When you wake, the bedroom is dark. Clouds are furrowed across the window, and on the radio, as you knock around the kitchen still inebriated by sleep, there is beeping and static and breaking announcements of a severe thunderstorm warning. This warning, they say, is in effect for the entire day. That alone seems interesting, different. You look into the living room, see the couch where you plan to camp out, imagine lightning and disaster and water sluicing in muddy rivers down your street, which is hilly, and insanely boring.
The first crack of thunder comes when you are putting cream into coffee. Then there is the flash--a short burst, as if a light switch has been flipped only to see the bulb brighten then blow. When the next bolt flashes, the radio skips, electricity snapping like a whip caught in the speaker. The clap of thunder that follows brings to mind the image of God sitting up there on a cloud lobbing mortars at folks he doesn't like. Wind comes through the house, knocking doors open and closed, rustling papers. You smell lilac. Garbage. This is an exciting event.
You have not had a job for three months, and your boyfriend works construction. He is building a bridge over a river. It will connect two hillbilly counties no one much cares for. He is gone at dawn, supposed to be home at three, usually drags in at nine--reeking of booze and peanuts and a stale sweetness you like to imagine as the smell of too many men watching baseball in a dank bar without windows or air conditioning. Not having a job has been hard. Not because you miss working, or because you need the money. No, not having a job has become difficult because it has been boring. Bland. Insipid. Tortuous. The novelty of daytime sounds--the woman in the apartment next door watching the same shows at the same time, ambitious runners clopping down the tupelo-lined sidewalks, the same kids huffing down the same sidewalk toting the same backpacks after the same school has let out--those held your attention captive for about a week. Sound then became overrated. As did cleaning, and eventually showering before noon. You fear that brushing your teeth will be the next domino of normalcy to fall, and you have, as a kind of preemptive action, taken to brushing twice an hour and religiously chewing on Altoids. It seems a chore--choking down all those chalky white discs. But it is your chore.
There are things about your body that you notice more now and they repulse you. For instance: your feet have a certain odor in the morning if you sleep in socks. And while your toenails might be painted a neat red, the undersides of said toes incite fright. They have been invaded by little white calluses and what you hope are not patches of fungus. You wonder if these little ailments are new or just newly noticed. And if they are just newly noticed, you wonder if others have noticed them in the past. You are a fan of the beach, of sandals, of going barefoot outdoors and indoors whenever you can--the houses of family and friends, movie theaters when the lights go down, bars late at night when everyone is drunk and oblivious. You spend half an hour worrying about this. Have you gone your whole life with people being disgusted by your feet? Has no one ever told you?
Meanwhile, the storm is foaming up nicely and you sit on the couch hearing the hitting of rain and drinking coffee and wondering if your boyfriend is out in this mess.
Last night, you had sex together and afterwards he called you lazy.
"Do you mean lazy, like as in lazy in general or lazy in bed?" you asked.
"I don't know," he said.
"Well, you have to know what the fuck you're talking about."
"Fine. You're lazy in both. You're just fucking lazy. And your pussy reeks."
"Those are my feet."
"Really? I didn't know feet could smell that awful."
After that you got out of bed and went downstairs and masturbated in the bathroom because you wanted to feel good again. It worked for a time, and to a point, but ultimately left you feeling exposed and gross. You became keenly aware of the toothpaste caked in the sink and the little armies of hairs hunkering in the corners of the floor. You went to bed and dreamed of the lady next door muting her television show to listen to you in the bathroom. In the morning, your feet still smelled funny.
Now you picture your boyfriend dripping wet and lifting a soggy sandwich to his face and feel sad. You picture him lifting a piece of rebar and lighting cracking over the hills and are worried. You picture the river road washing out and taking a school bus over the edge, and you picture your boyfriend racing down and saving kids two at a time and you smile. You picture him walking along the landing and slipping and falling face first into a puddle and you are not ashamed by the raucous laughter that comes up from your gut and seems in volume to almost rival God's mortar tossing.
You need a job. But you settle into the window and watch the rain and the way the trees seem to shake it off. You will take the storm--just for a day, a great, free day.
About the author:
Gregory Brown grew up in rural Maine and currently lives in Northeastern Pennsylvania. His fiction has previously appeared or is forthcoming in CrossConnect, Waccamaw, the South Dakota Review, and Shenandoah. Next fall he'll be attending the Iowa Writers' Workshop as an MFA candidate in fiction.