped me out. Three letters that didn't even spell a word,
nearly brought me to tears. "Rest In Peace" is a devout wish and
there I was standing on someone's grave, disturbing that peace. Ouch!
I climbed back over the fence.
me with yaps, paws, and those big, moist, brown eyes that always seemed
to plead for nothing and everything at the same time. Pushing the
dog away from me, I leaned over the fence and read, "Caroline Winifred
Allen--Beloved Daughter, 1957-1969 AND FOREVER." She was twelve when
she died––my age.
But, and this
was confusing, Mom was born in 1957 and that made the person in the grave
the same age as my mother. Yet, she died a child and I didn't know
whether to grieve for her as a fellow-kid, or as someone who was old enough
to be my mother. I felt tugs of logic and respect, a touch of fancy
and foolishness, but I couldn't decide what was correct--when someone dies,
are they forever that age or do they "mature" and get wiser? And,
of course, part of me just said they were gone and that was that.
Everything else had nothing to do with them, only other people. Like
I got twice as
many scratches racing back through the bramble. Fritz again passed
unscathed. Dog's luck. I couldn't wait to get back home and
tell everyone about what I'd found.
a grave in the backyard!" my mom yelled at my father, after I told her
of my discovery.
Mom had hit that
perfect pitch of "NOW!" and my dad responded promptly, though rising from
the couch he did upset his bowl of cheese popcorn. Fritz, ever-alert
to household needs, quickly volunteered and cleaned up the mess, one tasty
morsel at a time.
"You better be
telling the truth, young man," my dad threatened upon hearing my report.
"If this is just another one of your stunts and I don't find anything in
the backyard, ...I'll have to sell your organs on the Black Market to pay
my legal fees after the police charge me with beating my son within an
inch of his life!"
"How much money
can we get for his organs?" Mom asked, entirely too seriously for my appreciation.
planning a trip to the mall just yet!" I snapped, my feelings more than
a little hurt that my parents wouldn't believe me. There was the
time I'd told them that Libyan terrorists had murdered everyone on the
block, their dead bodies were in the street and on the sidewalks, but upon
closer examination the bodies turned out to be trashcans strewn about after
a particularly sloppy team of garbage-men. Big deal, so I got one
I waved for my
father to follow me and stomped off, as indignant as my twelve–year old
feet could manage. My temper held as I pushed through the weeds and
bushes, and even improved somewhat when I heard the colorful curses of
my father, who was not handling the thorns well at all.
intensified as he cleared the bramble, only to find he'd brought several
large, clingy vines with him.
"Hey, there IS
a grave back here!" my dad exclaimed, adding, "I guess I won't beat you
I replied, never really believing I was in danger of a beating.
taller than me, my dad was able to lean over the fence and check out the
headstone without having to climb over. As he was reading the inscription,
I felt the temperature drop and a cool wind begin to blow. Looking
up, I saw dark clouds approaching. I didn't need a pocket-barometer
or a six-year degree in meteorology to know the sky was going to start
spitting kittens and puppies any second.
"We better get
inside, Dad," I encouraged him. "It looks like it's going to cut
loose in a..." I never finished, as the rain began to fall and there
was no point to it.
My dad yelled,
"Okay, let's move out," like we were in a John Wayne movie, turned, took
a step, and fell. I wanted to giggle REALLY BADLY, but I knew if
I did, chances were pretty good I'd NEVER get an allowance and be forced
to get a job to support my weekly skate-board repair bills.
The sound of
faint laughter mingled with the falling rain. At first, I thought
it was my dad who was giggling at himself, but that idea soon vanished
as abruptly as the laughter.
up from the (now) wet grass, my dad shot me a hard look, like he was DARING
me to say something. No dummy me, I decided to let the matter pass,
...at least until we were out of the rain. Quickly, I ran back home.
"Hey Mom," I said,
as soon as I entered the kitchen, "you should have seen Dad wipe-out!
He fell flat on his back and his arms and feet moved just like yours, when
you watch that aerobics-tape!"
she commented, busy doing something scary with hot dogs and crescent–rolls.
By the time my
dad made it back to the house, the rain was coming down pretty good.
