The Rain Came Down

October 2, 2014

I was dreaming in the middle of the night, and strobe lights made everything more anxious, more dangerous. I heard myself talking, and a dreamwoman pointed to the well-scrubbed floor, and ticks crawled by the dozens across the surface, and I picked them up and squeezed, and popping ticks sounded like popcorn.

I woke up in a sweat—and the strobes were still there: lightning. No sound, just lightning, like lightning bugs. And then a deep rumbling, and then the trees cracked and swayed and groaned, and then the storm came, Thor driving his hammer on my roof. It rained until five this afternoon. It stormed in spurts all day.

I wrote for my blogging job then I drove past Grafton to the ferry, to cross the Illinois River into Calhoun County. The sky was purple. I could see the Mississippi bluffs ahead of me, lightning striking the ridges. The ferry was steady on the water, but log rafts crashed into us all across the channel. The storm leaned in from the east and whitecaps folded on one another.

The road slashed through a huge wetland of the American Bottom, with animal and bird sanctuaries on all sides. There were great egrets right next to the shoulderless road. Wild turkeys perched in the low trees. The bodies of possums were strewn everywhere, their gut piles red and wet against the dark storm.

Ahead was a light on the left, an oasis, its lights beaming from a converted barn in the dark early evening. It was an orchard on the plain. The long room was filled with sacks and baskets of apples, with jars of pumpkin and apple butter and preserves and blackberry and peach jams and local honey. The smell was sweet, like flower bouquets. I bought a large bag of Jonathan apples, two gallons of dark, unfiltered cider, and a jar of blackberry spread.

The woman who owns the operation was very friendly. She thanked me profusely for coming all the way from Godfrey; it had been a slow day. We had each suffered the dark night of the soul, from storms trying to tear open our houses.

I got back in the car and turned on the radio. There were flashflood warnings for Calhoun County: Do not leave your car; climb to higher ground in the event of an emergency. At least I had food and drink

And then hell was unleashed. The sky and wetland were black. The rain slashed down. Lightning struck a tree to the east. Water surged over the road. I drove slowly forward, so slowly, cutting through the shallow water like the car was a johnboat. I thought I saw gars swim across the road.

I had had to pee before I even left Genehouse, and now it was pee or wet myself, I pulled onto a one lane gravel road at Pohlman’s Slough, cursed my stupid ass and pulled over and climbed out. In spite of the rain, mosquitoes descended on my arms and legs and head, and I was bitten repeatedly before I stopped peeing. I got back in the car, only to see mosquitoes frantically flying around in the cabin.

It now rained so hard, I was afraid to drive forward to the turnaround. I backed out onto the main road. A car came from the opposite side, illuminating a swatch of turtles that were frantically trying to cross the road, west to east. I could see vultures tearing at turtle bodies. I was in a scene written by Dante.

I got back to the ferry. A car pulled up behind me, its speakers blaring rap music at top volume. Had the driver kept the music on, on the ferry crossing, I knew with certainty I was going to murder him.

Now the return ferry rocked. The deck worker had donned a slicker and high boots, all in yellow. He had to bend to walk across the deck, keeping one hand on the rail. I saw the mounted boxes labeled, “38 Adult Life Jackets,” and “100 Children’s Life Jackets.” Had such an emergency ever occurred? The rap player sat in shadow, his windows fogged up. I saw a river filled with children drowning.

We reached the Grafton side of the river, the town having some power outage, enough to make it look menacing, a river town in a Stephen King novel. On the River Road, a flash of lightning showed a westbound barge plowing upriver, no lights on. It might have been a ghost.

Sleep overcomes me these days, after my heart episode, two or more sudden naps a day. I had to pull over in the rain, on the side of the river, and fall fast asleep. I woke myself snoring. I was a foot away from the racing, passing cars.

I drove home.

About Eugene Jones Baldwin

I am a writer: non-fiction, fiction, journalism (Alton Telegraph), essays (The Genehouse Chronicles) and have a website: I've published a couple dozen short stories and had eleven plays produced. Current projects: "Brother of the Stones" (available on Kindle), a book of short stories; "The Faithful Husband of the Rain, short stories"; "A Black Soldier's Letters Home, WWII,;" "There is No Color in Justice," a commentary on racism; "Ratkillers," a new play. I am an avocational archaeologist and I take parts of my collection of several thousand Indian artifacts (personal finds) to schools, nature centers, libraries etc. and talk about the 20,000 year history of The First people in Illinois. (See link to website) I'm also a playwright (eleven plays produced), musician, historian (authority on the Underground Railroad in Illinois, the Tuskegee Airmen) and teacher.
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