By Kevin Ip
“Once the rain starts falling it’s hard to tell it to stop…”
Samantha Young – On Dublin Street
It starts with darkness. The swarming of storm clouds that blanket the sky in multitudes, congregating to greet each other as if they were old friends. The low murmur of whispering sparks that soon ignite thunder louder than the connection of cymbals, lightning connecting with the ground miles away. I know it is far because I count to myself quietly.
One Mississippi… Two Mississippi… Three Mississippi… Four Mississippi…
Four miles. Four miles because another lightning bolt finds its way to the ground. That one five miles. The flashing of lights dance across the sky and for a minute there’s a wall of sound. A flamenco that calls for precise repeating cymbal strikes when the sound is at a crescendo. There is still darkness however. It sits in silent indifference, as if looming, but not paying attention to the people that scurry to find shelter. Their hands are held above their heads as if the rain has begun to fall.
It was sunny an hour ago. And before that, it was dark. It always starts with darkness. Florida weather is like no other. It is unpredictable, bipolar. And because I have lived here for I have grown accustomed to it. I have grown accustomed to a lot of things; things that for a while eluded me.
It always starts with darkness and memory is like darkness.
One Mississippi… Two Mississippi…
There is no point in counting. There is no accurate way of counting. It has become arbitrary as rain is inevitable. That is what it is like living in Florida. Accept the inevitable and welcome it with open arms. And it seems so untrustworthy, the sunshine state plagued by lingering storm clouds. The concept so laughable, so intriguing, that I still, to this day, boast about it. But I sit here and enjoy the darkness. I enjoy the bad weather. The tease of could or could not. And it reminds me of a conversation I had with my grandmother. A conversation brought on by days like today.
When I was a child, my grandmother told me that my eyes held water in them. She told me that water confused her. Water is always changing whether it would be in shape or location. Water cannot be held in one place for too long. It becomes restless, moving frequently, forming any shape it must to weave through obstacles that stand in its path. If the obstacle is immovable, overtime, water will wear it down until it is nothing but silt on the bottom of a riverbed. My grandmother handed me a cup of water to understand. Watch how it moves in the cup. To a younger version of myself, I barely understood what I was looking at, the way the water shifted from one side to the other, occasionally spilling tiny droplets over the brim onto my hand. We watched silently until the water stopped moving. She smiled and told me that something calm may start up in a frenzy only to calm again once it has settled.
One Mississippi… Two Mississippi… Three Mississippi…
And the thought of counting remains. The first droplets of an oncoming drizzle on lens of my glasses. The thunder is no longer threatening. I imagine some tall tree lit ablaze, smoke that lifts like contrails. Amidst the smoke and fire, the sky sees no difference. I can see no difference. It takes the effort of wiping my glasses clean, but by then, the lightning has shown itself and my reflex pull my eye lids together.
And then it rains. All at once, the sound of falling water hits earth. The sounds of staccato ticks, kamikaze in nature. The clothes I’m wearing darken. They are damp and cling to the shoulders. I remember that I am holding an umbrella and decide to open it. I am not a fan of Florida rain. It’s the way it falls in sheets, turning sideways when the bitter wind blows for the added effect. I’m not a fan of how it collects in the cracks of sidewalks, spilling over like when a person who has known too many secrets. It becomes overwhelming, the sensation of being full. It’s cold and soaks into the bones. Droplet by droplet, the concrete is stained; nothing more than mere discoloring. But it’s the smell; the smell of flowers being drowned out. It’s the smell of life-giving death. My grandmother told me that water cannot be contained.
And from behind a window, the tapping of water on glass is recognizable. It is slow at first, but picks up until it becomes louder until you get used to it. It fades away. From behind a window, it is there but not there. From behind a widow, you are unable to understand. Darkness always comes first, but behind a window, there is always light.
In the end there is silence. After the rain has gone, only the small cackles of lingering thunder remain. It sizzles and snarls, but is no threat. The clouds have said their goodbyes and have dissipated. There is stillness; the feeling of being too full has receded. I can close my umbrella but choose not to. I like to remember it as it was. My grandmother told me that water is restless. As rain is water, it hangs silently from the branches of watered palm trees. There is the occasional thud on my umbrella. In the end there is silence, except for the ticking of remaining droplets. The moving of relieved feet on soaked grass make for quick choice for droplets to fall.
The faint sound of thunder crawls away. There is no more need for counting. No more need to think that miles are in the name of a state. Does it rain in Mississippi? Is Mississippi the correct amount of syllables to indicate time? Why not Louisiana? We do not know these things, just like how we do not know what the weather will be. It is silent. And in regards to saying calm before the storm, does the congregation of whispering storm clouds not contradict that? Florida weather is unpredictable in that way.
It was sunny an hour ago. And before that, it was dark. It always starts with darkness and it will end in silence. Florida weather is like no other. It is unpredictable, bipolar. It teeters, storm clouds passing by as if to say hello or goodbye. That is what we do not know. The details lost somewhere between the miles and time between strikes of lighting. I can never be certain. That is what I have gotten used to.