It is late at night right now. It is cold and a storm is nearing the coast. It is mid January. The orange groves of my youth are long gone. The air is crisp and the rains that should come originated near Japan a week ago then rode a roller coaster across the Pacific north into the chill of Alaska to dive down toward this coast. It will then move east and bring big floods to the midwest they say. It is to die along the Rockies and reform hurling Gulf of Mexico water to flood Kansas down to north Texas. The flood may pull loose like a rotten tooth my Grandmother’s grave on that former farm, wash clean that spot I may have seen voices fall from so much night sky. Stupid storm might eclipse nothings like me or the bastard might just fail grandly like some big farce of false promise in this time of drought. I may run out and scream and curse at the rain if my legs will let me later tonight.
I am staying up on purpose for once this time. I want to hear the wind. I am waiting with buckets in this historic drought for fresh water to come down. I am awaiting the predicted heaviest hour of rain. Maybe just maybe it will be a spectacle to behold, one man on t.v said at about 4 a.m to go outside and for a minute or so see waterfalls in the sky. This might be amazing or some tiny bit of destruction or just so much failed promise(something that I carry almost like a personal second shadow at this point).
It was the middle of the night so many years ago that those voices seemed to have rolled across the plains , had fallen with the rain. This sounds crazy I know. This was not the only time. One time on the farm when I was a little kid grandma made the weirdest noise that woke all of us up. Little did we know she was to fall back asleep to never awaken. That morning is a whole other story for some other time, some other place. I could not go back to sleep and went wandering in the hot wind and sprinkling rain. The fields seemed endless when I was small, something fantastic about them moving in unison in a breeze. I wandered as the first lightning was visible far to the west and seemed somehow weak , feeble even in its glow far off. I wandered around as the first fat rain drops fell and never seemed to pick up to the cloudburst one would expect. The thing seemed to arrive large and dying above.
The big rain drops fell almost randomly for a time then ceased . I was maybe 9 and from the coast and it was all so damn exotic. We had grown up in California and had almost forgotten of Kansas and big skies and that past broken in old photos tucked away in odd smelling old books by the unused fireplace in Uncle Joe’s big house. We were the result of that dust bowl but were not quite oakies. We came out just before when mom and dad were young lovers who just needed to shed a life to hopefully grow another. We were the children of that twitch, that semi erasure. We grew up in the 1950’s and the now long gone orange groves of the San Fernando valley. We learned of bodies left among the vast lines of fresh and moldering fruit and I once spun out my new car at 16 and nobody saw or cared but the trees and groves stretching in lines in all directions.
The storm in Kansas when I was a boy began to shrink in that night sky. It bled out stars and even a glimpse of moon as the last meek high lightning veined out and the last lonely drops fell. Grandma was slipping away in that upstairs in the farm house. The breeze came back hard and fast like a final breath from the fading squall and I heard mute giggles of children and a tired man complaining of a flat tire. Then the voices seem to pass to my east among the fields and away as the cloud broke into pieces and the stars won as they always do.
We found Grandma in her bed as though ready to turn and speak or scream. Her eyes were wide open as was her mouth. Her room was still flowered wallpaper, ancient but well tended sheets and comforter, the plants she loved so by the eastern window, the radio she once was said to have been on in a few local talent shows when she was young. My cousin had made breakfast for everyone and she had not come down to join us. Her eyes haunt me still. They were not the orbs in photos, the blinking vessels of her smiling and telling stories. It was something else, something far beyond me as a child. It is not quite the same now. The sound she made had been a sort of fluttering almost chuckle and cough. I wonder if that is why we ignored it, just thought she was reading a funny book.
Is it possible? They say rain drops form clinging to airborne blades of broken grass, insect wings, dust, a lost menagerie of tiny things . The science book in High School swore that summer storms were from an updraft, of air shot upward heated and into clouds and rain to eventually die. The updraft sometimes could lift dust and rain brown or red. Waterspouts and tornadoes were mentioned in that otherwise dull book as sometimes lifting up fish or frogs to rain back as the elephant trunk cloud died away. Could it be?
I snuck back in to sleep as the sky was almost clear like the storm had never been. I left the back door unlocked and slowly had gone back to bed and sleep. The next morning we found grandma with eyes open and hands at her sides. She was buried a few days later almost exactly on that spot I sat in watching the fields bend and that storm breathe down last rain and something it had lifted from some town far away. Her tombstone is still there today although it is no longer a farm I hear. I came to at times hate myself for that peaceful moment and odd pastoral sky. I let her die like a selfish brat by choosing to assume she was fine. We all did that night but that does not matter. She made a noise that we shook off like so much distant thunder or a dog bark. It was a precursor to what took her away.
