The hot, arid California air that is usually scorching in the middle of July has—for some odd, outlandish reason—quieted down. It is like a rain forest: wet and hot with great clouds like the feathers of an African gray parrot that ooze languidly along the horizon. It is like the South; the air is saturated with lazy banks of humidity. The hay that the Smiths have purchased (it’s sitting on their pristine lawn, ugly and out of place as a baby swan in a duck’s family) is steaming. Literally steaming. Wisps like ghostly hands rise from it, trailing their lacy tendrils in the swampy air. The air smells of storm.
We sit on the old couch and sniff the air rapturously, like hounds pausing in pursuit of a fox. Nothing is more satisfying than sitting at the big living room window with a friend and watching with relish as the rain floods the uneven backyard. If only the lights would go out! We shiver with the sheer excitement of it all. It is truly delicious.
The wind has picked up, wailing like a lost toddler, tossing leaf handkerchiefs in the gray sky. Trees rustle, whispering half-heard rumors to one another, swapping gossip, passing tales back and forth. When a human picks one up on the wind, all the truth will be swept away into history, leaving nothing but a faux shell of fabrication.
Lunch? No. Mom leaves the room. No time for idle chewing and chomping: important things are happening. The first raindrops begin to fall. They are too small to make a difference, but to us they are like gold coins falling from the heavens. We count them. There is one. Plip. Did you see that one fall on the chair? Plop. There are too many! Pitter-patter. We can’t possibly count them all.
The intervals between the drops become shorter and shorter, until they vanish altogether. They speckle the patio and slide down the windows, creating tiny rivers, swirled with rivulets and eddies that channel the course of these miniature streams.
And then we can hear it. The melodious symphony of a thousand raindrops, falling from the endless Above. And the roiling sky: it is like the angry sea and it seethes and churns and it is a lion, ready to destroy. And we laugh and it is like the jingling of keys and it eggs the storm on. But we are ready as the lightning flashes. And it lights the room for a mere second in an eerie bluish spike of electricity. Lights, can you please go out!
“Why don’t you just turn them off?” suggests practical Mom, so calm, so maddeningly oblivious to necessity. “It’s the same in the end.”
Nuh-uh. No way. That defeats the whole purpose.
And then we jump as the booming of thunder rends the air like a gong. And the house shakes as we land on the couch again and shudder and shiver and realize that more will follow. And we gaze out at the rain and wind and the blinding sheets of droplets pelting at our house like it is a mere tin can, forlorn and meek and quiet in an empty alleyway. And the grass looks greener than before and we wish it would grow in the browning parts.
And then Sister screams as lightning strikes again and the lights go out! We cheer and high-five and Sister’s textbook is on the floor and one of the pages has scribbles from where the pencil marked it when she dropped it. But then the lights come back on and it was just a flicker and we whine and yawn and boredom has returned.
But then it hasn’t because the light flickers and it is fun to watch and the storm still rages on and the patio is drenched and flooded with puddles. And we itch to go and jump and step in them until we are all wet and we can dry off and put on clean clothes. But Mom says no, you might get struck by lightning. And we whine but we know in our hearts she is right and anyway, who wants to be outside when you could get electrocuted? Not us.
The backyard trees are wet and drooping from the excess of rain. Little droplets of silver fall from their somber black trunks and onto the soaked earth. Maybe our unassuming backyard will become a rain forest and we can have monkeys for pets! Sister says we’re crazy, but who cares if we are.
And then, crash bang boom! Lightning and thunder rising to a crescendo, creating a duet in the sky of blue and gray that pulses like a heart. The lights have to go out for real now! But they still don’t and we are battling the storm and the house is now nothing but a tepee or a lean-to. We must fight for survival in the cold, wet, roiling blackness.
Mom is saying something about going to the grocery store and we don’t listen to her until we remember that the gutters will have overflowed. We plead to Mom to bring us along too; there is nothing better to do at this moment. And she complies and tells us to put on our jackets and boots. We oblige and walk out the door in bright colors and face the rain. We taste the adventure, craning our necks up to the gray sky and sticking our tongues out to feel the sweet fizz of excitement bubble in our mouths like a sugary soda.
