His hardest days were between the rains. At the most inopportune moments, in the middle of the summer or the bitter cold of winter, he’d witness a wrong and water would ooze, unannounced, across his cheeks and he’d be forced to retreat into some private place where his tears wouldn’t be cause for ridicule. Yet these momentary cleansings never resulted in Gus’s complete healing. Only the annual spring rains set his heart aright again, so, after the third grade — the end of Gus’s formal education — he began anticipating the rains’ arrival. As soon as the first buds bloomed, he’d watch the heavens for signs of inclement weather, and when the dark clouds gathered, he’d run to the Jordan and welcome the downpour. After 1910, locals noted the beginning of spring when they heard Gus wailing in the distance and, whether out of fear or simple disinterest, no one bothered traveling to the riverbank to see exactly what Gustavus Peace was doing, much less why.

He needed the rains of 1940 worse than he’d ever needed them, for the impending birth of his seventh child — the only one he had never wanted — incited rage he feared he couldn’t restrain. Yet the rains wouldn’t come. Each morning he jumped from his sleeping pallet on the floor, sniffing the air like a Labrador retriever, hoping to smell the sweet scent of moisture, only to be disappointed when his nostrils inhaled particles of dry, pungent, red dust. Having never mentioned to his wife, Emma Jean, that he felt deceived by the pregnancy, Gus had waited since her ecstatic November announcement to unleash with the spring rains instead of strangling her. His greatest fear now was that an overflowing heart would cause him to crumble before his sons.

Each day, his eyes glazed over and his hands began to tremble, and he cursed the rains for seemingly having abandoned him. So far, he had remained composed, but he knew he wouldn’t last much longer.

When Emma Jean screamed, Gus released the curtain, turned from the window, and looked toward their bedroom. It was really her bedroom, he thought, for he had slept on the floor since learning of her pregnancy. He liked it that way. It kept him from touching her and creating another mouth to feed. He wouldn’t have touched her this last time had Emma Jean not convinced him that she couldn’t have any more children. Gus asked why, and Emma Jean said that she was going through the change. He didn’t know exactly what that meant, but he took her at her word. The day she confessed her pregnancy, Gus nodded and promised in his heart never to touch her again. That would keep the children from coming, he reasoned, and that was exactly what he wanted.

From Perfect Peace by Daniel Black. Copyright © 2010 by the author and reprinted by permission of St. Martin's Press.

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