The old man had been right, the rains had come early. It had been raining for three days straight, and according to the weather reports, there was no letup in sight. It had started as a slow trickle, more a drizzle than anything else. The parched ground sucking whatever wetness up that it could get. There had still been work to do, prepping life for the rains. My family and I had gotten a headstart on that prep work, thanks to the old man.
He lived on the property nearest us. His house was more of a shack, really. One room with a roof that always looked like it was falling in, and windows that looked like they would leak but never did. His back was hunched with age, and he had wrinkles all over his face. He had been this old for as long as I could remember— even my parents could not remember him looking any younger. He had made the walk, knocked on our front door with his gnarled cane.
“Rains will be here early,” he had said, his voice gravely and rough.
“How early?” my father had asked, he had gotten up from the table where he was reading the weather reports.
“I suspect tomorrow the earliest, but pro’lly the next day.”
“Do you need any help?”
“Been doin’ this longer than you’ve been alive. I don’t feel up to fixin’ anyone’s mistakes, but thank you.”
And with a nod to the rest of the us, he had turned around. We watched as he made a left instead of a right at the end of the driveway, and we knew he was making the rounds. He would walk all day, knocking on doors to tell anyone who would listen to him that the rains were coming.
“We should get to prepping,” Father was saying.
I had picked up the discarded weather reports, looking them over with a frown on my face. The reports were saying no rains for a month. The reports were often wrong— off by a day or two— but never a month.
“But the reports sa—…”
“He’s been around longer than the people doing the reports. The worst that happens is we prep too early, and then can relax at the end of the month.”
“Yes sir,” I said, with a glance at my siblings. No one else said anything as we ate in a hurried silence.
Two weeks into the rain and what had started off as a drizzle had turned into a torrential downpour for five days, before letting up some into a drizzle once more. We had just finished our work before the hard rains had hit. My father and brothers were checking on the fields and barns, making sure that everything was still patched up and letting out the animals who would not mind standing around in a constant drip-drip-drip of rain.
My mother had stopped me short of going out to help. She had been cooking all morning in the kitchen, up before any of the rest of us had gotten up. The rain season meant we all could sleep in, and we took that chance. It had been the smell of the food she was making that had wafted through the floorboards and into my room, that had woken me up. I had drooled some on my pillow, my dreams had become haunted by food thanks to the smells.
“You need to make some deliveries today,” she had told me.
I had my boots on, the ones that went up past my knees. I had on pants designed to get wet and keep me dry. A raincoat, and some gloves that would help me keep a grip on packages of food I had to carry, and a hat.
“Take this one to the old man, it is his favorite.” My mother said, lightly tapping the package on top. “Then to the Maybells, Mrs. Rigsby, and the shop.”
I knew there would be an order to take home from the shop. I set the packages down on one of the wagons we had, designed specifically to not get stuck in the mud. Though, often, it did. I organized the food packages, making sure they would not spill or fall out of the wagon, and then began my journey.
The ground was flooded and I knew that in a week’s time, we would be stuck in the house until the floodwaters receded. Today, with the drizzle, was likely one of the last days to run these errands. The ground squelched under my feet, my boots sticking to the hungry mud. I shivered slightly in the wet and chilled rain, tugging my hat lower on my face. I decided to visit the old man first, as his house was the nearest but also in the opposite direction of everyone else.
The dog barked before I could knock on the door. The old man’s dog was large and barely moved past the man’s porch these days. I could vaguely remember when the dog had been a puppy. I had been a kid back then, and I remember the puppy would always run into our property to chase us around. Now the dog was old, slow, and crotchety. But he seemed to like me, and his bark of a greeting was not aggressive.
“What’s that?” the man said by greeting.
“Food. Mom made your favorite,” I explained as I held up the warm package of food.
“Oh, good. Come in and drink something warm before you go on,” the old man said.
I nodded my head even though he had turned his back to me. I bent down to pet the old dog, who let out a satisfied woof before I stepped into the house. I stood, dripping in what was the entryway of the one-room place. I stood on a mat, knowing it would not make much sense for me to remove all my rain clothes. There was a fire lit, and the place was warm. Cozy. The roof that looked like it should be leaking, just like the windows, did not leak. There was nothing wet in the shack house, except for the mat and that was only because of me.
“Looks can be deceivin’,” the old man said, as he noticed where I was looking.
I let out an awkward laugh. I have never been the best with small talk, even with all my neighbors that I have known all my life. I took the warm mug of tea that was offered to me.
“Thank you,” I said, instead of inquiring how he prepped for the rains.
He sat down on a chair near the fire, and I drank the tea as fast as I could without burning my tongue. It warmed me to my core and tasted sweet. I just had nothing to say to the old man outside of pleasantries, and he seemed to have nothing to say either. I finished the tea, and he nodded towards a small table.
“Set it there, and I’ll be seein’ you. Thank your mom for me.”
“Yessir,” I said and then I left.
I gave the old dog one last ear scratch and began the long, wet, and muddy walk to town.