More goddamn rain. Phyllis sighed at the St. Louis NPR-guy’s bemused resignation to it. She sighed at the window, which confirmed his weather update. She sighed at the cosmos in what she recognized as a dramatic sort of way.
The trouble with the goddamn rain was that the sump pump in the basement of the library could barely keep up with the water seeping in, and they had two noisy dehumidifiers running all the time as well; she and Ted and Becky—her clerks, though they’d been there years longer than her, decades in Ted’s case–took turns emptying them out. Becky’s stepfather came in to check on all the machinery because Becky said he knew about things like that and because he was willing to, and Phyllis didn’t want to strain the budget by calling in professionals until there was a real emergency. Ted said he knew someone else who’d do repairs for cheap if they needed it. Everybody in Omphghent knew someone who’d fix things for cheap.
Phyllis honestly could not remember encountering sump pumps back East. In fact, she had never paid much attention to basements at all. Maybe she’d had friends and family with wine cellars and root cellars. Here, if you weren’t trying to keep your basement from flooding, you were sitting in it during a tornado warning. And thank God she hadn’t had to do both at the same time. Yet.
Her own house was on a slab, so she didn’t have a basement to worry about. Whenever the tornado siren went off, which had happened several times since she’d moved to Omphghent, she pulled the dog into the windowless guest bathroom and sat in the tub. She wondered how much rain it would take to soak the ground so much that the house on its slab subsided right into the ground and got swallowed by the abandoned coal mine below. She’d been required to buy mine subsidence insurance when she bought the house, which was probably why that image occurred to her. Just another peril Southern Illinois had introduced her to.
The trouble with the goddamn rain—until the roof sprang a leak or the puddles in the garage became so big that even she could not ignore them—was that she couldn’t mow the lawn, although she could watch the weeds grow, and she couldn’t walk the dog, because even Gracie, puddle-loving lab-mix that she was, refused to go out in this ongoing downpour. Gracie peed off the edge of the porch.
And so Phyllis was stuck inside with nothing to do but think. About her foundation, and her yard, and whether there would be enough money in the library budget next year to maintain the building, yet alone to offer Becky more hours, which she’d promised she’d try to do, now that Becky’s youngest would be in preschool. And about how much of a fool she had been to move out here in the first place. The divorce had been finalized and she had transplanted herself to this alien spot where they needed a librarian, all within a few months. How much of a fool had she been? Time would tell, she supposed.
When the wind died down enough that she could be on the front porch without getting drenched, she sat out there with her largest coffee mug and stared at the field across Cemetery Road. She’s become very attached to her view, in all weathers. Gracie lay next to her, sighing loudly enough for both of them. Before the rain had started, someone in a big green tractor had plowed the field smooth, and it had looked so satisfyingly tidy. Now it was one giant mud puddle. But she would rather look at mud than a subdivision.
It was the man with the Pomeranians who had put that idea into her head. He hadn’t been out there the last few days, of course, but she had come to look forward to his appearance on fair evenings, around the time she sat out with a glass of wine before supper. He always commented on something as he walked past her house: the weather, the wildlife he’d seen, the farmer who owned that field, whose name she never caught, but whom he knew, of course, because everyone around here knew everyone else. Except her. They’d been to school together. Or they were related. She’d learned not to make offhand remarks about one library patron to another when she’d inadvertently insulted someone’s cousin.
“Enjoy the view while you can,” he’d said on an evening back before the rain started. “I heard he’s selling it to a developer. A couple years from now, you’ll be looking at McMansions.”
“You’re shitting me.”
“It’s what I heard.”
“Why would anyone do that?”
What she’d also meant was, why would anyone buy a big house in a subdivision on the edge of Omphghent, for God’s sake?
He might have been teasing her. He looked roughly her age. If she knew his name or marital status or anything else about him, she might have considered it a mild flirtation: these half-shouted mini-conversations they held. If she were a native she’d know better what constituted flirtation around here. Maybe he was just being friendly, or appreciated an interested audience for his brief tales of cougar sightings and silly dog antics. People around here were friendly, you had to give them that, especially the men. It had taken her a while to get used to all the waving. All the old guys driving slowly through town in pick-up trucks waving at one another, and at her. At first she thought they must all know her from the library already, but then she just accepted it as a thing people did, and started waving back.
She would not wave at anyone who moved into a house in a subdivision built in her field. Damn them.
The rain eventually stopped, of course. The sump pump didn’t die, though Ted told her they’d need to invest in a new one at some point. They kept both dehumidifiers running.
Becky said, “I heard Cemetery Road is closed a mile or so up from your house. There’s a bridge over a creek there that washed out, but no one was hurt. It’s all because of climate change.”
“Extreme weather events,” Ted said. “It’s just going to get worse.”
Phyllis had loved Becky and Ted from the start for derailing any assumptions she might be tempted to make about small-minded, small town Midwesterners.
“It’s true,” Becky said. “We’re going to keep getting more floods. More tornadoes. Weirder winters.”
“Winters used to be different. There was always snow.”
“I know. I swear there were more snow days when I was little,” Becky said. “Now my kids get ice days and extreme cold days instead.”
“Old timers always have stories about worse floods and deadlier storms, but that doesn’t mean the overall trends aren’t shifting.”
“’Weather is your mood. Climate is your personality.’ Someone said that,” Becky said.
“Humans,” Phyllis said. “Screwing up the planet.” Building endless subdivisions, she thought. Fucking up my view. Her mood was gloomy and damp. She wasn’t sure anymore about her personality.
By the time she drove home the sky was clear; she should have walked instead of burning gas. There were still enormous puddles in the corners of the field, but most of it had drained, and she realized that when the farmer had plowed before the rain, he’d also been planting. Miraculously, the first shoots of corn were poking up through the mud. How had they not been washed away? The sun was low, and the light seemed to shine directly through the sprouts, making straight rows of tiny, neon green Vs.
She took Gracie for a long walk, to celebrate the blue sky. Almost home again, they ran into the man with the Pomeranians.
Gracie’s tail wagged effusively. One of the little dogs sidled away from her while the other returned her sniffs.
“Hey,” he said. She’d never seen him up close. His eyes were blue. “When you check your mail next, be careful.”
“What? Why?” Was her mailbox subsiding into a puddle? Would he have left something there for her? Flowers? A suspicious package?
She must have looked alarmed. He laughed. “You know those little birds that run around the fields? Killdeer. They made a nest, right by the road maybe three feet from your mailbox. You’ll see it.”
“Oh. I’ll look for that. Thank you.”
And sure enough, there were four speckled eggs inside a sort of shallow bowl of gravel. She held Gracie back from it. How ridiculous, she thought. At that moment, she couldn’t recall ever seeing anything so precarious and so lovely.