Human Rain This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

September 18, 2010
What is “drip”? Does the word “drip” refer to the sound the water makes as it lands in the sink? Or does it mean that a droplet is falling?
Is it the result or the path that holds the meaning? Or is it all meaningless?

Pauline does not know how it started. I don’t either. But knowing how or why does not matter, because everyone is pushing, pushing, pushing to get out of the door that swings inward—don’t they know it swings inward? And how do we get out of the room if everyone is crowded against the door and keeping it from swinging inward?
A panicked whimper shudders through the crowd, and by turning my ear the right way, I hear. Someone dropped their cigarette on a pile of shirtwaists, and from thread and cloth and an ember, fire explodes.
Why hasn’t someone opened the door yet? The small swarm of desperate girls attacks the door that should swing inward, but today it stubbornly refuses to swing at all.
They’ve locked it. They’ve locked the door because we have to stay until we finish sewing our shirtwaists. They’ve locked the doors of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory because we might steal the shirtwaists. They have locked us into a fire. They mean to kill us.
I breathe through my sleeve and give Pauline my handkerchief to use. Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale.
We all press against the wall across from the stairs, the elevator and the fire. Hattie and Priscilla try to escape down the stairs. Nobody wants to look to see if they make it, and nobody needs to see to know if they do. We can close our eyes, but ears do not come with ear-lids. Agony is a sound and I can hear it.
Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale. What do we do now? But that is not a real question because everyone knows that there is only one thing we can do now. I look out the window and down at the street.
Nine stories does not seem like much when I read them to Pauline before bed; there are twenty stories in the book I borrowed from the library last week. But nine stories is an insurmountable height when I stand in front of a window with my sister’s trust in one hand and nothing in the other. Nine stories tall is too tall for the firemen’s ladders to reach, too tall for the streams of water from the fire hoses to help. Nine is too much and yet too little because Pauline is nine and will she ever be more?
The fire hisses, creeping forward, waiting for us to choose. Inhale. Exhale.
Pauline tugs on my sleeve. Even though the handkerchief covers her nose and mouth, fear is scrawled all over her pupils and I do not have an eraser. I hoist her to my waist, pushing through the huddle of girls who are burning—not yet with fire, but with fear.
Everybody stares at me. What will this foolish girl do, with her small sister to hold and a sick mother in the tenement house? I do not yet have an answer. I will. Soon. Not yet, beats my heart against my ribs; not yet, answers Pauline’s as it flutters next to mine. Time runs differently for all people, I plead with myself. Soon could be anytime.
Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale. Soon is now.
I look out the window to find that the screen no longer separates us from the outside air anymore. Bracing myself against the window sill, I turn my head and catch a glimpse of my audience. Everyone, still watching, collectively inhales, exhales, inhales, exhales, and in the deepest recesses of their souls, understands what must happen.
Girls crowd together with purpose now. Now they know what they are pushing for. Not pushing to go first—following is much easier. Not pushing because they have another plan—there is, after all, only one plan. They push because nobody knows how to follow the plan. Rather, nobody knows how to go first. Nobody knows, but I know. The push is for me.
Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale.
Holding Pauline with one arm, I climb onto the ledge, stand on tiptoe, and wonder what it will feel like.

Rain is never alone. It comes with brothers and sisters and cousins and parents, all going to the same place, hitting the same ground, making the same sound. All snowflakes are different, but all raindrops are the same. As they leave the cloud, they are dripping from a heavy, saturated sponge, surrendering the gravity all the way. They become raindrops as soon as they know they will drip from the sky.
My fall starts now—not when I am suspended in the air, nor when I will feel the concrete on my head, but at the last moment before anything is moving, before gravity claims me; that is when my mind drops and then my body follows.
Pauline whimpers. I tell her to hush. All we are doing, I say her, is becoming human rain together. She hides her eyes on my shoulder, but I think she believes me.
Inhale. Exhale.
I lean forward. And the instant before my feet leave the edge, I fall.

The keystone is the stone in the middle of an arch that holds every other stone in place. If it falls, all of the rest fall together. Maybe it is because they have lost their support. As wind pushes at my hair and I hear other girls above me pray to God as we sink together, I disagree. It is because when they see the leader fall, everyone knows it is their duty to follow.

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