May 7, 2012
It was a hard rain, and fast—the sort of pour that early May is known for here. It came from clouds the color of dark smoke that rolled over town like a wave, here and then gone over the mountains. What was left in its wake was the grateful song of a robin from the oak in the backyard, and the sugary smell of wet grass and tilled earth.
And the puddle.
It was not a deep puddle, nor was it wide. Maybe three lengths of my boot and deep enough to reach the second knuckle of my index finger. It lay just beyond the mailbox at the end of the lane, a pothole the rain had converted into a passing mirror of liquid glass.
The mailman had delivered the day’s assortment of junk mail and bills just before the first cracks of thunder. Now that the sun had returned and the robin was singing and that sweetness was in the air, I decided to go check the box. A small boy riding a dirt-road-brown bicycle rounded the corner as I made my way down the lane. He tried a wheelie, barely managing to get the front tire off the ground, then uttered a Yes! as if what he’d just done was almost supernatural.
I gave the puddle a wide berth—I was in blue jeans and flip flops, and didn’t want to risk getting either wet. There are few things in life more irritating than wet cuffs on your blue jeans.
I’d just pulled the mail out of the box (a reminder of the upcoming Book Fair, a ten dollars off coupon for Bed, Bath & Beyond, and the cable bill) when the boy squeezed the brake levels on the handlebars. The bike skidded nearly ten feet on the wet pavement, the last four or five fishtailing, which produced another Yes!, this one whispered.
I looked up. The boy was staring at my feet, where the puddle lay. A soft breeze rippled the surface, and for a moment, however brief, my mind turned to something I’d once heard from an old relative—all mirrors have two sides, she’d said. One side you look at. The other side looks into you.
“That’s a pretty cool puddle,” the boy said to me.
I looked at it and then to him. “Sure is.”
He nodded, and I got the feeling it was the sort of nod that was more the punctuation on the end of a decision rather than an agreement with what I’d just said.
I thought he was going to ride through it. That’s what I would have done at his age. Plus, it would have the added benefit of turning his dirt-road-brown bike back into the red I suspected was underneath. But he didn’t. He threw down the kickstand and dismounted as if from a mighty steed in the Old West.
He walked to me and toed the edges of the puddle.
“You gonna use that?” he asked.
“Mind if I borry it?”
“You can borrow it all you want.”
He nodded and took three kid-sized steps back. Then he ran forward, leaped, and landed square in the middle of the puddle. Water billowed up over his legs, reaching his waist. He lands with a smile that to me is brighter than the rainbow over us.
“Thanks, mister,” he said. “You can have a go if you want.”
He rode off, a plume of road water trailing behind him. I held the mail in my hand and tried to remember the last time I jumped into a puddle in the road after a May rainstorm. Years, probably. Probably long ago, back when I had my own dirt-road-brown bike.
Puddles aren’t adult things. Adults avoid them. They splash and make a mess and get the cuffs of your jeans wet. It isn’t responsible or mature.
Maybe. But then there’s that mirror inside each of us. The one we look into that shows us who we are, and the one that looks into us and shows us who we should be.
I won’t tell you if I jumped or not. Some things need to stay secret. But I will say this—I can’t wait for it to rain again.
In the Heart of the Dark Wood
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