When you considered turning the job down because of the rain, people said New York and Chicago get more per year. What they didn’t say is how it comes relentless, starting late-October. A mist in the wind that thickens and steadies by early November into an incessant patter tapping the windows and roof of your Tacoma rental. Watching the news in your living room, you start to believe meteorologists invent descriptors while giving their forecasts – trickling rain, heavy mist, steady down – to break the monotony instead of always saying “rain.” They apologize when delivering the week of rain ahead, but the truth is in the shrug of their shoulders, saying something between Sorry, folks and This is where we live, where every autumn the weather drains the color from the streets, trees, and cars. Where the weather perpetually fogs the windows of stores: the tattoo parlors on every corner; the teriyaki and the sushi joints; the record stores, all established and rooted, so their windows remain dusty. The new businesses – boutique vegan bakeries; dispensaries with people outside spinning green crosses; coffee shops opening across the street from Starbucks – that struggle and close or struggle and make in this town nicknamed Grit City. All with their eves dripping and their owners out front with their hands in their pockets, watching and waiting. Waiting for what though? you wonder. One night in December on the news, a couple is interviewed, wearing slickers with their hoods up, speaking with sideways glances and half smiles. Record for thirty-three days? Sure. Let’s go for it. And just like that, you understand how acquiescence becomes will here. Then in January the Puyallup River overflows and drifts into the smallest cracks of people’s homes, soaking the carpet and still rising. Rivers run over bridges. On the news, floating highways and regular highways across Puget Sound also submerge. Whole mountainsides collapse in avalanches of mud. The only dry ground is inside, so through winter you stay in your house and watch out the windows, remembering last summer when you first arrived. All that August was mid-seventies and seventies, Mt Rainier was always out poking into the blue sky, and the owner of a record shop who saw you were new to town warned this place has the highest suicide rate in the world. People travel here in the summer, think it’s like this year round, sell their homes and re-locate, then they can’t go home. Here whole blocks have been built on hills, and by spring you get why. So you stay in your safe place, looking out at the intersection by your house, where a weeping willow’s branches sag down into a small pond formed where fallen leaves plug the grates and have turned the street into a curb-to-curb river that now runs down the hill. In a two-story house across the street, the faces of three boys fill the front window. Heads propped up with their hands, curly bangs in their heavy eyes, their mouths turned down in sleepy resignation, probably dreaming of stomping around in this water. A young mother appears behind them and the kids lift their heads as if she’s spoken. They stand and step back from the window and file into a doorway’s darkness. Then comes a car. A rusted Toyota driving slowly up the center of the street, windshield wipers going. A girl with a ponytail steering ten and two squints forward, leaning over the wheel, mouthing dammit and sitting up straighter with each jolt from hitting potholes. The boy on the passenger’s side, thumbing through his cell, finally puts it down. Slowly they move through the intersection, shaking their heads, and halfway through, they laugh nervously, and laugh at being able to laugh. Because they are young, you think, and they continue down the hill, out of sight. In the corner of your eye, along your rented picket fence a man shuffles up the sidewalk in a blue Seahawks jacket, soaked and hanging to his knees. With his hood draped over his head, his face is almost hidden. Ignoring the puddles, he steadies himself using the pointed tips of the fence. Then he stops and turns to face your foggy window and look inside where you realize you are staring, from your living room where it is warm and dry. White stubble all over his face and a gummy mouth without teeth, he’s one of the wanderers from that home for the mentally ill around the corner. Out of one of his dripping sleeves, he lifts a shaking hand holding a lit cigarette and starts talking, making gestures toward you. At times he pauses, waiting for you to respond, then he continues, until pausing again, each time longer. You don’t know why you stay here, watching. He gets more agitated – yelling, though he doesn’t get any louder – and more persistent. A longer pause, and he drops his head, giving up. He starts to turn away, but instead in one final gesture to try to reach you he pulls his hood back and lets the rain soak his white hair. He tilts his head back and squints up into the gray clouds. As if to find the sun, as if to see how deep this runs. Because he hopes you’ll look up with him, to not feel so alone.
Richard Edleman says
Reads like a Van Morrison song – Astral Weeks – had that music in my mind all the way through this urban landscape song. Outward looking, not one reference to moldy armpit hair that has come to characterize contemporary fiction. Cinematic and palpable.