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It Rains Every Day
You emerge from the smoke-stink basement into light. The dread of the empty hours in front of you—it’s like the air here. It has weight. The sun, even through clouds, blinds your eyes. You undo the lock that pins your bicycle to the porch railing, and he does the same.
“What next?” you ask, because he is the senior companion, but instead of answering you, he laughs.
“Again!” he says.
He could be talking about how it looks like it’s going to rain. But it rains every day. You slide the folded map out of your pocket and swing your backpack into its sweat-stamped spot between your shoulder blades. Across the street, a man is working on his truck. He has the hood popped, but for now he’s leaning on the open door, drinking from a paper ICEE cup. You wait to click your helmet under your chin.
“Should we talk to him?” you say. You’d set a goal that morning to approach fifteen people; so far you’d only gotten three.
Your companion grins. “This isn’t real.”
You look into his open face. He hasn’t put his backpack or helmet on.
“Elder, it’s a nightmare,” he says.
You know you haven’t been easy to train. He tells you what to say in lessons, and you forget. The smoky basement appointment ended badly: the old woman quoted Bible verses warning you that anyone who listens to an angel from heaven preaching any other gospel shall be accursed, or something. He handled that one alone. Yes, days here are longer than any you’ve ever lived. But he’s never gone so far as to say it was a nightmare.
“I’m sorry,” you say.
“No. It’s a recurring nightmare. I’m asleep. I’m not really here. Neither are you.” He loosens his tie, crouches on the dead grass. “I got home sixteen years ago. I’m married, I have four kids. These nightmares—they’re like some kind of PTSD.”
“I’m—sorry,” you say again. You hope the man with the truck isn’t listening to this.
“It happens to everyone. When you get home, it’ll happen to you.”
Across the street, another man has come out of the house and joined the first. They are laughing. Your companion sees your eyes on them. “Go ahead,” he says. “It’ll be good practice. They’re not real.”
“But you’re a good missionary,” you say. “President told me my first night in the mission home that he was sending me to one of the most dedicated elders he had.”
“What, is that supposed to be a message from my subconscious?” he says. “Let me see that map.”
You eye the rectangle in your hand and drop it into his lap. He unfolds not a map but a blown-up photograph: the man across the street, leaning out of his red truck, sipping his ICEE. You look back across the street. Both men are gone, and the truck. You feel as if he’s made them go.
“See?” he says. “I thought that, and it happened. My brain made this world.”
“You can’t prove that,” you say, and when the organ music starts, you pull the hymnal from its notch in the pew before you. Oh how lovely was the mor-ning, you sing, quietly, because he teases you sometimes for your monotone.
He leans to whisper in your ear and you get silent. “How did we get to church, then?” he says. You have to admit you don’t remember walking in.
After the closing chords, someone rises to speak. You love sacrament meeting. You love singing the hymns, even if you can’t sing, and you love that you love every person you can see in this chapel. “Okay,” you say. “But it’s not a nightmare. It’s difficult, yes. But not a nightmare.”
“You know what I do now, on Sundays?” he says. “I go to church, and when I get home, I lay on my couch and read. Not scriptures—anything I want. I take a nap. At night, I watch a movie. I sit and I watch a movie.” He was a good missionary. You’d heard him speak at zone conference before you were assigned to this area: the story of his last baptism. He had been confident, sincere, his hair even looked good cut that short. You had listened to him and wished for an elder like that to train you.
Now he’s not even whispering. “Shh,” you say. “Sometimes, I don’t want to go to church. I tell my wife I have a headache. Ever try that one? Not with a mission companion you don’t. I tell her I have a headache, and I stay home and read whatever I want, and I don’t feel guilty. I don’t. I never ride my bike eighteen miles in the middle of a twenty-four hour fast. I couldn’t do that now if I wanted to. But I don’t feel guilty.”
“This time is precious.” You’re whispering, violently. “It’s two years out of eighty. Two years we’ll never have again.”
“You’ll have a wife one day, too,” he says. “I remember. I got your wedding announcement. I think you have kids. Well, not you. The real you.”
“Why did you come?” you say. “Why did you even come on a mission?”
“Look,” he says now. “At the pulpit. You recognize that woman?”
You look. “It’s Sister . . . yeah. From the ward.”
“No,” he says, and you look again. The woman at the pulpit isn’t wearing a dress or skirt—she’s wearing an oversized t-shirt, garment bottoms. She’s looking straight at you.
No, at him. “Wesley,” she says, and her microphoned voice ricochets off every surface in the chapel. “Wesley, what are you doing here?” she says.
“My wife,” he tells you. Children—dozens, clones—run up the aisles.
Louder, she says, “What are you doing here?”
He stands up and all the chapel heads turn on him. “I’m trying to get home,” he calls. “I told them. I told them, but they wouldn’t let me go.”
He tries to leap toward her but disappears beneath the sudden water, and you lose him. Everything is submerged and the rain is still going, filling everything up. “We’re not supposed to be swimming!” you shout, paddling, and you think I’m not supposed to be alone, and then he comes up again, his face beaded wet.
“Where did she go?” he says. His voice sounds hoarse from shouting.
“The city is underwater,” you say. This scares you because you had an appointment today—only one. Now they’re sure to cancel. “What are we going to do today?”
But he has tipped into a backfloat and bobbed away. Treading water, you grab for your planner in your shirt pocket and flip to today’s date. You’re sure you made a backup plan. But every page is empty, and every page is today.
Alison Maeser Brimley’s work has been published in Dialogue, Sunstone Magazine, Western Humanities Review, and elsewhere. She lives in Utah with her husband and two daughters.
Artwork by Zachary Davis with Midjourney.