Seems like every time the news comes on, there’s another plague coming straight for us. The latest weather warning comes on while Joshua’s helping me move into the new place. We hadn’t really been paying attention. But all of a sudden, he stops laughing at my bad jokes and goes over to the television, says he just wanted to hear this one thing. I finish carrying the last of the boxes to my apartment on the third floor by myself. When I pass Joshua in the living room, he’s still standing like a zombie in front of the television set.
Damn, he says. You hear that, baby?
Hear what? I say, staggering into the kitchen and putting the massive box down carefully next to the others. My hands are bright red and even with the weight gone, my hands keep shaking pretty bad.
There’s a huge storm coming, he says.
There’s always a huge storm coming, I say.
Really, he says. Listen. He turns up the volume until the weatherman’s frantic voice is so loud, you’d think he’s right here in the room shouting at me.
Please, the weatherman says, know where you’re gonna be when the rain comes, folks. This storm’s gonna hit harder than you think.
Heavy storms didn’t mean anything to me. When I was growing up, you could almost always count on a raging thunderstorm to knock out the power lines in our small town. One time we spent more than a few days in a dark house. I remember waking up in the middle of the night and finding my mother alone in the living room, sitting by the big bay window that looked out into the yard. While I sat in her lap she told me her way of knowing how close the rain was. She said if you count slowly, from after a flash of lightning until the thunder follows, you’ll know how many miles are left between you and the storm. We sat there and held each other and counted aloud together every time lightning appeared. And every time, the thunder got closer and closer until sure enough, it started pouring.
This is the kind of thing I’ve been talking about, Joshua says and joins me in the kitchen. I told you this kind of thing would happen, he says. It had to happen eventually, what with everything that’s going on.
Don’t know what you’re on about, I say. My hands won’t stop trembling. I massage them, trying to get my grip back.
Where are you gonna be when the rain comes? he says.
I don’t know, I say, probably in my office building, working.
I still can’t believe you’re working for those evil fuckers, he says. Government incorporated. We both know you don’t want to be there, he says.
But I should, I say.
I start going on about all the good work involved in my job. Even though it’s not the first time we’ve had this conversation, I keep talking, hoping this time I’ll convince him there’s good in that place so he’ll know I’m still on his side. Even after he leans away and starts listening to the news again, I can’t help myself. I just keep telling him everything I know.
My office building sits tall on a hill, like a large white throne. The marble is both old and new and always clean. I don’t really leave during the day unless I need to. There’s all kinds of shops and mini restaurants in the basement. We are practically our own city.
We do the work that needs to be done, my colleagues always say. No one understands the importance of what we do.
This job is nothing I expected it to be. I make it a point to hide my work ID badge when I’m not actually there. There’s an official stamp of an eagle across my forehead in the picture. I hate it – the photo doesn’t look like me at all. Everyone who works in the building has the same thing, of course, but that’s not much of a comfort. I don’t really belong yet and don’t know if I want to.
We don’t have to make any decisions, just look up the information. Like me, I sit at the computer and run through lists of names of people I’ve never met. Sometimes I recognize a few, but that doesn’t happen too often. All I have to do is check the spelling and if their contact information is correct. The people we work for, they’re the ones who make the decisions. Haven’t met them before actually. Not sure I care to.
In my office, the walls are plain and white. Various papers and documents are scattered across all the desks and along the floor: legislation, amendments, budget reports, statements, co-sponsor agreements, depositions, fact sheets, phone records, address lists, memos, meeting notes, grocery lists, receipts, a colleague’s overdue parking tickets. There’s a large window near my desk overlooking the city. When I first got here, they told me it’s the best view in the whole building. There’s a balcony out there you can go on, but nobody ever does – it’s always too hot. There’s perfect air-conditioning because everything is sealed tight. Better to just stay inside the building, they told me.
Every room in the office has a single television mounted on the wall. They’re kept on at all times for updates. It’s the only way we know the world. There’s been all kinds of riots going on. Whenever he gets agitated enough, my colleague across the desk points at the television and says something like, See? They never understand. They don’t know what’s good for them.
I’m still learning, but I really do want to believe.
It’s a forty-five minute commute from the office to my apartment. Even though only twenty minutes of it are actually spent walking, my feet are always bleeding by the end of a week. I think I’m starting to get sick or something.
A fever, maybe.
At the entrance to the metro, there’s a man foaming at the mouth. He’s down on all fours, barking and growling at people that pass by. His clothes are torn and dirty. I can smell the piss from here. A small group of people in suits stand around him, laughing. One member of the group makes like he’s pulling something from his designer shoulder bag. There’s an ID badge dangling from it, with an official eagle stamped across his portrait that matches mine. He coos at the filthy man and dangles an empty hand above his head, an invisible treat. The people in suits laugh harder when the man’s eyes get huge. He whimpers a little before rolling over and begging for nothing.
