The Sound of Daffodils
by Tony Noland
"Dad... please come inside. Can you hear me? Do you understand? Dad?"
"I can hear you perfectly, Summer. In fact, you're drowning out the rain."
"Dad, please, this is crazy." She spoke much lower now, hardly more than a tense whisper. "You can't just sit out here. You'll catch pneumonia."
"I didn't mean your voice, kiddo." He looked up at her from the old teak bench, squinting through the water running down his face. "Can't you hear it?"
"Hear what? The rain?"
"Your umbrella. That pattering of raindrops on the nylon cloth. Can't you hear it? Doesn't it seem loud to you? Or don't you even notice it?" He lowered his gaze again, looking out over the flower beds, lush with spring growth. "Put down your umbrella and listen with me for a while. For as long as the rain lasts."
"I'm not going to sit out in the rain and get soaking wet, Dad."
She clearly would have gone on, but the wave of pain that passed over her father's face stopped her. For a time, they said nothing. The rain fell on the two of them, alone together.
"Did you know," he said at last, "it was the rain that led us to move here from Philadelphia? We told everyone it was for work, but really, it's because the rains are always warm here in South Carolina."
"Mom always said the warmer the rain, the bigger the flowers." It was her turn to look out over the beds. "Mom sure loved gardening."
"No, she didn't," he said. "Mom loved the rain. She just used the flowers as an excuse to be out in it."
"I'm serious, Summer. It was always about the rain. She loved the feeling of the water in her hair, on her skin. She loved the sound of the rain falling on the leaves, the grass, even on the gravel. It was never about the flowers."
Summer stared at him from under her umbrella. "But she worked so hard on these beds!"
He smiled and shook his head. "Didn't you ever notice what she planted?" He pointed at the various raised beds as he spoke. "Tulips, daffodils, Siberian irises, tiger lilies. Each of the beds is lush and thriving, sure, but they're all self-naturalizing perennials. Once they got going, she could let them take care of themselves. Left alone, they grew like crazy. There was some weeding to do, but mostly, she was able to just sit back and let them flower on their own, enjoying their blossoms as they came."
"No," he continued, "she came out here for the rain. Always, it for was the rain. She showed me how to appreciate it, too, but she was the one who loved it. On rainy nights, after we put you kids to bed, we'd come out here and sit. We'd talk and listen to the rain, feel it wash away the difficulties of the day."
A dull roll of thunder passed over them. The soft, steady rain began to thicken into heavier drops.
"It was right here that we grew together, that we smoothed over the bumps in the road," he said, "that we worked out the daily decisions of how we would live our lives together." He smiled. "It was right here on this bench that we decided to have another child after we'd spent eleven years thinking we were done having kids."
"You mean... are you saying that you and Mom... conceived Gerry up here? In the rain?"
He laughed. "No, I mean we talked it through and came to the decision. Oh, we made love in the rain a couple of times, but rolling around in the mud wasn't your mother's style. This bench is great for necking and fooling around, but not so good for actual sex."
"Dad! I really don't need to hear this!"
He shrugged and looked out at the flowers again. The rain fell and ran down his wrinkled face, over the slight smile his memories brought him.
Summer said, "I remember now. The drying rack by the back door, the one in the mud room. I remember how there were damp clothes hanging on it on some mornings. I always thought Mom did laundry after us kids went to bed."
"She loved the rain," he said, "but she didn't want to get the floors wet. She always took off her wet things before coming into the house."
Under her umbrella, Summer looked out at her father. For a long time, she said nothing. The rain fell on the garden and on her umbrella, dripping down onto her legs, soaking her shoes on the pea gravel path.
She put a hand on her father's shoulder. "I'll set out a towel for you by the backdoor." With a gentle squeeze, she left him and went back down to the house.
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