MAGGIE COULD NOT remember the sound of rain. She could not remember the softness of lush green grass. Dust puffed up as she dragged her feet through crackling leaves.
In the garden, the roses no longer bloomed. Water lilies wilted in the dried-up pond. The clear air hummed as bees buzzed busily, gathering nectar and pollen from the blossoms on the nearby lemon-scented gum trees.
‘What if it never rains again?’ asked Maggie as she helped her mother trickle water, saved from the washing, onto the last surviving tomato plants.
‘It’s got to rain sometime,’ said Maggie’s mother as the water disappeared into the dry ground. ‘We’ll just have to keep doing this until then.’
After breakfast Maggie carefully washed her bowl in the bucket in the sink. The water in the bucket had to last all day. It would be another week before the tanker came with more water.
A large clump of black soot fell down the chimney. It crashed on the hearth and scattered across the kitchen floor.
Maggie’s mother looked up from reading The Weekly Times. ‘It hasn’t done that for a long time.’ She swept the soot onto the hearth. ‘We’ll have to clean the chimney before we light the fire this winter.’
Maggie loved the warmth from the wood fire. She loved gathering wood with her father. With the woodshed full, they would not be cold this winter. The ancient red gum by the dry swamp dropped enormous branches. The huge elm tree at the front of the house had died. The house had shaken beneath Maggie’s feet when the tree had been cut down. There would be no shade from the scorching sun next summer.
At the back door a long line of ants filed across the steps. A day ago they were skittering in all directions as if running over hot coals. Now they marched like soldiers, one behind the other. Maggie put her foot down. The ants did not stop. They kept straight ahead, tickling her foot as they marched across. What’s the hurry? she wondered.
Swallows darted past, busy with beaks full of horsehair and twigs. Maggie watched magpies teasing mudlarks in the dust. The range of mountains, usually pale blue in the distance, now loomed dark and close. The mournful cry of a curlew and the strident calls of plovers echoed across the plains. Maggie hoped the brolgas would return and nest this year.
In the evening, as she lay on the couch watching TV, a small movement caught her eye.
‘Oo-ooh! Look how big it is!’ she cried in delight, pointing up at the huntsman spider creeping out from behind the curtain.
‘They come inside to avoid rain,’ Maggie’s mother said.
After dinner, Maggie dipped a mug in the bucket of water and brushed her teeth. She washed her face and hands with a flannel dipped in the bucket, then scrubbed her dusty feet in the laundry trough. She wriggled her toes, marvelling at how they had changed colour, then jumped into bed.
Outside her window there was a harsh, rapid cree-ee-eaking whir that repeated over and over. She had never heard it before. Beetles and bugs beat against the screens on the windows like swarming bees, trying to get to the light.
‘We’d better turn the light off before the room fills with insects,’ said Mum, giving Maggie a goodnight kiss.
‘Mum, there’s something outside.’
Maggie and her mother waited and listened. ‘There it is!’ cried Maggie, clutching her mother’s arm as the noise began again.
‘That’s the little rain frog,’ said her mother, tucking Maggie into bed.
It was still dark when Maggie woke to another unfamiliar sound. She was not sure whether it was wind or rain, but there was a strange smell in the air mixed with sounds of celebration. She lay in the dark listening. The little rain frog was singing joyfully. Other frogs joined in with plonk, pock and glomp.
Soon the drain spouts were overflowing, and drips splashed onto the concrete outside the house. Gentle rain turned into beating rain, followed by crashes of thunder and flashing lightning.
Maggie climbed out of bed and crawled in beside her mother.
‘The little frog was right as always,’ said Maggie’s mother as they wrapped their arms around each other.