I am old now. My hands feel like paper when I rub them together. My eyes have little pouches below as though I am to carry coins in them or hold tears in little tide pools when needed. I think about my end more than in my youth like I am sure we all do. At 16 we raced 4 cars in a row through red lights near the groves to not lose the party only Frank in the first car had the map to. We only thought of getting lost, of the dreaded Friday sitting together in a garage while surely the world swirling amazing, booze and love and spectacle in shards all around us like vivid distant lightning for storms over the far off Cities not the barren suburb town. We never thought of mortality, who even grasps such a meaning at 16?
That storm haunts me still. For many reasons.
Who was the man fixing his tire? How far away was he? Could he have been in the sun states away the day before (big summer storms can travel hundreds of miles at some point die). Why was his accent more of someone in the north plains (did the storm drift down around a big high pressure ridge like the do out there sometimes in summer?). Why did the children seem to come first from another cloud in the system? Were they risen upward with so much sun heated air and insect wings towns and hours away? Can it rain voices like those odd fish and frogs as a storm dies away?
The more recent storm was two voices. Sixty plus years from that odd moment when I was a goofy kid out on a farm. It was out in the desert near Phoenix. I was on a short vacation as retirement had come and my mind was a turbine of anxiety where other happily mow lawns, go bowling and have early dinners at chain restaurants flush with shiny coupons. This was ten years ago so the memory too is a dying storm of sorts in me now. I never married. It just never quite panned out. I taught high school and the job was a marriage of sorts to use an old cliché. The same school for decades saw buildings and people come and go, rules change, kids come in waves, haircuts, music styles, food trends, a few disasters at times to seemed a brief and odd glue bonding many us together then breaking away. I was beginning to realize how much more that could have come from this life. Too late. Too late. Why does the solid or decent realization always be the one that comes too goddamn late?
I looked for years in libraries and online to see if this had ever happened to anyone else, if in fact I was a bit crazy, maybe just misheard thunder or that weird trick where volume carries in hot air as they used to say. The radio used to pick up stations from other cities in the summer, so that much is true I guess. I didn’t look all the time, it is not that kind of obsession. Again it has been when the turbine cylinder spam ball of my brain had too much time (vacation time, lost job, insomnia..etc…) that is turned inward and like the food gobbling acids of a stomach when empty, began to eat itself. So once in a while over 40 years the itch has returned.
The itch is to for once finish something, make something tangible out of all the damn loose ends, find something that is not the ugly skin of remorse or regret. Storms live and die. Rains fall and then end. The great storms for what it is worth are remembered. I am an accumulation of nothing, a fog of days turned to decades, tepid, oatmeal, bland. I look backward and see others live and die fast or slow, events in history occur than recede, see my failings amongst just the clouds piling on a hill of years no different than the others before. I see my grandmother’s eyes open in that bed still as clear as that storm that bled voices as it died. All else is moldy bread if even that and here I am.
I am old in that I am tired of so much. There are only so many books to read till the library is a sock drawer of sorts, so many places to visit before it all scabs over in memory like some kind of map and topography. No, I am tired of things, tired of mornings and evenings and all the stuff in between. All is stuff said that comedian once. I curse the sun as it sets sometimes as pathetic as that must sound. It surely somewhere else shines on great courage, weddings, graduations, funerals of people who made some mark somehow just as it surely shines and sets on so many car wrecks, abandoned towns, garbage dumps and dull empty fields.
I forgot to mention that I did find three references in all the spasms of search over 40 years.
One was from an old faded 1937 newspaper from New Orleans:
James Ufton has said to have heard the odd noises as did a few others late last night.
“It was the darndest thing. 3 a.m or so and I heard someone sobbing and speaking something about how they were sorry. The storm came from the north and seemed to be on its last legs. The voice sounded like a sad man with an accent more from Chicago or so. He drifted over the waters west of me with the last rains then the storm..was dead..”
Another was from a newspaper in August 1928 from New York city:
Bill West was one of a few people up late last night who heard the odd sounds and storm.
“I work odd jobs and was up getting ready for an early shift when the dull thunder and spits of rain came. Must have been about 2 in the morning as my clock said. It was just a dull as dishwater dying storm until I opened the window to get the breeze a bit. There was I swear a conversation and a dog barking loud. All my neighbors were asleep. The accents were Canadian. I am sure of it. It seemed to drape across the roofs and skirt away then lose volume. It was a couple fighting I think. He had lost her ring in the sink. Then it seemed to die East of me and the clouds broke apart and the moon shone down like nothing ever happened.”
The last one was odder. It was a diary from a wealthy spinster living their last days in a big Miami hotel. It does not have a date as it was all badly water damaged and mold encrusted like peacocks in the pages. It was horrible to smell but strangely beautiful to look at. I was only able to read it at that rare books library so I only have my scrawled notes of what I could read.
