Ferrell had seen the Rain God of the good city of Reardon only a few times in his long life. It had appeared as a silhouette formed from the darkest clouds, outlined by severe cuts of summer lightning, and it never stayed long. Far more frequent were the times that Ferrell had felt the Rain God’s presence. He didn’t need to see that mammoth shape in the sky to sense the anticipation that built like static, or to catch the deep scent of petrichor that let him know a storm was coming. It was a feeling that Ferrell thought of as companionable, one that he welcomed by taking a cup of strong coffee to his blue armchair and wrapping himself in a blanket to listen to the rain.
He would never presume to call the Rain God a friend. Yet once it stopped visiting the city for whatever reason, Ferrell knew that it had departed by the deep ache that had manifested itself inside him. He was lonely, was what it was. Or, he reflected, perhaps he simply missed the part of himself that came out to work with the branches the Rain God’s storms shook loose. Such distinctions were harder for him to see as he got on in years. He knew he probably needed to have his blurry old vision checked more often than he did.
What he could see clearly was that Ramahili Jones was not a rain god. No, she was instead a force of her own making, laughing with the occasional volunteer who came to help her tend the crops, cursing at the pests who tried to sneak nibbles from the green leaves, shaking her head at Ferrell whenever he offered to prune.
“How in all your years have you never had to take care of a plant?” Rama asked him one day. “Not even a houseplant or anything!”
“You know,” said Ferrell, “I once had a wizard ask me how I work with magic yet have never managed to cross into any of the dimensions beyond this one. Same answer, I suppose. It just wasn’t necessary.”
Rama shook her head. “Have you worked with a lot of other people? Wizards, or….”
“You know, none this closely,” Ferrell said, suddenly realizing that it wasn’t just the nature of Rama’s produce that made his new wands so different. “And none so skilled as you,” he added, to which Rama replied with a groan of, “Get over yourself, old man,” and a cherry tomato launched in his direction.
He visited her at Ganymede Greens every Tuesday and Friday. Only when she said so did he take anything fresh. Otherwise, he claimed the brittle, the dried-up, the yellowest bits to work with, attempting to make magic with the desperate heaviness he felt inside them.
“I don’t wish waste upon you, but these bean pods,” Ferrell said to her one morning. He held up a long, thin pod from her prunings and began to shake it rhythmically. The dried beans rattled inside.
“Need to get you a salsa band or something if that’s what you’re going to be doing.” Rama smiled, but as she spoke, a gust of wind kicked up around them. Ferrell stopped shaking, and the wind stopped blowing. They raised eyebrows at each other.
“Any of your customers any closer to working a spell that will get us some rain?” she asked.
“I would think we’d have seen it by now. And anyway, I don’t know how many are even working on it, to tell you the truth,” Ferrell said. “Wizardy types, they always have their own ideas in mind.”
The wizardy types pursued their ideas into September. Ferrell billed the new wands he made as limited editions and touted Rama’s work to his walk-ins, while Rama shared pictures of the wands on Ganymede Greens’ accounts. The wands sold, and life went on.
“I know I said I’d locked down a fixed water rate,” Rama told Ferrell one morning as they sat on the fence and shared the raspberry kolacky he had brought. “That doesn’t mean it was a rate I was completely happy with.” She nudged his knee with hers. “The wand money helped.”
“I”m glad,” said Ferrell, who knew he had spoken truly if not completely. Because how could he explain in simple words what his partnership with Ramahili Jones had done for him? How could an old man explain the sluice of vitality, the stream of hope that had begun to flow through his previously dried-up landscape of days? What words could possibly capture what it meant not only to be able to continue one’s life work, but to find a new way–and new friends–to sustain it in troubled times?
“I had fun, too,” he said, even though Rama had mentioned nothing about enjoying her time working with Ferrell. He reached down inside his travelbag, which he had dropped on the ground beside him.
He had shortened the bamboo stake after assembling the materials, but otherwise the wand looked just the same as the day he and Rama had met. He passed it into her hands. “For you. As thanks for your kindness and a souvenir of your time with Walter’s World of Wands.”
“For real. Tell me that’s what the sign on your shop says.”
“That’s right, you haven’t been to the workshop yet.” Ferrell chuckled. “What with the neon and the sign with the flashing bulbs and all.” An engraved wood plaque in his front window that read, “Walter Ferrell — Woodcarver” was the only indication of his business. For years, until his partnership with Rama, that plus the streams of mystical energy flowing past his door jamb were the only marketing he thought he’d needed.
“So this is the end of our arrangement, huh?”
Ferrell startled. “What?”
“A souvenir,” Rama said. “You called it a souvenir of our time working together.”
