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Cloudburst

By Don Noel



The dew point has been above 70 all week, unusual for New England; it is muggy, tropically humid. The weathercaster called the air “saturated,” likely to produce pelting rain, thunder, lightning, perhaps even hail.


She rocks gently in the hanging settee on the front porch of their bungalow, a canvas bag of sewing and darning untouched beside her.


The porch is screened-in because David, one night early in their marriage, was eaten alive by mosquitoes, and determined to do the work if they scrimped for a few weeks to afford the material. It is her haven on July nights like this: Turn off the TV and computer, come out here to absorb in silence the gathering dusk, and wait.


He works routinely until eight; supper is always late, sometimes later. He commutes by bicycle; the thought tugs at her imagination. Getting drenched won’t hurt him, but lightning is different.


The porch faces west, from which the storm – and David – are expected. The solstice is only a few weeks behind them, so evenings are still long, but not tonight. The sky darkens, the storm casting ahead of itself a preternatural shadow, an ominous foretaste. There is lightning; she counts in measured tempo. Thunder reaches her in eight seconds, so maybe a mile and a half away. Another flash. Five seconds. Another. Three seconds.


And then it begins, a firehose of rain. Suddenly the sidewalk is a shallow lake, the raindrops falling hard enough to raise huge bubbles, eruptions. Her view turns blotchy as the wind drives rain into the screen. It becomes a thin but impenetrable wall of water; moments later a gust blows the screen clear, hurling a shower of droplets toward her.


She is dampened, but not enough to abandon her vigil. Shivering, she tucks her feet beneath her butt, and finds in the sack a silk shawl to toss over her shoulders. She reaches behind to turn on the floor lamp, a welcoming beacon. But the lightning persists, bursts of blinding light and simultaneous thunder. Frightened, she draws her hand back.


The rain persists, too, drumming on the porch roof, sluicing cataracts into the bushes. Realizing she might not hear her cell phone against the cacophony of the deluge, she takes it from the sewing bag, checks that it is set to vibrate, and wedges it against her chest beneath bra straps.


She hopes for a reassuring call from David. Perhaps he is waiting at the shop until this passes, or has found some midway shelter. She tries to remember prayers against storms. Didn’t Jesus calm a storm in Galilee? And there isn’t there a psalm? It comes to her. She murmurs: “In the shadow of your wings I will make my refuge until these storms have passed.”


At last! The hammering rain lessens; the thunder is behind, distancing. In a moment more, all rainfall has ceased.


Getting up, she goes to the screened door, opens it. He should be home at any moment.



 


Retired after four decades' prizewinning print and broadcast journalism in Hartford CT, Don Noel received his MFA in Creative Writing from Fairfield University in 2013, at age 80. He has since published more than 100 short stories.

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