The Space Between the Raindrops, by Tawanda Jones

Michelle Clark stared across the dinner table at the two women sitting across from her. Patricia Sims and her daughter, Dana Sims. Patricia had adopted Michelle eighteen years ago when she was just a baby.  The dinner routine was going as it always had: Patricia and Dana conversing amongst themselves and barely paying any attention to her. If Cory, Patricia’s husband, were at the table tonight, then she would put on a front and make pretentious gestures toward Michelle acting as though she cared: “Oh Cory, did you know Michelle is getting an A in her microbiology class. She is so smart!”  Or  “Cory, Michelle made the honor roll again!”  But Cory was out of town on business. His position as a pharmaceuticals representative often kept him away. “Ma, do you think I need my hair done again? I just got my ends clipped last week, but I want a new style.”  Dana was saying. “No sweetie, your hair is fine. It has grown so long now! I’m glad I’ve been letting you go every two weeks to La’Avores beauty shop, it’s working.” Michelle rolled her eyes in disgust.  La’Avores was an expensive hair shop, and Patricia never let her go there, not once. Even though her hair could use some special treatment. It was short, uneven, and often a pain to manage. She glared into her plate and started poking the meatloaf with swift, sharp jabs. “Don’t play with your food! How old are you anyway?” Patricia snapped. “I’m eighteen, Patricia.” Michelle said.

Patricia had long ago forbidden Michelle to ever call her ‘mom’. She could remember being around 4 years old when Patricia had sat her down in a big chair near the living room window and  had  explained to her that she was adopted, and to never call her mom. “I’m Patricia to you, sweetie. Okay?”  Michelle had nodded, looking past Patricia at the raging thunderstorm and large raindrops pelting the window.  It was then when she had first developed her love of rainstorms. It was then that she first started to crave the space between the raindrops. She had wanted to be anywhere but in that room with Patricia. Her little heart had been broken. Patricia was a pretty woman with rich, flawless brown skin and  beautiful dark eyes and long black hair. She had always been so proud of her, and she had especially loved it when others told Patricia that although adopted, Michelle still looked like her. Patricia was the only ‘mommy’ she had ever known, and now she was telling her to call her ‘Patricia’?  I can’t let her see me cry…  And so focusing hard on the rainstorm had helped her to keep her tears in place.  Patricia had talked, but Michelle was outside in the rain, floating in the spaces between the raindrops. “Child, are you listening to me?” Patricia snapped. Startled, Michelle had turned her eyes from the window back to Patricia’s face. She nodded. “Yes Patricia.”

As she now sat at the table remembering that awful experience, her eyes watered and the sharp precision of the room dissolved into blurred waves.  “You ought to be thankful you can eat this good, some foster kids don’t have anything.” Dana said. Michelle blinked and the room became clear again. Michelle looked at Dana. She was a tawny complexioned girl, lighter than both she and Patricia, with long wavy hair and greenish gray eyes. She was only two years younger than Michelle. “Dana, I’m not a foster kid, I’m adopted. You know that.”  Dana shrugged. “Tomatoe, tomato.”  “Dana!” Patricia gave her a stern look, but the little smile belied it. Anger, hot and hard, rose in Michelle. She jumped up, and with one swipe of her arm, sent her plate crashing to the floor. “I never asked to be adopted by you! I would rather be anywhere than here! Why did you adopt me anyway? Was it for the check!”  She glowered down at them. Dana was nervous, and caught off guard. Michelle had never snapped on her like that. She darted a glance at Patricia, who stared stonily at Michelle with watchful but veiled eyes. “Clean that mess up and go to your room. When Cory gets in tonight he will hear about this.”  Michelle could hear the rainstorm starting within her. She looked at Patricia challengingly “You clean it up your self.” And she ran up to her room. By now, the rainstorm was pelting inside her head.  And as she lay in bed, she sought that space between the raindrops. It was the secret place she went to whenever she felt the haunting loneliness, and when she felt unwanted. It was her sacred childhood palace that Patricia had unknowingly helped her to build. Was there any space between raindrops? If so, how did they remain dry and unaffected from everything going on around them?  For years, she had longed to occupy that space, where she too could feel protected and unalienable. Nothing was ever good enough for Patricia. She earned A’s and was always on the honor roll. She had already received numerous scholarships from ten different prospective colleges. Yet Patricia lurked behind a curtain of indifference. But last week when Dana got a B in geometry, the whole family had to go to Red Lobster to celebrate. Cory was a lot nicer and Michelle knew he was proud of the fact that she had earned scholarships and wouldn’t have to pay for college. “When you graduate, I’m getting you something special.”  He would often say. “You need to tutor Dana so both my girls can bring home A’s!”  And he’d always tell her that she was a genius. “Girl, you get A’s Microbiology? I didn’t know we had a rocket scientist living here!”  Michelle was taking a pre-college Microbiology course at her high school. She wanted to major in Natural Sciences when she went off to college in the Fall. Cory was so funny and amiable, and didn’t treat her unfairly. He was at least ten years older than Patricia. Michelle was three years old when he and Patricia married, and Patricia had gotten pregnant with Dana.