I shuffle past as quickly as I can.
I don’t know if he’s prone to biting.
Joshua and I are on my couch. There’s still boxes stacked around us that I haven’t had the energy to unpack. I’m trying not to fall asleep next to him because we hadn’t seen much of each other the last few days. I keep leaning on him but he won’t sit still. The news was on and they were talking about the storm again. I wasn’t paying attention. I was just so tired. The blisters on my feet had turned to open sores and itched like hell. My leg started swelling up earlier today. I don’t know how I’m going to walk tomorrow.
Well damn, Joshua says. Honey, you hearin this?
Yeah, I say and rub my eyes. I’m all about it, baby.
They’re saying this is gonna be the most rain the county’s seen in almost fifty years, he says. How amazing is that?
Pretty amazing, I say. My eyes are already starting to close. It’s not that I don’t care. I’m just getting tired of listening to other people talk – even Joshua. I try resting my head against his shoulder, but the man is incapable of sitting still.
There hasn’t been a flood in almost fifty years, Joshua says. This is gonna be huge.
You won’t see anything like this again in your lifetime folks, the weatherman says. Joshua moves forward, closer to the news and away from me. I take the pillow from next to him and try to get comfortable at last.
It’s gonna be tomorrow, the weatherman says. Folks, this is what you’ve all been waiting for. Make sure you know where you’re gonna be.
Have you decided where you’re gonna be? Joshua says. You know, you’re welcome to come to the rally.
I don’t remember him telling me about a rally. My body feels heavy. I’ll ask him about it tomorrow. No, I say, I don’t know yet.
I’m worried about you, Joshua says. Are you sure it’s gonna be safe?
I don’t answer him. My head sinks farther into the pillow as I feel his warm hand moving softly through my hair, brushing it out of my face. Please wake up, he says but I’ve already drifted away.
When it comes time for the rain, there’s a big event downtown. Local news is filming and we’re watching it on the television in my office. Once the reporter finishes her introduction, the camera pans out and we get a good look at the situation. Everyone is wearing white bottoms and white shirts that said in big block letters “Do You Know Where to Be?” The same as the ones that Joshua had bought us both at Wal-Mart a few days ago. I never got around to even taking the tag off mine.
Some people are playing music and singing songs, ones I’d heard before but never really learned the words to. I can see Joshua with them. The camera makes a habit of focusing on him. There’s a large group of people sitting in a circle around him. His mouth is moving, but the microphone isn’t picking up anything he’s saying. He keeps making gestures to the sky. He looks so happy.
When the first roll of thunder comes, we don’t need the television to hear it. Our building shakes a little. I’m the only one startled by it. The colleague across the desk peers around his monitor. There’s no need to worry, he says. We’ve told you – this building’s been here a long time, it’s not going anywhere.
Some of the people on television have started cheering, while others just keep singing but everyone’s louder now. Packs of them start moving out of the room but the cameras don’t follow. They’re interviewing Joshua now. My colleagues start their usual rabble, competing with the whoops and hollers on television. Joshua’s voice comes above the rest, loud and clear.
Yes, he says, it’s coming soon.
When I was sure nobody was paying attention anymore, I shut off the television. It doesn’t do much good though – the one in the other room is on the same channel. I look out the window, the one they’d said was the best view. There really wasn’t all that much of the city visible from here at all from here, other than the tops of the other white marble buildings. It’s mid-afternoon but all the clouds make it look like nighttime. I get up from my desk and open the window. Climbing out onto the balcony feels like willfully crawling into an oven. The wind picks up and the metallic scent of rain is everywhere. At the same time though, it’s easier to breathe.
My colleague from the other side of the room sticks his head out. You shouldn’t be there, he says, it’s better in here. I ignore him, instead going over to the edge the balcony and looking out at everything. I hear the window slam shut behind me and I can’t hear my colleagues or the television anymore.
I can see the city now. All of it.
The group from television is much closer than I’d thought. So close I can hear them singing. There’s a flash of lightning not too far in the distance.
I think about my mother and start counting aloud to myself.
I get to seven before a deafening crack of thunder shakes the entire building. It reaches deep below our feet and reverberates through the foundations of marble that is both old and new.
The group below is cheering and singing even louder –old tunes whose names I don’t remember but sung with new words I can’t understand. In the open air, some of them have begun tearing off their clothes and throwing them into a pile. Another person comes up and ignites it. I think it might be Joshua but I can’t really be sure. I watch the fires down below from my safe perch and wonder if all this time, I was supposed to have been down there with them. They’re all huddled together now, every single one of them, waiting for the rain they so desperately need.
Amanda Malone currently lives and writes in Georgia. She is the submissions manager at BULL and her work has appeared in: Bartleby Snopes, Luna Luna Mag, Wyvern Lit, The Milo Review, and CHEAP POP.