Skip to main content



Father of the Rain

My father is singing.

High above Cayuga's waters, there's an awful smell.Some say it's
Cayuga's waters, some say it's Cornell.

He always sings in the car. He has a low voice scraped out by
cigarettes and all the yelling he does. His big pointy Adam's apple
bobs up and down, turning the tanned skin white wherever it

He reaches over to the puppy in my lap. "You's a good little
rascal. Yes you is," he says in his dog voice, a happy, hopeful
voice he doesn't use much on people.

The puppy was a surprise for my eleventh birthday, which was
yesterday. I chose the ugliest one in the shop. My father and the
owner tried to tempt me with the full-breed Newfoundlands, scooping
up the silky black sacks of fur and pressing their big heavy heads
against my cheek. But I held fast. A dog like that would make
leaving even harder. I pushed them away and pointed to the
twenty-five dollar wire-haired mutt that had been in the corner
cage since winter.

My father dropped the last Newfoundland back in its bed of
shavings. "Well, it's her birthday," he said slowly, with all the
bitterness of a boy whose birthday it was not.

He didn't speak to me again until we got into the car. Then,
before he started the engine, he touched the dog for the first
time, pressing its ungainly ears flat to its head. "I'm not saying
you's not ugly because you is ugly. But you's a keeper.

"From the halls of Montezuma," he sings out to the granite
boulders that line the highway home, "to the shores of

We have both forgotten about Project Genesis. The blue van is in
our driveway, blocking my father's path into the garage.

"Jesus, Mary, and Joseph," he says in his fake crying voice,
banging his forehead on the steering wheel. "Why me?" He turns
slightly to make sure I'm laughing, then moans again. "Why me?"

We hear them before we see them, shrieks and thuds and slaps, a
girl hollering "William! William!" over and over, nearly all of
them screaming, "Watch me! Watch this!"

"I's you new neighba," my father says to me, but not in his
happy dog voice.

I carry the puppy and my father follows with the bed, bowls, and
food. My pool is unrecognizable. There are choppy waves, like way
out on the ocean, with whitecaps. The cement squares along its
edge, which are usually hot and dry and sizzle when you lay your
wet stomach on them, are soaked from all the water washing over the

It's my pool because my father had it built for me. On the
morning of my fifth birthday he took me to our club to go swimming.
Just as I put my feet on the first wide step of the shallow end and
looked out toward the dark deep end and the thick blue and red
lines painted on the bottom, the lifeguard hollered from his perch
that there were still fifteen minutes left of adult swim. My
father, who'd belonged to the club for twenty years, who ran and
won all the tennis tournaments, explained that it was his
daughter's birthday.

The boy, Thomas Novak, shook his head. "I'm sorry, Mr. Amory,"
he called down. "She'll have to wait fifteen minutes like everyone

My father laughed his you're a moron laugh. "But there's no one
in the pool!"

"I'm sorry. It's the rules."

"You know what?" my father said, his neck blotching purple, "I'm
going home and building my own pool."

He spent that afternoon on the telephone, yellow pages and a pad
of paper on his lap, talking to contractors and writing down
numbers. As I lay in bed that night, I could hear him in the den
with my mother. "It's the rules," he mimicked in a baby voice,
saying over and over that a kid like that would never be allowed
through the club's gates if he didn't work there, imitating his
mother's "Hiya" down at the drugstore where she worked. In the next
few weeks, trees were sawed down and a huge hole dug, cemented,
painted, and filled with water. A little house went up beside it
with changing rooms, a machine room, and a bathroom with a sign my
father hung on the door that read WE DON'T SWIM IN YOUR

My mother, in a pink shift and big sunglasses, waves me over to
where she's sitting on the grass with her friend Bob Wuzzy, who
runs Project Genesis. But I hold up the puppy and keep moving
toward the house. I'm angry at her. Because of her I can't have a

"Fuzzy Wuzzy was a bear," my father says as he sets down his
load on the kitchen counter. "Fuzzy Wuzzy had no hair." He looks
out the window at the pool. "Fuzzy Wuzzy wasn't fuzzy, was he?"

