This building is being waterboarded. I live inside the sound of water, falling down a dozen long galvanized throats as it sheds off a roof the size of two tennis courts. Giggles, sighs, shouts of rain or coughs of hail that can last for hours. The sound is variously deafening, overwhelming, comforting: a maelstrom, a carwash, a womb. It’s been raining all week. I live inside the sound of water…
… falling. I can no longer tell if I’m pressing into the mattress, or the mattress is pressing into me. I haven’t moved for thirteen downcast hours. It’s morning—again—and I’m trapped inside the rain.
‘Inside’ is a pavilion-sized brick tent on Victoria’s Golden Plains. A meld of bedsit and barn. Mock-Gothic relict of a patrician population 120 years ago, who shivered or baked under the priest’s all-knowing local eye, all-hearing local ear. Last long summer, when the bushfire smoke joined me at my bedside and breakfast table, I calculated a total of four square metres of openings direct to the outside world from my room, through unguarded vents in windows, walls and ceiling. I don’t know what J. Nutting, Architect, Ballarat, was thinking of: endless hot summer masses? Chilling the winter flesh to benefit the soul? Letting the singing (for the acoustics are superb) go direct and unfiltered to heaven…? God knows. Well, he would if he were still here; along with the parishioners, God passed on decades ago. But every exit is an entrance. The winds can come in should they choose, and they want to come in so very much.
I have tenants upstairs. In the roof space, and they don’t need stairs, and they don’t pay rent. Cockies above the big door are engaged in endless DIY, hammering, knocking through, putting up shelves. Scratchy-footed things scrabble round the eaves. Small birds shelter where modern architecture cannot reach them. Real life is getting worse for these guys too, and they are welcome to all the spiders they find. Magpies and falcons rest in the cedar at the entrance, and we silently love each other. For they are beautiful, and I have neither cat nor rifle. If I had a belfry it would have horseshoe bats.
Light through the tall arched windows, with their yellow leaded glazing, is wonderful in autumn when the sun drops below the cloud cover: like orchard honey, rich and soft. In blue summer, the light is jade: smooth and priceless. Today the clouds deaden what light there is and a sickly jaundice covers everything, lays everything low.
The rain sweeps down in waves like the pulsing of a turbine. A tide of tides, a tsunami on a gravel beach, ocean breakers that defy physics. Or peristalsis, the huge guts of some water monster clenching and discharging, clenching and discharging, voiding an ocean on my home, my garden, the field. In Wales they’d say “Mae hi’n bwrw hen wragedd a ffyn”, “It’s throwing old women and sticks” and by god they know rain in Wales. Here there are no mere cats and dogs; here I have jaguars, hellhounds, corpses and ghouls about the eaves and down the gutters. Swords of hail.
Rain hammers, it roars, it hisses on everything I own. It pours over me and I cannot get out of bed for the noise, the dullness, the dragging down. The gravity of the situation. The weight of sound.
The wind flows like ripping velvet across the sharp points of my house; deep, muffled, long drawn out howls of rent silk. Wind crowbars itself under the tin roof, jostling old nails and splitting old timbers. Wind draws down its dirty hands to lift the edges of galvanised sheets as if they were the skirts of party frocks and fingers its way along the flinching thighs of the building. Wind ruffles the frightened hearts of tiny sheltering things. Wind sighs, wind soughs, wind slithers in the vents and under the doors and through the gaps. Wind presses and pressures; wind is a migraine in the eyes of my house. Yellow glass is clicking and blinking, tapping out a warning of drafts and cracks and loose calking. When the sky pauses for breath, I think something from dreams has closed my ears with its pale warm hands.
This rain is more than broken water. This rain is a wild cold creature, riding on the necks of the hellhounds across the plains, piggybacking on the ghouls, and clinging round the old bones that crack on the roof and block up the gutters. Rain teases, turns away and winks over its shoulder at us then faces round, belt loosened, flies agape to piss on the roof an endless stream. Rain screams and tantrums, and hurls ancient ice from glaciers onto the lightning rods and walls and roofs and trees and fences and cars, on crying lambs and arrogant geese and low-paid delivery men, on hens that die in the grass because their birdy bones can’t carry the weight of their wet feathers. Rain stills, and flexes, and roars again. Rain kicks and swears and shouts fuck at everything. Rain throws its hissing snakes of glassy shit at us for rain is distressed, disturbed, damaged. Rain is adolescent: hormonal, ungoverned, erratic. Rain is ancient: stubborn, grey, blind. Rain is the scrabbling multitude of lice that fall from the flanks of the storm; I am bitten and paralysed. My field is bitten and bleeds in pools of pallid clay, like pus.
Gargoyles. The much-misused word for gothical, mythical, cathedral beasties, when people really mean grotesques. Gargoyles are the waterspouts on Notre Dame, Rouen, Colne. Gargoyle, a Frankish gargle, is the sound their rainwaters make, that’s how to remember it.
My gutters and downpipes gargoyle and growl, sigh in different pitches according to vagaries of flow, length, diameter, age. On the left far corner, high-pitched tinkles, improbable elves taking secret showers; by me here a whispered hectoring that I cannot interpret. Receding down the east wall: an eight-note scale of gulping and swallowing; a pentatonic clattering round the soldered corners of older pipes; a sustained rattle as of new teaspoons shaken in a box. The crackle of cellophane over to the west, pitched mid-tone and clear above the rest. As the waves of storm recede and lull, the draining and cooing of the pipes continues through a brief silence.
The storm gets stronger. Boozy, sodden wind-men violate the rusty skirts of the sacristy roof, stomping and brawling in their stupefied boots. The rain-beasts leap and flail at the windows, pressing chill invisible noses into places they don’t belong. Now the storm takes the morning light away and my overnight desk lamp shines low across the dark.
The rain and wind were there when I woke etiolated through every night and dawn this wretched week. My phone is submerged under flood warning for riparian Gippsland. My own deluge does not signify.
I fell asleep to the sound of water. I dreamt of you under water, and I wake and wail to the sound of water. Like glass, I shiver. Like rain, my eyes. Confounding clouds have covered your light. Something is wrong, and I am adrift in unfamiliar water.