09 August 2006

A Mysterious Rain

Last night at eleven, Sam and I ventured outside for his pre-bedtime visit to the grass. I usually accompany him as far as the patio, and then let him wander while I stand barefoot on the bumpy cobblestones, admiring the garden in the moonlight. It’s the only time of day lately that it’s actually cool enough to be outside for longer than a quick dash to the car. Sometimes I trace the squares of the patio floor with my feet, or run my hands along the twigs of rosemary and lavender in the copper pots to gather their aroma. Last night I inspected my hibiscus to see if any new apricot blooms might be ready to emerge with the light of day. Two wrinkled flowers were folded around themselves, asleep for the night.

Out of nowhere, something caught of the corner of my eye as it drifted down against the side of the house. It looked at first glance like a grey leaf. Then came another, then another, and another, and I thought how strange that the first signs of fall would be coming in the midst of an August heatwave at eleven at night.

I bent over to inspect one of the bits that had fallen near my feet and noticed it was shriveled and black, as if dead. I pinched it, and it crumbled to dust under my fingertips, leaving them smudged. Why were there ashes falling into the yard?

For two seconds, I admit, I thought the world was ending. What else is a person to think when huge ashes are pouring from the ink-sky like charcoal snowflakes? I squinted my eyes upward and looked for some sort of explosion between the stars, debris from a missile, I don’t know what. I know that sounds crazy, but it was literally raining ashes.

One by one they floated straight down, then in twos and threes. Some big, some small. All black and crumbly. They peppered the cobblestones and made our fresh garden feel eery and unfamiliar. Sam stared at me from across the lawn with a tilted head, the way dogs do when they’re tentative.

Jeremy was down the road with some friends, and I called him to see if it was raining ashes where he was, and to ask him to please come home. I think he assumed it was my hormones causing a hallucination, but he promised to be on his way. I opened the side gate and stepped out to the sidewalk, but no ashes appeared to be raining onto the street…only in our backyard.

Then came the stale scent of smoke, like an abandoned campfire that’s been smoldering too long. After inspecting the rooftops of our house with a flashlight (from the ground), I reassured myself that the world was not ending, and that our house was not on fire. I made a phone call to the non-emergency police who confirmed that there had been a fire reported on the next block.

Jeremy arrived and we drove down the street and circled through the alleys several times, looking for smoke or charred remnants of something. Instead we found only a few random trails of ashes scattered around in various places, but no real evidence of what might have created them.

It feels like we’re so shaken in these times we’re living in. Days that will fill pages of our children’s future history books, the way we once read about old wars and The Great Depression with a removed sort of understanding, as we sat in bright classrooms with posters of Snoopy. Those events almost seemed like made-up stories, nothing we could grasp with any real impact. Now, I feel as if in my short adult life, I have witnessed enough world-altering history to span five decades. It causes a tension inside me as I pat my rounded tummy and wonder what the future holds, and think about the ashes raining down.


Christine said...

This post gave me chills. Especially with the craziness with airlnes and Britain currently in the news.

When do we get to see pictures of the rounded tummy?

Jenni said...

Beautiful writing, Kierst. Thank God He reigns over what looks like madness.