My father hates all my mother's friends.

Charlie, Ajax, and Elsie smell the new dog immediately. They
circle around us, tails thwapping, and my father shoos them out
into the dining room and shuts the door. Then he hurries across the
kitchen in a playful goose step to the living room door and shuts
that just before the dogs have made the loop around. They scratch
and whine, then settle against the other side of the door. I put
the puppy down on the linoleum. He scrabbles then bolts to a small
place between the refrigerator and the wall. It's a warm spot. I
used to hide there and play Harriet the Spy when I could fit. His
fur sticks out like quills and his skin is rippling in fear.

"Poor little fellow." My father squats beside the fridge, his
long legs rising up on either side of him like a frog's, his knees
sharp and bony through his khakis. "It's okay, little guy. It's
okay." He turns to me. "What should we call him?"

The shaking dog in the corner makes what I agreed to with my mother
real in a way nothing else has. Gone, I think. Call him Gone.

Three days ago my mother told me she was going to go live with
my grandparents in New Hampshire for the summer. We were standing
in our nightgowns in her bathroom. My father had just left for
work. Her face was shiny from Moondrops, the lotion she put on
every morning and night. "I'd like you to come with me," she

"But what about sailing classes and art camp?" I was signed up
for all sorts of things that began next week.

"You can take sailing lessons there. They live on a lake."

"But not with Mallory and Patrick."

She pressed her lips together, and her eyes, which were brown
and round and nothing like my father's yellow-green slits, brimmed
with tears, and I said yes, I'd go with her.

My father reaches in and pulls the puppy out. "We'll wait and
see what you's like before we gives you a name. How's that?"

The puppy burrows between his neck and shoulder, licking and
sniffing, and my father laughs his high-pitched being-tickled laugh
and I wish he knew everything that was going to happen.

I set up the bed by the door and the two bowls beside it. I fill
one bowl with water and leave the other empty because my father
feeds all the dogs at the same time, five o'clock, just before his
first drink.

I go upstairs and get on a bathing suit. From my brother's
window I see my mother and Bob Wuzzy, in chairs now, sipping iced
tea with fat lemon rounds and stalks of mint shoved in the glasses,
and the kids splashing, pushing, dunking --- the kind of play my
mother doesn't normally allow in the pool. Some are doing crazy
jumps off the diving board, not cannonballs or jackknives but wild
spazzy poses and then freezing midair just before they fall, like
in the cartoons when someone runs off a cliff and keeps moving
until he looks down. The older kids do this over and over, tell
these jokes with their bodies to the others down below, who are
laughing so hard it looks like they're drowning. When they get out
of the pool and run back to the diving board, the water shimmers on
their skin, which looks so smooth, like it's been polished with
lemon Pledge. None of them are close to being "black." They are all
different shades of brown. I wonder if they hate being called the
wrong color. I noticed this last year, too. "They like being called
black," my father told me in a Fat Albert accent. "Don't you start
callin' ‘em brown. Brown's down. Black's where it's at."

The grass feels good on my feet, thick and scratchy. I put my
towel on the chair beside my mother.

"You heard Sonia's group lost its funding," Bob was saying. I
don't know if Bob Wuzzy is white or black. He has no hair, not a
single strand, and caramel-colored skin. When I asked my mother she
asked me why it mattered, and when I asked my father he said if he
wasn't black he should be.

"No," my mother says gravely, "I didn't."

"Kevin must have pulled the plug."

"Jackass," my mother says; then, brightening up, "How's Maria
Tendillo?" She pronounces the name with a good accent that my
father makes fun of sometimes.

"Released last Friday. No charges."

"Gary's the best." My mother smiles. Then she lifts her face to

"Hello, Mr. Wuzzy," I say, and put out my hand.

He stands and shakes it. His hand is cold and damp from the iced
tea. "How are you, Daley?"

"Fine, thank you."

They exchange a look about my manners and my mother is pleased.
"Hop in, honey," she says.

