Waiting for Rain, the original flash version

In the interview that I did with Alethea Kontis for Subterranean Press, she asks me about the funny story that goes with “Waiting for Rain.”

The short form of my answer is that I initially sent the wrong file. After we had a good laugh (thank God) he suggested that when he ran the story on his site, that I might run the original version of it on mine.

So here’s what I accidentally sent in. The original flash fiction version of “Waiting for Rain,” written in an hour and a half in one of the Liberty Hall flash fiction contests.

Waiting for Rain – 1400 words

by Mary Robinette Kowal

In the other room, Bharat could hear his wife clucking happily over their oldest daughter’s wedding holos. He stared at the screen on his ancient quarto-core processor and held his head in his hands. The weather forecast said the next week was supposed to be sunny again.

That had been fine for Deepali’s wedding, but what was he going to do about his crops? Bharat pushed away from the desk and stared out the window. The land surrounding their house was dry, the spinach plants were beginning to bolt in the heat. The only plants that were doing remotely well were at the edges of the field where his land bordered Guatama’s. A sharp line of rain fell on his neighbor’s land.

Guatama had no trouble paying the ISRO, and gentle showers passed over his land twice daily. But the Indian Space Research Organization’s weather drones kept their seeded rain clouds firmly away from Bharat’s field.

The rustle of silk made him turn. Indra stood in the doorway, her sari draped gracefully around her, holding a holo. Deepali and her new husband seemed to dance in Indra’s palm to the faint wedding music. Tears shone on Indra’s cheeks. “This was the happiest day of my life.”

Bharat smiled. The wedding might have beggared them, but it was hard to deny Indra anything. “You said that when we got married and when your sister got married and when-”

“But I was so proud of our Deepali.” She came across the room; her hair was still as dark as when the matchmaker had introduced them. As Indra kissed him, he caught the scent of jasmine on her skin. “Thank you, my love.”

He cupped her cheek in his hand and kissed her forehead above her bhindi mark. Thank Vishnu that she did not know how deeply the wedding had put them in debt. “I have some work to finish. Maybe you can show me the rest of the holos, later?”

“Of course.” She looked out the window. “Don’t forget to turn the rain back on, now that the wedding has happened.”

Bharat forced a laugh. “I won’t.” He had spent the last of their money on the band that was still playing in the holo. He had wanted to use a DJ, but Indra and Deepali had looked at him with their large dark eyes and… and he had said yes, knowing that they could not afford it.

He had managed to juggle credit and lines of debit but it was not enough. The ISRO had denied his request for an extension after he failed to pay the last weather bill.

Indra fingered the collar of his khurta with her free hand. She looked up at him from under her long lashes. “Perhaps when you finish, we could do more than look at holos…?”

He was too tired to even think of it, but in this, as everything he did not want to disappoint his wife. “Then let me finish.”

After she left the room, he put on his shoes and went out to the fields. The dust swirled around his feet. The spinach would die if he could not water it. If he could not get a crop to market, they would slide even farther into debt. He did not remember this much time between natural rains when he was a boy, but that was before the Weather Wars.

The rain over Guatamo’s land dwindled away as the clouds rained themselves out. The drones stopped blowing the wind away from his home, as they controlled the clouds position, and Bharat inhaled the damp smell of the earth.

The land between Guatamo’s spinach plants gleamed with moisture. Bharat narrowed his eyes in thought. That rain was all unused. Back when he was a boy, he had helped his father set out clay basins during monsoon season so they would have water through the dry months. The basins were still in the barn, along with the yoke that his father had used to bring water from the village well. Perhaps Bharat could put the basins between Guatamo’s rows and use some of it for his own.

He crossed the field to Guatamo’s house to ask him. He found Guatamo relaxing in the courtyard of the house with a cup of chai cooling beside him. Stubble dotted his cheeks and his belly bulged under his khurta. He grunted when he saw Bharat.

“Come in, come in, my friend!” Staggering to his feet, Guatamo kissed Bharat on either cheek in greeting and began fussing about how long it had been since they had visited.

By the time Guatamo poured Bharat a cup of chai and offered him a chair, Bharat had realized that there was no way to ask about the rain without admitting that his family was bankrupt.

“To what do I owe to the honor of your visit?” Guatamo’s face split in a grin, showing his blackened teeth.

Bharat hesitated. Indra would be mortified. “I only wished to thank you again for letting us have the elephants wait in your driveway before the wedding.”

“Oh, it was nothing, my friend. I am happy to share your good fortune.”

