Condensed Vapor

Donald Shephard

The wet winter kept him from his garden for a month until a plea from his son released him from stir-craziness. He and his wife rose early and drove Highway 20 for an hour through drenching skies until the temperature fell over the summit and the clear droplets spread and whitened into flakes of snow that closed the road to Willits. The Chantilly-laced trees, stunning in their bridal beauty, failed to distract them from the dangerous driving. There remained little to do but follow the snowplow back to the mountain pass and turn home.

“Hope the power doesn’t go out again,” she said. “We’ll just have to ride out the storm and visit Joel another day.”

Once home, she called their son, and the retired man retreated upstairs to watch the weather spectacle. His mood dampened as he studied the drowning landscape. A gray cloud fell across the Pacific coast with veils of white driven aslant from south to north. To his right, a flood-gorged stream, rusted with redwood bark, stained the ocean foam where it flowed into the bay. To his left, twenty foot swells thundered into the cliffs thrashing sea-spray above the lighthouse and the ocean tilted and sighed, a fast-running crazy floor collapsing into hollows and swelling into charging horses. The shower-washed fields, from ruined fence to ruined fence, stood mud-puddled.

The lights went out in the wind-scourged village leaving the world in octopus-ink darkness till lightning flashed its futility at the ocean swell. Water, returning to its birthplace, pattered on the rithing sea.

The repetition of drops splattering the window hypnotized him in his cozy home. A birthing song ran in his mind; a song like a pale light behind a gray curtain of water. The music as soft as whispered words of love, hummed in his head. It told him of a river coursing green from its spring in the highlands to the sea far below. The lyrics spoke of the grace of sky-water condescending to the earth knowing that without it, there could be no life; knowing, too, that the river and the sea live as symbiotically.

He looked along the cliffs, past the lighthouse, to a tumbling house he knew in his sleep as a ruddy, golden light that now resembled a bedraggled den. Waterlogged and wind-unroofed the building served its last use, a landmark.

“That’s me,” he thought, “no longer the master of a thriving home filled with the energy of our three sons and our own youth, now I’m a decrepit shell lazing in artificial warmth.”

He looked again to the lighthouse bedimmed by the mass of pelting, life-giving water to the disheveled plants below. The waves no longer visible, their roar lost in the beat of the wind. The branches whipped erratically while water-slicked Juncos and Yellow-rumped Warblers flitted among them to the shelter of the house and back, repellant-feathered birds in water-burdened air. They rode the pine needles like jolly sailor boys up, and up aloft.

“And I’m the land-lubber lying down below, below, below,” he said to himself, “no longer weather-proof, cobbled by a storm.”

The liquid veils varnished the tree trunks and polished the fence posts around the sodden fields where a flock of Wild Turkeys walked, their sexton coats held firm by their wings clutched unctuously behind them. They circled the puddles with pomp marred only by the limp of the trailing bird gimping through an inch of water above the meadow.

“And is that not me, frail and of numbered days, tagging along behind the young and healthy?” he said aloud.

A shingle flapping on a neighbor’s roof, reminded him of his boyhood milk tooth that resisted its doom when he wiggled it. He looked at the Monterey pines twisting in a chance to yank away from their anchor, Mother Earth, and remembered the severance of his own and his sons’ apron strings. He listened as wind-agitated pellets of water machine-gunned the house. Ripples descending the glass of the south-facing window blurred the outside world like the cataracts he awaited with horror. As the lights came on again, the north-facing pane that remained clear and dry reflected his face, pale as a wedding cake.

But, there is consolation in age, he mused. For by now my wife and I have survived many troubles, and whatever inconvenience this weather brings, will be but a variation on a previous theme. We will watch it through this northern window. Whereas Joel is young and un-burnished by experience, his is the southern exposure.

“Lunch time,” she called to him.

“Coming, Love.”

He smiled and took a last look at the wind-whipped gray blasting by his windows and descended the stairs.

“Pity we can’t go and sort out Joel’s financial mess today,” he told her.

“I called him and got a rain-check,” she said.

“Ooh!” he winced, “I don’t like that word…rain.”

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