for Jon Benson who wanted a story full of rain
Out west we heard Fire and Rescue services had spent all their allocated resources before the fire season had even begun, due to decades long Superdroughts, lightening strikes and careless campfires. But here in the verdant woodlands fo the midwest, it was difficult for the inhabitants to imagine such a marsian landscape, pancaked as they were beneath layers of charcoal stratosphere the color of slate.
Even in winter, the trees were the color of the clay earth, Pottery Barn gray. But winter was the long long slog behind them, as they contended with consequetive days of rain all of spring and now into summer’s first bloom into late June. In south central Indiana specifically, the residents didn’t know some days whether or not to believe in the promise of rainbows anymore, as the rain kept coming without cease. Can you imagine that kind of immersion?
On days it didn’t rain, the air was so humid it felt as if one was breathing rain. Or was the oxygen saturated? Who could say for sure? The people only knew their bodies felt every bit like the plump mulberries that were late in coming this year and tight with the day’s basting. It was too early for ninety degree temperatures. They puzzled and griped, was this what tropical felt like?
Melchior was beleagured and waterlogged. Each day off from work at his second job as a courier, was spent eating vitamin D to combat the deficiency from lack of sun, and trying to keep the vegetation cut back in front of his duplex rental between rain storms. Because he wasn’t an asshole, he also cut the grass on his neighbor’s side, with whom he shared a bisecting wall.
A woman in her late thirties with a kid and two jobs and an in and out boyfriend, whom near as he could tell, was more out than in, Melchoir helped her out when he could because she really seemed like she could just use a break.
The snowball bushes and daylillies in front of the house, that he solely cared for, created a kind of creamsicle effect in summer he rather admired and he would’ve loved to get some snapshots of them, if only the rain he began to think of as Niagara Falls, would at least slow down. He wasn’t sure a few snapshots were worth busting out all his rain gear for, and he really was hoping for just an hour or two of sunshine.
Someone needed to siphon off some of this wetness out west where it was needed.
After his chores were done, those he could accomplish inside and his books were devoured and he was ballooned with the murder reporting machine his devices had become, he would just sit on the sofa parked in front of the curtainless picture window with the chipped screens and tried to remember what unfiltered sunlight looked like.
He missed the play of shadow that the combination of sunlight and the pitter pat of leaves created together. Monochrome was excellent, but in its own measure. This diet of gray days whose incessant dimming into nights siphoned off his energy and blanketed his enthusiasm for life. He imagined some mischief maker in the sky controlling the weather and something primal made him imagine a pencil pushing punishing god exacting penalty on those who tipped his accounts either too far to the left or right. California got fifty to life of drought. Indiana, stretching dangerously toward fascism, got rain. Like, all the rain. Deluge, really.
Melchior doubted the stain that was the Indiana Conservative Party could be washed away. There just wasn’t that much water. He reconsidered; eroded possibly, but never cleaned.
Gilead, Melchior’s cat, climbed onto the back of the sofa, clawed a few times and settled in to purr next to Melchior’s ear. Gilead had been a stray his Ex Antonella had rescued. He kept Gilead when Antonella had tired of the continuous ashen palor their days had taken on. She left him for the orange tiled rooves of the Kotor fjords in Montenegro on the Adriatic Sea. „Jadransko more je lepo,“ she had yelled into the phone when she had landed. The image of her the day they met on a photo shoot, where he machine gunned her portrait draped in the red fabric of a flowing Armani gown deep into the lens of his eye and the film of his heart, was impossible to root out. From Turkey, her scarlet lipstick and daring glare from beneath thick hair that could only be described as perfection, she sniffed out his love and prepared to banquet. It could not be denied, he missed her Meditteranean light, no matter how battered his heart felt when she left. He never quite knew for sure if she had left for sunnier climes, or if just to escape the decomposition of their relationship which had been hardening into stale bread. Sure, she’d invited him to go with her, but she knew he’d say no. His mother, an old bag of bones he felt obligated to visit weekly in the overpriced nursing home he worked two and three jobs to pay for, kept him shackled to what mother nature was reclaiming as swampland, the posts buried deep into the mildewing earth.
Back to Gilead. It was so easy to get off track recently. Gilead was a finicky calico that didn’t like to be held, ever. It was a miracle Antonella had ever lured him into the house at all. Well, maybe not. Hunger drives a man to do things against his own best interest. Though Gilead wasn’t a man, but you, dear reader, get the idea. In any case, Antonella, like every other situation in her life, had little desire to stick around to find out what gifts Gilead did have to offer when she realized what he presented right off did not match her narrow expectations of him, so she was happy to leave him behind for Melchior to raise, and left to set up shop where she was likely to find things fall as flat as a souffle in a room where the door was slammed.
A flash of red flitted onto one of the snowball bush branches outside the window, a cardinal taking refuge under the umber foliage. Gilead’s whiskers trembled. His throat chirped. He swished his tale and swiped Melchior’s 5 o’clock shadow. The first laugh in probably a month squeaked out of his set of full lips (Antonella always had liked the way he kissed, he remembered) and it had been so long since he truly heard his own voice, it sounded like a stranger. „Easy boy,“ he said, not knowing really if he was talking to himself or to Gilead. Either way, he was sympathetic to unfulfilled desires that shake one’s bones.
