It had been a very clear morning. Bright sky. Hot. Not an uncommon mid-July morning, but the stillness of the air seemed to bespeak some impending disaster. Superstitious omen.
Huge white clouds floated in from the west about eleven this morning, but with apparently no motivating force, because the atmosphere was as motionless as it had been earlier in the day. The clouds and the sky darkened before one o'clock. Still there was a deathly calm. There was not a rustling among the leaves of the silver maples which lined the opposite side of Deer Path Avenue. The patrons of the Home Tavern began to file out and wend their way homeward. Silence prevailed in the entire surrounding neighborhood. The alternate red and white flashes of the huge neon sign up the street which read "Zharko's" lent a brightness to the gloom, but its periodic regularity--red, white, red, white--served only to intensify the ominous stillness.
A short thin man in shirt sleeves, middle-aged, balding, apparently very well trained, walked out of the huge gray-white house across the street. On the porch railing of the house a very small red neon sign proclaimed modestly in one word that there were rooms to rent. As he put his hand on the screen-door of the grocery store where the proprietor, Ned Mills, and I stood in friendly conversation, the storm broke with a simultaneous flash of lightning, crash of thunder and a torrent of rain. The little man muttered something unintelligible and slammed the door behind him. Seeing us, he flushed red and made an apology for his rudeness, adding that it was indeed a beastly trick to scare a man half senseless, then drench him, all in one operation. He picked up a loaf of white bread and placed twenty-eight cents, carefully counted, onto the candy showcase which served as a counter, and the bread was his. He walked toward the door and stopped, saying only one word, "Dreadful."
This was a real cloudburst. As though looking through a stream of clear running water, I could see the wavy flashes of alternate red and white, metronomic meter never affected by the storm. The leaves of the maples on the opposite side of the street were falling with the rain. They were quickly carried off in the river which was now raging down the street, giving a queer moss-like effect to the murky water. The water that splashed from the metal shield of the "Rooms" sign across the street broke up into a mist, which glowed red as though it had some fluorescent property. A geyser sprang up in the middle of the street, which had now become a riverbed, as the force from the water in the storm sewer raised the manhole cover and carried it down the street. The rain was over in twenty minutes.
The river in the street was still running, but it had ceased leaping and tumbling. It still had sufficient force to carry some good sized red rocks which had washed down from Ram's Horn Hill. A tall, stout woman stepped from the gray-white house across the street. Disregarding his shoes, his trousers and his health, the small man who had been silently in our company for nearly half an hour, opened the door and plodded through the muddy stream which washed about halfway to his knees. In the middle of the street between him and home lay an open underground torrent.
The light at Zharko's continued punctually to beat time--red, white, red, white--.
©1952, 2011 David W. Lacy