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Flash Fiction: "Rainbursts" by Dale Stromberg

The thunder and the rain have become commonplace. Nina has been working from home for the whole of the pandemic, in the cramped room off the kitchen which she and Radiyah have taken to calling their supply closet. The back door of the kitchen opens to the wet kitchen, then out the gate to the alley between the rows of linked houses, and once a day the before-rain smell wafts in from there. Then the thunder cracks. The equatorial rains often fall perpendicularly, a torrent with no wind, spattering just beyond the door which Nina needn’t close, the light outside tinting the air orange. The polycarbonate awning over the supply closet window rattles with raindrops as she is working, as she does every day, waiting for night and the promise of three (or four) fingers of cheap compounded brandy. Moisture burned off the distant sea saturates the air from sunup and throughout the torrid day until the sky is pregnant with unbearable weight. Then it erupts down on them, as regular as menses. It is always the same.

The thunder and the rain—Nina scarcely notices them anymore. Even in a place where she is not native, the weather could only be remarkable for so long. After the air yellows and thickens, the rainburst pours so loudly that, if she does not swing shut the supply closet window, the hiss will throw off the speech-to-text function she relies on to ease carpal tunnel-plagued fingers. In that close-warm hour, how fine it would be to pour a glass of red wine and drain it off a little too fast, laptop folded shut, irony and neurosis set aside, watching the rainwater gallop down the gutter in the alley behind the house. Red wine, or ale plopped dab from the can onto the bottom of the glass, not slid down the side of the glass to control the head, or vodka and mango juice prepared the way she might draw a bath, the first sip like sliding her thighs into the warmth. Her drink must wait until her allotted hours of work are done, work that amounts to nothing (amounts to a value just barely nontrivial as per its contribution to the processes of a corporation—in other words, to her, nothing), and by then the light outside will be dim or dead, and the rain, if it has not tailed off, will slouch desultorily downward. She will have missed the moment when the air is overcharged with sultry moisture and the cycle of atmospheric impregnation tips over into torrential release—the moment it can no longer play the stoic, it loses its grace under pressure, it releases all it has bottled up. Thunderclaps rip through, sometimes right overhead with godlike loudness, grandly ignorant of the humans beneath and not, as some might imagine, in wrothful warning: this once-a-day tumult is as empty of meaning as the moon swinging round the earth.

The thunder and the rain—Nina does her best to ignore them. It never varies, just gushes down one afternoon after another. The wind won’t blow the rain inside, and she has not heard of any houses around here being hit by lightning. There is no danger. This season, the rainbursts are merely another element of the changeless revolving of the days. Nina will work, the weather will grow unruly, she’ll want a drink, the weather will calm, and Radiyah will get home around sundown, whose hour varies only minutely through the year, and will of course start the nitpicky criticism straight away. The wrong kind of chicken tenders Nina bought. The package Nina forgot to mail. The mold on the washing machine lint trap Nina hasn’t wiped away. She ignores Radiyah until she cannot, then blows up, feeling herself begin to turn horrid, knowing Radiyah is right to be so frustrated with her thousand mistakes and shortcomings but unable not to fly into a self-defense, sometimes hysterical—often, lately, hysterical—convinced she is in the right and feeling herself to be both wrong and wronged. That done, they sleep separately, taking turns on the lumpy futon in the supply closet out of fairness. Nina, alone in the light of a small lamp, will get her drink at last. On rare occasions she hears raindrops hammering like hailstones on the awning at night too, the oversaturated sky holding too much moisture to bear, reaching its physical tipping point, and exploding.

Dale Stromberg grew up not far from Sacramento before moving to Tokyo, where he had a brief music career. Now he lives near Kuala Lumpur and makes ends meet as an editor and translator. His work has been published here and there.

Twitter: @StrombergLit

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