The storm was near spent. It came in with great shafts of rain. It limped ashore and rained down for 30 min the heaviest downpour, like all was water, just colors within it. There was only one tropical clap of thunder and then a faint but growing louder voice….
“ The lifeboats are ruined now. Broken up and floating away. Nothing to do now”
then the first voice seemed to curl downward from above in the rains as they lessened
“ This is the end. I refuse to panic or scream. This is the end and I now will meet it standing tall. Goodbye”
The second voice then came fluttering down like a tired bird but fractured as sound in the last rains and descent. Something about rocks and error then nothing.
This must never be told to anyone. Ever.
These added nothing. No mystery solving credit to go to me. No point really other than they all were something dying from somewhere else. It is possible to even fail something kind of magical, to waste it by just not getting it or overthinking it to dust like I have.
So here I sit. 70 something years young, weary with pangs of guilt from that box of scorpions we all keep in the recall of the past. I sat and watched a storm die as a boy and did not save grandma. I heard its odd voice belched from somewhere and we all ignored her sounds that were of that blast of sudden discomfort we all chose to sleep on. Her grave was placed on that exact spot, the funeral one of so many events now broken away to crumbs in recall in the decades in this life. A storm may now wash it clean away in a few days and so I sit here awaiting its arrival here on the California coast so far from her , that house and the family past in Kansas. Part of me almost wants the waters to clean away any dirt or dust around her name, a small part of me wishes it would wash the whole yard and house clean away, the scythe of time, take it clean away, past as past, wounds not to re-emerge inside in times of quiet. I also wish to hear voices descend from the sky just one more time before I myself depart.
Maybe it will be fishing boats in the north pacific, perhaps a child and their parents on a stroll as the winter storm first developed 5 days ago over Japan, maybe like the water cycle ever repeating it could be a voice from further back, some stripped flesh of conversation from a voice long silenced and tucked
delicately into the ground.
The pains are worse tonight. Squalls again. There will be no surgery. The storm inside is far past that I am told. The pains are its thunder and lightning to me. The pills on the shelf that so help mask headaches, back aches, sore feet and all the mundane rest, they do little to nothing.
I am dying. I went to the doctor for a simple check up and they found that little storm born of my body attacking itself. Two weeks later and I am losing weight, having trouble keeping food down. The thing is beyond repair they told me. I picture the bastard in my body as a little wicked thunderstorm, anvil and all, born of some unseen turbulence in some internal sky I cannot and will never see. The little bastard is a big storm but will never rain out. It holds no lightning or voices, but cells and some internal mathematical error. The little monster is the storm that will soon take me away. I am afraid. I am angry. I am being forced to look backward , but now it is at the end of gun made of my very own cells, one soon to at some point fire and take me. Too late. The epiphanies always come too goddamn late.
The goddamn storm is coming. It is larger than all of us. It barely fits on satellite photos it is so huge. The thing is so alive as it rolls across a whole ocean on its way here. My address is 234 Mockingbird lane and my home is 3 rooms and a tiny backyard. It was built in 1943 I was told. It is so finite and small in the face of rains and mud. I am a single bitter human so small against even the shadow of a single fair weather cloud or last finger of fog. The storm is written about already and has not done anything. It has started the news for 3 days now like it made a great film or wrote the book some young actor has made into a television series sure to win all the awards. Presumptuous. It might wash away towns when resurrected in the middle of the country like some zombie a thousand miles across. This thing has the potential, as some storms do, to defy death as we puny humans fear.
A few nights ago I stayed up late trying to measure how many miles I may have traveled on trains that do not run any more, of how many foods I ate that are no longer found on shelves, of the way the past breaks into the present a tossed out lamp or outgrown sweater at a time (and some call this progress). The garbage dump and its burning methane is a history lecture, a sociology textbook, a chart and graph of decades, generations and all the lot and it moulders slowly away.
For now I just sit by a window wondering if it has to only be the last breath of a thunderstorm as it dies to release that ballast, that voice along with blades of grass and insect wings in a once updraft. Maybe the big cold front holds the breaths of the lone thunderstorms of the storm first formed or water from long past, like rain on a young hand enamored with a long passed celebrity feels it warm forever unaware that the same rain once graced the cheek of the actor or actress in decades past as they hoped to find some kind of life beyond simple days, getting out of a car in say 1953 to that long lost screen test.
Maybe the past can sometimes actually be this way, gentle, cycling, like water. Maybe this storm will die along the coast in epic fashion, an epic failure not exploding but whispering down rains along hundreds of miles of coastline, dropping broken voices unintelligible, even magic made into an epic failure in the face of mortality and ends. Strangely there is comfort in this.
A breeze is beginning outside now. Nothing lasts. Rain has begun now.