Caught in the Rain
A novel excerpt
After Kung Fu ended, I waited for The Mom to go into her bedroom to do her nightly knitting, and when she did, I snuck out the back door and rolled my bike silently out of the garage and took off.
The rain struck almost immediately. It came on in one giant gust, like the tidal wave that capsized the S.S. Poseidon. I rode through the downpour, squinting and wiping my eyes, spraying a trail of water with my back tire. Cars splashed past me in the dark, with their windshield wipers flapping at full speed and high beams lighting the sheets of rain coming from the opposite direction.
The rainwater was warm and tasted salty from the sweat coming down my face. As I pedalled I yelled into the oncoming darkness because it was too loud for anyone to hear me and because I liked yelling at the top of my lungs. I yelled, ‘The process is reversing.’ Then I laughed hysterically and yelled, ‘I’m not Artemis, I’m his twin brother Adolphis.’
The center of town was deserted. There were no cars parked in the street. The rain pelted the asphalt, kicking up droplets of water like pockmarks. The stoplight above Farmington Avenue swung back and forth on its cable, moving with the wind. The storm was loud. The thunder sounded like giant wooden boards breaking in half, and lightning flashed in the distant sky.
I stopped beneath the Mechanics Savings Bank overhang and squinted through the downpour. The clock about Mechanics Savings Bank flashed the time and temperature in bright yellow numbers. The temperature was seventy-two degrees. The time was 9:45 pm.
There was a light on in The Dad’s office.
I crossed the street, laid my bike against the rail and knocked on the door. I knocked for approximately one minute but no one answered so I began pounding the door with my fist.
I said, ‘Hey, Dad. Open up. It’s me.’
The light above the door came on. Then the door opened and The Dad stuck his head out. He said, ‘Jesus, what are you doing here? You’re soaked.’
I said, ‘I got caught in the rain.’
‘Get inside before you catch cold.’
He held open the door, and I followed down the hallway. He said, ‘Does your mother know you’re here?’
‘No. I waited until she went to bed.’
‘Good.’ He got a hand towel out of the bathroom and handed it to me. ‘Dry yourself off.’
We went into the back room. He was wearing a white undershirt, a pair of black pants and black stockings without shoes. There was a pile of rumpled clothes on the couch. I pushed them aside and sat down.
The Dad lifted the bottle of J&B and poured a glass. ‘Take this,’ he said. ‘It’ll warm you up.’
‘I’ve tried it. I don’t like it.’
‘Try again. It grows on you.’ He handed me the glass. The J&B looked and smelled like cough syrup. I took a sip, and a moment later felt my cheeks flush and my eyes start to water.
‘Didn’t I tell you?’ he said. ‘Nothing like a good belt.’ He took the glass out of my hand and drank what was left. The back room smelled like Old Spice after shave and cigarettes. There was a pile of Dino’s Pizza Parlor boxes stacked in the corner approximately one foot high, stained on top with grease.
I said, ‘Monty died. He got hit by a car.’
The Dad sank into one of the easy chairs, and when he realized he was sitting on a newspaper, he got the papers out from underneath and set them on the floor alongside the J&B.
‘We buried him in the back yard.’
‘I wanted to come over but your mother, well, she didn’t think it was a good idea. She’s got a piece of paper from the court saying when I can come and go.’
‘That’s not fair.’
‘Goddamn right it’s not.’
I noticed that his bad eye was bright red, and the skin around it was bruised and swollen.
I said, ‘What happened to your eye?’
‘Poked myself on the job with a piece of wood. Scratched the cornea. That’s easier to do than you might think.’
‘Does it hurt?’
‘Nah. I can hardly feel it.’
He picked the bottle off the floor and poured himself a drink. He looked around the room, sipping. There was an old fan in the corner, buzzing and blowing muggy air.
‘You need a TV,’ I said.
He nodded. ‘That would come in handy.’
‘I could bring you the black and white. It’s not heavy.’
‘Better not,’ he said. ‘No use aggravating your mother.’
‘I could do it when she’s not around.’
He took another sip. ‘What’s she saying about me?’
‘She told me not to talk to you. She said she’d call the police if you came to the house.’
‘I don’t know where she gets these crazy ideas. She’s an excitable woman. You never know what’s going to set her off.’
‘She says she’ll get a job at the town hall for seven dollars an hour.’
‘That’s peanuts. That’s not enought to pay the butcher.’
‘That’s what I told her.’
The Dad nodded. He said, ‘How you fixed for cash? You need anything?’
I shrugged, and he said, ‘Here, take this,’ and reached into his pocket and handed me a portion of his Michigan bankroll. ‘Buy something for yourself. Some records that you like. Get something for your mother too. Some flowers. She likes lilies. Don’t tell her where you got the money.’
He picked up the newspaper and ruffled it. ‘You want some of this?’
I said, ‘Sports.’
He handed me the sports page. Then he lifted the business page in front of his face. We read the newspaper as the rain came down. After a while he said with his face behind the newspaper, ‘I could’ve bought IBM when it was ten dollars a share. Look at it now. Sal Calio was smart. He bought a thousand shares.’
I said, ‘Huh.’
‘Now American Home Products. That’s another one. Pretty much anything you buy in a grocery store, there’s a good chance they make it.’
‘Anything like that.’
He shook the paper and turned the page. After a while he said, ‘I’ll take you back when the rain stops. No sense getting soaked all over again.’
‘I don’t mind riding.’
‘Too late to be out on that bike.’
The rain beat on the overhang and windows and pavement in the rear parking lot.
‘Listen to that rain,’ said The Dad.
We listened. The rain came down for a long time. We read the newspaper and periodically The Dad talked about stocks he should have bought and others he shouldn’t have sold. The newspaper was three days old.
The rain stopped as suddenly as it had started, like someone turning off a faucet. The Dad and I went outside, which was cool and moist. The clock above Mechanics Savings Bank flashed the time. It was 10:52 pm.
The Dad loaded my bike into the trunk of The Mark IV, and I sank down into the leather passenger seat, yawning as we drove through the rain-covered streets with the tires making a hissing sound. When The Dad used the turn signal I felt my eyes closing. There was something about the clicking sound of the turn signal that hypnotized me, causing an irresistible urge to fall asleep.
When we reached the bottom of our street, The Dad pulled over and shook my arm. ‘Get out here,’ he said. ‘That way your mother won’t have a conniption fit.’
I said, ‘Are you coming home soon?’
The Dad took the silver flask out from under the seat and had a swig. He pursed his lips. ‘Pretty soon, I think.’
‘Albert’s coming back next week. He’ll be done with camp then.’
‘Good. Exercise is good for a boy.’
I got out. ‘I’ll let you know if Mom says anything else.’
The Dad nodded. He said, ‘Make sure and change out of those clothes. That’s how Roosevelt got polio, by sitting around in wet clothes.’
I got my bike out of the back and slammed the trunk. The Dad accelerated down the street. I watched the rear red lights fade out of view.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dan Pope is a graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and the current recipient of the Glenn Schaeffer Award from the International Institute of Modern Letters. His first novel, In The Cherry Tree, was published by Picador USA in November 2003. In addition, his short stories have appeared in such publications as McSweeney’s, the Gettysburg Review, Shenandoah, Witness, the Iowa Review, etc. He plans to come to Wellington to teach the Iowa Workshop in fiction at Victoria University in 2004 (finances permitting…).