Somewhere, it isn’t raining. Somewhere water doesn’t braid off the roof, twist down, flood the grass. Somewhere we aren’t cradled in the hush. Though I can’t quite imagine it. Not here. Here is where it rains. Here is where we time our outings in accordance with the clouds. In the little breaks we scurry, beetle-backed under our coats, to our cars, across the street, down to the grocery store. You can ask around how long the rains have been falling and you’ll get different answers for your trouble.
“Since Tuesday,” says Mary.
“Since forever,” says her son, Quin.
“At least eighteen months,” says Toure.
We have been noticed by the world at large. Of course there are those who point out that in the Bible, God rains on the spoiled so that He might flood the world and restart it pure. How boring. I’d like to point out that so far, aside from a few basements, lawns, and the Arco on Caesar Chavez — a clogged storm drain —we are not under water. We are not a rotting corner of sin. We are like anywhere else.
Still, it has been soggy-footed enough for some of us to leave. In fact, I’ve been alone for a month now, perhaps more. It is hard to tell how long, as I’ve pointed out before, because with the rains come monotony. If there is anything harder to split and pinpoint within, I don’t know it, or couldn’t tell you now.
“I saw her packing their car and I didn’t think much of it,” says Mary. “Just overnight stuff, you know. Her parents have a cottage somewhere in the mountains.”
“She gave me a pack of gum, a whole eighteen-piece pack,” says Quin. “I still got eight pieces left, but I’m saving those.”
“She came over and told me she was going,” says Toure. “For a second there, I thought she was gonna ask me to come along.”
In the very beginning, the rain was normal of course. We live in a part of the world famous for it. But a few weeks in, we wondered. Then we began to break the single-day-accumulation, the number-of-consecutive-days, the total-annual-precipitation records. They tripped some kind of alarm in the central nodes of the national conscience. The news stations dispatched their reporters. Soon there were fluffy, handsome people in company-branded rain gear sloshing down our most inundated streets and reporting. Rain-ageddon. Splash Town. Puddleland. But even they left, after a while.
Before Erin left, too, I spent a week of vacation converting the back half of our garage into an office. I framed a new wall, I cut a rectangle into the pink siding and fit in a new door. I cut another square for a window. I cussed through hot afternoons sawing plywood sheathing to fit a shelter that was sagging and crooked after a hundred years of rot and neglect. I never got the pieces right, everything hopelessly out of true, and sang out my frustrations, fuck you, as I sweated and itched under the rain of filth I knocked free from the ancient beams. Every night I came in and promised her, sweaty and stuck with sawdust and spider silk, that it would turn out well. That in the end, it would save us money. That it would indeed be beautiful, that it would relieve us from the crowding we so often felt, cooped up in our house, working from home, elbow to elbow, as they say.
Back then I thought that was the only thing wrong.
I still go out there now, every day, to work. Though the wifi is weak, though the walls remain half covered, though spiders rappel on long pulls of silver floss. I go out there even though the house is empty and all my own. Who knows when she will return. I need a change.
There’s a feeling I sometimes get, fourth or fifth cup of coffee, that someone, somewhere, is seeing something I’ve created. It’s a light trample over my projected soul. It’s nothing, of course; it’s the caffeine, no shit. But it’s impossible to logic with feeling, though we all try, don’t we, and I carry the belief with me almost like a wish. Because there’s a moment when I feel someone’s attention tip-toeing over my work, an article on shared mobility, or a round-up on what the Stars of Thought have said about driverless cars on this week’s batch of podcasts — I write for a future-obsessed transportation blog — and I think that if I can muster confidence, the writing will shimmer under their eyes. They will come away changed, at least a little, by something I’ve put out, and they will write to me, and they will offer me an assignment, or even a full time job, in Los Angeles or New York, or any of the lesser cities between, away from the rain and the grey. And then it will not be me escaping like she did. It will be me moving forward. They will send a driverless car that I am due to review. It will convey me out from under the clouds.
