I've always hated rain. It's deceptive by nature. Many times I've gone out for a walk in it, thinking it was light enough I wouldn't get soaked, only to realize it was really pouring. By then, it was too late to keep up any pretense of staying dry.
I hated rain, even as a child. Thunderstorms were the worst. Once, I woke up screaming in the middle of the night when brilliant flashes of lightening streaked across the sky, wrestling me from the grasp of a nightmare. I covered my head with a pillow as thunder crashed overhead, rattling my baseball bat against my dresser. I called for my mother for what seemed like hours, until gold light from the hall spilled through the bottom of my bedroom door onto my floor. I summoned enough courage to look up long enough to see my mother, clad in fat hair curlers and a purple bathrobe much too large for her frail body, enter my room.
"What is it, Richie?" she murmured in a sleepy voice.
"I'm scared," I said.
The mattress groaned as she sat down at the foot of my bed. She sighed. "Richie, you're 11 now. You're going to have to stop being afraid of storms. You know you're perfectly safe in the house."
I shook my head. "What if the lightening hits a tree and it falls on us? What if it rains so much the house floats away?"
She stroked my head in that gentle, soothing way only mothers have. "Nothing like that will happen, I promise."
Her voice grew far away as I closed my eyes. She was right that night. I didn't wake to find the house had floated away or been reduced to rubble. It wasn't until five years later that my fears became reality.
It happened on a night like that one, only I was too drunk on ill-gotten beer and youthful energy to be afraid. It was my 16th birthday and my friends Reggie or Archie (yes, my home town could have been the setting for a comic book in its day.) were out celebrating. Archie was driving his parents' Ford pick up truck when we reached the Fisher culvert crossing under the road to my house, which was outside of town. I sobered the instant the rain started pounding the windshield.
"Slow down!" I shouted over the Andrews Sisters blasting from the radio. "The road's not safe when it's like this."
Reggie made a rude noise. "What's the matter, you chicken?"
I grabbed the door handle, panic rising in my throat. "You don't understand. The road washes out there whenever it rains this hard. You could lose control, or get stuck if you take it too fast."
Archie's eyes gleamed with devilish delight. "Oh yeah? Hang onto your hat, Rich, we're going to fly."
I fought the urge to close my eyes and scream as we accelerated over the collapsed culvert. I nearly hit the roof when the truck bumped over it, but Archie and Reggie just laughed.
"What a ride!" They shouted as we drove on. "Happy birthday!"
I didn't reply, suddenly remembering what my father had said at the breakfast table after the last storm.
"We've had so much water this summer, it's a wonder we haven't grown gills and fins," he said. "If we get much more rain, the house is going to flood. And, with the truck being in the shop, we'd be stuck here unless Noah stops by with his ark."
"Oh no," I murmured, throwing my door open before the truck finished turning into our driveway. I almost lost my balance as my feet slid in the muck.
"Where are you going?" the boys shouted as I raced to the house.
I tried to reply, but the wind carried my words away. I stumbled on, shielding my face from the rain stinging my eyes and cheeks.
I threw the back door open and stepped in a puddle. "Hello!" I cried. "Mother, father, are you alright?"
I received no answer except for the distant rumble of thunder and dull patter of rain hitting the roof. Where are they?
"Is everything okay?" Archie asked, he and Reggie appearing behind me.
I tore through the kitchen and into the hall toward our bedrooms, stopping as lightning illuminated my path. A cold numbness spread through me when I saw the broken glass and tree branches. I held my breath as I looked in my parents' room. My nightmare had come true. My mother's beloved white pine, which Dad had wanted to cut down because it had grown too close to the house, had fallen through their bedroom window, pining them to the floor.
"Oh my God," Reggie shouted as Archie started heaving. "Holy…"
"Bring the truck up to the house!" I snapped. "Reggie, help me move this tree."
Archie bolted, his hands over his mouth, as Reggie bent over the tree.
I grabbed one end. "Be ready to lift it on the count of three. One, two, three!"
I clenched my teeth against the strain as Reggie groaned. My mother stirred, moaning as the tree shifted a few feet. I swallowed hard when another flash of lightning revealed her broken nose and her right eye, which had swollen shut.
"Try again!" I yelled. "One, two, three!"
We moved the tree far enough so I could free my parents. I gathered my mother up as a gust of wind blew the door shut. "Leave him!" I yelled to Reggie when he tried to move my father. "My father tried to lift my uncle like that once and he nearly killed him. Get the door for me and bring some blankets."