And then we see the gutter, the streaming gutter, torrents and all, cascading down the curb in a cataract of currents and eddies, ebb and flow. We long to wet our feet inside our snug Wellington boots and feel droplets explode around us. Mom says no. Of course she does.
We get in the car and rain slides down the curved windows and it is beautiful. The pane is bejeweled with tiny viscous pearls and we want to collect them and hold onto them forever.
But there are other, better, more interesting things. The street is slick and wet and the asphalt is darker and rivers run in the gutters. The intersections are flooded and cars skid across the pools and puddles, their wheels creating showers that kiss the windows as they maneuver in between the scanty traffic. We watch, safely tucked in our own little box, as a woman in a gray sweatshirt, dotted with rain, attempts to safely navigate a way across the streaming gutter. She titters as though she is embarrassed and pushes her dirty-blond bangs out of her eyes. Raising her maroon umbrella, she hops carefully across the river and onto the asphalt, careful not to dampen her sneakers.
And then the light turns green and we speed off down the road. We are going slower than normal; we cannot risk hydroplaning on the slick road. And then we are at the market, and drivers are honking at each other. We slide into a spot and hop out and rush into the store.
The floor is scuffed and muddy from thousands of boots and rubbers and the air has the all-too-familiar scent of wet dog. The watermelons and cantaloupes look so out of place against the people garbed in their raincoats and boots.
We clomp happily in our colorful boots, following Mom through the market as she putters about, stopping every half-second to grab some item or another, which we take from her and throw into the fire-engine-red cart like basketball stars. (I missed from only a couple feet away, but who cares?)
And then there is a huge crack as lightning spiders across the ominous sky, leaving spots dancing in our eyes. The lights flicker like a candle in a breeze and thunder sounds its resonant gong. The building shakes. Chaos reigns.
“The thunder was right above us!”
“This weather is supposedly caused by a hurricane in the Pacific.”
The lights are out, as though someone just blew out that candle. The refrigeration has turned off. People are standing stock still; an old woman literally drops the container of basil she was contemplating. This is even better than a blackout at home!
Where are the emergency lights? Surely they’re not blacked out too? But they aren’t and dim yellow lights illuminate the shoppers. People putter around the building quietly; no one wants to shatter the peculiar ringing of silence in their ears.
We finish shopping and noiselessly: it is as though we are ghosts or shadows, or even wraiths bewitched by evil enchantresses. I always thought that the scariest thing on Halloween would be the howls and yowls and boos and shrieks of ghosts, but now it is the quiet I am frightened of. If a monster jumped out at me right now, I would die, just die.
My friend’s mom calls. It is time for him to go home. I want him to stay. He wants to too. “It’s no fun seeing the storm alone,” he complains as we drive to his house. I agree with him. What’s the point? There isn’t one, I conclude sullenly, there isn’t one.
Mom pulls into our driveway. I silently help her unload the groceries, I silently put the vegetables in the refrigerator, and I silently slink off to my room. The storm isn’t even fun anymore: it has been reduced to a mere drizzle, the kind that makes it too wet to go outside, but too dry to do anything interesting.
I sigh and stare out the window. Why did my friend have to go? Why couldn’t he have stayed? We could have had so much more fun. And I bet the storm would’ve returned just for us.
“Why did you leave?” I ask the uncomfortable gray sky. “Why did you go away? Why couldn’t you have stayed?”
My question is ignored; no thunder rumbles in reply, no lightning flashes to alleviate my sulkiness. The storm doesn’t care about me. Fine then, I won’t care about it.
I cross my arms and frown at the ground, concentrating all my energy on pouting. But it is hard, and I soon lower my hands to my lap. I realize something. The storm had to go. It had to rain on someone else’s house and give them the same joy it gave me. I smile up at the gray sky as thunder growls in the distance.