Bharat thanked him and let the conversation drift to the World Cricket Tournament. It would cost Guatamo nothing; surely he would not begrudge a few drops of his evening rain.

#

Bharat slipped out of bed, as he had every night for the past two weeks, to collect the extra rain from Guatamo’s land.

Indra rolled over and looked up at him. “Where are you going?”

“For a walk.” He had not lied to her since they got married. “I can not sleep in this heat.”

“Why don’t you ask the ISRO to lower the temperature? We haven’t had it set this high since I was a little girl.”

“The plants need it.” He hurried out of the room, before she forced more lies from him.

The spinach looked better than it had in weeks. The dark green leaves stood up out of the ground in crisp rows. He walked across the field, under the light of the moon, to start hauling the rows of basins back his fields. It would take him several hours of exhausting labor, but it was well worth it.

His shoes squished into the wet earth of Guatamo’s field and he stooped to pick up the first barrel. The clay basin was cool with rain.

A flashlight beam suddenly blinded him. “Bharat!” Indra gasped. “What are you doing?”

Bharat closed his eyes. No. He straightened, turned to his wife. “What are you doing out of bed?”

“I-I thought you were cheating on me.”

“Forgive me.” He stared at the ground, feeling as if his soul were drying out with shame. “I did not want to lie to you.”

She waved the flashlight, making each basin pop out of the darkness. “But you get out of bed, night after night…Why?”

Bharat could hear the betrayal in her voice. “I spent all of our money on Deepali’s wedding. I couldn’t pay the weather bills.” He stepped forward, his hands pressed together in supplication. “I’m sorry. Our crops were dying.”

She covered her face with her hand and turned the flash light off. “Why didn’t you just tell me that we couldn’t afford to spend so much?”

Bharat stared at the ground helplessly. “I didn’t want to disappoint you.”

“And you think this is better? To become a liar and a thief?” She bent over and turned the closest basin over, dumping the rainwater on the ground. “We have to pay him back.”

“We can’t! I can’t even pay our bills.”

“Then we will sell my saris and my jewels, but we will not be thieves.” She turned the next basin over, and the water sloshed against her sari.

Bharat thought of the yoke and buckets in the barn. “I will bring water from the old village well-the same number of basins that I took away.”

Indra straightened before tipping over the next basin. “It’s two kilos from here.”

“My father did it. I will not be less of a man than he was.” He stepped past the basins and cupped her cheek in his hand. “And I can’t disappoint you.”

“There are two yokes.” She kissed his palm. “I will carry the water with you.”

Bharat smiled and tipped over the last basin.

END

I like this version quite a bit, actually, but the science in it fails utterly. There’s no way for Bharat to be able to water all of his crops in the manner that I described. It would take something like two weeks of constant work for a single man to do one pass.  I tried to fix it, but instead of the “working together we can save the family farm” ending which I have here, I ended up with “working together we’ll still lose the family farm.”  Bummer.  Which lead me to changing crops, expanding the family relationship and eventually to the version that Subterranean published.

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4 thoughts on “Waiting for Rain, the original flash version”

  1. It’s an impressive read for 90 minutes work.

    But the logistics of a weather ‘futures’ market and how that impacts on individual farmers could make for an interesting story too. Though, being a fan of a good Shiraz, I do prefer the final version.

  2. Three weeks went by and I finally got to reading the story. And I LOVE it!

    I like how you opened up with the Indian and wine stuff. India is something that’s not as familiar to us so it’s good to get us into that before jumping into the science stuff. It’s true I was thinking “so when’s the alien robots going to come in?”, but that thought was replaced with “even if it doesn’t leads to some science stuff, I still would like to see what these people go through and what story might unfold”. Also I was reading it while thinking, “is Rob the consultant on this one?”

    The man tried to hide the secrets, but from the scented soap, woman on the earbud and the auction page, we can all tell that eventually the cat would be out of the bag. I really like the emotions that each character is going through. I like the characters’ reactions to the carrying of the bag thing, and I didn’t expect it to come back in the end and be important, but that was an “aha” moment for me when it was brought back. And that “We are having a romantic moment. Go away.”moment was simply precious.

    I think this is definitely one of my favorite out of the stories by you that I’ve read.

    As for the flash version, I only skimmed it because it’s getting late. Of course it’s less polished and since it’s short, it’s more things crammed together rather than a story unfolding. It’s amazing for something finished in such a short amount of time though, but needless to say, the published one was better.

    Again, loved the story! =)

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