Most often, though, when the feeling of footsteps comes, I imagine the people seeing through my lines and knowing me for a fraud. For the fact that I report out of a half-finished shack. That I piece together flimsy quotes with surface research and hover always around keywords that promise a higher listing on Internet searches. That my wife left me. That most of the time I feel cold. That I have a bump on my arm that hasn’t gone away in weeks and itches at night. That I’ll drink, if it’s in the house, until I fall asleep, belly aslosh, head ablur.
“Sometimes, you would hear them arguing. Who knows about what. By the time any of that gets loud enough for the neighbors to hear, it’s a different language, you know? Old stuff they rehash, or whatever. Inside stuff. I tried to put on Octonauts when it got to be like that. Quin didn’t know about things like couples fighting. His dad has never been around. And my thing is, why let him know that’s how those things go? Like let him think it’s better than it is for a little while longer.”
“I don’t chew gum every day. I wait three or four days between the pieces. Cause it isn’t allowed at school, you know, and Mom doesn’t like me to have gum anyway. She says I always swallow it, and mostly I do. You aren’t supposed to swallow gum cause it stays in your stomach or your intestines, or whatever, forever and it like all gloms together and becomes this wet, grey rock in your body and one day you have to poop it out when it’s so big that it can rip your booty in half. I don’t know if I believe it or not. But I definitely don’t want a ripped booty. If I would just get gum, like once in a while, then maybe I wouldn’t always want to swallow it.”
“One time, I don’t know, maybe a week before she left? Erin comes over and we’re sitting on my porch, and she’s swinging her knee back and forth, like she does when they’ve been fighting, and it’s knocking mine, and I don’t pull mine away, like usual, I just let it stay there, cause every time she knocks mine I can feel how warm hers is. And I need it, you know? Like it’s filling up some tank I got inside me that’s mostly empty by that point. And she says, you know what I’ve been thinking? And I’m like, no, I don’t. She says she’s been thinking about lasts. How everything in this world is going to have a last and most of the time we won’t know it. Like she’s saying probably Mary can’t remember the last time she picked up Quin now that he’s so big. So I say, sure, I guess that’s true. And anyway, I just keep thinking about that. Her knee against mine. Lasts. I don’t know when she’ll be coming back. I don’t know how I’m supposed to find her.”
I’ve developed an exercise. The first moment I feel someone tiptoeing over my soul, I close my eyes and imagine a house being erected in a time-lapse. Or a ship, sails and rigging, setting out from a harbor into the yell of a bright day. A tree, twisting up through shady undergrowth, leaves aching for the sun, and making it, in the end, to bank its joy. And I think that when I have these things in my head, building and growing and setting forth, it makes me shine to whoever is reading me.
And I start to tell Erin this, my theories, the exercise I developed, when she calls me. She is on the road. Miles thrumming under the tires of the car we bought together, a Subaru Outback, because it had all-wheel drive and that would be good for the weather we secrete up here. Rain and snow. A safe, high-centered car. And she cuts me off and tells me that it’s sunny where she is, somewhere in New Mexico.
New Mexico? Who does she know in New Mexico?
She doesn’t know anyone but she has a place by the railroad. She says she’s going to mail me a little jar of sand. It’s sand she dug up with her hands from the median in front of the house where she stays. It’s all sand out here. Dry and drifting.
You have a house?
A room in a house, she clarifies. It’s week to week. The sun dries out her bones and yesterday, yesterday it rained. A hard, tantrum of water that the earth caught and threw back, today, in wildflowers.
So it’s even there? So it’s everywhere?
A day doesn’t make a storm, she tells me. Two days, a week, two weeks even. This, she can handle. This, she can do. She’s finally drying out. Her bones, the cotton string that runs through her.
But what, I want to know, am I supposed to do with a bottle of sand?
She doesn’t say anything.
And for another thing, you always said that nothing ever happened to us and so you had nothing to write about in your poems. Doesn’t rain count?
Not if it’s every day.
