He presses his nose against the window and squints through the wall of rain into the back garden. He exhales as he surveys the damage and devastation: the uprooted spuds, the sunken patio, the ocean of mud.
He’ll cry about it later, when he’s on his own. But not now, not in front of his daughter.
“Fucking weather,” he says. “Would have broken a lesser man, you know.”
She’s heard it all before.
“I know what it’s up to,” he says. “But I’m not having it. I’m not, I’m just not fucking having it.”
So much rain.
Seems like only yesterday he was praying for it, for the heavens to rupture and wash everything away. He thinks back, to those endless, rainless summer days, the garden scorched, the grass turned to dust.
What he would have done for some rain then.
Stood in the garden, staring up at the sun till his eyes burned, till all he could see was orange and red and yellow and then a searing white light.
Willing it to rain.
Cursing the blue sky, the pathetic wisps of clouds, the unforgiving sun.
Sticking two fingers up at the weather, yelling, like a madman: I’m still fucking here.
She thought it was funny back then. Watched him from the doorway, told him to get inside and stop being such an old fool. Counted to ten and said if he didn’t come inside, right now, then that was it, she’d finally wash her hands of him. Stupid old man, and not even wearing the hat she’d bought him, one of those Australian ones with the corks dangling from the brim. Go on, just for a laugh. Handing it to him. But no, seriously, just wear it, just wear the fucking thing.
He remembers her counting down, exasperated. The door clattering when she left, the discarded hat on the ground.
He’d been sweeping the patio when it started to rain.
A big fat drop on his head: a direct hit on his peeling bald spot.
He stopped, brush in mid-air. He didn’t dare look up. Thought he might ruin it. Then he felt another drop, on his ear this time. Then another, then another.
He did a little victory dance on the grass. Round and round, in ever-decreasing circles, till he felt sick. He knew nextdoor would be watching, as they always did, the curtains twitching. Could hear them already: Should have seen him, the daft old bugger, he’s finally lost it.
But he didn’t care.
It was raining.
He’d never seen rain like it. He stood there for an hour, drenched, his shirt plastered to his skin. Arms outstretched, head back, mouth open, catching every drop.
It rained all afternoon, and it didn’t stop. Eight days in a row.
Then he began to worry.
“Look at that rain,” he says, his nose still against the window. “Biblical, that is.”
His daughter has brought soup and coffee, to try to lure him away.
“Come on,” she says. “Have something to eat. Gawping at it like that won’t make it stop.”
“It’s like fucking Passchendaele out there. I’m telling you, I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”
“So you keep saying. You said the same thing in the summer, when we had all that heat. Remember? We’re all going to burn.”
“Mock all you want, but this is it. The beginning of the end.”
He wasn’t going to go without a fight.
He dug a trench, two feet wide, two feet deep, from fence to fence, to channel the worst of the water away. Took him three days, soaked to the skin, but his daughter wasn’t convinced.
“It’s a nice enough trench, I suppose. But look what you’ve done. You’ve only just created a river.”
“That’s the idea.”
“What about the neighbours?”
“What about them?”
“All that water. It’s got to go somewhere.”
He looked up towards their bedroom window, the lace curtains still for now. “Fuck them.”
He pulls himself away from the window and trudges over to the sink. He looks down at his wellies, at the clumps of mud on the tiled floor, at the brown slush seeping in through the bottom of the door. Even from here he can still hear the garden gurgling, choking under the weight of unwanted water.
The trench worked, for a while. He ordered fifty sandbags and hauled them from the back gate to the back door, in the wheelbarrow initially and then by hand, one at a time, when the barrow got stuck. Weighed down with all that sand, he watched the barrow sink and then slowly disappear into the mud with a drawn out squelch, and there wasn’t a thing he could do about it.
“You think it’ll hold?” his daughter had asked.
They’d looked down at his handiwork, a defiant but already sodden semi-circle around the back door. Bag upon bag, waist high, the last line of defence against the rising tide of sludge.
“Course it will,” he’d said, his eyes closed as he looked up to the heavens.
His daughter prepares the soup as he washes his hands in the sink.
“My offer’s still there,” she says. She lives inland, high up, on top of a hill. “It’ll be safer there, till things get back to normal.”
“You know I can’t.”
She’s heard this too. I can’t. I won’t abandon ship.
She looks up, at the crack in the ceiling where the rain has found its way in. The bucket, below, will have to be emptied again soon.
“Dad, look at the place. If it carries on like this you won’t need a ship, you’ll need a fucking ark.”
She knows it’s a battle she can’t win.
“How’s the soup?” she asks.
“Good. It’s good.”
She pushes hers to one side and gets up. She looks up at the ceiling again and goes off in search of a bigger bucket.
Gary Duncan’s flash fiction collection, You’re Not Supposed to Cry, is available from Vagabond Voices. Recent and upcoming credits include Unbroken Journal, Train Lit, Gravel and The Cabinet of Heed.