Rain Check by Chris Green
It was clear from the start that Rain was a little strange. Certainly, her name was unusual, but even before she introduced herself, something about her struck me as kooky. In the nicest possible way. Perhaps she thought the same about me. Perhaps I struck her as odd. Who knows how these things work?
We met in the Promenade in Cheltenham. I was at a bit of a loose end. The shops had just closed. I had nothing arranged. I was trying to decide what to do when Rain came up to me and struck up a conversation. Something about it being mild for September. As it was October, it felt a little like those coded exchanges you see in Cold War spy films. The eagle has landed; they said it would rain tomorrow, my garden is full of weeds this year, the cock is in the henhouse. If I came up with the correct response, would she slip me a brown paper package?
We quickly established a rapport. We seemed relaxed with one another. It was as if we had known each other a long time. After we had been chatting for a while, she suggested we go for a drink. We found a pub nearby that had seating outside. In those days, this was a rarity. This was long before every pub’s primary income came from alfresco dining.
Rain told me she had been offered a job in Africa. She did not specify what the job was. But working on the dark continent sounded like an exciting opportunity. I told her I had been a mature student and had recently finished a degree in Cultural Anthropology. I could not find a job as the recession had stopped everyone from hiring. Africa, I said jokingly, might be the only place I was now qualified to work. I had even taken a Teaching English as a Foreign Language module in Year 3 to add to my CV. Africa also brought to mind The Snows of Kilimanjaro, which I had just finished reading. I asked her if she had read Ernest Hemingway. Wasn’t he more of a man’s author, she said? She liked someone called Margaret Atwood. I had not heard of her. Perhaps she was a woman’s author.
We discovered we had mutual acquaintances. Dave Dublin, Tony Flags, Susie Hill, and Pete Free. Reuben from the Bayshill and Chadwick Dial. And I had once visited Cosmic Cottage in the Cotswolds, where Rain had later lived for a while with her ex-husband, Bob. Inconsequential threads, one might say. But were they synchronistic, she wondered? I wasn’t exactly sure what synchronistic meant, other than it had something to do with Jung.
She told me she had to catch the bus back to Gloucester. I said I could take the same bus. It would drop me at the GCHQ roundabout. Perhaps I was a spy, about to slip her a package, she suggested. I told her I lived in that part of town and could walk home from there. It was less than a mile. On the bus, we exchanged telephone numbers, and she said she would phone me. It was done so casually that I did not expect to hear from her. But the next day, I got a call inviting me over to Gloucester on Sunday. We could go for a drink, she said. I had nothing better lined up, and I found Sundays especially dreary.
I had recently sold my car to raise cash, so I took the bus over. Rain met me at the bus station. She was bouncy and said she was on a roll. She wanted to show me her house. She was sure I would like it. It was not far away; she said. We could go on for a drink from there. Although Cheltenham and Gloucester were only a few miles apart, I did not know Gloucester well, so I took her at her word. We walked through a large public park and took a zig-zag route through what you might describe as a cosmopolitan part of town. It was vibrant here, even on a Sunday evening in October. Each time I asked where we were, she said we were nearly there. We had covered a considerable distance, and having imagined we were going for a drink in the city centre, I now wondered how I was going to get home later on.
We eventually arrived at an extended Edwardian semi-detached house on a long straight street. I had been warned to expect dogs, and two of them jumped up to greet me as soon as she opened the front door. There were cats too; she said, but they came and went as they pleased. Sometimes she didn’t see them for days. Like me, Rain was divorced. She had three teenage children. But none of them lived with her. Otis, the eldest lad, was apparently camped out at a road-building protest somewhere in the Midlands, and Milo and Lucy, the younger son and daughter, lived with their father in the Forest. I did not ask why. Meanwhile, Rain had filled the void with an assortment of lodgers. We will leave them for another day, she said, as she showed me around. But they are an interesting bunch.
‘I couldn’t help but notice the unicycle and the clown shoes in the hall,’ I said. ‘What’s the story with those?’
‘They are Sacha’s,’ she said. ‘He’s a circus performer. And all of that other kit belongs to Izzy Eeing. He’s a Trance DJ. It’s still a bit early for him. He won’t be up yet.’
