Jenny looked across the fields, the crops brown, dying, drying in the unrelenting sun.
“We need rain,” she said, turning to look at her brother.
Jim looked back, and nodded, simply. “It might already be too late. Even Bess isn’t providing us with much milk. Unless we get a change, fast, we’re going to have trouble.”
Jenny processed this new information. Bess was their best provider of milk, a hearty Lincoln Red they’d bought as a calf, just three years before. If she was struggling to produce milk the rest of the herd must be parched, barely a drop between them.
“The rain impacts them that much? They can’t feed from the river?” she asked.
Jim sighed, and turned to stare across the valley, the evening sun casting long shadows. “The river is down, but that’s not the problem,” he said, “it’s the run-off from the mine. The cows will drink but the water… it’s not good for them.”
The mine had opened just a couple of years before. The mine itself was deep under the ground, possibly even under their farm itself, but that was no issue. The processing of the ore, an intensive process, required water from the river, then leaked back into it. They’d had to stop drinking its water themselves, relying on an ancient well, almost dry, that drew from the bedrock itself deep beneath them.
“I want to try something,” said Jenny, “You remember that old Indian, the one that lived in Buffalo Gorge?”
Jim nodded, waited for her to continue.
“I watched him do a rain dance once. That night, it rained!”
“Coincidence,” said Jim, “You can’t believe that. Can you?”
Jenny shrugged. “What’s the worse that could happen?” she asked, “I have fun dancing?”
Jim shrugged back. “Ok,” he said, “I’m going to feed the chickens. Try not to fall and hurt yourself.” He walked back towards the farm house, didn’t look to see whether Jenny was dancing or not.
She jumped down from the wooden fence she’d been sat on, smoothed her skirts, crouched slightly and tried to remember the dance she’d watched so many years ago. Step, shuffle, step, a couple more shuffles and a small jump. Jenny was fairly sure she wasn’t getting it completely right but who really believed that anyway? She enjoyed the physical activity, a chance to dance in the sunshine, a rare moment of happiness.
Her happiness vanished in a shock of embarrassment and surprise as a voice spoke out behind her.
“What are you doing?”
Jenny turned and saw a wizened old man, his dark burnished skin creased by age. “I’m dancing,” she said.
“What sort of dance was that?” asked the old man. He was wearing a cheap jacket and trousers, both showing wear and needing a wash.
Jenny blushed and admitted, “I was trying a rain dance. We need rain.”
“Rain dance?” scoffed the man, “More like a potty dance.”
Jenny glared at him. “I’m doing my best,” she said, “people will die if we don’t get water.” She looked at the man angrily and scolded him. “Who are you anyway? We didn’t invite you here. If you know what a rain dance should be, do one for us. Make it rain.”
The man sighed and replied quietly. “You invited me here. You danced, and I came. You want rain? Ok, I’ll make it rain for you tonight, and every night for the next month. Will that do?”
Jenny burst into tears. “Stop being horrible,” she said, “This is serious and you’re just mocking me. You can’t make it rain.”
“Oh, but I can,” said the old man, “and I’ll be even nicer. Every time it rains at night I promise you, you’ll wake up wet. So that you remember your little potty dance.”
Jenny looked at him and turned away in frustration, biting back the scream she wanted to unleash in his face. She turned to tell him to leave but he was already gone, silently vanishing from view somehow while she was looking away.
Unsettled, Jenny returned to the farmhouse. She didn’t mention the old man to Jim, worried that it might lead to a violent chase across the fields and hills. Instead she went to bed early, lay there worrying about the farm, the crops, Jim.
Eventually she fell asleep, dreamless and deep. But not for long.
“Wake up! Jenny, wake up!” Jim was tugging at her shoulders and shouting far too loudly for someone that close. “It’s raining! Come and look, it’s actually raining! Your rain dance worked!”
Jenny struggled to wake, sat up, swung her legs off the bed and put her hands down to push herself to a standing position. She stopped, realised her hand had felt dampness, that the bed was wet.
Jim noticed too. “Is there a leak?” he asked, looking up at the ceiling.
Jenny lifted the covers. They were dry; the wetness had come from inside the bed… inside her. She looked at Jim in shock, shook her head sadly. “No,” she said, “I…”
“You wet yourself?” asked Jim, “Oh Jenny, I’m so sorry. It’s ok, we’ll get you sorted. But first come and look at the rain! You can stand in it, wash yourself clean.”
His excitement was enthusing so Jenny kept quiet, let him lead her outside. She didn’t tell him how the rain dance had gone, the promise of a month’s rain, or the other promise, the one that had been kept.
The old man was right. Jenny would remember her potty dance.