This is an original story told in the form of a folk tale. Below the story I explain background to the folktale motifs and story structure I incorporated. It is written to be told orally because I am a storyteller. In the oral tradition, a tale is honed and enriched, not just through editing by the author, but by being told and retold to live audiences. The storyteller gradually absorbs and integrates the feedback of the listeners, both verbal and non- verbal. An oral tale is a co-creation between the storyteller and the audience. It lives, breathes and evolves in that liminal space between teller and listener.
After sharing it a few times online and at local at events, flood affected people said they liked it, so I then felt confident to release it. When there is so much trauma in a community, my heart’s wish was to offer a story that might help and not make the trauma worse. In Australia, we are used to natural disasters, but the flooding that came in March this year was beyond anything ever experienced before. Our normal emergency response systems were caught off guard and were completely inadequate. Understandably, many people in flood affected regions, even those not directly impacted, have become unsettled or frightened by the rain. As unprecedented flooding is now occurring more often and in more places, this experience is reaching more and more people.
Listen to the story here via Soundcloud. If you are curious, you can scroll down to read about my process and why I wrote it the way I did.
The Woman Who Was Afraid of the Rain
Jenni Cargill-Strong (c) June, 2022
There was once a woman who was afraid of the rain.
She hadn’t always been afraid of the rain.
As a child and sometimes as an adult, she would run out into the rain to feel the drops splat on her naked face. She’d stare up, open mouthed at the sky, wondering how high the raindrops were falling from and imagining their miraculous formation up in the swirling clouds.
…and she used to find the gentle thrum of the raindrops on the roof, soothing and musical and would delight at the choruses of frogs proclaiming the croak croak croak: Rain! Rain! Rain!
At night, she’d nestle deep into her blankets with a warm drink and fall into the enchantment of a book.
But one day, a dark shadow fell over her heart,
and the next morning, the woman who loved the rain, was suddenly afraid of the rain.
Terribly, terribly afraid of the rain.
So that when rain fell on her roof at night, she would sit bolt upright, her eyes wide open wide, straining to hear, unable to sleep, and praying, pleading with the weather Gods and Goddesses, ‘Please, please, please, make it stop.’
The rain kept falling and the woman remained afraid of it. Whenever it rained she could not sleep.
One day in despair, she confided in someone she trusted, maybe it was her grandmother, maybe it was her best friend, maybe it was a wise neighbour, (this is your story as much as mine, so you choose).
‘I am afraid of the rain. Terribly afraid of the rain. What should I do?’
Her trusted ally said,
‘I’ve heard there is a wise woman nearby. Maybe ask her? She lives over the hill, round the bend and along a bit. Eastward. I think it’s a green house with a big tree out the front and lots of dandelions growing wild underneath it. (What kind of tree do you think? A willow? A Moreton Bay Fig? A Cootamundra wattle?)
So the woman who was afraid of the rain, put on her gumboots and went for a walk to find the wise, old woman.
She walked and she walked.
At last she came to a green house with the kind of tree you imagined out the front and lots of dandelions growing wild underneath it. She knocked on the door.
‘Hello. Someone suggested I ask you for help, because I am afraid of the rain. Can you possibly help me?’
‘Afraid of the rain? Well now. I see. Come in, come in, dear. Sit down with me and let’s have a cup of tea.’
The old woman boiled the kettle and they shared a sweet cup of tea. The cat sat purring on her lap as they chatted over some warm cake.
The old woman sat silent for a time and finally said,
‘Now if you were afraid of fire, I could help you, but I can’t help you with rain. Perhaps my older brother can help…’
Where do you think he lives?
Yes, he lives ‘…up the hill, round the bend, down the hill and along a bit, further east…in a blue house at the foot of a big hill. His big tractor is out the front under the shade of a big tree (a what kind of tree? A Jacaranda, tea tree, a Red Gum…) and there’s often rings of mushrooms growing under it.
As they said goodbye, the old woman smiled into the younger woman eyes in such a way, that the shadow on her heart lifted, just a little. She thanked her and set off.
She walked and she walked, up and round and along and east, until she came to the brother’s house with the kind of tree you imagined out the front and a tractor and mushroom rings growing through the grass. She knocked on the door and it opened.
‘Hello. Your younger sister suggested I visit you, because I am afraid of the rain. She suggested you might be able to help?’
‘Afraid of the rain? Yes, well. Come in, come in dear. Sit down with me and let’s have a cup of tea.’
The old man boiled the kettle made her sweet milky tea and the clock chimed as they chatted next to the wood stove.
Then he grew silent for a time and finally said,
‘Now if you were afraid of the wind, I could help you, but I can’t imagine how to help you with the rain. Perhaps my older sister can help. She lives…’
Where do you think she lives?
