Stormy Weather

It was dark as dusk that afternoon when I lay down on the bed and gazed mournfully out the window. Our third floor walk-up on a narrow side street rose directly from a narrow sidewalk, on the other side of which was a narrow parkway lined with elms. A distinctly urban arrangement, yet one of forced intimacy with nature. The canopy of elms wrapped snugly around the sun room and grasped threateningly at my window, just out of its reach. In the growing darkness I rolled over and latched the frame closed to barricade myself from the approaching deluge.

Outside, a ritual summoning of the rain began. The branches thrashed. The limbs on the branches thrashed. The leaves on the limbs of the branches thrashed. It would start erratically, violently, as if possessed and intensify until they eventually thrashed together as one, in slow motion, gyrating like the last rotation of a spinning coin. Then, stillness. Silence. The entire performance would be repeated again and again until the rain arrived, sometimes lasting hours. Flashes of lightning captured the affair in lurid snapshots. I looked at my phone. No messages.

It had stormed every evening for days, for weeks. Every afternoon was oppressively hot and thick with humidity. People took water bottles with them to walk to the corner store it was so draining. People returned home bleary-eyed and monosyllabic it was so suffocating. Then at a certain point in the second half of the day, never the same time from day to day, never anyway to plan for it, never abiding forecasts, the sky would darken, trees would assume garish contortions, thunder would moan across the western border of the city and you’d hear the raucous clang of rain and hail before you saw it … like a warning. The entire city endured a daily meteorological Blitzkrieg.

Outside, people ran in all directions. Inside, people stood in windows and anxiously watched them. The narrow street became a narrow stream. The apartment shook. And it would all end as abruptly as it began. Except for the heat that refused to dissipate, always leaving it feeling unfinished somehow.

The previous evening I’d gotten out of the shower to find the day’s tempest had arrived at least three hours off schedule. He’d offered to come pick me up “all formal like” for dinner, and I had declined. I hadn’t even told him my name. I certainly wasn’t going to tell him my address. I towel dried my hair, poured a drink and monitored the storm and the clock. Storm. Clock. Sip. Storm. Clock. Sip. Thunder clapped. I cracked.”I’d like to request your chauffeur services after all.” “I’m in a cab.” Fuck. “I can have the cab swing by and pick you up.” Panic.

“No.”

I arrived at the restaurant thirty minutes past fashionably late, soaked with sweat in tall black galoshes and a long black trench coat, a bona fide hot mess with a red umbrella swinging from her wrist, unsure what kind of boy waits for this. Unsure what kind of girl goes out looking like that for a boy who waits for her. We drank Camparis. We split a Neapolitan pizza. We argued passionately about journalism. We left. After dinner drinks veered past the neighborhood dive bar containing potential acquaintances, past empty sports bars, peered into and recoiled from yuppie watering holes in silly faux-horror and settled on a pub with a vacant back room exuding the aroma of flooding basement.

The night was going swimmingly, especially since I kept my face in my G&T to mask the odor of rising sewer water. Witty banter. Philosophical debate. Which five albums if you were trapped on a desert island. I wondered if there were an “Elvis Costello and The Velvet Underground” chapter in the How To Bed a Smart Girl Handbook passed out to hipsters boys in record stores. I didn’t care. I cared. I tried not to care. I decided not to care. I didn’t want to care. I wasn’t here to care. I finished my G&T. “Why are you here?,” he asked. Because I had no defenses against that curly red hair and those mischievous eyes. I took the romantic route. “Because you texted you’d been thinking about me all day.” He laughed a bit too loudly for being in an empty bar and denied ever uttering such madness. But hadn’t he? He insisted he had not. My blood pressure skyrocketed. Oh god. I cared. And he didn’t. “Why did you have to be an ass?” I asked aloud to a God I didn’t believe in as much as to my companion. I gathered my purse and umbrella, put on my trench coat, wrapped it tightly around me and shoved my hands into its pockets. “You’re not really leaving are you?” Panic. “Don’t.” Panic. “Please.” Panic.

“I can’t find my lighter.”

He followed me outside and lit my cigarette and then his own while I held the red umbrella open against the relentless rain and ink black night. The air wasn’t fresh; it was a steam room. We huddled under the awning, smoking in frustrated silence, my MAC Russian red lips pouting, he leaning against the brick wall posed like James Dean. An older couple came out of the pub. The man, sinewy in wire-rimmed glasses and a black baseball cap, stopped, turned to us and, making large vertical brushstrokes with his arm, said, “Oh now this, this is cool. Very cool. Now look at this,” he turned and remarked to his partner, “this is a scene.” I forced a smiled, breaking character. “So cool…” The man shook his head in approval of our aesthetic acumen and continued down the sidewalk in the rain with his lady friend.

I rolled my eyes. “You don’t think you’re cool?” he said, smiling. I took a long drag, exhaled into the sky above and threw the cigarette on the ground. He flicked his into the rain and kissed me. Hard. The blood rushed from my head. I walked out into the deluge. “Are you OK?” “I will be.” Four drinks, a cigarette, 100 degree heat, rubber galoshes and a full length trench coat. “I have low blood pressure. It’s the heat.” It was the heat. My body ran away from my brain in this kind of heat. I peeled off my coat, put down the umbrella and let the rain pour over me. I found an abandoned doorway to shelter in. He followed, concerned. “I wouldn’t have told you that if I didn’t mean it,” he plead his defense. I’d cooled off. It was cool. I was cool. I said nothing. I didn’t care. I cared. I didn’t want to care. I cared up until we stopped talking. When we stopped talking it was a relief not to care. Or to think at all. It was midnight on a Saturday, yet the sidewalks were abandoned. A lone waitress scurried across the street in the downpour, shyly glanced our way, quickly looked down and grinned to herself. We spent an hour in that doorway. It was still pouring when I peeled myself away.

“I have to go now.”

He placed his hand on my lower back as we walked to the train. I found it awkward, the hand. Such a formal gesture… I told him I wasn’t sure I could see him again. We parted.

I struggled to sleep. Mid-morning, I sent him the George Jones Elvis Costello song he hadn’t heard. (There was a handbook, and it failed to mention “Good Year for the Roses.” This was the only explanation.) Nothing. I went out for a cigarette. There was no air in the air. “Anyway, I hope you didn’t catch a cold,” I texted him mid-afternoon. Nothing. I had yet to shower, and the musk of previous night that lacquered my skin grew heavier with each hour that passed, with each hour I did not hear from him. Waiting for the bathroom to free up for a long soak, I lay on the bed, watching the elms bend and convulse, the summer sky consumed by clouds, bolts of lightning crash into the vertical skyline, the approaching tempest. Storm. Phone. Sip. Storm. Phone. Sip. I heard the raucous clang of rain and hail before I saw it … like a warning. My phone lit up: “Just woke up. I thought I’d never heard from you again.”

Outside, people ran in all directions. Inside, people stood in windows and anxiously watched them. The narrow street became a narrow stream. The apartment shook. And it would all end as abruptly as it began. Except for the heat that refused to dissipate, always leaving it feeling unfinished somehow.

I thought a storm was supposed to break the heat.

 

Advertisements