My mother called my name as I ran down the hall. "It's all right," I murmured, my shoes squeaking as water oozed from the soles. "I'm right here. Don't worry."
Reggie passed me, the blankets stacked in his arm, and held the back door for me as another windgust almost ripped it from his hand. Archie, who'd moved the truck like I asked, studied the steering wheel as I headed for the back.
I laid my mother into the cab when Reggie put the tailgate down. "Stay with her and keep her as dry as you can." I shouted, wiping the water dripping from my hair. "I'll be right back."
My father required more care than my mother, as the tree trunk had landed on his chest, cracking his ribs. I lifted him as gently as I could, despite his bulk, and silently thanked God he was unconscious. The pain would have been excruciating if he'd been awake.
I climbed into the back of the truck once I loaded him in and covered him with a blanket. "Reggie, tell Archie to get to the hospital as fast as he can, only watch the crossing!"
Reggie nodded and ran to the passenger door. The Ford's engine roared to life a moment later and, with a jolt, we were on our way.
I rubbed my eyes we drove, shivering against the damp chill penetrating my bones more effectively than anything I've ever encountered before or since.
"Lord, if you're listening," I shouted over the thunder. "Please, let us get back to town in one piece and I swear I'll never ask you for anything again."
I held my breath as the road turned into a quagmire the closer we got to the crossing. I gulped at the fresh sense of urgency I felt watching the water roar through the culvert.
I moved to the driver's side and banged on Archie's window as he slowed down. "Go for it!" I yelled when he rolled his window down.
"What?" he shouted over the Benny Goodman on the radio.
"I said go! It's our only chance. The culvert's about to go and we'll be stranded if we don't go now."
He nodded and I braced myself against the back of the cab, praying I hadn't made a mistake.
The truck's back wheels slid back and forth in the mushy gravel slid as we accelerated and for a moment, I thought we were going to roll over. Archie, however, was a better driver than I gave him credit for. He straightened out and we went over the culvert again. A few minutes later, I watched the excess water wash it, and the road, away.
"Thank you, Lord," I whispered.
"Richie," my mother said weakly.
I patted her hand. "Don't worry. We're going to the hospital. The doctor will fix you up."
The emergency room doctor did, too. I didn't try to hide my awe as I watched him examine them with the greatest care. That was the first time I gave my future as some kind of doctor some serious thought. That was also the night I would return to in my sleep for many years after.
It was raining softly against the window of my bedroom the last time I woke from that nightmare.
Helen, my wife, rolled over and leaned next to my ear. "What is it, Richard?"
I sighed, sitting up. "Nothing, dear. The rain woke me up, that's all."
She pulled me back down onto the goose feather pillows she loved. "Don't get up yet. This is the first time in months you've had a chance to sleep in."
I stared into her half-open green eyes. They were the first thing I noticed about her when we met, and the first thing that made me fall in love with her. What did I do to ever deserve her?
"Do you ever regret marrying me?" I asked after a few heartbeats.
Her eyes opened fully, like the exotic plant I'd only read about in books. "What do you mean?"
"Admit it. Our life together hasn't been ideal. I'm up at all hours and always missing dinner and parties. You must get awfully tired of it."
She kissed my cheek and guided my hand to her swelling belly. "I wouldn't have it any other way. I'm going to be a mother, like I always wanted. But I wouldn't want it if you weren't our baby's father."
I wrapped my arms around her. "I love you, Helen."
"Not as much as I love you."
The rain kept up for the rest of the day and into the next. I hate thinking about that day, when Helen's dream of being a mother ended with her hemorrhaging on the bathroom floor and the news she wouldn't be able to have any more children. Looking back now, I realize part of her died that day too, but I was too consumed by my work to acknowledge it or help her through her pain. Instead, we fought whenever I was home, especially when I brought up the subject of adoption. She made it clear didn't want any children unless they were ours, no matter what my wishes were. Maybe I should have let it go. Maybe I should have made her talk it out. What I do know is I never should've left her that night. Maybe I could have protected her when the one-armed man broke into our home. Maybe he would have killed me instead of her.
Now, I'm in the rain again, hiding in an alley, alone. While alleys offers many shadows where I can hide from policemen intent on capturing me and seeing me die for a crime I didn't commit, they offer no protection from the elements.
I shudder against the damp that comes from a steady rain, but I know it will all be worth it when I find the one-armed man and bring him to justice. I swear, as long as there's breath in my body, I won't stop until I find him.