Some rain Spirit whispered to the cardinal and it too fled taking with it its flickering light. Gilead leapt at the window too late. Melchior commisserated the action spent too late, and so got up to grab some cat treats he’d been saving. He knew this probably didn’t hone any hunting instinct Gilead might yet be harboring, by rewarding him for a failed launch, but he couldn’t help himself. Soothing Gilead soothed himself somehow. And besides, Gilead had so few cat pleasures in life trapped indoors as he was.
Melchior busted out his cannon and snapped a few close-ups of Gilead devouring his unearned feast while the radio switched from its jazz programming to reporting that local farmers were experiencing terrible root rot from all the continuous rain and food shortages were predicted.
As he reached over to click off the radio, he wondered, should they take Antonella’s example and leave, too? He slid his hand down Gilead’s back as he ate, and the heavy lift of finding a new place to move for the three of them; himself, Gilead and his mom; caused him to sigh. His mom’s memory had deteriorated so drastically, she rarely recognized him anymore, even with the most expensive, up to date therapies. He imagined her yelling for help believing he was a kidnapper. Where would they go, anyway? No place really held any promise anymore. Climate Change effects made every place undesireable for one reason or another. „Pick your poison,“ he heard himself say out loud to no one in particular, or to Gilead. Gilead looked up as if to ask, „Is this food poisoned?“. When he got no answer; unwilling to resist the gamey, chewy texture; he naturally went back to eating.
Melchior didn’t know. Maybe all this rain was making him crazy; talking to his cat, imagining scenarios of accused kidnapping. All this time spent indoors had his inner compass misaligned. The need to get out of the waterlogged city and out to the probably too soaked woods overwhelmed him.
„I don’t know,“ he heard himself say. And he didn’t know. It was an hour’s drive to his favorite spot. Where were his hiking boots? Had he waterproofed them this spring? It was already 2 p.m. Could he get out there and have enough time to adequately decompress? Did he even have a rain jacket? A sound between a mew and a growl escaped his lips and startled Gilead, who looked up again, this time with an expression of pity.
Melchior stroked his back again, scratched behind his ear and reassured him. „It’s okay Bud. Your dad’s just having a moment.“ Having a moment. That’s what the english teachers in his high school used to say when a student acted up, or when they retreated to the teacher’s lounge to smoke. That’s when smoking was still allowed indoors. So long ago.
Giliead went back to eating.
Melchior remembered his neighbors across the street who lived in a real house they didn’t share with anyone. They would probably be bailing out their basement today. Their fifteen year old sump pump went out three times last year and each time he had gone over to help them clean up. Their neighborhood was built in the 1920’s and the city had never updated the sewage system, so they were still on the same one built shortly before their houses were. Because of this, during major rain events, and this was the third 100 year rain event this summer, everyone’s basement flooded, except for his duplex which was built on a vacant lot out of brick in the 80’s, on a flat concrete slab that had not worn well over time.
His body itched for activity—all this sitting around was making him feel as stir crazy as he had over this past winter, which threatened to never end. He looked back outside and regarded the growing pond that collected in the divet of the front yard. He checked his apple watch. Damn. 2:30. His belly complained.
Damn again. He sure didn’t want to spend his Saturday night bailing water, but he knew if the call came, he would not refuse. Soaked in the Brents’ basement, or soaked in Yellowwood. He weighed his options.
His phone sat shiny and black on the window sill, a beacon bouncing a faint light from the window into the room.
He could get pizza on the way down to Yellowwood and eat it in the truck, he thought.
On silent, the phone lit up as if to prod him along. Only a social media notification, as reported by the apple watch.
He struggled to remember where he had stored his rain outfit for his cannon. O yes. The top shelf, back of the bedroom closet. He sprang up from his squatted position next to Gilead, and for a split second the feline wondered if his human were indeed part cat.
Within a few minutes, Melchior had prepped his gear, filled a water bottle, patted Gilead goodbye and bootstomped somewhat angrily out to the Jeep. Who gets angry at rain, he thought. Maybe he was going nuts.
His gear pack thrown into the backseat, he heaved himself into the front seat and slammed the plastic door hard, but it still only made a hushed thump. As fast as he’d run through the rain and even though he’d worn a boonie hat, some droplets had managed to invade their way through his defenses and trickled down his neck. Even so, he began to look forward to the hike, to move his leadened muscles through the soaked and mushy landscape of his favorite forest preserve. He could almost feel the tree roots bending the bottoms of the soles of his boots now, he thought.
He pondered how much wildlife he’d be able to capture on film and how many animals were likely holed up and hiding out, sheltered from the deluge, as he himself had all month. He put his ideas and expectations of what he might find aside in an effort to embrace what was actually waiting there for him. Just because three cups spilled, didn’t mean the other two you were holding didn’t merit a little sipping.
Under the spell of some serious five of cups energy, he called in his pizza order from the cab of the Jeep. Brozini’s 34th street special was his most coveted comfort food and he knew picking it up on the south side on the way to the forest would make him feel the full 10 of cups energy.
His keys jangled against the metal keychains and against the industrial plastic of the console as he inserted them into the metal ignition. He pushed in the clutch with the force and tension of blowing up a balloon in a single breath, and turned the ignition. The engine sputtered. The engine also sputtered with a second turn. All the console lights came on like a space ship at night. The engine sputtered it’s last and died. Flooded.