Every Cloud by SJ Townend

Each paper cut I ever received brought on an April shower, irrespective of the season. Each grazed knee brought on a monsoon.

For a time, in my teens, I would experiment with the compass from my trigonometry kit. When I had mastered some control over my power, I used it to my advantage. I’d etch cross-hatched eyes and a wobbly grin with a tongue poking from it onto the back of my hand – Nirvana – and I’d wait for the rain to come.

I started to use my ability to bring on poor weather every Wednesday at three after enduring double maths. I enjoyed mathematics, I didn’t enjoy the hockey that followed it. Sitting at the back of the classroom, balancing my text book upright on my desk to create an opaque windscreen with which I could shield myself, I drove the stainless steel needle back and forth through my skin. The red would flow and the rain would start, pitter-patter, and hockey would get called off. Another Wednesday afternoon would be spent in the library instead of out on the cold pitch. Huddled up with a book, I’d pretend to read whilst listening to the syncopated drumming of water on the roof, all the while padding the back of my hand with blue tissues, until home time came.

A teacher noticed what I was doing eventually and referred me to counselling. I didn’t bother explaining to the biscuit-proffering serious lady with the half-moon glasses how much I hated sport, or how much I despised having to change into my hockey kit in front of the other girls – all curves, all hair – as I stood, ashamed, flat and smooth. I didn’t bother mentioning that I controlled the weather with my bodily fluids either, as I presumed everyone did this. The skin on the back of my hand was growing tired of it all anyway, and Ms. Clark took away my trigonometry set.

My father liked a ladder and a power tool. I remember vividly when I was nine, the time he called my name twice. I had been sat in the garden. It’d been hot so my dolls were drinking ‘iced lemon tea’ concocted with leaves from Mum’s begonias and crud from the compost heap. The first time my father had called out politely, but I ignored him, as was standard practice in our house – I had been too engaged in my game for whatever beetle or flower he had wished to show me. The second time he had yelled out my name, however, it had come from somewhere guttural. He had called with the black notes I had never heard him sing with before. Gaining my attention, I had run up the grey path to the large bush and the yellow legs of his tallest ladder.

“What is it, Dad? Have you found another nest?”

“Get your mother,” he had replied. I saw the hedge-trimmer several metres away on the ground, burning back and forth its toothed saw, buzzing hungrily. My father was at the top of the ladder, not holding it.

“Now,” he shouted and it was then I saw the blood. This wasn’t trigonometry blood, the type which could be caught and spread on blue tissue, folded and pressed into teenage Rorschach ink blot tests. (I always saw moths, curled babies or faces of the damned.) This blood, of my father, was adult-sized blood. I saw blood that could be collected in demijohns and vases. This blood had been pumping out, erupting in bursts into the air, splattering onto leaves and his shirt. It came in flurries keeping time with my own heartbeat and with each squeeze of his. It made a mess of his top and the buddleia.

“She’s in the kitchen,” I had said as my father vomited into the space between us. I had run toward where my mother would be, hearing the spray of falling carrot and stomach lining hailing down onto the path behind me; I, Napalm Girl all flailing limbs, his hand and throat, explosive. It sounded like the start of a storm but smelled of yesterday’s roast and beer. I discovered my mother, chopping offal, and brought her out to Dad. She had helped my father down from the ladder and had steadied him into the car, taking on board most of his weight despite being half his size. His face had become as pallid as the cloud that had drawn over the sun and as ghostly as the bath towel Mother had yanked from the washing line to wrap around his hand and stump. The white towel had become deep red by the time we arrived at the hospital.

“Carry this, keep it steady. Don’t look inside,” Mum had said, her hands shaking as she’d passed me something gift-sized and wrapped in a clean tea towel. I held the tip of his finger in that Tupperware box for three miles, never once looking at it, but knowing every time my father screamed in pain that it was there, dying, cell by cell. He had screamed a lot. But he never shed a tear.

“Your father has lost several pints of blood,” said the surgeon who had come to speak to us as my father lay heavily medicated in a faraway room. “But he should make a full recovery.” I had wanted to ask how they knew. How did they know how much blood had drained and spurted out from him – had they weighed him? It? How did they top him back up? I had imagined three glass jugs full to the lip with his equivalent loss inside sat on the windowsill of the hospital ward, waiting to be tipped back down his stump before they could reattach the nail nubbin. His nail never grew back, and he can’t feel anything in his index finger, but he’s still alive. He had been very lucky. People die from lesser injuries, so the surgeon had told us.

Despite all his blood loss, it hadn’t rained at all that day. That is how I knew I was different to my father.