He took quite a soaking--more than likely getting stuck in the bushes again--and
stood unspeaking in the kitchen doorway. A puddle was forming at
his feet, but I thought it out of line to say anything.
"A towel would
help out ...about now," he said, a bit winded from the run to the house.
"I’ll get it,
Dad!" I offered, always the polite one.
Such manners! Aren't you gonna laugh at your Old Man some more?"
my dad asked, not too successful at hiding the anger in his voice.
me! I wouldn't laugh at you! I swear!" I protested.
Like, it was the ghost of the little girl who chuckled!" my dad roared.
"Get out of my sight and leave me alone!" he ordered.
"Henry!" my mom
snapped. "That tone is way out of line!"
I left the kitchen
and went upstairs to my room, staying there until called for dinner.
It was definitely one of the worst dinners of my childhood and I still
can't decide whether it was the awkward silence and shifty glances from
my parents or the hot dogs and cheese in the crescent rolls.
a bright spot. No matter what odd recipe Mom would cook from some
gossip magazine, Grandma would finish her plate and often ask for more.
I was able to sneak one of the crescent dogs onto her plate and pass the
other under the table to Fritz. I did finish all my creamed corn
and potato salad, even though I wasn't the happiest kid in the world at
the time, I thought it best to eat something.
I helped Grandma
to her chair on the porch after dinner. The rain was still coming down
pretty good, but she said she liked the smell of late summer rain.
I've never quite been able to "smell" rain. Rather than stick around
the house and face more stares and glares from my dad, I joined her on
she began, after a bit, "how long do you think this row will last between
you and your father?"
"The one you
call SQUIRT ...is no more!" I answered in a squeezed, robot–like voice.
"This planet and all CRESCENT DOGS are now part of THE EVIL FOOD EMPIRE!
Long live stomach upset!"
"You should have
at least ...tried one, Squirt," Grandma said.
Looking out into
the rain, I said with a touch of melancholy, "In my short life I've already
learned some hard lessons..."
"Oh, do tell!
What have you learned, Squirt, the Wise?"
I answered, "I hate to break this to you and it's a good thing you're sitting
down, but ...ketchup can actually make many things better. Most,
mind you! But those crescent dogs were too far gone for even ketchup
"It's not easy
coming up with something new and exciting for dinner every night," Grandma
said with compassion, "and when your mother was your age, she sat down
to a dinner of franks and beans quite often, not because the family especially
loved them, but because I couldn't think of anything else to serve!"
"Oh, that's right!
It wasn't until AFTER Columbus brought back tomatoes from the New World
that you could get pizza delivered!" I teased. "Yes, the days before
pizza... Those dark and tasteless days..."
to do her rocking-thing, swaying back and forth and whistling softly to
herself. I should have offered to fetch her an after-dinner drink
and earned a few bucks, but now it was too late. I didn't like to
disturb her when she was ...rocking. I sat down on the porch next
to her chair, closed my eyes, and listened to the rain.
In my heart I
knew I'd put Grandma's chair where it belonged, that first day in this
house. And, I guess, my dad 'knew' he'd tied Fritz to the porch that
night. We'd both heard the laughing rain at the little girl's grave,
but like the other two events, we couldn't exactly talk about it.
I could almost hear my mother say, "Oh, what would the neighbors think?
There goes the FAMILY that believes in ghosts--let's wave or they'll haunt
Maybe it was
because I was thinking about the laughing rain. Sometimes, we see
what we want to see, or as in this case, hear what we want to hear.
Her soft giggling seemed everywhere at once. With every drop of rain,
laughter forced its way into my world. Well, not just my world--Grandma
heard it too!
She stood and
with her cane tapping in front of her, carefully walked to the edge of
the porch. "You hear it, don't you, Grandma?" I asked.
"Heaven and handbags--I
DO, Squirt! I hear the laughter!"
I've always thought
it superbly ironic that right after Grandma would name "Heaven," all HELL
would break loose. Fritz came charging around the side of the house,
barking with all the enthusiasm his canine lungs could muster. My
dad appeared at the front door, hopelessly yelling for the dog to get back
into the house. The wind picked up, the rain began to fall harder,
and the laughter seemed to get louder and louder.
