by B.H. Findley
The April rains go on through May, and then continue into June. By the second week of July the smell of mildew has seeped into the carpets, and two inches of water stand in the basement. Puddles spread in the leach field. The garden is all mud and leaves. The tomatoes show no sign of blooming, and pumpkin vines overrun the paths without setting a single fruit, but we grow more peas and lettuce than we can eat.
“Global warming,” says Daddy, shaking his head. “Dry places get dryer, wet places wetter. Give it fifty years and this will be the Vermont rain forest.”
I don’t like the sound of that. I’m seventeen, and hope I have a good seventy years in front of me.
“There used to be a word for it,” says Grandmother.
Daddy and I both turn. Grandmother watches us from her armchair in the corner of the kitchen, black eyes beady in a face cunning as a squirrel’s. Mom’s at work, and Daddy is doing his Daddy thing, which is work, technically, although it doesn’t usually earn any money. Grandmother is my responsibility.
“What did they call it? Winster?”
“Winter, Grandmother,” I say, going to tuck her blanket more firmly over her knees. “But it’s not winter now. It’s summer.”
“Summer,” she grumbles. “That’s what they all say. You think you can fool me?”
I settle a cushion in the small of her skinny back, where she always complains of a draft.
“Although warming doesn’t always mean warming,” Daddy continues. He’s walking out of the room still talking, as if he expects me to follow him to hear the rest. “The arctic zones will warm more quickly at first, but that may tend to cool us down. It’s like leaving the freezer door open….”
His voice fades away. The office door slams.
Grandmother leans close to my ear. She smells of mildew herself, and that whiff of moldy cheese old people have. Her eyes sparkle girlishly. “Thinks he’s so smart, my father,” she says in a stage whisper.
Daddy is her son. Last year she called him her husband, which was creepy. Now she thinks he’s her father and it’s funny. She’s like a toddler in an old woman’s body: my smelly sister, who eats with a bib and needs her diaper changed. It isn’t bad, though it would be easier if she were small enough to perch on my hip and carry around.
“I’ll tell you what it is. It’s the Fairy Queen.”
I’ve started collecting lunch dishes from the table, but I look up. Lately, Grandmother has dribbled bits of stories the way she dribbles food. Fragments of fairy tales I’ve never heard before. I wonder if they’re from her girlhood in Gaspé, if they exist all together in a book somewhere.
“What he called it, the forest rain.” She flaps a hand, unhappy she can’t remember the word. “He should know better. He knows.” She opens her eyes wide to show me it’s important. “The Fairy Queen stole the sun once.”
“You haven’t seen it, have you?” she asks suddenly, as if the question has just occurred to her. “The sun?”
“No.” I smile. It’s as if she’s asked me where a book is, or her favorite sweater. But it’s true. I haven’t seen the sun since…was it March?
“Well, that’s what she did. She was angry, because her son ran away. She couldn’t find him. The Golden Knight, you know, with armor that shone bright as the sun itself. She looked for him everywhere, but he’d gone.”
“Where did he go?”
“He fell in love with a human girl. Really fell! Right out of the sky, when he saw her picking blackberries. After that he followed her everywhere, and she couldn’t get a wink of sleep, poor thing.” Grandmother winks at me herself. “Because it was never night where he was, you know. Nobody could talk any sense into him. So his mother picked him up, and put him in a big lump of amber, and wore him on her finger where she could keep an eye on him. They didn’t see the sun for years after that.”
I shrug. “All right, Grandmother. Time to read your book.”
I find the large-print biography of Lincoln she’s been reading over and over for the past three years. Grandmother is convinced she saw Lincoln on television once.
“I liked him,” she says as she takes the book. “He was a movie actor, wasn’t he?”
“No, Grandmother, that was Reagan.”
“Oh, well….” She purses her lips, as if to say, “you think you’re so smart?”
I pour the glass of juice she never drinks (“but you know I don’t drink!” she always says, shocked) and leave it at her elbow.
“Anna, would you put this away for me?” says my mother the next morning, coming into the kitchen dressed for work. “It was lying on my dresser. It must be Grandmother’s.”
I hold out my hand and she drops it in my palm: something small and heavy, like a stream-smoothed pebble. A ring set with a lump of amber the size of a pigeon’s egg, golden-green, an orange spark in its depths. I’ve never seen it before.
“It’s pretty,” I say, turning it to catch the light.
My mother shrugs. She’s never liked Grandmother’s taste—too flamboyant—but she won’t say so.
Grandmother was glamorous once, an engineer’s wife who lived all over the world, hosting parties for her husband’s colleagues in Belgium, Brazil, and India. When I was little, she had a sari and a Japanese tea service and knew how to use both. There’s still a box of costume jewelry in her room, but all the valuable pieces were sold years ago, to pay for the home nurses. That was before she ran out of money and had to come to us.
“I wonder where it’s from? Amber is from…the Baltic, right?”
“That can’t be real amber,” says my mother. “It would be worth a fortune. Anyway, I’m late.” She gives me a hug, picking up her briefcase.
I put the ring on the windowsill above the sink, then waste a moment peering up at the sky. It’s opaque, perhaps a little lighter than the day before. The rain has slowed to a drizzle.
Grandmother shuffles into the room in her nightgown. Her slender frame bends forward under its own weight like a flimsy paper doll’s. “Who was that?” she grumbles. Lately, she’s taken an unreasonable dislike to my mother. Or maybe she’s just no longer able to hide what she’s always felt.
“Look, Grandmother,” I say. “I think it’s clearing up. Maybe you can sit on the porch later.”
But it doesn’t clear up. After breakfast, rain drums on the window again.
Grandmother is restless. She disappears into to her room and comes back in a garish dress, some relic of the sixties. Its yellow chiffon skirt stands out like a tent, and its low-cut bodice is sprinkled with giant sunflowers. She paces, humming, peering into kitchen cupboards, looking over my shoulder as I hunch at the table with my laptop. (I’m taking an online biology course, trying to get ahead before the next school year.) The cat paces too, rolling something noisy around on the floor.
“Vivian,” she says at last, severely. “This has gone on long enough.”
Vivian was Grandmother’s sister who died when she was a girl. I answer to that name now, and a few others as well.
“What has, Grandmother?”
“Where have you hidden it?”
I’m still focused on photosynthesis. “Hidden what?”
“The sun, of course! I know I left it around here somewhere.”
I get up, shutting my laptop reluctantly. I’ll need to get her settled in her chair before she finds her way into Daddy’s office and disturbs him.
Grandmother swoops down on the cat. There’s a slap, then a yowl.
“Give that back, you hussy.”
Daddy comes out of his office. “Can’t you people be quiet? I’m trying to get something done here.”
Then he stops, looks towards the window, adjusts his glasses, and says, “oh.”
I follow his gaze. Beyond the maple boughs, in the very top corner of the topmost pane, is a streak of blue. There’s a pale gleam in the air—pale, but unmistakably yellow, like Grandmother’s skirt.
“Well, would you look at that,” Grandmother says.
But it’s not the sky she means. It’s her hand. She holds it out for Daddy to see: gnarled, veined, with a lump of amber weighing down the middle finger. It’s brighter than it was when Mom handed it to me—so bright it almost seems lit from within.
“What’s all this about, Mother?” says Daddy, blinking behind his glasses.
“It’s the sun, of course. Don’t tell me you didn’t notice that. Someone’s been hiding it, but they couldn’t fool me.”
B.H. Findley is a medievalist and fiction writer. Her short fiction has appeared in Quantum Fairy Tales and Aether and Ichor. She lives on a farm in central Pennsylvania with her husband and daughter.