Up in her room, Michelle nodded off for like thirty minutes when she heard a knock at her door. She looked at the clock, it was 8:40pm. “Yes.”    “Michelle, Cory wants to see you downstairs.” It was Dana. She sounded smug. Michelle waited until she left and then trudged downstairs into the dining room where Cory sat, sorting through papers. He looked up and smiled. “The other women told me you had a bit of a meltdown.”  Suddenly she was agonizingly aware of how they might’ve portrayed her to him. She felt like he must think she was nuts! “Uh, it’s a long story.” She said, as she sat down.  “They kind of ganged up on me. And when you’re gone, they treat me bad. Patricia never pays any attention to me.”  His eyes moistened. “I know. I mentioned this to Patricia, but she thinks you should go see someone. She wants you to be institutionalized. She thinks you are unstable and a threat to the family. But that’s outrageous. I told her she knows better than that.”  Michelle felt as if the air around her tightened. She felt weak, like her strength was beginning to ebb from her. Then anger. Her stomach churned and she could feel herself getting hot.  But she gained composure. “Michelle, I’m not blind, I know that although Patricia loves you both, she has been more favorable with Dana. It’s not right. I told her over my dead body would I allow her to institutionalize you, because she and I both know you are not crazy. You’re a genus! I want you to continue to get good grades, graduate next semester, and go to a great college. Don’t be discouraged by anyone. I’ll keep working on Patricia, okay?” Michelle felt a twinge of sympathy for the balding man. He was such a good man, and yet she knew that he was putty in Patricia’s hand. She knew that he was madly in love with her and gave her whatever she wanted. They lived in this big beautiful home because Patricia had wanted it, and he got it.  It must have taken a lot for him to stand up to her. Although her seeded resentment of Patricia now full bloomed, she masked it.  “I won’t let you down, Cory.” She gave him a hug and started to walk away. “Since your going up, could you put this box in the attic for me?”  She turned to get the box of files and odds and ends. Cory was a pack rat who never wanted to throw out anything. He kept lots of stuff in the attic. The attic was large and cavernous, but always neat and very well lit.  Michelle sat the box down and started venturing around. She had never really taken the opportunity to see what all was up there. She saw crates and crates of all of Dana’s old toys, school pictures from grade-school, etc. But nothing of hers. A sudden thought to go and burn them in the backyard fleeted through her head. She laughed at the absurdity of the thought. At least that would give Patricia a real reason to commit her to an institution. Her foot suddenly hit a metal case. She opened it up and found old musty pictures of an older man with a broad nose and dark skin. Who is this?  She wondered. She also saw baby pictures of herself and Dana, and another picture with the older man and Patricia’s mother, Ann, kissing. Oh, this must be Patricia’s father. She had never mentioned him and Michelle had no recollections of him. Ann was now deceased. She was a beautiful woman who had actually cherished Michelle for awhile. Then suddenly and unexpectedly she became distant. One day Michelle looked up and ‘gram gram’ had stopped coming around. Deep inside, Michelle knew it had to be because of Patricia somehow. Maybe Patricia was jealous of how much gram gram had loved Michelle, and had barred her from coming? She put the photos away and went back to her room. She had to get some sleep. Tomorrow after her classes, she would be going over to Sunridge Nursing Home to do volunteer work. It would be her first time volunteering there.

The next day after classes, Michelle found herself walking the hallways of the nursing home with Elsie Cruz, one of the volunteer coordinators. They were visiting elderly patients, delivering mail, and transporting patients in wheelchairs to and from errands. Michelle found it inspiring and fun. The patients were so kind and loving. It reminded her of gram gram. When they came to room 336, Elsie paused. “Mr. Bradford is kind of disgruntled sometimes. He’s always muttering confusing things. Don’t let it faze you. He’s still a sweetie.”  They entered the room and Michelle froze. A chill went down her back, raising her nape hair. The man on the bed looked up at her and his mouth dropped open. He looked like he had seen a ghost. He lifted his trembling hand and pointed at her. It was the man from the photo! He was older, much older now, but she recognized him instantly. “Mr. Bradford, we’re just here to help you. Here’s your mail. And here’s a gift basket.”  Elsie said. His eyes stayed fastened to Michelle, and hers on him. Was this Patricia’s dad? She said he had died in Vietnam. Elsie’s pager went off as she was undoing the gift basket. “Oh my gosh, I’ve got to take this, can you finish unwrapping this? I’ll be right back.” She skipped into the hall. She had completely forgotten to tell Mr. Bradford Michelle’s name. Michelle found her voice. “You know Patricia, don’t you?”   His eyes moistened. “Yes Michelle, I’m afraid so….”