The rooms she showed me were painted in bright colours and haphazardly furnished with rugs and cushions, with quirky knick-knacks scattered here and there. The extensive library of self-help books on a bookcase in the garden room should have given me a clue of what might be in store. That beneath her sunny personality, Rain might have a few issues. But for now, like everything else, it was new, and I took this in my stride. Not to put too fine a point on it, Rain fascinated me. You didn’t meet women like her every day.
She got me to roll a joint while she made a pot of herbal tea with a full tea ceremony. We talked about films. I picked out Don’t Look Now and Chinatown as ones I would like to see again, and she said Fatal Attraction was her favourite. An odd choice, I thought. I hoped she was not into bunny boiling. She suggested we go to a pub she knew by the docks. They had live music there. But first, we must cast the runes. I did not know what she was talking about.
‘Runes work a bit like the I Ching,’ she said. ‘You ask a question or think about an issue and select nine stones from the pouch. The runes you pick are not random, but choices made by your subconscious. You close your eyes, concentrate and cast the stones onto a cloth.’
‘So what is the question?’ I asked.
‘Why not ask if our meeting was fortuitous?’ she said.
We took it in turns to throw our pebbles onto a coir mat. The patterns that the curious symbols made apparently told us that things were favourable for us.
‘That’s what I was hoping for,’ she said. ‘Let’s go for that drink.’
The docks were nearly as far away as the house had been from the centre, but the walk was pleasant enough. Rain was a big fan of Lewis Carroll, and we talked of shoes and ships and sealing wax. It turned out the pub did not have live music on Sunday nights. Apart from the bar staff, for most of the night, we seemed to be the only two people there. They told us the place was on the verge of closing down. The dockland area was being redeveloped. Another week or two, and we would have had to find somewhere else. Probably because they had nothing else to occupy them, they played some top tunes for us though. This helped the evening go well. We talked of submarines and windmills, magic and loss. We touched on Pablo Picasso, peregrine falcons and Pulp Fiction. Before we knew it, it was closing time.
Although we had not discussed what the arrangement might be, clearly, I was going to stay the night at Rain’s. Without me realising it, she had set it up this way. Perhaps the runes had decreed it. I had not been completely honest with her either. For me, this was a timely intervention. Because of a tight spot I had got myself into with a business venture that had gone wrong, I owed money to people you don’t want to owe money to. It was in my interests to lie low for a while. But in any event, with her arm in mine, as we walked back through the streets, it seemed like the most natural thing in the world to want to take it further. Rain might be a year or two older than me, but she was an attractive woman.
I enjoyed her company, and we spent a delightful few days getting to know one another. The Techno music at six in the morning when Izzy got back from a gig could be irritating. But Sacha’s stunt displays in the back garden in the afternoons were entertaining. The other lodger, Robbie, a recovering Glaswegian alcoholic, could be a little morose. His lapses into Pentateuchal sermons when you were trying to watch TV were particularly hard on the ear. But Rain felt this was better than his falling off the wagon would have been. Robbie was a big guy and looked as if he might be a threat if he was provoked. He was better off grappling with his Abrahamic dictates.
It was odd that Rain had so little to do with her children. On the few occasions that any of them visited, they were gone within an hour or so. But I didn’t dwell on it. I was sure she had her reasons. I had always felt families were difficult to understand. By contrast, Rain seemed to get on with the people around her and was popular with the local community. Everyone seemed to say hello to her and want to stop and chat.
The Caribbean culture that provided the backdrop to the area was new to me. I had long been a fan of Reggae but had never been amongst it like this. As you walked along the street of an evening, you could hear bass-lines coming from most of the houses. There was always something going on. Blues parties added colour to the weekends. Errol and Susie’s next door’s Christmas bash went on through to New Year without a break. By the end of it, cracks began to appear in our hall wall from the thump of the bass. We had a good selection of local Asian shops, where you could buy strange produce that I had never seen before. But I have to admit, my need for a low profile was partly responsible for my decision to stick around. After a few weeks, I gave up the tenancy on my flat and moved in. Rain continued to fascinate and entertain me, and I felt looked after in both body and soul. But I didn’t see it as a forever arrangement.
