Tell me I’m not alone; reassure me it isn’t an early stage of dementia slipping under all the walls I’ve tried to erect over the years. Speak to me about the rain.
I love rain –I even had a skylight installed over my bed a few years ago just so the patter of raindrops would lull me to sleep. I love watching leaves tremble as the beads of moisture accidentally caress them in their hurry to reach the ground; I love seeing branches waving rhythmically in the wind of a storm like so many conductors vying for the attention of an orchestra hiding in the forest. Rain, after all, is just the sky playing on the earth.
And yet… And yet the January sound of rain pounding down as I wake up these days is no longer a lullaby, but a weight. A shackle. It’s discouraging; even the light seems weaker, disheartening, dissuading my reluctant feet from leaving the secure, dry warmth of the blankets to which they have become so accustomed. Maybe it’s a childhood remnant: if it’s really raining, maybe everything will be cancelled; maybe nobody else is out there; maybe it’s all a mistake that will correct itself after a few more hours of sleep…
But, contrary to popular belief, in retirement, you have to get up. Teleology requires it. In the absence of demand, lethargy is king. Here be dragons, as the medieval map makers used to write on those portions of their maps that were unexplored. And since each day is unexplored, one would be well advised not to disregard whatever omens or portents present themselves each morning…
So I need reassurance that my reluctance to fully engage a rainy morning is not in itself a portent. A foreshadowing of the years to come. A warning.
Not much goes through my head in the predawn storms. Until the radio alarm goes off at six, the remnants of dreams are free to wander, plotless and disturbing, as if they, not I were the rightful owners of my night. They still grope for purchase until the unaccustomed blast of broadcast voices informs me of the tragedies unfolding everywhere outside the room. I think I half prefer the dreams.
Today, however, I remember I have a purpose and trade the seductive warmth of the still-dark sheets for the ice-smooth wooden floor that surrounds the bed. I decide that I will wash away the news of terrorist bombs and distant floods and pretend my day will redeem the evil I’ve just been told. I, after all, am going out for coffee.
I also decide that I don’t even mind the rain; it takes away one decision I had to make: whether to walk or drive the 4 kilometers down to the little restaurant. In a way, I suppose I was looking forward to the exercise, but peering out the window –no, staring at my reflection; it is far too dark to see anything further away- I realize how silly it would be to flashlight my way down a narrow tree-lined rural road hoping as much to avoid the ditch on either side as the stream of sleepy drivers on autopilot to the ferry.
Normally, I avoid driving in rain that’s angled more than 45 degrees to the road -especially in the dark, and with gusts that shake the car. But I had a tradition to establish, a habit that would become so well known, it would, in effect, become a droit de seigneur: the six-thirty table by the window. And as I fight my way down the road, hands gripping the wheel like vices against the vicissitudes of wind, the thought fills me with pride, but not without the occasional frisson of anticipatory anxiety -the road to table is never an easy one, even for a local.
Oh yes, and parking. Who would have thought that anybody would actually park in front of the place; everybody down there at this unhallowed time of the unlit morning should be in the lineup on the road for the ferry. People who actually park in front should be flogged –or at the very least, denied table-rights.
After driving up and down the road a few times on high alert, I finally slip into the vacuum created by a departing miscreant and smile wickedly -they probably saw his car and wouldn’t serve him. There is a kind of frontier justice on an island.
The rain swipes furiously at the door to my car and I struggle to open it just enough to squeeze out. Clearly, I am not yet credentialed here, but that will change. The crowd will part on my arrival, and fingers will point to the table they have saved for me. The girl behind the counter will have my order of a toasted whole-grain bagel with a side of peanut butter (crunchy, unsalted) ready. The coffee urn will be freshly filled in breathless expectation of my approval and an abundant supply of sugar-substitute packages will be lined up beside my favourite mug.
But today, there is not even a place to stand -the ferry is late…