Yes, he explained his sister she lived ‘…up the hill, round the bend, up the hill some more and further east…in a yellow house at the top of a hill.
A large macadamia/ avocado/ mulberry tree grows out the front and there are often kangaroos in the top paddock.
As they said goodbye, the old man smiled into her eyes in such a way that the shadow on her heart lifted a little more. She thanked him and set off.
The woman walked and walked, until she found the house.
She knocked on the door and a very old woman answered.
‘Your brother suggested I visit you, because I am afraid of the rain. Can you help me?’
‘You’ve come a way then. You must be hungry. Come in, come in dear. Rest first, then food and drink.’
The old woman heated some soup, served it with thick bread and they drank and chatted, as a Currawong sang outside the window.
Then the old woman sat silent for a time and finally said, ‘Hmmm. Afraid of the rain?’
Reverently, she produced a small parcel wrapped in cloth (-maybe it was velvet/silk/linen?). She gently unwrapped it, to reveal a luminescent polished stone, as white and beautiful as the moon.
‘This is a healing stone. If you want to stop being afraid of the rain, find three people in your village who are not afraid of the rain. Ask them to bless the stone, then bring it back to me here, and you will receive healing.’
‘That will be easy,’ thought the woman, ‘because I am the only one in my village afraid of the rain.’
The old woman pressed the stone into her hand and smiled into her eyes in such a way that the shadow on the younger woman’s heart lifted a little more. She thanked the old woman and walked home.
That night she slept soundly with the healing stone under her pillow.
The next morning, she began visiting her neighbours, looking for people who were unafraid of the rain.
Sometimes people would shake their heads and say ‘I can’t talk about that.’
Some would go quiet and their eyes would get wet.
Often they’d ask her to sit down at the kitchen table and share a cup of tea.
Sometimes the stories would come tumbling out, back and forth, but sometimes they talked of other things about life before they were afraid of the rain. At the end of that week, she had shared food and talked to neighbours, villagers, adults and children, but she had not found one person to bless her white healing stone.
With a sigh, The Woman Who Was Afraid of the Rain set off to return the stone.
It was a beautiful sunny day. The mud had begun to dry out, a bulldozer had mended the road and the fallen trees she had stepped over before had been cleared away.
The old woman looked glad to see her.
‘I found out I am not the only one afraid of the rain. I guess I should keep going with the stone until I find those three people, but I don’t feel I need to anymore.’
‘You are right. You have done enough. Now the stone needs to rest. Follow the path here behind my house, to a cave. Listen to the stone. It will tell you where it wants to live.’
The woman carried the stone along the path, through the forest, listening to the sounds of birds and running water. After a time she came to a cave.
She stopped, sighed and slowly a smile spread across her face.
There were hundreds and hundreds of
white healing stones, each one carefully balanced atop another to form little mounds.
The stone told her where it wanted to rest and carefully she placed it there. She sat for a long time in the cave her eyes closed, listening to the songs of all the stones, the sounds of the cave, the gurgling water, the gentle breeze and the singing cicadas.
As she walked back, the old woman was already waiting for her, smiling. They didn’t need to say a word. They just hugged and laughed and laughed.
The Woman Who Was Afraid of the Rain headed home. She noticed the breeze tickle her skin and lift follicles of hair. She felt the gentle winter Sun rekindle her heart.
As she walked, a car with a young couple in it, pulled over next to her to ask for directions.
‘We’re a bit lost. Can you help? We’re looking for two old healers, but the directions we’ve got are a bit vague.’
‘I might be able to’, she replied. ‘What are the directions?’
The young man pulled out a ragged piece of paper with handwritten directions and read,
‘Dave lives in a blue house at the foot of a big hill. It’s up the hill, round the bend, down the hill and along a bit, further east. There’s a big tractor is out the front under the shade of a big tree, which could be a Jacaranda, Tea Tree or a Red Gum… and there’s often rings of mushrooms growing under it.’
The Woman Who Was Afraid of the Rain laughed. ‘Yeah I know Dave. Who’s the other one?’
The young woman read from the back of a stained envelope, ‘Patsy. She lives in a green house with a big tree out the front, which could be a Willow, a Moreton Bay Fig or a Cootamundra Wattle, with lots of dandelions growing wild underneath it. She’s over the hill and round the bend and along a bit, eastward.’
‘You’re really close and you’re in luck. I know exactly where they live….. I’ll jump in and show you how to get there.’
The young couple welcomed her and as she buckled up her seat belt, The Woman Who Was Afraid of the Rain asked, ‘I don’t suppose you two are afraid of wind and fire?’
‘How did you know?’ they asked.