My mother bled from her gums nearly every time she brushed her teeth. My father said that a grey cloud followed her around wherever she went, but her gum disease never made it rain. She was not a wet person, in fact, as she grew older, she became drier. I kept a chart for a while, keeping track of the times I’d seen her spit red with white, as we’d groomed ourselves for the day ahead, before my breasts came, before I was made to use the downstairs bathroom alone for my ablutions. There seemed to be no significant overlap between her bleeding from her mouth and the weather, so I knew that I was different to my mother. But I noticed that each of the three times she lost an adult tooth, someone our family knew died.

A great uncle who we spent summer with several years ago but whose face I could not recall was first, then an elderly lady with a face like a brain coral who smelled sulphurous and sickly, like science experiments. Before she died, she visited every few weeks coercing my mother into buying toiletries which stank of chemicals from a small catalogue. She would stand on our doorstep and talk at my mother about how her husband, who none of us had ever met, was having problems with his prostrate. I’d heard her sales pitch so many times that I’d looked the word up in the library dictionary whilst avoiding hockey on a wet Wednesday. It made no sense to me why a man would spend so long lying face down when there was so much to see in the world. Perhaps he was afraid of the rain.

It was a relief when she passed, the doorstep catalogue lady, although no-one said so out loud. None of us liked the astringent fragrances in the shower gels that had accumulated in the bathroom. We’d all said that out loud, and even at the age of ten, I could read between the lines.

I bought my first pair of heels when I was thirteen. Of course, they made me bleed. I used money I’d saved from washing cars at the place where my father worked. I walked two miles into town in the bastard footwear, without any socks on, to try and break them in. The imitation leather won that battle. By the time I’d reached Our Price – to rummage though the cassette bargain bin – my heels were in agony. I tried to wedge some tissues from a small packet in my rucksack down the back of my shoes, to sop up some of the blood, but it had stung so much. I took them off and slung them into my bag and walked through town barefoot. A murder scene trail of blood played out behind me as I marched to the bus stop.

Of course, the heavens had opened as soon as my heel skin had broken. As soon as the first red drop had trickled down my heel, along the ridge of the shoe and made its way to the front of my foot where I had noticed it, the bad weather had started. I got drenched waiting for the bus. The rain came down sideways and my eyeliner did too.

The first time I bled from my vagina, lightning and thunder joined the party. It had started in the night. I remember waking damp and warm in my bed which smelled of copper pennies. I’d switched on my bedside lamp and looked down between my legs, expecting a river of sweat to be flowing out from the space between my thighs, as this is what my dream had suggested. But it was not sweat, it was blood. Mother had prepared me for this day by showing me a leaflet that came with a pack of pads which resembled small mattresses. She’d put the pads in my underwear drawer and the pamphlet in the bin. School had told us that enough blood to fill an egg cup would come out each month along with an unused egg. I could see no egg as I pawed through the mess on my sheets, using tissues to try and clean it up, although the gloop did have the texture of clotted yolk. Mother heard the thunder too that night and she came into my room.

“Get the pads,” she said. “Go and wash yourself. I’ll put on new sheets.” We never spoke about that night again.

It felt most unnatural, wearing a pad, like having a swim noodle between one’s legs, like straddling a hot dog bun. I couldn’t get back to sleep, even with fresh sheets, so instead of trying, I sat in my windowsill in the dark, watching the rain pour down outside until I saw enough water collect on the ground to weight down my eye lids.

It rained for five days straight and then ended abruptly, as the eleventh pad in the pack remained white.

As I grew older, my monthlies became heavier, and with them, the weather grew worse. In my mid-twenties, I remember a camping trip which had to be abandoned as I came on in the night. I had an idea it was coming – I could see grey clouds gathering in the late afternoon sky and my stomach had been cramping, dealing with some internalised thunder. I retired early, leaving the others to toasted marshmallows and beer from plastic cups as I curled up in my sleeping bag. It had been the middle of summer, but I woke in the night to find I had leaked from the ‘heavy flow’ pad I had stuck in my knickers. My torch beam revealed clots of congealed red stuck to the lining of my sleeping bag as the tent started to leak. I screwed the sleeping bag up into a bin bag and wiped myself down with an old t-shirt minutes before my friend woke up. The water poured in on us through a slit in the canvas, and the wind picked up outside. Drops of rain the size of golf balls pounded on the taut canvas, making warzone sounds as blood gushed from me, soaking through pad after pad; I was leaking from the inside out and also from the outside in. We decided to pack down and abandon ship. It must have been three in the morning. After an hour bent over, yanking out pegs in horizontal rain, we managed to fold everything up sloppily into the boot of our car. We drove all the way back home in the midst of the night and I spent the rest of the week in bed with a cold. It rained until my period finished.

