I saw her through my bedroom window. Five am, as usual. The sky was still dark, and a fog covered the street as she came riding through it like a phantom newspaper delivery boy summoned from hell. The light on her bike pulsed and glowed, a steady heart that never failed to beat.
I’d noticed her for a few weeks now. She always rode to each house on the block and sprinkled sand over the driveways and rooftops. But whenever she came to my house, she dumped a bucket of rain to construct an entire tempest that affected my property alone.
This morning, I was prepared. I waited on my front porch for her to arrive. She stopped when she saw me. The rain in her pail threatened to pour, and thunder sounded above my roof.
“Just what the hell do you think you’re doing?” I shouted at her. “Get off my lawn! I don’t want your rain.”
She blinked pleasantly, not at all intimidated. “Ah, Mr. Tyler. I’ve been expecting you.”
I stared at her, shocked that she knew my name. “Do I know you?”
“No, but I know you. Loving husband, father of three, high school science teacher. Word is you’ve been a bit of an insomniac lately.”
I was starting to feel slightly afraid, but she motioned me to the sidewalk to join her. I couldn’t stop my curious legs from obeying.
She continued along the pavement. “Let’s take a walk, shall we? I still have several neighborhoods on my route to hit before dawn arrives.”
She walked alongside her bike as I followed her. At every house, she stopped to fetch a bit of sand from the pouch strapped to her waist. Then she threw it into the air, and the sand fell like snowflakes, lightly dusting the roof of the home. Each home began to glow a bright neon orange, some brighter than others.
I could hear the sleeping families within—snores erupting from beneath the sheets, and I saw their dreams. Children danced with cartoon characters, teens fawned over celebrity crushes, parents bragged about their kids’ many accomplishments. One mother even dreamed that her son was a world-renown pianist.
Occasionally, the sand woman drizzled water from the pail of rain over the sand to form a heavy, sticky sludge. When she threw this, the mixture touched the house and turned it a bright, angry red. A cloud formed overhead, though there was no rain. Arguments and hurtful words stirred up in these families’ dreams. Some between couples, some between disrespectful children and their parents. Embarrassment, jealousy, bitterness, and regret all flashed their charms in the nightmares.
“I can’t give everyone good dreams,” the sand woman said. “Can’t control emotions either. That depends on their own willingness to grow and change for the better.”
By now, we had come to a yellow house with a bright red door. It looked like a happy home, the kind of place parents would raise their children to become good people. I expected my companion to take sand from her pouch again, but this time, she went only for the bucket of rain.
“What are you doing?” I cried out. “This house doesn’t deserve to be rained on.”
By now, I thought I had a good grasp on my new acquaintance’s job. She decided who would be the recipient of good dreams, who would receive nightmares, and who would have tragedy. It made me angry.
“You misunderstand.” She looked at me with a blend of sorrow and compassion. “I don’t make it rain to create tragedy. The heartbreak has already happened. Listen.”
I strained my ears to hear an angry teenager dreaming about punching a wall. The rage soon turned to tears as he realized this anger changed nothing. His mother sobbed as she replayed a scene in her sleep. The monitors flat-lined as the doctors tried to revive her husband, but in the end, he never came home.
“I make it rain to help the family grieve,” the sand and rain giver said. “These are tears in my bucket. Sand will do nothing to ease their pain. They don’t need good dreams. They need to cry, to let the tears fall.”
She poured the bucket of rain on the house, and it sprinkled somberly. Surprisingly, it was a light shower, unlike the storms that raged over my own house.
“Why do you give me thunderstorms?” I asked.
“This family has been grieving for a year,” she answered. “Though they are still in mourning, they have accepted their loss.”
“I still don’t understand.” I shook my head, almost desperately now. “Nobody has died in my family.” Then something occurred to me. “Am I dead then? Am I a ghost? Is my family grieving for me?”
She turned towards me sadly. “Mr. Tyler, the reason I make it storm for you is exactly because of the questions you just asked. Your storm is filled with unshed tears. Unrealized grief. It’s time for you to wake up.”
I opened my eyes and gasped, sitting alone in bed. The covers beside me were deadly cold and untouched.
And I remembered. My wife was dead. My children were dead. A tear slid down my cheek as I started down the hall. Echoes of children’s laughter were all I had now. Their ghosts ran through the empty house, invisible footsteps padding on wooden floors of vacant bedrooms.
I could no longer deny it. My entire family was gone, taken from me in a single car crash two weeks ago.
I was alone. I sat on the side of my only son’s bed, and the sobs overtook me. Rain crashed against the windowpanes as I finally allowed the grief to come.