‘I lived through a cyclone’ said the young man.
‘And I went through the bushfires’, said the young woman.
The woman laughed and told them her story. She spent the rest of the day visiting with the young couple; first the sister in the green house and then the brother in the blue house. It felt like being a character in a folk tale.
In the company of Patsy and Dave, all their stories tumbled out, along with all the stories they had heard in their own communities.
About the flood, the fires, the cyclone.
The terror, being trapped, of trying to flee, being rescued, the fear of dying, of losing everything, of being displaced, the aftermath of the clean up, the awkwardness of friends and family and the torrent of overwhelming feelings that arose months later.
‘Do you want a lift home?’ asked the young couple.
‘No, I’ll walk thanks. It’s finally a beautiful day and I like walking. But so great to have met you. Good luck on your quest. Let me know how you go.’
‘Yeah you too’ and the The Woman Who Was Afraid of the Rain hugged The Man who was Afraid of Fire and The Woman who was Afraid off the Wind for a long, long time.
And maybe they swapped contacts before they waved goodbye.
Maybe they met up again one day.
Maybe she visited Dave and Patsy and their older sister Kate every now and again.
Maybe they all made an artwork together, a weaving or a story that the community could enjoy. Maybe they wove a new story together?
I’m not sure.
I got you started with the story of ‘The Woman Who Was Afraid of the Rain’.
Now it’s up to you
to imagine the rest.
NOTES ON THE FORM OF THIS STORY
My target audience are flood affected adults in my local community and beyond. I got busy teaching just after finishing it, and have not yet revised it for children. Those who have been through the recent catastrophic flooding won’t need a lot of explanation. For a wider audience it needs some context.
I forgot to explain the context for people outside Australia, who would likely not be aware of the extreme and deadly intensity of the flooding. The story is aimed at flood survivors, some of whom are still too traumatised to hear details of the flooding, but those I have told it to have known exactly what the context is.
I am curious to know how flood survivors find the story.
I have included people traumatised by fire and wind, to expand the context of the woman’s fear. She learns that she is not alone in her community in fearing the rain, but she is also not alone in her country in having a fear of a climate disaster. Indeed with climate fuelled disasters ramping up in intensity, she is not alone in the global community of humans! Historically Australians, especially rural Australians have always dealt with flood, fire, cyclones and droughts. We are regularly on the verge of one natural disaster or another– I didn’t mention drought- as that is not as sudden!
So I meant that, as well as discovering that many others were afraid of the rain, (really a thing here) the woman who was afraid of the rain met people who had different fears, so she wasn’t afraid of fire and wind and they weren’t afraid of rain….but I feel OK about people getting that over time as they reflect and digest the story.
The magic of three and the wise siblings
Three is a magic number in folktales, representing many things, but it shows persistence is needed. Life’s problems are not solved immediately. It also creates dramatic suspense in the story.
The siblings are a folktale trope- or a common feature. Usually, the protagonist is told to visit three sisters or sometimes three brothers for the answer to the riddle or the directions to rescue the beloved. It is always the last sibling who has answer. The three siblings can be imagined as our wise inner selves, like a Babushka doll with layers. Visiting three wise siblings can represent going deeper within to our essential knowing or inner wisdom. Sometimes you have to go on a journey to find what is within your own heart. Perhaps the siblings could also represent the seasons of ourselves as we grow through the challenges of life.
As the Woman Who Was Afraid of the Rain completes her quest and is on the Return, she encounters a couple, seeking the wise siblings. At this point, the style of the story shifts from folktale to modern. Until the Return, we are in the sepia, liminal realm of long ago. People often have no name or a generic name like ‘The Woman who was Afraid of the Rain’. They are archetypes, representing Everyman, Everywoman or Everyhuman. Then the story shifts gear to a modern, realistic style, where people drive cars, speak in conversational way and we move from generality to specificity. The couple have scraps of paper, one the back of an envelope- a modern reference, the wise siblings names and instead of implied wisdom, they are called ‘healers’. I am wondering if this works for most people.
What supports me
I’ve listed below a few of the things that support me in life and in my work these challenging times.
I am influenced by the work of my friend and colleague Susan Perrow. Susan has written stories relevant for disaster affected children and adults such as the ‘The Sparkling River’ (written for flooding) and ‘The Flowered Kimono’ (written for the tsunami) which you can find at her website. She has also written many books which have been translated into many languages. ‘Stories to Light the Night: A Grief and Loss Collection for Children, Families and Communities’, which includes tales by many tellers and one story by me of environmental loss, ‘The Mulberry Tree’.
I have found support in developing healing stories from the Healing Story Alliance (HSA) which is now a part of the National Storytelling Network in the US. See my Resources pages for more links.