Back at home, Michelle was glad to see that no one was home yet. She hurried to the attic and dug out the photos again. Then, just as Mr. Bradford had told her, she tapped on the seventh floorboard until it lifted, and saw a black folder. Her hands shaking and her breath shallow, she opened it and saw her birth certificate and several other records. She immediately read it and all of the other records and saw that everything Mr. Bradford had told her was true. A wave of numbness spread fanwise from her stomach over her entire body. An organic sense of dread seized her. She grabbed the folder, replaced the floorboard, and went to her room to get her coat. I’ve got to make copies of all of this. Her eyes were wide and unseeing as she rushed out. When she got home, Patricia was almost done with dinner. She was expecting Cory very soon, so she had  prepared his favorite: fried buffalo fish with spaghetti and garlic-butter biscuits. “Get ready for dinner, you look ghastly.” Patricia snapped. With a sardonic smile, Michelle went and washed up.

Around the dinner table, everyone was enjoying the meal. But Michelle started to poke at her plate with fierce jabs.  Patricia was standing next to Cory, putting more rice onto his plate. “Don’t start that mess again. Cory, look at her. This is the type of behavior I’ve been warning you about.”  “Sorry mommy”. Michelle said. There was a stunned silence. Patricia almost dropped the dish. “When you were about three or four, I explained that you were adopted and told you that I wasn’t your real mother. I didn’t want you to be confused. I didn’t want to lie to you. I asked you never to call me mother again, and for eighteen years you obeyed my request. Until today. Don’t do it again.”   “Sorry, I won’t do it again mother.” A tear slid down her cheek as she looked at Patricia. “What’s your problem freak, you’re making my mom uncomfortable. Stop it.”  Dana snapped.  Michelle’s eyes stayed fastened to Patricia. Cory looked confused. Patricia shifted from one foot to the other. “Child, what’s wrong with you?”

“Daddy says hello, mommy.”

Patricia dropped the dish.  She was breathing hard and visibly shaken. She darted nervous glances at Cory. “She’s delirious, you see! She doesn’t know what she’s talking about.”  “Mr. Bradford is my father, and you are my mother. He was dating your mother and you had an affair with him. I found my birth certificate and everything. When Mr. Bradford worked as your handyman, he stole these records and hid them in the attic because he knew you would deny it. Cory, there’s information about Dana in here as well. You don’t deserve this.”  She handed the folder to Cory. Patricia tried to grab it but he stood up and raised his hand to her. “I swear to God, woman, if you try to stop me from reading this, so help me God I will….”   He sat down and read. Patricia clung to Dana and whimpered. Suddenly he lifted his head up with a distraught look in his eyes. He shook his head, his eyes narrowed, and his mouth widened. “Michelle is your real daughter, Mr. Bradford is her father. You slept with Mr. Bradford. And Dana is actually adopted…  Her real name is Kisha Ingram! You faked your pregnancy so I would marry you. That one time when I saw Mr. Bradford kissing you, you told me he was drunk and you cried. I defended your honor, and I beat him up. But all along, you were having an affair with him! No wonder your mother stopped talking to you!”  He was up and edging toward her with malice but stopped and just started to cry. “It’s over.” He said.  Dana was just sitting there in silence, crying. “I’m adopted, I’m adopted.”  She looked over at Michelle with a pleading look. “I-you”  she stuttered. “It all makes sense now. No wonder you look so much like her. Oh Michelle, I’m so sorry!”  Michelle hugged her. “It’s not your fault. Patricia had us all fooled. Here’s information about your real parents.”  “I was such a bad person to you, and you’re helping me?”  Michelle nodded. “I’ve been there. Plenty of times.”  She said, referring to the space. By now Patricia was tearing the whole place up in anger. “You fool! You miserable thing! You’re not my daughter!  You have ruined my family!” She grabbed knife and started to lunge at Michelle but Cory wrestled it from her hand.  “Michelle, call 911 right now. Your mother is going to a special place where she can get some help.” Patricia became limp and fell to the floor.  She put her head in her hands and started muttering desperately, and threatening to commit suicide.  “No one is going to ask me why I did it? Michelle, I thought of you as a curse because of how I conceived you: with my own mother’s boyfriend. It was never your fault. I do love you, you know. I’m so sorry.  It was me, I couldn’t face it…I couldn’t face it…and every time I looked at you, it was a reminder…my mother hated me until she died… I just want to die now!” she screamed, tears cascading down her face. Michelle felt an inkling of sympathy mingled with  pity for Patricia. As she started for the phone, Dana rose and grabbed her hand. “Please, let me.”  Michelle sat and watched as Dana called the police. “I’m so sorry Dana. I loved you so much. I still do.”  Patricia was muttering. “Oh Cory, I love you too. I’m so sorry.”

After they had taken Patricia away, the three of them watched as the van reading  “Sunridge Mental Health” drove off with the squad cars trailing it. “I don’t know how she pulled it off. I don’t know how I was so blind.”  Cory was saying. “She told me she had given birth at home while I was stationed overseas…”  Dana hugged him. “It’s not our fault, Cory.” Michelle’s heart ached as she looked at the broken people before her. She knew their pain. Suddenly strength from an unknown place stirred in her. “We’ll be okay.” She said, hugging them. She was confident that they would overcome this.  Suddenly the space between the raindrops became more occupied. Suddenly, she was not alone anymore.

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