This morning she told me I was old enough now to host Project
Genesis with her, that all the kids would be roughly my age and I
could be an envoy to new lands and begin to heal the wounds. I had
no idea what she was talking about. Finally she said I should just
be nice and make them feel welcome and included.

"How can I make them feel included when there is only one of me
and so many of them?"

I knew she didn't like that answer, but because she was worried
I'd tell my father we were leaving, she asked me softly if I could
just promise to swim with them.

I stand on the first step, my feet pale and magnified by the
water. I feel my mother willing me to behave differently, but I
can't. I can't leap into the fray like that. It isn't in my nature
to assume people want me around. All I can do is watch with a
pleasant expression on my face. The older kids are still twisting
off the diving board. The younger ones are here in the shallow end,
treading water more than swimming, their faces flush to the surface
like lily pads. In the corner two girls are having underwater
conversations. A boy in a maroon bathing suit slithers through them
and they both come up screaming at him, even though he is
underwater again and can't hear. There are four boys and three
girls, all different sizes, and I wonder if some of them are
siblings. They seem like it, the way they yell at each other. But
no one gets mad or ends up crying like I always do.

I move slowly from one step to the next, then walk out on tippy
toes. They aren't looking at me, but they all pull away as I
approach. At the slope to the deep end, my feet slip and I go
under. It's cool and quiet below until a body drops in, a sack of
bubbles. Normally when I look up from the bottom of the pool, the
surface is only slightly buckled, like the windowpanes in the
attic, but now it's a white froth. The boy in the maroon bathing
suit passes right above me. His toes brush through my hair and he

When I surface, the littlest boy pushes himself toward me. The
others watch him.

"This your pool?" he asks. The water lies in crystals in his


"You swim in it every day?"

"When it's warm out."

"But it's heated, right?" He swings his arms around fast, making
his fingers hop along the surface.


"I'd swim in it every day," he says. "Even if it was twenty
below. I'd get in in the morning and not get out till night."

"You'd have to eat or you'd die."

"Then I'd die in this pool. It's the perfect place to die."

I decide not to tell him about Mrs. Walsh, who did. She had a
heart attack. "Is that Mrs. Walsh floating in the pool?" my father
likes to say sometimes when I've left a raft in the water. My
mother doesn't think it's funny.

This leaves a pause in the conversation and the boy paddles
away. I feel bad and relieved at the same time.

My mother's smile fades as she realizes I'm getting out. Bob is
telling her about some fundraiser and she can't interrupt to prod
me back in. After I dry off a little, I cross the lawn and run up
the steps.

My father is in the den, watching the Red Sox and smoking a
cigarette. I sit next to him in my wet bathing suit. He doesn't
care about the possibility of the slipcover colors bleeding. At the
commercial he says, "You didn't enjoy your swim?"

"I got cold."

He snorts. "The pool's probably over ninety with all the pee
they're putting into it."

"They're not peeing in it."

I wait for him to say I sound just like my mother, but instead
he puts his warm hand on my leg. "I promise this will never happen
again, little elf. I'm going to put a stop to it."

It will stop without you having to do a thing, I think.

They only come a few times a summer. On other weekends they go
to other people's pools or private beaches in other towns.

"Project Genesis," my brother said at the beginning of the
summer, on one of the few days he was home between boarding school
and his summer plans, whatever they are, making his voice deep and
serious like a TV announcer. "In the beginning there was blue
chlorinated water in backyards. There were trampolines and Mercedes
and generous housewives in Lilly Pulitzer dresses willing to share
a little, just a little." My mother giggled. My father scowled. He
can't amuse her with his teasing the way my brother can.

They swim for hours, until Bob calls them all out and makes them
dry off and change in the poolhouse. He and my mother get the
charcoal lit in the bottom of the grill and, once the coals are hot
enough, put fifteen patties on the rack. The kids explore the yard,
back and front, running from the space trolley to the swing set to
the low-limbed apple tree. They dare to do things I don't, like
hang upside down on the trolley as it whizzes from one tree to the
other, crawl on hands and knees across the single narrow tube on
the top of the swing set, and flip off the stone wall around my
mother's rose garden.