The shock at the idea made Ferrell see that the moment for better words had come. “No! Oh, no, no. Think of it like, I don’t know, a gold watch or something that someone receives after years with a company. Now you probably won’t get as much for this at your average pawn shop, it’s true, but it’s meant as a celebration, and a hope for many more seasons working together. That is, of course,” he added, “If you’re so inclined.”
Rama grinned. “Why, Mr. Ferrell, an extension of a strange yet successful endeavor? I do believe I might be interested.” She turned the wand over, inspecting it. “What if I stick this in the soil in one of the plots? As a tribute to how this summer went and all.”
“Then don’t be surprised if your root crops’ wishes start coming true.”
Rama stared. “Seriously?”
“No.” Ferrell smiled. “The wand is yours. It’s tuned to your magic.”
“My magic, right.” Rama hopped off the fence and began waving the wand around as if she were conducting an orchestra while under the influence. “Hibbledy pibbledy, hey-oh-hey, rain start falling here today!”
“That’s not how that works,” Ferrell said before catching himself, as if years of working with magic had taught him nothing about speaking in absolutes. “At least, it’s not supposed to.”
“Well, that’s about all I’ve got for magic, so.” Rama then turned the wand vertically and held it in front of her, like a microphone. “Hey, Rain God, if you can hear this, get your ass back to the city, would you? We’re working hard, but we miss you, and we sure could use your help taking care of this place.”
In response, a grey cloud like ink dropped into a jar of water began to saturate the sky. More clouds billowed out from it and started to swirl.
“What,” Rama said, slowly and softly.
“I told you taking care of people was magic,” said Ferrell.
He recognized the shape as soon as the clouds pulled together to form it: a silhouette, essentially human, that strode across the sky as easily as a person crossing the street. It headed straight toward Ganymede Greens.
“You missed me?” bellowed a voice that Ferrell knew must have resonated through at least six zip codes. “You really missed me?”
“Is it asking for real?” Rama hissed. She and Ferrell both clasped the fence to brace themselves against whatever the Rain God was about to unleash.
What the Rain God unleashed was a sigh that streamed past them as a gust.
“I mean, you hear people talk, and of course I hear everybody talk,” it said. “And they say what you do is important, but you never know if anyone really pays attention to the work you do, you know? And you need that. You need to know that what you do at least matters to someone.”
“I know,” Ferrell said, having no clue at all if the Rain God could hear him.
“So if I am missed,” the Rain God continued, “well. It’s just so… so…”
Thick drops of water burst as they landed on the fractured asphalt of Myrtle Avenue.
“Those are rain barrels you have set up throughout the lot, correct?” asked Ferrell.
“They’ve been ready and waiting,” said Rama.
“It’s so nice to be wanted!” the Rain God bawled.
“Head for the shed!” Rama grabbed Ferrell, who grabbed his travel bag, and both began to run through sheets of heartfelt rain.
Rama had a van that she used for transporting supplies and tools and making deliveries to the food pantry. Ferrell was grateful that, after the storm had subsided, she offered to use it to deliver him back home. First they toured the beds of Ganymede Greens–the soil was soaked and saturated, but no obvious damage had been done, and the leaves of the last remaining late summer crops seemed to reach high, as if celebrating. Then they climbed into the van and navigated a serpentine path through the city toward 71st, where Rama would finally get to see the workshop.
“Oh, Ferrell,” Rama said once they had walked a block from their curbside parking spot and were standing beside the stairwell leading down. “You didn’t tell me it was a garden space.”
It was true: a wandmaker didn’t need the eye-level advertising that a first-floor space provided but could always use lower rent payments. And he knew what had Rama so upset. All along their drive, Rama had driven the van around and through puddles as if steering some kind of boat. Here, pools of water were forming where sections of sidewalk slanted toward each other. In the street itself, a lesser version of the Pawanoke River had developed along the line of the curb and was flowing eagerly toward whatever storm drains it could find.
“We do have some issues with flooding in this area, no doubt,” Ferrell told her. “I tend to be luckier than most, but still. Even if I have to do a little light mopping–” here he winked “–I know I’ll be able to figure something out.”
Sure enough, as Ferrell glanced around at his 71st Street surroundings, he saw Taylor from Pages for the Ages unloading armloads of books onto rolling carts outside the used bookstore’s shop front. Taylor waved across the street. “Hey, Ferrell! Spread the word: top-shelf books at bottom-shelf prices! Because, hey, some of our shelves got drenched.”
Ferrell and Rama both looked at each other before looking left and right to cross in the middle of the street. “Taylor!” Ferrell called. “I am prepared to make you an offer to embark on an extraordinary new initiative.