High in the mountains, a glass castle rose among the rocks. In its uppermost room stood a glass piano. A girl and her teacher gazed out at the leaden ridges of the mountain and the spread of calloused, tan farmland below.
‘It’s time, Jora,’ said the teacher. Jora looked pleadingly at her mentor. She remembered the stories of rain players who had failed to bring rain or who had become dangerously ill in the attempt. It took perfect unity with the glass piano to bring rain. ‘Please, Malina, why can’t you do it?’ she begged.
‘I don’t have the gift. But you do. And I have taught you to play for years and years. The people cannot withstand this drought much longer.’
Jora bowed her head and sat at the glass piano, tucking her straight skirt beneath her. She had already known the answer. Only she could perform the rain sonata. Malina rubbed Jora’s shoulder, then stepped back. Jora rested her fingers on the beautiful glass keys. They felt as clear and cold as rain. The lump in her throat melted away.
She had practised for this. Hours adding up to days and weeks and years. She had been young when her grandmother, the last rain player, had died. It had taken Jora years of training on an old, wooden instrument with Malina, a talented pianist, before she had enough skill to play this song. Now she was ready.
She inhaled and began to play, imagining that the perfect black notes were drops of inky rain. Her fingers and mind worked in unison, interpreting the scattered score. The music grew increasingly complex; more black arched across the page than white, and Jora played furiously. Her whole body swayed. Her fingers raced up and down the keyboard in booming bass chords and shimmering glissandos. Behind her, Malina gasped as lightning flashed down from the clouds.
Then the rain came free.
It pounded against the glass castle, drizzling, streaming and spattering down clear walls. It drenched the fields and soaked parched dirt. The peasants ran outside, dancing, singing and laughing in the downpour.
The rain had evened to a fast and steady tempo when Jora nearly stopped playing in alarm. The notes approached the last page of sheet music, but the song didn’t end. It cut off mid-phrase.
A memory nudged in her mind. Hadn’t Malina hinted at something like this? ‘You must play from your heart; you must be the music and the rain,’ Malina had said. Fear gripped Jora, but she played on, plunging into a territory of unwritten notes. To her surprise the music didn’t falter; it soared, and so did Jora’s confidence.
Soon she lost track of time. What use was time? She was the rain player, at one with the music and the rain. She played what her heart and fingers and mind told her to, scarcely thinking as her deft hands swept across the keys. This was her duty to the people. Her responsibility as a child with the rain gift. Joy surged inside her and sheets of rain fell even more sweetly to the dry, dry earth. She improvised for hours until she felt weary and her song slowed to a lullaby. The rain diminished, de-crescendoing into a sprinkle, a drip.
She smiled with the knowledge that she had done well. She felt Malina’s arms around her. ‘You did it, dear. You brought the rain.’
Light gleamed in Jora’s eyes. She slipped away from Malina’s hug and dashed out of the room, down twisting staircases and onto a grassy wedge of the mountainside. An echo of mist drifted in the wind. Jora knelt, water from the wet grass soaking into her skirt. She examined the individual drops of rain beaded on the blades of grass. She touched them, smelled them, the first rain since her grandmother’s death.
The rain tasted like music.