I watch them from the kitchen window.

"Bunch of monkeys," my father says, mixing a drink at the

They have so much energy. They make me feel like I've been
living on one lung. The littlest girl skins her knee on one of the
huge rocks that heaves up through the grass in our yard and the two
oldest take turns jogging her in their arms, planting kisses in her
hair and stroking away her tears. She clings to them for a long
time and they let her.

"Daley." My mother stands at the screen door. "Please come out
and eat with the rest of us."

"Oh, yes," my father says. "Do go eat with the fairy and his
little friends."

My mother acts like no one has spoken. On the steps, away from
him, she puts her arm around me. She always smells like flowers. "I
know it's hard, but try not to be so remote. This is important,
honey," she whispers.

Normally I eat dinner with Nora, but she's in Ireland for two
weeks visiting cousins. She goes every summer and I never like it.
The rest of the year she lives with us except on Sundays when,
after church, she drives over to Lynn, where her sister lives, and
spends the night with her. "Lynn, Lynn, the city of sin. You never
come out the way you went in," my father often says when she drives
away, but never to her face. She is a serious Catholic and she
wouldn't like it. I've gone with her many times to see her sister
in Lynn on Sunday nights. They eat cutlets and play hearts and go
to bed early. There's no sinning for them in Lynn. There's a
picture on Nora's bureau in our house of her and my father on some
rocks near the ocean. She's eighteen and my father is one. He's
holding onto her hand with both of his. His mother hired Nora for a
summer in Maine, but she ended up going to Boston with them and
staying for nine years, until my father went to boarding school.
When my brother, Garvey, was born, she was working for another
family somewhere in Pennsylvania, but she was free when I came
along. After dinner Nora and I watch TV on her bed, Mannix and
Hawaii Five-0, both of us in our bathrobes. She puts me to bed and
we always say "Now I Lay Me" and the Lord's Prayer, though at her
church it has a different ending. My mother says that after we
leave, Nora will stay on to take care of my father, who can't boil
an egg.

My parents didn't name my brother Garvey. They named him
Gardiner, after my father, and he was Gardiner all my life until he
went to boarding school and came back Garvey. My mother tried to
stop it, but he is Garvey now. At his graduation a few weeks ago
even the headmaster called him Garvey.

We sit in a jagged circle in the grass. My mother's dress is too
short for her to sit Indian-style so she folds her legs off to one
side, which tilts her toward Bob Wuzzy. I'm aware of how it will
look to my father in the kitchen window, sipping his drink.

Bob makes us all go around and say our names, but after that
we're silent. Even the two grown-ups seem unable to keep up a
conversation. We eat our burgers, then Bob says, "Who wants to play
sardines?" and all of them cry out, "Me!" I know my father would
rather I come in and sit with him, but my mother's eyes are locked
on mine.

Bob tells us we can only hide in the yard as defined by the back
and front driveways, and not inside any of the buildings on the
property. He makes it sound like a small college campus. Then he
chooses a girl named Devon to hide first. The rest of us count
aloud as fast as we can to fifty, omitting vowels and syllables,
like racing down stairs three at a time. Then we scatter, to find
Devon without anyone else seeing. I'm sure I'll get to her first,
since I know the terrain and all the good hiding places.

I go first to the rhododendrons in front, then to the small empty
fountain in the rose garden. After that I check behind the granite
outcropping near the street. Soon everyone else is missing, too,
except the little boy named Joe, my friend from the pool.

"Let's check over there," I call to him, pointing toward the
small pines beyond the pool, but Joe runs off in the opposite

As I pass the back porch, I hear a crinkling sound. They're all
in a tight cluster beneath the back steps, in a small, dark,
spidery space that has always scared me. As I draw closer, the buzz
of their chatter is so loud I wonder how I could have passed by
twice without having heard them. I bend over and squeeze in. To fit
all the way, I have to press up against several bodies. We're all
hot and our skin sticks. All their buzzing stops. No one says a
thing. It seems to me that they've all stopped breathing. I try to
think of something to say, something goofy the way Patrick can,
that will make us all giggle. Out in the twilight of the yard
little Joe begins to cry, and Bob Wuzzy tells us to come out.

