The Worst Storm
Walking out into the cloudless summer day was like being enveloped in a hot, wet blanket. The sun beat mercilessly down onto the pavement and made the stiflingly still air visible on the horizon – objects at a distance blurred and wavered as though the earth was a boiling pot of water and they the steam, distorted and sweltering. Streams of sweat instantly poured down Nora’s body as she paused momentarily on the steps of her apartment building, internally battling her decision to leave the cool respite of her air-conditioned 3rd floor apartment, even if it staying meant enduring uncomfortable post-argument silence. Sweat soaked her light blue tank top and left it clinging to her skin, the moisture saturated air refusing to accept another drop of liquid. Reasoning that her only day off wasn’t meant to in another four-walled prison, she resolved herself to a sopping, disheveled state, pushed her sunglasses up on her nose, and headed off into the day without any real destination.
She hadn’t, as they say, seen it coming. If she had to identify a point at which things were no longer comfortable and everyday, it would be when the first graduate school catalog came in the mail. They’d never really talked about it – it was just something she was exploring, really – but it somehow drove a wedge between them that couldn’t be removed. Her talking about it only infuriated him, as though the only way their relationship could exist was if everything stayed precisely the same. He wouldn’t entertain the idea of leaving town, and, Nora had to admit, she wasn’t entirely sure she wanted him to go with her. “When will I be enough?” he kept asking her. When he’d first said it, she’d been sympathetic – perhaps she was being selfish. She’d worked the balancing act for awhile, balancing herself with him on one side and her priorities on the other. Upstairs she’d heard the words again, “When will I be enough?”, and they caused her to topple down from the beam. How could he expect her to just sit and stagnate in the same place with the same people doing the same things all the time? What about her needs? It was a choice. She had finally made it. Perhaps it doomed her to be falsely remembered as the one who cared less. She preferred to think of it as an exercise in self-preservation. He’d be packing now…throwing things into suitcases and cursing her for her selfishness. Good riddance, she thought bitterly.
Realizing her temper had quickened her pace to one unnaturally fast given the oppressive heat, she stopped and linked her arms through the bars of the wrought iron gate that enclosed the public pool. She surveyed the scene. The line at the sno-cone concession stretched almost the entire length of the Olympic sized pool. Even in water, people were sluggish and lethargic, unwilling or unable to exert any more energy than was absolutely necessary. Children who under any other circumstances would be breaking every last “NO RUNNING” warning from the lifeguards sat passively with their feet in the water, slurping on temporarily frozen treats. Mothers who under any other circumstances would be thrilled to have a break from the yelling, screaming and whistle blowing absent-mindedly rubbed sunscreen onto their arms, fighting the layers of sweat that separated the much-needed balm from their skin. Watching them, Nora became aware of her own fatigue. She set her sunglasses on the top of her head and wiped the sweat from her face with the bottom of her shirt. She’d left in such a hurry she hadn’t thought to bring a water bottle. She turned her back to the gate and slid down onto the ground, burying her head in her hands.
A loud clap like the sound of a gun firing and sudden blast of hot air startled her out of her pose. The relief almost eclipsed the surprise as she looked up over the tree tops to see enormous cumulonimbus storm clouds rolling over the park, eclipsing the sunlight and turning the clock forward from early afternoon to late evening as quickly as though someone had flipped off a light switch. Rising from the ground, she stood in awe as in a manner of minutes they blanketed the entire sky. The shrieks of children returned to the pool as they scampered to gather their belongings. Nora stared at the sky, unaffected by the people running past her on their way out of the park. Lightning illuminated the full majesty of the towering clouds – their deep blacks and grays and blues. She held her hair away from her face as the wind, which seemed to come from all directions, whipped against her solitary frame, making an angry ocean of the pool behind her.
And then the rain fell.
Not in drops. Not in sheets. In torrents. Nora closed her eyes and reached her arms up toward the sky as the warm, clear water drenched her from head to toe, washing the sweat from her body, hitting her face with as much pressure as the shower she’d taken that morning. The shower had cleansed her body. The rain cleansed the day away. Amid winds that would lift a small child from the ground and thunder claps that seemed to shake the earth she stood on, Nora began to spin in place – to dance with the leaves on the trees in the winds of the storm. Rainwater filled her mouth as it widened into an unabashed, earnest smile.