Naked and wet, I am just out of the shower when from the open window comes the shushing of a steady rain. The smell is delicate — clean and clear and light and damp.
The sound was the same from a dormitory balcony in Krakow, but the odor that summer was nowhere near clean — pigeon droppings and crumbling paint, fishy kitchen grease, and moldering pavement whose stains rose as steam while the rain fell and cooled everything down.
My roommate was the only girl I’d met who bought herself flowers, and she didn’t think anything of holding my hand when we walked through the streets. Once I came into our room and she wasn’t there, but my desk was covered by a scarf, and placed in its center a yellow rose that glowed in a cut-glass vase. At night we lit candles and smoked slender cigarettes and talked on the balcony until and after the night came down. Our and other students’ voices carrying over concrete buildings, the cracked and weedy sidewalks.
The rain keeps falling. It has rained every day for two weeks, and my Pennsylvania farm overflows — the creek rushes white over the collapsed pond dam, the Buck Run swells and its brown currents rise over the banks. Out on the road, a car flies past, the Doppler effect intensified by wet pavement. She’s three hours away in Brooklyn, her father has brain cancer, she manages a new business whose business I don’t understand, her emails are full of graciousness and care for everyone save herself. I am always late sending her son a birthday gift.
Downstairs, my daughters’ voices quarrel. The dog barks. And along the fence line, rain burdens the pines; their boughs meet grass. Water flows from needle to blade, blade to root, root to earth. Earth to bones of pigeons and fish, bones to roses and ash.
This, the architecture that holds us as we listen to the rain.
Cate Hennessey’s work has appeared in The Gettysburg Review, Chester County Dwell, and Polish American Journal. Noted in Best American Essays, she has also been a finalist for the Annie Dillard Award in Creative Nonfiction.