Through the Handprint in the Steam

Thank god for the rain. It washes away all of the filth of this place, collects it all in dark tubes beneath the streets and carries it off to a place I don’t see and don’t have to think about ever again.

It rains hard here. It gets into your boots. Around here, when it rains, it pours.

Bottles and cans, and all manner of unwanted discarded things, substances, clumps, and piles, collect in cesspools around tiny barred cave entrances built into the roads.

One sip of this towns’ storm-water runoff would leave you drunk, stoned, high, and diseased for the rest of your life.

The clouds get all dressed up, they put on makeup, they puff up themselves like a prized hen out on the ocean before making their grand entrance. With all their white, black, and grey, they dressed for all the weddings, funerals, baby showers, and business meetings to be rained on today. They waltz in from the horizon like shining princesses down a marble staircase, always unfashionably early to the party.

People rush around, shouting, “Rain! Rain!”

Around here shouting “rain!” is like shouting “fire!” in a movie theater. People start frantically running about.

I see people ten stories up, reaching out their windows into alleys, risking their lives, trying to get their underwear off the clotheslines.

Old men sitting in silence at the bar look out the window and finally have something to talk about, they all turn to each other and say, “looks like rain.” before turning back to their beers and liquors in silence.

There’s no calm before the storm, around here, there’s chaos and chaos and chaos. It’s a chaotic ballet- like the Number 26 bus’ window wipers sliding in and out of each others space in perfect harmony.

I swear I’ve seen big burly construction workers dodging raindrops, never stopping their working, oblivious to the rain, they somehow always seem dry.

I’ve seen little kids getting swept down the road like a kite in the wind.

I’ve seen an old woman pull umbrellas out of her sleeves like a magician.

Sewer grates start to steam like the whole town’s a steamboat running down the river; sinking. We all sink together, and the rain gets into everything. It gets into your boots.

When the cloud hits land it hits it like a sack of bricks, like a thousand pianos falling off a thousand towers, like a big wet wrecking ball, it smashes into the whole city at once. You can see it coming, a big black wall sweeping in from the horizon and covering ground with godly speed. It charges at you like a line of calvary.

Few things can make you feel so small, it’s a humbling experience, watching that army of seemingly infinite raindrops. The size of the cloud is unfathomable. There’s no comparison, no reference point, nothing to help you gain any perspective, except it would seem the entirety of the world’s curvature.  From skyline to skyline, there’s nothing but black, grey, and blinding white. It’s a colossal, unstoppable, beast.

Like a mother coming to give you a bath, it sweeps in whether you want it too or not. All of our kicking and futile screaming insignificant to its power and authority. It says, “you will be clean now.”

Businessmen groan like unruly children as if to ask self-righteously, “how dare you make me wet?” They blame everyone they can- the weatherman- but the only thing there to blame is that great big beast lingering just off the coast. They shake their fist at it as it comes in undeterred, and they’re left shaking in their impotent rage, soaking wet, their dress shoes full of water, socks and feet forever wet.

Savvier businessmen run out onto the sidewalk selling ponchos and umbrellas to passerbys for five times the value. Like a hoplite, they’re surrounded by a shield wall of umbrellas, advertising how perfectly dry they still are. But when the wind really comes, it’ll snap the umbrellas back, making them perfect funnels for collecting the water. Their boots will be left soaking wet.

Even the bees stop working when it rains, but around this city, people never rest. You should see the grey men in their grey coats rushing down the street. You can see their internal debate raging behind their eyes, the question, should they break the old rule they learned in the halls of their grade schools? And burst into an unruly and forbidden run- going against all social graces. They stand at intersections, rain getting into their boots, hating themselves for being ruled by a tiny neon red hand flashing across the street.

Rain. An ineffable thing. The feeling of the rush of the wind hitting you and snatching the breath out of your mouth, the sound of the applause of a billion droplets bursting on the ground, rooftops, and branches. The trees dancing, and the leaves clapping together in their praise. The petrichor wafting out of the earth, and with the smell, old memories thought long forgotten but buried deep within.

Rain, impossible to describe, yet understood by everyone.

They say no two snowflakes are alike, and the same is true about droplets. Like different instruments, each makes a different pitter and patter as they fall. The result is the most magnificent symphony ever orchestrated. I swear if you close your eyes and listen you can hear each unique drop bursting.

The first few brave droplets always come much earlier than the rest. They pat the heads, backs, and shoulders of a certain few.

I see one of those few look up to the sky in disbelief and shout, “It’s raining!” to all those around to listen.

The one next to him looks up to the sky for proof. Her palms held open to the sky swaying back and forth, trying to catch invisible falling specks of water.

Then the wind comes. Suddenly. It steals newspapers, and skips off with them down the street whistling. It opens windows, and it slams doors. It snatches hats, and it ruffles hair. It puts out fires and stokes embers. And it touches everything.

It grows strong and rips through the streets with icy fury. It passes straight through walls, jackets, and skin. It shoots right through me, rattles around inside my ribcage, and freezes me from the inside out.  

I see an old man walking bent over into the wind, each arduous step bringing him two backward.

Just when I think the world’s about to crumble and everything’s going to get ripped apart the rain finally comes. It starts slow, with a pitter and a patter here and there, a snap, a pop, a tap on the shoulder. Then it builds. It gets faster. Before I know it there’s more water than air. I see people struggling to breathe through the droplets.

I see a girl spread her arms wide, her hands open to the sky with little birdbaths in her palms, her hair blowing in the wind, sticking her tongue out at the dark cloud, drinking in the sky between her laughs.

With the world getting ripped apart around her, she stands facing that huge cloud utterly undeterred. She stands invincible.

I watch it all pass through the handprint in the steam on the yellow window of the Number 26 bus.

12 thoughts on “Through the Handprint in the Steam

  1. I enjoyed that. Rain is a fact of life in Oregon, we have many different ways to describe rain. One time, we were on the edge of a rain cloud, it was sprinkling lightly in the backyard, it was sunny and no rain in the front yard.


  2. I really enjoyed how you built the tension of this piece through the progression of wind leading to the storm. The release of the rain at the end was very cathartic and made me grateful for rain. Thank you for sharing!


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