Not if it’s everyday? Do me a favor and listen to yourself.
“Sometimes that girl would catch me on a cigarette out the back porch. Mostly those days where your life feels like a clenched fist. Where you feel like all your kid has done all day long is yell at you, and I’d always tell her, I’m quitting. Just one more, and then I’m done. And she was always so kind in that way that she said, good for you, you know? Like she actually believed me. There’s just something about a cigarette. Every little step is the same. Like a ritual, that crackle, the breath of smoke. It’s comforting.”
“My teacher used to have this thing where we put out these little plastic rain gauges on our porches and then we kept track in a notebook and then at school, we’d compare our numbers. So then we started to see which neighborhoods had the most rainfall. And ours, Sunnyside, always had the most. It was pretty funny, for a while, but he doesn’t make us keep track anymore and mine’s still out there, but it’s overflowing. All of them are.”
“I got a box in the mail the other day and it was from Erin. It had a little perfume bottle in it full of sand. I poured it out on a piece of paper on my dining room table and it smelled like the girl. Now, when I eat, I like to take a fork and rake little patterns in it like it’s my fucking zen garden.”
There’s a leak in the office. But of course there’s a leak in the office. I never finished the job. Water comes in through the window frame, the seams in the door. It needs gutters. It needs patches in the roof. I sit there and do my work — Five Ways to Change Your Commute and Save the Environment — as the water slicks under my feet.
I still come out, though. Every day. My house remains dry, but there I am. The water pools and collects upon the cement pad. I write in my rain boots.
I tell myself it’s comforting. That there are a lot of apps out there that are designed to make just such a racket. White noise, they call it. But then I slip standing up from my desk and I twist my knee. A yank that feels watery. It’s pain, washes of it, that send me hobbling into the house. I go into the bathroom for the Tylenol and then I flip up the lid to the toilet and I step back, all flickery, cause there’s something in the bowl. I have this feeling that it might move. It’s this grey lump, about the size of a box of butter. It looks worn, clammy. But it doesn’t move. It’s still in a way that only dead things and rocks can be. It’s a rat, I see, by the rope of a tail that curls up toward its little nose. It’s on its side, it’s floating. The rains, I assume. The sewer backed up with the run off. All those rats, for years living underground, forced up people’s toilets only to die for the trouble, stuck under a lid.
I had a friend who used to work for the city. One of her jobs was to steer a little camera through sewer connections, looking into each house it passed, finding the ones too corroded and clogged. She called herself the shit detector. The one thing you don’t want to know, she always said, was how many rats there were in our pipes.
And here is the proof. I imagine that rat, swimming in the lidded pool of my toilet bowl, eventually dying of exhaustion while I was out in the shed, tapping on a wet keyboard, and I am sad for it, for how trapped it was. I think I should tell Erin, but of course I don’t. There isn’t a need. She isn’t coming back here. She’s stopped calling.
I sheath my hand in a plastic bag and reach into the cold water. I pull the rat out, as stiff as if it were cast from metal, and carry it out the back door, limping because of the knee, into the prattle of the rain, and over to the side of the house where we keep the bins lined up like sentinels. Quin is there and I catch him, stuffing another piece of gum into his already full mouth, and he asks me what I’m doing. I look odd, in a t-shirt, with a plastic bag over my hand, in the rain. He, like all the kids, has adapted. He is in something called a muddy buddy. A full head to toe rain suit. I’ve been thinking of buying the adult version but they don’t make them tall enough. I hold out the rat and the kid’s face goes white. The gum falls from his mouth — a golf ball of it — and he asks me if that is what he thinks it is.
I think so. But you should go easy on the gum, there. You might choke.
