Refuge in the rain

by David Whitaker

The rain was a cacophony of drums, a thrumming roar that spread in all directions, swallowing everything in its path. The house was just a tiny speck in the enormous downpour, the rains all-consuming, torrential. As far as the eye could see, the land was blanketed in water, sheets of it falling from the sky without relent, drenching without discrimination.

It had been raining since they arrived, five days prior. Their small rental car, winding its way up the rural lane, weaving determinedly around potholes and ruts in the road, had felt the first pitter-patter of its arrival. The sun had barely set, and by the time they reached the tiny farmhouse chosen for their vacation, the darkness slowly enveloping them, the heavens had well and truly opened. They’d sprinted back and forth between the porch and car, unloading everything as quickly as they could, luggage and groceries clutched to their breasts as they attempted in vain to shield them from the deluge. By the end of their endeavours they’d been soaked to the skin, their clothes sticking to them like cloying wraps of skin-tight lead, the added weight of the water pulling on their shoulders, dragging them wearyingly toward the floor.

They’d been desperate to strip out of their damp attire, bathe and rejuvenate themselves, however her parents had discovered that the farmhouse’s hot water all came from a collection of small boilers which needed to be switched on roughly thirty minutes or so prior to use. They’d been forced to sit in the living room and wait, their shivering bodies swathed in towels, a fire roaring in the hearth, their soaked clothing dripping on a nearby rack. Her mother had tried to speed the process, heating pots of water on the gas hob, depositing it into large plastic tubs, and encouraging them to have ‘bucket-baths’, however it was still a long and uncomfortable wait. When they’d finally retired for the night, clean and relatively warm, the sound of the rain hammering on the roof, they’d looked forward to the start of a new day with bated breath…

However, when morning rolled around it brought no respite, the rain continuing its relentless assault, falling from the sky thick and fast. To compound matters, when they awoke they’d discovered the power had failed in the night, the televisions, toasters, kettles, and ceiling lights of the farmhouse all utterly useless in its passing. Her parents had laughed it off, announcing they’d planned to spend the morning touring the area anyway, and that by the time they returned the power would likely have been restored. They’d piled into the car, dripping umbrellas laid out on plastic bags, and set off, their spirits high, the rain a mere inconvenience.

The bonhomie had faltered no more than five minutes into the trip, when they reached the first of the rivers of water surging across the road. Her father had grimly determined it impassable, and they’d been forced to turn back and try another route. This enterprise had led them to discover similar trials in all directions, the potholes and ruts of the previous night transformed and mutilated by the unending rainfall into gaping chasms and roaring river crossings.

Returning to the farmhouse, they’d found the power as yet unrestored, the electrical conveniences they took for granted still little more than glorified paperweights and props for interior design. Thankfully her mother had insisted they stock up on supplies before they arrived, so food was not an issue, the gas hob able to substitute somewhat for the now irrelevant electric oven. A quick inspection of the larder had also turned up a collection of candles and oil lanterns, which as night fell they ate dinner by, read books beside, and played cards around. They’d retired early, the darkness coaxing sleep and luring them to their beds. The incessant pounding of the rain intermingled with their snores, a discourteous fourth resident in their tiny house.

The next day proved little different, much like the day after, and the day after that, the rain a constant companion, sweeping over the house in galloping flurries.

Cooped up in the small farmhouse, their meticulous plans washed away by the unrelenting flood of water, her parents’ tempers had begun to fray. The breaking point had come around lunchtime, when an old man passing on horseback had ambled by and caught her father’s eye. He’d run after the elderly traveller, who turned out to be a farmer living on the other side of the valley. It was from him they learned from him that the storm had felled trees across the state, electricity pylons toppling like matchsticks under the colossal weight of falling wood and leaf, and that power was unlikely to be restored any time soon; such a thing was typical however, what with it being monsoon season.

Her mother had taken the news poorly, her parents’ heated voices filling the house for several hours. Her father should have “done more research”, should have “questioned why the price was so cheap”, should have “known that something was amiss”. Her father defended himself and apologised as well as he was able, but with both their moods a little riled the argument had only swelled and surged.

She’d retreated to the porch, her parents’ raised voices still whipping back and forth somewhere inside the house, though largely muted by the steady roar of the rain. Levering herself into a wide wicker sofa, a thick cushion laid out across the seat, she’d reclined, her head and feet stretched across the armrests, her body nuzzled into the back, a book laid out on her lap.

Turning the pages, slowly absorbing the story bound within, the rain a soothing soundtrack to her reading, she didn’t understand what her parents were really upset about. They always said they wanted to spend more time together, more time as a family, so weren’t they getting exactly that? With the electricity gone, their powered distractions had disappeared, their phones, tablets, televisions and radios muted in one fell swoop. With the rain-gorged rivers running rife across the plain, they were confined and herded together, escape and solitary wandering significantly handicapped. Was this not what they’d always wanted?

In the past five days they’d spent more time with one another, actually with one another, rather than half-engaged, eyes drifting toward a glowing screen, than they had in as long as she could remember. On top of which, the experiences they’d had, the scenario they’d found themselves in, was it not the kind they’d remember for the rest of their lives? Was that not the dream of holidaymakers everywhere, to embark on such a trip, a voyage so distinctive, that its passage was indelibly imprinted on them, their memories an everlasting keepsake?

Listening to the chorus of her parents’ argument, the rise and fall of their dispute, she smiled and flipped a page, knowing they’d eventually realise the same.

“Thank you,” she whispered, her words swallowed by the rain.

David Whitaker has previously had a selection of short stories published in the Collection of Poetry & Prose anthology ‘Happy’, and also won the Feb ’17 NZ Writers College Times contest.