It begins with a soup shop on a rainy day.
The rain is as important as the soup shop, especially to the land because we’ve been in drought for years and the farmers have started to wilt and crumple like the grass. You know how grass looks almost okay from a distance, but you get closer and it’s transparent and tears apart the moment it’s brushed by your grasping hands?
I know this because we used to make flower crowns in the fields, Rosie and me. We were young when the drought began and didn’t realise why we had to start hunting for daisies. They grew far apart, like our friendship, and now there are no daisies at all.
We are thirsty and alone, all of us at the same time. Together, alone.
The shop is quiet when I pull the door open. It’s usually quiet, these days. Or maybe all the days, because has soup ever been popular enough to warrant its own store? The drought has done bad enough things, but I bet all the daisies in the world the soup shop has always had poor business, has always been on the cusp of closure.
“Mia,” the woman behind the counter says. “How are you, butter?”
“It’s raining.” I drag my fingers through my hair, tugging the wet strands down my back. I’ve forgotten what it is to have fabric cling to your calves, thighs, stomach, from the water.
“Rain is good news.” Her voice is a sigh, a melody, a hug, all at once.
“For us, anyway,” I reply, holding up a newspaper. “Someone always has too much while someone else doesn’t have enough.”
It’s front page news everyday how the other side of the country is flooding. How it’s been flooding for so long our land is tipping sideways, too much water on one side and none on the other. We’re a sinking ship, and everyone knows it.
Rylene shrugs and looks out the window. “Focus on the good. Today is good.”
“Today is good.” I brush my palms over my cheeks, wanting to rid myself of this wrung-out laundry feeling sticking to my skin, but I also want to bottle it up and keep it on my bookshelf because it’s been so long since I’ve felt like this and who knows when I will again. “But not good enough to call me Butter.”
She smiles generously at me. She does everything like that, just gives without caring about receiving. I like to think she hasn’t gone out of business because God is kind and provides for good people, but then I remember bad people stay in business too and then I get confused so I stop thinking altogether.
“What will it be today?”
“Do you have tomato and basil? Dad loves it.”
“Course he does.” Rylene looks at the watch on her wrist, the one she clasps on her right hand for no reason other than she’s always done it that way, even though she’s not left handed. “There’s some on the stove, I’ll see how it’s going.”
The rain bounces off the tin roof, bounces off the sidewalk, bounces off the street signs. It sounds like being five again and running down the muddy lane that leads to our house, tucked behind fields of white petals and woollen coats.
Tomato soup is what I get when I don’t really need anything, because Dad will eat it no matter how much food he’s already filled up on. I think Rylene knows this, but I’ve never said it out loud so don’t know if she hates our sympathy.
When she returns, I see the kind lines on her face, the ones that accent her smile, and how could I think she’d ever hate anything at all?
“Ten minutes,” she says.
“I can wait.”
For the first time, Rylene looks uneasy.
“You usually wait outside,” she comments.
“It’s usually not raining,” I reply. “Can’t I wait here, Rye? I won’t be in your way.”
“I don’t want to get you in trouble,” she says.
That’s what Rosie used to tell me, right before she’d play a joke on an unsuspecting classmate. School started in the afternoon, giving the farm kids a chance to help their Dads before running off to get an education. Rosie would use that time to plan anything that would give her a laugh. Either that or she would join me in the paddock behind the school and make flower crowns with me.
“In trouble how?”
“I lied,” she replies. “Today isn’t actually so good.”
Sarah Bennett is currently undergoing a BA in Writing. She blogs at thesoftestwords.com.