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Katy Tucker

It Never Rains in Paranà

Angra’s fingers smelled of garlic. She grimaced as she wiped her oily hands on her apron. She hated garlic, but it kept the mosquitoes away, and that was important. No matter how many years she spent here, she thought, her body would never get used to being bitten. Her limbs would swell and weep from the sores; she would be bedridden for days with the fever and the embarrassment of being bloated, pus-ridden, and pink.

‘It’s your gringa skin,’ they told her. ‘You need some colour, Angra. You need some sun.’ Which was good advice, but considering that once the swelling had subsided and the welts dried, her skin was so pale and tender that she burned instantly, it was largely impractical. The sun charred her scalp and bleached her hair, and besides, it would be bad for the baby. No, Angra remained indoors, roasting garlic and never eating honey, for she had heard that mosquitoes will bite the tongue in search of sugar, and if that happened, she would surely die, she thought.

Angra dried her hands, wincing at the smell - to which she would never become accustomed, no matter how long she stayed here – and checked the drawer for the three pay packets for the gardener, the window cleaner, and the boy who collected her shopping and cleaned out the rat traps under the verandah. She would pay the gardener extra this month as he had been sulking ever since she had had him dry out the well, to keep the mosquitoes away. She was a little fearful of the gardener, particularly when he was sullen. He would work silently for hours in the baking heat, stripped to the waist, taking no water, just a piece of bread when the noonday sun was highest. She fancied that if he were upset, he would break into her house at night and beat her, or worse; Angra did not like to think of such things.

Of course, she was not alone here. She caressed her belly as she thought of it. She had money – not enough to be rich at home, but more than enough to be rich here, in this foreign, southern country, where the people worked silently and she never went out.

It was dusk now, and Angra zipped her beekeeper’s overall and stepped onto the balcony to watch for him as the stars appeared. She had not kept bees since she stopped eating honey – not that the bees had taken to being kept in the heat anyway – but she wore the overall still, partly to protect her from the eternal, immortal mosquitoes, and partly so that he would recognize her again when he came.

It was warm that evening, and sweat beaded on Angra’s brow, lip, and behind her knees. Sweat ran down her chest and over her bump, stinging the fresh scratches under her breast that she had woken up to that morning. She felt hot, feverish, and uncomfortable, but she waited for him to appear as he had so many months ago: raving, mud-spattered, naked but for a mask. It was almost time. He must come.

Despite her concentration, she jumped when the first fireworks lit up the horizon. She lived uphill from the village, but she could hear the cries and cheers as the first bonfires blazed up to celebrate Carnaval, casting an orange glow on the low, heavy, pregnant clouds. The air felt wetter now; it had been humid for days, but the villagers were not troubled - it never rained in Paranà. Angra feared a storm, a flood, and the plague of mosquitoes it would breed. She felt breathless as she pressed her bump. She did not know how long childbearing took, but she had a feeling it would be soon, and quick. Her body ached, her hips felt pulled apart by the weight, and breathing, bathing, and walking were difficult. She had begun to make nests of towels and boil barrels of water in preparation for the lengthy drying process that would need to happen after the waters broke.

The clouds lumbered along the mountain, gathering in a purple and orange crowd, wetting the air and glowering over the jubilant villagers’ celebration. Lightning tore across the sky, making Angra start in shock: for a second, in the flash of electric blue, she had seen a dark figure at the end of the track. After the blaze, as the thunder rumbled on, it seemed much darker than it was before.

She clutched at the arms of her wooden rocker and leaned forward, short of breath in the damp heat. Sweat ran in her eyes and her hair stuck to her brow as she squinted to the haze of the beekeeper’s head protection. Breaths stuck in her chest as if she could not take any more air. Lightning shocked the sky alight again and she could not see anyone on the path, now. But that did not mean, she thought, that there was no one there. She was not ready, she did not see the whole path, it was too quick. He could be here.

Thunder and lightning crashed simultaneously all around and pain lashed Angra – she thought she had been struck, but no, it was another pain altogether that pushed her from her seat onto her knees in the sticky, muddy veranda, hot with the evening’s warmth. Again the storm lit up the night and the heavy clouds broke. Hard, hot rain lashed the left side of her body where she crouched half out of shelter, dazed by noise, light and pain, damp with sweat and heat and rain.

The village could still be heard over the storm, preparing for the Carnaval dash through the fields. Their revelry was loud and shrill in the night, as firework and bonfire met lightning to light up the end of the track.

Angra realised too late that she needed help. She could feel a wetness that was not rain or perspiration and the pain kept her on her knees. She crawled from the house out to the track. The mud covered her overall and clogged the gauze over her face faster than the sheets of rain could wash it away and stones and barbed weeds strangled by heat and drowned in rain, cut and scored her hands. Still she crawled toward the glow.

The steel drums and bells rang out in the village to signal the start of the run and the whistles and cries and chaos drew louder and nearer to where she crouched in the flooded ditch, barely breathing now. The men, masked and feathered and covered in mud, ran together through sheets of water, beating the drums’ rhythm with their feet.

Angra heard them coming and could not stand. Her beekeeper’s mask was full of water, the ditch was full of water, and she was full of water. She lay crouched and did not feel the men’s feet trample over her. She did not hear them cry out as they stumbled over the mad woman from the top of the hill, blackened with ditchwater, wrapped in white plastic and streaked with blood, swollen with child, and carried her back to the village, where she was bathed and dried and laid out in a hut, tended by careful women who unwrapped her swaddling bandages and pressed her tender stomach to feel for the baby.

The women fetched the doctor, confused by the softness of her abdomen.

Angra did not understand them, or the doctor, who shook his head sadly at her swelling and left her to cry for the baby that was not there until the rain stopped.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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