“Some of the plants have died. Take my front yard. The grass went yellow, then almost translucent, then dead. I told Quin and his friends, no more playing on the grass, cause it’s all waterlogged and weak, and he told me, there isn’t any grass left, Mom. And he’s right. It’s all this leggy, thick-stemmed shit that crawls across everything. This weed that used to find the thinnest gap in any stone I put down in my garden. I’d be the cruelest thing to that plant. I’d yank them out, cussing, until my hands were green with the juices. Now, though? It’s nice to have something covering that slick, drain-away mud. It’s good stuff, really, and I don’t know why I spent so much of my life trying to pull it out. At least it’s tough enough that Quin can do whatever he wants out there. Anyway, from far away, when I’m coming back from groceries or whatever, it almost looks like grass. It’s green, anyway.”
“I got to the mail before Mom and there was a box for me, and I put it in my room and opened it up later, after she was in bed for one of her naps, and it was full of Orbit gum in all kinds of flavors. So then I stuffed a bunch, six or seven pieces, cinnamon, in my mouth and I went outside, so she wouldn’t hear me chewing, you know? Until it was hard to bite down. And then Kemp, our neighbor, comes out with this grey thing in his hand. And it’s from his toilet. And he’s like old. He’s almost as old as my mom. And he was walking funny, you know? Like it had hurt him to shit it out. All that gum he’d swallowed. Probably since he was my age. And he had to throw it away in the trash can because it wouldn’t flush down the toilet. It was disgusting.”
“I used to think that their fighting was something that meant they had passion, or whatever the fuck. Like they cared enough to go at it like that. Me? I won’t even send back a burrito if it comes full of chicken even though I’m vegetarian. So them yelling and stuff? That seemed exotic. But she sent me sand, man. I mean, fucking sand. What’s more elemental than that? I dated this girl who once told me she didn’t even know if I even liked her or not. She said I was the hardest woman to read. All cause I didn’t like drape all over her or sing syrup into her ears. She said, I don’t even know if you’d fight for me. And I told her the truth. I don’t like to fight anyone. Erin and me? We could be alright like that. Steady, like that. Like the sand she sent me. Like, raked altogether, in any kind of shape, in any kind of way, but still, you know, sand, or whatever. Stable. Listen, I don’t know. I haven’t lived any kind of passionate way. The only time I’ve ever been kissed in the rain is the day she left.”
It’s an incredible thing, what you can order online; what you can learn in the shimmering tunnels that crisscross the Internet. Only we don’t. Only we’re looking at what our first girlfriend did after high school. Researching adult rain suits. We got too many tabs open. Thirteen different Pornhub clips, each no longer than a few minutes, toggling between flavors of slapping flesh, agitated, pinkening, ripe groans — which one will lead me home and fill me with a moonshot of satisfaction, sink its teeth into my hunger and tear away my ugly side.
Study a photo, just the one, of the night me and Erin met. A camping trip, friends of friends, on the tip of Mary’s Peak. Not much of a tip, it couldn’t even puncture the clouds. I didn’t pack right, it was part of my charm, roasted a steak on a stick, drank cheap beers. And when it rained, and it rained all night, my tent failed, my sleeping bag filled. I left and found her sitting in her car, running the engine every so often to keep the battery alive, praying to the heater. I sat in the passenger seat and we talked and drew in the window condensation until we fell asleep. Woke to blue skies and our friend, the mutual one, the conduit, taking our picture from the side. There, so baby-faced, grainey film, actual film, embarrassed by what everyone assumed we’d been up to all night but hadn’t, bright coats that are in fashion again, smiling.
There is a way out of it, though. If you look for it, in moments of calm-headedness, there’s real things online, too. Like videos on old sheds and foundations. Like hydraulic jacks and pumps and sheets of plywood sheathing. Like boxes of screws and nails they call sinkers. And caulk. Tubes and tubes of splurting caulk. And if you have time, and nobody to go inside for, and a raincoat, and gloves, you can spend hours and days. You can raise up a flooding shed and patch it dry. You can wash out the spiders and dirt. You can run electricity and Cat 6 cables — it’s all there, online — and set a heater running. You can feel the structure sigh and tick as it dries out. You can listen to the rain. You can sit in something that is as hot as the desert and you can listen to the rain.