Sunday, July 24, 2005

After the storm

He woke up and knew instantly that she was dead and it had stopped raining. To his half-awake mind the two facts seemed to merge together, to exist as gestures in the same abstract dance, like feathers falling in the wind. There was a sense of relief, yes, but it was confused by a premonition of dryness, of some terrible emptiness to come. The sky glimpsed blue through his curtains seemed like a negation of memory, a barefaced denial of the night's lightning. As if the clouds had never been there, as if he had only imagined them. There was a sense of finality that filled the silence of his room this morning, making it seem more exact. Absence, he thought vaguely, should not be so alive.

What had happened? Struggling into his slippers, he tried to unjumble the thoughts in his head. Was it she who had disappeared in the night and the rain that had died? Or the other way around? He went out into the living room, dialed the number of the hospital. The voice of the night nurse as she told him what he already knew was a shaken window. "Don't worry", he told her, when he couldn't find anything else to say, "the storm has passed."

When he put down the phone he became aware that what had been calling him all along was something else entirely. Distance, perhaps, or merely the opening of doors. So much to do. The tasks of the day like some table to be carefully arranged, in preparation for a feast he understood the dimensions of, but could not taste yet. First, a quick survey of the damage the storm had done. Maybe a climb up the ladder to make sure the roof was alright. Then the rosebushes would need replanting - they always got torn up in a storm. And there would be the endless phone calls, visitors, telegrams - all the little intrusions that the rain leaves behind it, like earthworms squirming into the open.

No, it wouldn't do to leave the water standing today.

Slipping into his dressing gown he stepped out onto the porch. Instantly the sunlight attacked him, blinded him. He hadn't expected this. The empty sky, yes - but not the terrible brightness of the sun beating down on him, not the sweet, seductive freshness of a newly indifferent world. He winced, stepped back a little, his progress halted. As he stood there in the doorway, eyes shielded, waiting for his gaze to adjust to the day's new light, it occured to him, for the first time, that this was going to be a long, bitter summer.