I lack what it takes to be a big gun on the literary scene, one of those prize-eligible novelists caressed by important critical journals. What it takes is apparently a deep interest in the lives of rather dull people to whom nothing much of interest ever happens, except maybe one Bad Thing, and then they either get over it or don’t. You can tart this story up with post-modern affectations, or magic realism or really fine writing, You can bend it toward the bland, entitled upper-middle, or anxious mid-middle, or the struggling lower-middle classes, or you can do it prole, but the result is the same—a certain number of well-crafted pages and then the big so-what. I suppose this reflects the state of society, which is one thing litersary novelists are supposed to do, when they are not doing verbal fireworks. I don’t have to worry about this since I am a popular novelist, but every so often I get the yen to try my wings up in the empyrean and bask in literary splendor. With this result…
THE LINGERING RAIN
…the lingering rain
Why does it linger?
Even the rain doesn’t know.
He was staring out the window at the rain pelting the glass, waiting for his wife to come down. He had been ready for an hour, although he was not particularly interested in going to the club for yet another party with the same tedious people. He was always ready too early and was often the first to arrive at an affair, or had been until Salome taught him about being fashionably late, although what was fashionable about being late he didn’t know. If they wanted you to come at eight, they shouldn’t write seven on the invitation card. This was one of the many confusing things about the world. Another was what was with those little buttons they put on the sleeves of men’s suits. They didn’t button, except if you had them custom made and then you could unbutton the buttons, but no one ever did that he could see. Confusing, and it made him irritable. The rain continued to fall, in the way it usually did, from the sky to the ground. When it hit the ground, each raindrop made a little sound and he thought his life was something like that now, a lot of little drips.
His name was Arthur Finley and he was a mortgage banker. The house was a seventeen-room center-hall colonial in High Valley, Connecticut, and he had lived there with his wife for fourteen years. Before that, when he was just starting with the bank, he had lived in Hill Meadows, a less desirable neighborhood, and before that, they had lived in Manhattan, on East Sixty-third Street, in a one-bedroom with no closets. Now he had plenty of closet space, but he found it did not make him entirely happy. The closets had not fulfilled their early promise, although he was more or less satisfied with the house, and especially with the mortgage, which he had negotiated himself. Many of the fellows at the bank thought it foolish to negotiate one’s own mortage. Cliff Allison always said, with a laugh, that it was like a brain surgeon operating on himself, but Finley did not agree. He wondered if it might be time to refi. The rates were dropping, but a refi meant he would have to explain things to Salome, and get her to sign the papers and she would ask questions to which there were really no good answers, and he would grow testy. He was testy a lot lately. No, he thought, leave it for now; five point seven at fifteen was a good enough rate for anyone.
He thought about the apartment in Manhattan. Had he been happy in the eighteen months they had lived there? He thought he had. There was a saloon on Third he used to go to once in a while, that had a bartender named Ginger, with whom he used to flirt over a beer, even though he was recently married. Her name really wasn’t Ginger, but Abigail. They just called her Ginger, although she did not have ginger hair, nor was she particularly gingery in personality, rather morose as a matter of fact, a brown-haired morose bartender, but he had been really interested in her for a while. He never understood why, nor did he understand why he was thinking about her after all these years. She’d been married but separated from her husband, who ran a muffler shop in Queens, which was why she was working behind the bar. Maybe it was the rain. He recalled that it had rained a lot that year in New York, he was always dashing across Third, it seemed, with a newspaper held over his head.
Nowadays, he always carried an umbrella. It kept the rain off pretty well, far better than a newspaper, but somehow he always felt uncomfortable carrying an umbrella. It reminded him of his mother, who had died the previous fall. She was always reminding him to take an umbrella, of which she must have had dozens, stuck in a brass cylinder in their front hall. “Mom, it’s not raining,” he would say, and she would come back with, “It’s threatening.” Most of the time he took one, and felt embarrassed when the day turned out fair. Often, when he was young, he would pretend that he needed the umbrella as a cane, and would drag his leg like a wounded war hero. He was frightened of the word “threatening” though, as if there was a conspiracy going on at the weather bureau. When he was very young, even before he started with the cane trick, he thought that the weather bureau caused the weather, although he had abandoned that belief many years ago along with his faith in God.
He walked up to the window that looked out on the front lawn, and placed his face close to it, so that he could see his reflection, dimly, and make an uneven disk of fog with every breath against the cold glass. He breathed hard for few breaths and in the larger area thus produced he wrote with his finger, “I hate my wife.” He looked guiltily over his shoulder then and crossed some letters out, changing the phrase to “I hate my elf.” If Salome saw it, she might be confused, for he did not have an elf at all. Nor did he hate his wife, or not often. It had given him an obscure thrill to write that on the window, though, like eating a chorizo or thinking about his collection of stamped tin wind-up toys when Salome was talking to him.
He noticed now that when the rain struck the window glass the droplets paused for a moment and then rolled slowly downward, impelled, he imagined, by the force of gravity. But if it were gravity, why did some droplets move faster than others? Perhaps this was one of the mysteries of physics that he was always hearing about, something on Nova, maybe. He placed bets with himself as to which of two raindrops would reach the bottom of the glass first, and after ten minutes or so he was pleased to find he had won $388. But five minutes later he had lost it all and he thought this was all too suggestive of his life at this point, it was so hard to make sense of things, or to feel one was advancing. All his happiness seemed to be tinged with sadness, which was fine, but all his sadness seemed to be tinged with happiness too, and this was, for reasons he could not bring entirely to mind, terribly disturbing. Sometimes, as now, he wondered whether he were going mad, as his father had gone mad, although Finley also thought that the family had acted precipitously in committing the man to the asylum. Surely, collecting Meissen egg cups and humming Rossini were not sure signs of a mental breakdown? Or were they? Finley didn’t know anymore, and it really didn’t matter. What was done was done.
“What was done, dear?”
Mrs. Finley had crept silently up behind him as was her habit, one that had annoyed him for the entire time they had been together. But what could you do? A man could not tie a bell to his wife. He realized, with a faint embarrassment, that he had spoken aloud.
“What was done,” he said. “That was all that was done, dear. It’s a figure of speech.”
“Of course it is,” she repled with a knowing smile. She was wearing her hair up and had on a patterned green silk dress that made her look like a predatory lizard, a Komodo dragon, perhaps, although she did not flick her tongue in and out and hiss, as a real Komodo dragon might.
“Well, shall we be off?” she asked.
“Yes,” he said. “It’s still raining, did you see? I hate to drive in the rain. Did you know that it makes the pavement slippery? If I had to stop short, we might skid, causing an accident.”
She took her coat from the closet and handed him his Burberry and his cap. He helped her into her coat, enjoying the lush weight of it in his hands. He had always been fond of women’s coats. When he was a child he would spend hours in his mother’s closet, among the furs, breathing softly until he passed out.
“I wouldn’t worry about accidents, dear. We haven’t had an accident since 1978.”
“Not so,” he objected. “We had one in 1994 as well.”
“Yes, but that was the fault of the other driver and it wasn’t raining then.” There was a note of triumph in her voice that he thought was out of place, yet he had to admit that she was right. Still, it vexed him. They left the house via the garage and entered his car, a three-year-old Cadillac Coupe de Ville, maroon He was still thinking about what he had scrawled on the window in his own breath. It wasn’t true—he didn’t hate Salome. Still, he wished that something remarkable would happen at this party, unlikely as it might be, something that would change his life.