I found it hard to tell people about my situation, my power, and with time, I learnt that people didn’t really want to know. A boyfriend had ended things with me shortly after I’d explained to him that I couldn’t go boating at the weekend – it was my time of the month and bad things might happen at sea. Or out on the lake.

“When I bleed, it rains,” I’d said to him.

“It’s not me, it’s you,” he’d replied.

Many years later, in my mid-thirties, I met a man who understood me. I told him over coffee, after we’d decided to move in together. I thought it best he know, before contracts were signed, dates set – he would find out otherwise, eventually. Some people can handle the rain, and always carry an umbrella, others, not so much.

“So, sometimes when I bleed, the weather changes. For the worse,” I’d said as he’d bit into his lemon drizzle cake. His eyes always shone kindness, like the sun. This was one of the reasons why I loved him.

“I understand,” he said. “My mother used to get that too.” He kissed me and told me that when it rained, he’d be there to make a rainbow. Then he offered me a piece of his cake.

We moved in together, and things were perfect for a while. He taught me how to go out in the rain, how to embrace the bad weather. We bought puddle suits and wellington boots and made light of it all and he showed me how to see beauty in the deluge that my bleeding body seemed to bring.

One day, things had gotten torrential outside. I was curled up on the sofa – hot water bottle on my belly, mug of hot chocolate in my hand. It was in this moment that he asked me to marry him. It was in this moment that I said yes. Then he pressed his forefinger gently to my philtrum and told me there was something he needed to tell me first, before I agreed. There was something I needed to know about him.

“Go ahead,” I said. “Nothing you can tell me will make me love you any less.” He had smiled and squeezed my hand.

“When I fall in love, I bleed,” he said. His smile falling away, joining a puddle with my fresh tears.

When he fell in love, he bled.

I didn’t understand at first, but as time went on, I grew to learn that he was a fan of trigonometry too and his body had the scars to prove it. He told me he had been in love before and had bled throughout that relationship. He told me he knew he was in love with me the moment after our first kiss – he had rushed home to let a little of his blood out. He pointed at the scars just below his ankle. He showed me more evidence on the soles of his feet. He said bleeding from his feet meant no-one would ever need to know.

Except for me.

I told him his secret was safe. I understood. And so, we carried on, and when I bled, it rained and he loved me, and when he loved me, his feet wept tears of red.

A year into our relationship, I became pregnant and the sun put his hat on for six months straight. People spoke of global warming, but I knew there was more to it than this.

My periods ceased – which was expected – and we shopped for small things. My partner got through a lot of socks.

Driving home from work one day, after six months of pure sunshine, I felt a sensation, a dampness and a warmth in my groin that had been so familiar, so often, and so regular, so many moons ago. I pulled over into a lay-by, undid my seatbelt and wrapped an arm around my swollen belly. Placing my hands between the top of my thighs, I felt for something. Pulling my fingers up and out and holding them up in the air in front of me, I knew straight away a storm was brewing. My fingers were red, dripping with blood.

I undid the door, got out of the car and looked down at the driver’s seat where a lagoon had collected. The clouds drifted in front of the sun before my eyes, carrying the grey weight of the world’s water within them. I reached for my phone and called my partner as the first drop of rain landed on my cheek.

The coldness of it all.

More blood came out of my body, down my legs, and with the blood came pain. With the pain, came a crack and a fork of lightning placing its angry fingers in fields which draped over the horizon. A deluge came and stayed.

He found me in the lay-by and took me to the hospital where our baby gave up on us. A parent who brought rain and another with chopping board feet – I don’t blame the poor soul for checking out. The rain fell more heavily than I had ever seen it fall that day and continued to fall heavily for a month. We drove home from the hospital and cried more tears as the sky cried with and on us.

A one hundred foot tsunami on the other side of the planet wiped out quarter of a million people at some point in the days that held our grief. A tidal wave taller than a blue whale, a wall of water higher than a ten story building, carrying more energy than one and a half thousand H-bombs rose up from the depths of the Indian Ocean and pushed forward, onto the land. I felt the pain of every single person I killed as I bled. I brought down a drop of rain for each of them who died.

When my bleeding ended, the sunshine never returned but my partner, my ex now, stopped dragging blades through his feet.

About The Author

SJ Townend writes to take the reader on a journey to dark places and, occasionally, back again. She enjoys writing horror and dark fiction and is currently compiling her first collection of shorts. She has also self-published two dark mystery novels: Tabitha Fox Never Knocks and Twenty-Seven and the Unkindness of Crows, which are both available on Amazon.

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