I’ve always greatly admired the prose of Joseph Conrad. He wrote in an adopted language, making more of it than most native speakers. Last Saturday had me identifying with one of his characters, Captain MacWhirr in the novel Typhoon. Both of us were to find ourselves completely out of our depth.
The day began with such sun and promise that I couldn’t stay inside, not even for breakfast, which I took out to the gazebo. The birds racketed enthusiastically, puzzled to see me at so early an hour. I threaded my way through tangles of garden hose on the deck, trying not to spill coffee, orange juice, or the sinfully intense apricot preserves on my toast. I started the fountain and settled in with the difficult Saturday crossword while I waited for Luke to arrive and set everything to rights in the garden.
Luke’s primary task for the day was to power wash the north siding which periodically takes on a mossy and unattractive aspect. His agility would be the envy of a circus troupe. There was a greenish patch above the sloping back porch roof so hard to reach that I told him to ignore it. Instead, he lugged the power washer up a ladder, schlepped it onto the roof as casually as one might flip a coin, leapt after it and didn’t descend until he had me assure him the siding was spotless.
Before he left, he blew away the million spinners shed by the maple tree. They had almost obliterated the deck and the driveway. The place was now ready for company – not that company is currently ready for the place (save for Tim who is well schooled in keeping a pandemic distance).
When Luke was gone, I drove to Rob’s deli for the region’s best steaks and potato salad. Tim would be here tomorrow for a belated birthday meal. There’d been flash flood warnings, but that was Chicago weather, far away, and here the sky was clear and bursting with sunlight. Whatever would or wouldn’t come, I had time.
On the way back, the sky darkened, and a storm began. Like Captain MacWhirr, I thought, “What of that? I’ve ridden through my share of storms.” Neither one of us had the imagination to grasp what was in store.
I was almost home and turned off Calumet onto Fisher for the last short leg of my trip. Suddenly – instantly, I was driving through several feet of water – not inches but feet. Waves were spuming up over the car. I could see little in front of me and nothing to either side. I slowed but didn’t dare stop or pull over. The edges of the street sloped even deeper. I knew if Dimitrios stalled out, I’d be trapped, unable to open the door.
I kept slowly plowing up the middle of the street. To my relief, there was little traffic ahead of me. Rain and hail thudded furiously on the roof. The high water continued up to Ridge and beyond. I had only a few blocks to go, but Forest runs down from Ridge, and the water was higher still. My sight lines were so dark and blurry I feared I’d be unable to pick out my house. I’d almost gone past it when I caught a glimpse of the rounded arch on my front porch. It served me well that no two houses on Forest are alike.
My driveway is raised and so I had only about eight inches of water to slog through after I deposited poor Dimitrios to dry out in the garage. I patted his sleek black shell, grateful that the little guy had gotten us home in one soggy piece. I looked toward the yard. There was no yard. Not a blade of grass. Just lake.
Inside, of course there was water all over the basement despite two efficient sump pumps. They’d simply been overwhelmed by the speed and ferocity of the storm. So had I. In a moment, I’d step into the kitchen and raid the freezer for a slug of Bombay Sapphire. But for now, I just stood in the hallway, dripping and feeling my heart pound. I thought of Conrad’s final sentence describing the Captain’s experience.
“I think he got out of it very well for such a stupid man.”