When the phone and the computer and the Amazon Alexa I own just in case I injure myself and need to call 911 all tell me it’s raining, I open the door. It is not raining, so I lean against the storm door and cry. A moth and a fly buzz against the screen in a polyphony of wings. In the Portuguese version of Little Red Cap, a woman has two daughters. [ii]Their grandmother promises a red cap to Maria as long as she visits to pick it up. On her way, a wolf-man races her over the river and through the woods to her grandmother’s house and I know the moon must be full. When the wolf-man dresses in grandmother’s clothes and receives her in bed, her grandmother wakes up, enchants the wolf-man, and sets him on fire before she drowns him in the well of the mill. Each time I read this, I wonder if her grandmother overreacted or if the only way to stop a wolf-man is a fire and flood.
By the end of May, Arizona, California, and Nevada agree to take less water from the Colorado River in exchange for $1.2 billion to prevent collapse of the river.[iii] When a river collapses what becomes of it? When Grandma is done scolding Maria for falling into the guise of a wolf-man, she gives her the red cap and says, “Always abide by the wish of someone asking for water.”
When Maria’s mother asks her for water, she refuses, so her sister goes to the river instead. Arizona, California, and Nevada all agree to restrict water usage beyond the federally funded agreement to save the river from collapse. “The Bureau of Reclamation, an agency within the Interior Department, determines how much water each of the three states receives. The other states who depend on the Colorado to get water directly from the river and its tributaries.”[iv] At the river, the sister is asked by a fairy if she’s the one with the red cap. The sister says yes, so the fairy gifts her with the ability to grow flowers every time she speaks. In April and May she sings tulips and pansies out of her mouth that will wither in July heat. In June her tongue blooms a deep orange poppy. I remember that lying in fairy tales, like life, usually doesn’t end well, but the poppy is so beautiful I forgive her.
When Maria decides to go to the river for water, the fairy asks her for some and she refuses, so she curses the girl to spit up frogs every time she speaks. In May, the frogs are so loud in the cement troughs that turn into rivers behind my house, I record them on my phone. I imagine each croaks a spell for rain. When I look up what the troughs that collect rainwater are called, I learn that collecting rainwater is illegal per the Colorado Constitution, because the water “probably already belongs to someone else.”[v] If I were a structural anthropologist I would say a girl that spits flowers from her teeth is fit for a bride, a girl that spits frogs is on her period. But I’m just a girl recording a polyphony of frogs on my phone wondering what it means to own water. And as I’m Googling water rights, the younger sister meets a prince who swoons at the sight of her flowering lips and marries her.
I think about Maria’s red cap and her refusal, which in turn frees her from marriage. I learn in the French version, Diamonds and Toads, the younger sister spills diamonds from her teeth.[vi] I remember that lying in a fairy tale usually doesn’t end well, but she seems to be doing alright because she’s the perfect bride. I imagine she spits so many diamonds California, Arizona, and Nevada marry her. She goes on to star in a one-woman show on the strip because the Colorado River supplies 80 percent of Las Vegas’s water used to water down cocktails. I imagine she sings in the Rose Bowl parade with flowers supplied by her Portuguese twin whose husband becomes the next King of California. I imagine they fund a desalination system that damages the sea to save the Colorado River. Imagine all of this as the frogs on my phone croak Ave Maria in wait for what the rain says.
[i] Title borrowed from an episode of Shamaran.