A feeling of
wrong took hold of me. It was like the guilt one feels after doing
something bad, only much worse. Everything was WRONG! The rain,
the dog barking, my dad yelling, Grandma listening to the laughter, the
porch and the chair that moved itself. I felt we had to leave the
porch, run, ...get away as fast as possible!
"Let's go, Grandma!"
I said, grabbing her by the arm and dragging her toward the front door.
want to stay! Can't you hear the laughter?" Grandma protested.
Above the whoosh
of the furious winds, the repetitive splats and pinging of the rain, and
the eerie sound of laughter, I heard something which chilled me to my very
soul--the porch began to groan! My dad heard it too...
"It's time to
go, Jill," Dad said, almost picking Grandma up from the porch and bringing
her inside the house.
I was standing
just outside the front-doorway waiting for Grandma to be safely inside,
when the porch began to violently shake back and forth. My dad turned,
his eyes wide and hands open. "Now!" he screamed. I felt something
strike my back and everything went black. Power off, shutdown, ...That's
Mom was holding
my hand and Fritz was licking my face when I woke up. To say that
I jumped from the living-room couch would be a serious understatement.
I ROCKETED from the couch, landed on my feet, and yelled, "The porch!"
one of those screened-in jobs, aren't you, Sally?" my dad asked my mother.
"It would keep the bugs out..."
"If we get storm–windows,
we could have plants out there year round," my mom added.
"HEY! WHAT HAPPENED?"
I demanded, perhaps a little too loudly.
"Come on, Fritz,"
Mom called to the dog, "let's go to the kitchen and I'll reward you with
a special treat!"
My eyes silently
pleaded to my dad for a straight answer.
"Son," he said
gravely, "I've got some GOOD NEWS and I've got some BAD NEWS..."
My heart decided
that it was tired and stopped beating right then and there.
"The GOOD NEWS
is ...we lost the front porch. It just collapsed--the overhanging
roof came down, probably because of age and that nasty storm outside..."
"That's the GOOD
NEWS?" I asked incredulously.
"Well, the BAD
NEWS is ...your Grandma is okay. She got off the porch before it
I heard Grandma
begin to swear from the kitchen and realized my family was a couple of
sandwiches short of a picnic. Everyone was nuts, I took a deep breath,
let my heart start beating again and asked, "What happened to me?"
"Right as the
porch-roof was collapsing, Fritz the Wonder Mongrel ran and knocked you
through the doorway. I was calling you and he must have thought I
was calling him for food or something, because he leaped, struck you in
the back, and both of you made it inside just as NATURE remodeled the outside
of our house! Pretty cool, huh?"
"Way cool, Dad,"
I replied, thinking everyone over eighteen should be required by law to
talk without slang. Fritz ran in from the kitchen at that moment,
a cold, crescent dog in his mouth. Dropping it at my feet, I looked
into a pair of the saddest eyes I've ever seen in my life. After
all that the "Wonder Mongrel" had done, it was a shame he'd be rewarded
"Mom," I yelled,
"stop being mean to the dog!"
With some backup
from my dad, we were able to rummage through the refrigerator and come
up with a cold, leftover porkchop for Fritz. It was the least we
could do for the dog saving my life. Of course, Mom's feelings were
hurt and she threatened NEVER to make crescent dogs again. Actually,
this was the best news of the entire day.
We never talked
about the "laughing rain" and any possible connection to the porch incident,
nor did we hear the giggles again. My dad and Grandma would always
smile, cough, and change the subject whenever I brought up the idea that
the ghost of the little girl in the backyard had somehow warned us of disaster.
And my mother? Well, she never believed in Daylight Savings Time,
and ghosts simply didn't have a chance with her.
Maybe it was
all a coincidence and the laughter was just wind blowing through the trees
or something. Yet, it brings a smile to my face when I think of those
giggles. I often spend time in the backyard with Fritz. The
flowers that my parents planted around the little girl's grave always remind
me of laughter. Especially, when it rains.
to Flavin's Fictions