It has been raining here for 36 hours. I fell into bed last night in the midst of one brief lull in the drumming and dripping; this afternoon, we had a spot of sunshine that lasted about five minutes and some intermittent near-absence of precipitation. But for the most part, we've been getting rain, and more rain. And then, when we least expect it, more rain.
When it rains hard, my mother says, "At least you don't have to shovel rain." She speaks truth.
The final papers that trickled into my hands yesterday came with water puckers on their fronts and backs, casualties of students too fatigued to figure out good ways to keep their work dry on the walk over. I now have three neat stacks of reading on my office desk and one neat stack in the car, and eight days in which to consume the lot. This reading feels like the final fruition of a long collective labor, and for once, I'm well-rested enough to be enjoying watching their minds at play.
(The dragon is at play, as well, may I note. He has been playing hard-to-get for the past couple of days, hiding out with his back to the road, in still Sisyphean struggle with a rock just outside the house where he lives. The logistics of yard-creeping in the rain utterly defeated me, and as I drove by tonight, it looked as though he wasn't there anymore. And so you will have to take this word-picture from me: his little orangeness, braced against large grey rock, the whole tableau soaking in unceasing mid-Ohio May downpours.)
Gearing up for the first grading plunge this afternoon, I climbed into the bath with Marilynne Robinson's Housekeeping, just as the rain struck itself up yet again. I read her Gilead last summer, as part of my project of keeping up with the Pulitzers, and was startled by how much I genuinely loved reading it. Usually, I am not a book savorer. I love books above all other inanimate things; this much, I know I've made clear over the course of these months. But I tend to gulp them. I eat books like air. (No, I do not have red hair.) Particularly once I get involved with a book I'm loving, I generally want to slip in so that only my nose is above the surface, only enough to keep breathing, and I want to stroke and slice and scissor-kick without sound, without ceasing, until I catch the last full-stop. With Gilead, I both did and did not want to do my usual speeding up, an increase in velocity that kicks in around the one-third mark of most short-ish books. I was actually surprised by the turns her narrative took--and it generally takes some doing to surprise me. I'm always interested in how the narrative is going to work, but I'm generally not surprised by where it's going. But Gilead surprised me, and it moved me quite deeply. It's a story told from an older father to a very young son, and the narrative is simply suffused--it is simple, and it is full: full of love, of confusion, of reluctance and nervous anticipation and revelation and quiet. And so I'm looking to see what Robinson's first novel will do.
I lay curled and submerged for awhile this afternoon, slipping a bit on my white tub, my forearms and fingers keeping my paperback out of water's way. (I once read all of "The Lighthouse," the last section of Woolf's To the Lighthouse, underwater like that, not to mention most of the middle of Beloved, the first time I read it.) Eventually, though, the temptation grew too strong: I tossed the book away so that it wouldn't get wet later, and I slipped the rest of the way down so that only my face was out of the water. I listened to my ears filling up, felt my hair floating finely. I thought of the amount of my life I have spent underwater: years of days spent in goggles and tank suits, my feet on concrete and ceramic tile and starting blocks and diving boards, my hands pulling me over a surface or holding me up in a handstand. I thought of the time I should have broken my neck, the time I, yellow-suited, decided to dive into the city pool with my hands clasped behind my back, not realizing until it was a split second too late that in a dive one function of outstretched arms is to aim the body correctly; I thought of the jaw-jarring feeling of my head against the pool's aqua-painted bottom, of my feet finding the ground and pushing me, embarrassed and panicky, back to the surface before anyone could notice what I'd done, and of my relief at not having been hurt. It made no sense that I had done what I'd done, and it really made no sense that I hadn't paralyzed myself by doing it.
I listened to the thrum of the bathwater and my body and eventually made out my heartbeat. I thought of the summer afternoons when my fondest aspiration was to be fishlike, to get myself to the bottom of the pool and swim around on my stomach, weaving near feet, surfacing as rarely as possible.
When I sat up, the water falling from my hair was as loud as the rain.