Through the winter months, with fewer gigs, Izzy Eeing became more and more laid back. Some days he didn’t get up at all. In fact, most days he didn’t get up. Sacha meanwhile went off with the circus on a tour of Eastern Europe and Clara, a clairvoyant from St Kitts, took his place. Rain liked to keep a full house. As neither of us had a job, she needed the rent money coming in to keep the place ticking over. Her job in Africa, if it had ever existed, never materialised. And I had practically stopped looking for work. There was a burgeoning black economy in the area, and there were always informal opportunities to earn a few quid. There was still a shortfall, however, as Izzy had taken to paying his rent in weed.
One night in February, Robbie decided to end it all. We felt it was irresponsible for Dr Hopper to prescribe someone with his proclivities with so many different medications. Perhaps his death could have been avoided. Should we have seen the signs? Clara had warned that something tragic was about to happen. If only we had listened.
Out of respect, Rain decided she would keep Robbie’s room empty for a spell. She said she would know when the time was right to open it up. In the late spring, she consulted the runes, and they instructed her she should paint the room green, the colour of rebirth.
Rain’s demeanour began to change. At first, I thought this might be a reaction to Robbie’s suicide. Tragedies like this so close to home are bound to have an effect. I thought the problem would go away, once the inquest was over. But her mood swings continued. One minute she was up, the next she was down. New self-help books began appearing. The runes took a hammering, and Clara was frequently called upon to read the tea leaves. The anti-depressants Dr Hopper prescribed for her failed to kick in. I felt I was treading on eggshells. Fortunately, I had plenty of black economy opportunities, and I was out of the house most days. Even so, I had to bring home a lot of flowers and be careful what I said. If I tried to be understanding, I was being patronising, if I didn’t I was being insensitive.
By late Spring, Izzy’s gig schedule had picked up. He became more animated and sometimes even got up in the afternoon. He began paying his rent again with cash. He came home from a rave early one morning and told us he had met an EDM dancer who was looking for a room. She was a beauty; he said. Didn’t we need some radiance around the place? She would fit in nicely. Her name was Allegra.
Izzy was not wrong. With her long legs and dancer’s figure, Allegra was stunning. So much so that Rain became obsessed with the idea that I was having sex with her each time she was out. I wasn’t of course, but we had one row after another about it. Our relationship went from bad to worse. One day I got home late from a cash-in-hand gardening job in the area to find Rain had thrown all my things out onto the pavement.
‘I know you fucked that dirty slut earlier while I was at my Rag Rolling and Stippling class,’ she screamed through the window. ‘But you didn’t have to do it in our bed. How low can you get!’
‘How could I have fucked her when I was busy sorting out the electrical fault on Leroy’s Sierra?’ I protested. ‘And then I went straight on to cut back the pampas grass in Irie’s garden. I didn’t even have time for lunch.’
Rain countered with a torrent of abuse. There was little evidence of the upbeat, peace-loving free spirit I had met less than twelve months earlier. She had completely flipped. This was the last straw. There was no way back from here. I phoned Steve and asked him to bring his van. I could stay at my sister Kate’s until I worked something out. It was time to count my losses.
‘There is no point in regretting anything or dwelling on it,’ Kate said. ‘You have to learn from your mistakes. See them as an opportunity for development. Move on.’
‘You’re right, of course, sis.’ I said. ‘ As always. But she did take my saxophone to CLIC Sargent. And you know how I love my sax.’
‘You hardly ever play it. Besides, you were able to buy it back. And by doing so, you helped children with cancer.’
‘And when I went back with Steve’s van just now, to pick up the rest of my stuff, I found my record collection in a box waiting for the bin men.’
‘So? You recovered it! What’s the problem, bro? Consider yourself lucky you never thought of buying a pet rabbit.’
It was time to come to my senses. I was old enough to know better. I made the decision that if in future any strange woman came up to me in the street and suggested we go to the pub, I would take a rain check. There was a chance she would turn out to be a bunny boiler. There were safer ways to conduct your love life.
So far, so good. Twenty years now without a lapse.
For the record, I have heard that Rain is in Spain.
Copyright © Chris Green 2021: All rights reserved