The boy who found Devon first goes off to hide, and the rest run
off to count. I slip back up the porch steps.

My father is eating a minute steak with A-1 sauce slathered all
over it. His forehead and his nose are covered in sweat, the way
they always are when he eats dinner. He's staring straight ahead
and I can't tell if he knows I'm there.

"You's a good kid, you know that, elf?" His words are skating
slightly sideways.

When he's done with dinner, he makes another drink. He gives me
two tiny, vinegary onions from the bottle. In four days I won't
live here with him. When we come back to Ashing in the fall, my
mother says, she and I will live in an apartment and I'll only come
up here on weekends.

The game outside has ended and no sounds come through the screen
door. Then the pool lights go on, the little mushroom-shaped lamps
in the grass and the big underwater bulb beneath the diving board.
Bodies stream out of the poolhouse and crash into the water. My
father's body goes rigid at the sound.

He finishes his martini, jiggles the ice as he drinks to drain
it of every drop. Then he sets the glass down on the counter. "I've
got an idea," he says.

I don't say no to my father's ideas, just as I don't say no to
my mother's. If my father had asked me to go away with him, I would
have. My brother says no all the time when he's home, and that just
gets everyone all riled up.

We take off our clothes on the back porch. The puppy is with us,
jumping around our ankles, sensing something different.

"Un, deux, trois," my father says. He knows French from fishing in
Quebec. "Go!"

He heads straight for the pool, his long tennis legs springing
across the grass he keeps shorn and stiff, a bulb of muscle at the
back of each calf, his thighs thin and taut, his bum high and flat
and stark white in the dark, and his long arms flashing fast as he
moves, the right stronger than the left, with an Ace bandage at the
wrist. He moves in a way no one else in my family does, graceful as
water. When he reaches the pool, he begins to grunt. He veers
right, away from the corner where my mother and Bob Wuzzy sit with
their sodas, and runs along the patch of grass between the length
of the pool and the garden's stone wall.

A boy floating on my red raft sees us first.

"Streakers!" he yells.

My father leaps over the short toadstool lights, one at a time,
his grunts getting louder, his arms beginning to buckle toward his
body, his spine bending forward. He takes the turn around the deep
end, his body all sinew and strength, flecked with silver veins and
tendons, glowing in the pale green pool reflection.

All the kids are yelling now, hooting and slapping the water,
laughing so hard they have to swim over to the edge and hang

He saves my mother's spot in the corner for last. He comes at her
now head-on, past the poolhouse, right toward her seat in the
chaise longue, his balls whipping from side to side, the penis
boylike, small as a mouse. He curls his arms up all the way now,
scratches at his armpits, and says, "Ooooo-ooooo-ooooo" right in
her face, and then is gone.

My mother, for a moment, looks like she's been tossed out of a
plane. Then she reassembles a smile for Bob, who, for the
children's sake, is pretending it's an odd but innocent prank. But
when she sees me, something snaps. She lunges out of her chair to
grab me, but I'm fast and slippery without clothes. I feel the
thick, tough grass between my toes and the wet summer night air
moving through the hair on my arms and through my hairless crotch.
I'm boylike, too, with tight buds on my chest, and this night I'm
nearly as lithe and quick and nimble as my father. Both my lungs
are pumping hard. I don't want to stop running, stop the burning of
my stomach muscles and the ache in my throat, stop the stars from
seeing my bare, newly eleven-year-old body in the grass, fast and
graceful as a deer through the woods.

On the porch we stand laughing and panting together with our
clothes at our feet and our puppy spinning in joyful circles and my
father grinning his biggest grin and looking at me like he loves
me, truly loves me, more than anyone else he's ever loved in his

Excerpted from FATHER OF THE RAIN © Copyright 2011 by Lily
King. Reprinted with permission by Grove Press. All rights

Father of the Rain
by by Lily King

  • Genres: Fiction
  • paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press
  • ISBN-10: 0802145345
  • ISBN-13: 9780802145345