It had been a fairly quiet morning for little Tilly Plum. She woke from a dream-filled sleep two hours prior (of which she had no recollection the moment her bare feet touched the cold floor beneath her small single bed), had a small cereal breakfast with a smattering of cartoons.
While the four-year-old munched on the Cocoa Pops one piece at a time (no spoon for her, thank you very much), each chased by the tiniest sip from the dollop of milk in her cup, her mother, Merindah, tidied up the lounge room and kitchen. As she watched the programming and had her attention grabbed by shows she was actually interested in, the sound of her mother using the bottled water to wash the dishes was nearly drowned out.
After the morning cartoons, Merindah took her into the bathroom and looked her over and decided that she needed a bit of a cleansing-it had been five or six days since the last. Tilly undressed and got the bathroom supply of water, about a centimetre down from the last time, and handed it over to her mother. Very carefully and sparingly, Merindah dabbed the water over her daughter's skin. She assessed her hair and deemed it not long enough to worry about. The girl had her hair cropped short. 'No need to waste supplies when we can find ways around it,' her mother often said. Once mother and daughter were clean (Tilly helped get her mother's back with the same care and attention to detail), the girl went off to play while her mother tended to the laundry.
Tilly was in the midst of taking her dolly to the doctor when a cry came from the laundry room. The four year old then heard a soft wailing. More than curious, if not a little concerned, she dropped what she was doing and made her way into the kitchen and adjoining laundry room.
Her mother was on her knees, openly sobbing, staring out the screen door.
Tears filled the little girl's eyes and she moved in and pressed herself against her mother's back, hugging her, just as her mother had done for her so many times before. Tilly looked out the door and looked past the empty clotheslines to the strange grey clouds, spread as far as she could see, quickly approaching.
'What is it? What's wrong, Mummy?'
Merindah put a strong arm around her daughter and gave it a squeeze.
'Everything's fine sweetie...' Tears flowed down her cheeks, her mouth quivered. 'All will be fine…'
'But you're crying.'
'Mummy's happy, Till.'
'I don't understand.' The little girl sniffled and buried her face further.
Merindah picked up her daughter and opened the rickety door.
'Look,' she said, kissing Tilly on the top of her head.
The dark grey clouds were directly above them for first time in the little girl's living memory. The sky was rarely anything but blue. An occasional fluffy white cloud passed overhead, but that was it. No blue in the middle of the day…it frightened her.
Droplets pattered in the dirt here and there…which soon became thin sheets of mist…which became heaps of big, fat drops. The clotheslines and pins glistened in the early afternoon light. And in the distance, Tilly could now see, even darker clouds drifted their way.
Mother and daughter were out in it now, dancing, crying, and laughing. Buckets were placed about the yard and Merindah opened the water tank.
Tilly gazed at the brown and red deadness she was used to seeing, for the first time in her life she experienced rain, experienced grey sheets falling from the sky rather than rising to it.