The first drop fell during a Buster Keaton comedy at the arthouse theater in the city nearest their town. Bertrand felt the cool plop of a single drop of liquid upon the edge of his hairline. He raised his hand and brushed the water off and chalked it up to leakage or spittle or maybe premeditated hooligansim and continued watching the film.
The second drop fell during fourth period the following day. Bertrand had placed a slide upside down a projector. One of the less anarchic students then pointed out the error. Bertrand was turning the slide around when the second drop fell onto the transparent sheet. The fluid ate through the word Indochina.
The third drop fell while he was attempting a bowel movement in the faculty bathroom. He thought it was a mosquito bite and he reacted as if it was a mosquito bite but when he examined his palm after slapping his neck he found clear water instead of blood.
That night, as Bertrand and his wife watched PBS on the couch in the living room, it began to rain in earnest. His first thought, as what felt like wet fingernails ran through his hair, was that he had gotten very drunk off only one beer. His second thought, as Gina sprang up and yelled something about a leak, was that he shouldn’t have trusted his brother-in-law to reshingle their roof. His third thought, as Gina placed her hands on her hips and stared at him with something approaching astonishment, was that something very strange was going on.
Gina said, “There is a small cloud above your head.”
“It had to be something,” he replied.
Bertrand stood up and walked across the living room and towards the bathroom. He stared down at his bare feet as their tops were sprinkled and saw, peripherally, runoff trail down the creases of his pajama bottoms and heard, incessantly, a rhythmic series of taps upon the top of his head.
Then he saw himself in the bathroom mirror.
“Oh God,” he said.
A miniature cloud floated over him. The cloud emptied rain in a manner quite unlike clouds do in real life and much like clouds do in cartoons. His auburn hair lay flattened along his skull, his bangs darkened and leaking liquid like an icicle in the spring, and his nose had a steady trickle of raindrops falling from its tip.
“At least there isn’t any lightning,” said Gina.
Bertrand raised his hands into the cloud above his head. His fingertips felt like they had been dipped into a wintery lake or a big bowl of ice cream.
“Would you mind to get me a towel?” he asked.
“Of course, honey.” Greta looked back up at the cloud. “What about a bucket?”
But the bucket was a temporary measure. Bertrand was soon forced to retreat into the bathtub. The tub could barely drain fast enough to keep it from spilling over.
“I think we should call someone,” Gina said.
An hour and eleven minutes after the cloud first manifested, their home had more people in it than either of their two (non-consecutive) New Year’s Parties combined.
There was the man of the hour himself, who was wise enough to pull on a yellow raincoat; his short-suffering wife, who had run out of fresh towels; the Bolander family doctor, who was googling frantically for some sort of answer to the events he was witnessing; four police officers, who really had nothing better to do; six volunteer firefighters, who were especially out of their element; a plumber, who was more useful than the previous two groups but still generally perplexed; the writer in residence at the local university, who began the unauthorized biography (tentatively titled Under the Cloud) immediately; the deputy mayor of the town, who was concerned about the effect spontaneous cloud cover might have on property values; and three newspaper people, who were the entire staff of the local newspaper.
In fact, the only specialty of pertaining interest unrepresented was meteorology, which happened to be the case because a certain Mr. Clurg had left his headlights on and his car battery had died. Five weeks later, after he realized he had missed his big break, he shot himself in the head. Unfortunately, he also missed his brain and spent the rest of his life eating through a straw.
Also alerted to the strange case of Bertrand Bolander were a plethora of agencies and organizations. The deputy mayor texted the mayor who left a message on a state senator’s phone who got the message the following morning and was told to make an appointment with the governor. In contrast, the local newspaper people tried to keep the story a scoop but within two hours journalists from over fifty newspapers and three major news networks were swarming in on their small town. The national guard were almost called in but it was quickly determined that they would be more useful in Afghanistan.
The first night Bertrand came down with a slight cough that turned into a slight cold that turned into a slight case of pneumonia. Within three days of the cloud’s appearance, he had been relocated to the faculty shower of a hospital in the city. Bertrand slept in a bed with gutters that filtered the runoff of his own personal watershed to the floor where it swirled down a giant drain underneath. He was intravenously fed a near steady dose of antibiotics and hosted a steady stream of visitors. His wife began to wear her swimming top, cut off jeans, and Crocs just so as to not ruin her good clothing.
“I do believe I have lost my mind,” Bertrand said.
“You and me both,” said Gina. (She happened to be dressed like Curious George that day.)
Bertrand’s skin began to prune at an alarming rate. Within a week he was as wrinkled as a man thrice his age. Gina herself found his visage distasteful but she had loved him once, long before the rain fell, and didn’t want to hurt his feelings. The medical students were not so kind and often fled the room in abject horror. Bertrand minded those who fled less than those that stuck around to take a selfie.
“I am not happy to report this, Mr. Bolander,” said the head doctor, “but the federal government will be stepping in.”
“I’m afraid so.”
“What do they want with me?”
The doctor adjusted his rain boots. “I’m not entirely sure. The woman I spoke to told me you will be taken to a special hospital where government doctors and scientists will work your case. Unfortunately, it is my understanding that you will not be allowed to have visitors there.”
“Is it some kind of top secret facility?”
The head doctor shrugged. “I don’t know if it’s secret, Mr. Bolander, but they wouldn’t tell me where it was.”
That evening, Gina held his hand and even dared meet his wrinkled eye. At one point, feeling the weight of the silence, Bertrand looked up at the cloud above his head.
“Is it too much to ask for a little thunder every once in awhile?” he asked it.
Gina wiped her sunglasses with a lens cloth.
“You’ve had some bad luck,” she said.
They didn’t say much else until it was time for her to leave. Visiting times were a bit flexible in Bertrand Bolander’s case but even his wife could only stand his ever damp company for a couple hours at a time.
“If they give my body back to you afterwards -”
“They’re going to cure you,” Gina said.
Bertrand shook his head. “If they give it back to you, I don’t want to be buried. I’ve had enough of cold, clammy environments. Cremate me, okay?”
Gina told Bertrand that he was going to live for a very long time, of course, but, when pressed, agreed to give his urn a prominent position on her mantle.
Bertrand died six months later in his sleep while dreaming he was floating in an isolation tank that suddenly opened.
The government didn’t return the body of Bertrand Bolander or confirm the death of Bertrand Bolander or admit they ever had Bertrand Bolander. Gina only found out because she happened to answer a phone call from a private number. “He’s dry now,” someone said. And hung up.
Gina never went anywhere without an umbrella again.