Lullaby for the Rain Girl
by Christopher Conlon (Botswana 1988–90)
Dark Regions Press, 2012
Reviewed by Leita Kaldi Davis (Senegal 1993–96)
A GHOSTLY GIRL STANDS IN THE DRIVING RAIN without getting wet, facing a mist-shrouded clock tower whose hands are stuck at 4:20. Her mother jumped from that tower long ago, when she, the girl, was a mere blastocyst in her mother’s womb. Many years later she appears as a zombie-like being to her father, who’s ironically named Benjamin Fall. She tries to explain her presence.
People like me are not people . . . but whatever we are we’re not ghosts.
We’re not spirits. We’re fragments. Partials. Incompletions.
If you can love me . . . really love me . . . I might be able to become complete.
Ben had somehow conjured her through his own despair and need. He is a high school teacher and an aspiring writer, whose early life seemed quite normal, in spite of an abusive, demented father, whose “. . . life was essentially over, except for the living of it.” Ben had published one mystery book, and struggles to write more, but he’s in the throes of a blood-sucking divorce, isolated and depressed. He is also paranoid about the approaching millennium.
. . . that historical pivot point that both frightened and exhilarated me. To be living in the twenty-first century – it sounded so science-fictioney. And yet, the clocks ticking . . . all the computers in the world seizing up airplanes careening down from the sky, elevators in freefall . . . Y2K, the blasting-back of humanity to the Stone Age.
The book’s lugubrious tone changes entirely when Ben reflects upon his childhood sweetheart, Sherry O’Shea, and their idyl of wholesome, happy love that continued through young adulthood. Trouble started when they moved to California together and needed to take in room mates to help with the rent. Enter Peter and Rachel, who destroy Ben and Sherry’s innocence. Ben takes up with Rachel after Sherry and Peter run off together. Ben’s relationship with Rachel is a brutal rebound filled with violent sex, physical and spiritual degeneration and, finally, Rachel’s leap from the tower with “the rain girl” in her womb.
The girl takes care of Ben’s when he suffers a heart attack. He enjoys her presence and feels sincere love for the strange girl who somehow incarnates the spirit of his would be daughter. We soon learn that love is what she feeds on, as she grows more and more possessive of Ben and insists that he love her above all else. But Ben’s first love, Sherry, comes back into his life and, as they cautiously move toward a reconciliation, the rain girl diminishes miserably until she, too, disappears out of a window.
Ben writes horror stories like The Burning Girl, and The Girl that Nobody Liked. The latter digression follows the theme of “the living dead.” A young man picks up a girl whose name he cannot remember, and takes her home for a one-nighter. But the girl turns out to be a walking corpse, though she is totally conscious, who decomposes before his eyes.
Christopher Conlon dwells on the dark side. He is a master of the mystery genre, dropping hints to the reader that his characters don’t get, which always makes you lean forward in your chair. Because he’s such a good writer, Conlon’s characters and dialogues are immediately engaging. Describing Ben Fall’s craving for a cigarette made me want to light up. His novel, Midnight on Mourn Street, was a Bram Stoker finalist. Matrix of Angels, previously reviewed on this site, reflects his penchant for building a suspenseful plot until it explodes into smithereens of horror. If the dark side is your thing, you will love Christopher Conlon.
Leita Kaldi Davis worked for the United Nations and UNESCO, for Tufts University Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and Harvard University. She worked with Roma (Gypsies) for fifteen years, became a Peace Corps Volunteer in Senegal at the age of 55, then went to work for the Albert Schweitzer Hospital in Haiti for five years. She retired in Florida in 2002. She wrote a memoir of Senegal, Roller Skating in the Desert, (Publishamerica, 2010) and is working on a memoir of Haiti.