Like a squadron of deadly black bombers, the great thunderheads swept, mean and dark across the sky, strafing the earth with a punishing rain. Throughout the long wet month of June, the storm- clouds roiled and marched like an invading army to the drumbeat of thunder-claps. Boom, boom, boom they came, in wave upon rolling wave, machine gunning the world of man with their icy bullets.

At first, each drop of rain that struck the baked ground, sizzled like a wet sausage in hot oil, but as the hours passed and the deluge persisted, the world became cold. The mud in the fields softened and warm brown tones in the earth told that its thirst was being slaked.

Water pouring off the sidewalks of the city formed rivulets which quickly swelled into raging torrents, churning and fighting for the right to gush down the already overfull drains.

In the beginning, in the streets, schoolboys, soaked to their skins despite their mothers having dressed them in rain wear, sailed their lollipop-stick men-o’-war down flooded gutters, until the boats were all wrecked and the gutters sank invisible under the churning waters. Sensible dogs stayed indoors, but the people could not. In the business streets of the town, black suited bankers and pretty young girls drew in the strings and buttons of their raincoats, turned up their high plastic collars and crept in under their hoods. Umbrellas, flipped inside-out by the wind, lay broken where their owners had flung them down in disgust, and run, too late, for cover.

In Bella’s kitchen, down a level from the street, daring to peep through her curtains at the onslaught, she could see only the retaining wall of the entrance stair that kept the earth from tumbling in upon her.  The steps had been transformed into rapids, waterfalls that roared as they cascaded down into the recessed catchment well which had now become a plunge-pool outside her door. The drains, always kept clear, were not enough. The water level in the well was slowly, alarmingly rising. Soon her floor would become part of the surface of a new lake, with furniture for islands. How deep would it become? Would it submerge and destroy her television set and drown the actors inside? Would it reach the pictures of picnics and boats and Freddy the fantastic, hanging on her wall?  Freddy the young valiant with the moustache who had once taken her boating, and kissed her wickedly behind the boatshed, but was now only this faded, two dimensional memory of the life she once had. Would she be standing waist or neck high in the water? Would she have to escape, swim to the surface, be out on the street that had become a river?

The heavy velvet drapes were designed to defend the flat from the searching lights of the city cars and baffle the incessant sounds of angry engines, hooters and brakes. These curtains allowed Bella to sleep. She kept them closed now. She hoped that somehow the curtains would hold the flood waters at bay. Perhaps if she could not see the waters rising, they would not?  But day after night she heard the hammering hail snare-drumming into the flooded thoroughfare above. She could hear the rain driving in over the street level railings and clattering down against her kitchen window. She slept only minutes at a time that first night, but as fatigue set in, in the days that followed, she nodded off for a few hours now and then. The endless teeming torrent slowly started to swamp even her mind. Depression, darker than the day engulfed her. The world was unfriendly, unreachable, alien and uninviting, and finally, defeated, Bella sagged into a deep sleep.

At last, she awoke, not knowing how long she had managed to escape her nightmare. Had it been hours? Was it days? Was it now day or was it night. Trembling with trepidation, she drove her body off the bed and pushed her way through the lounge into the kitchen. To her amazement, the floor was not flooded. She flicked on the kettle switch. The spaceship-like circle of little blue LED lights came on and bubbles started to boil off the base. The tea reinforced her and eventually she reached out her hand to gingerly slot open the velvet curtains, so she could assess the state of the storm. Her eyes were blinded by the light. The sun was beating down out of a cloudless sky, and that sky, was unimaginably blue.

2018   neal