Gertrude’s rooting around in her massive faux-leather purse. Sitting in the front passenger seat, she hands me a broken windshield wiper, one of those back wipers that gets wrenched off in a drive-through carwash. It could have been from my car, but I look in the rearview mirror, relieved to see it’s not.
“Where’d you get this?”
“In front of the house,” she says. She’s poufing up her hair as if it were still long and lustrous. Her eyes are green with specks of yellow. Reminds me of the neighborhood cat who’s been gifting me dead sparrows, left at the back door. I think maybe this wiper is the same kind of gift.
Abandoned for a reason.
It doesn’t rain much here anymore—climate change and all. But without warning, the air turns to ozone and the sky begins to wring out misty veils and then droplets, and soon enough, sheets of rain are pummeling the roof of the car. With the wipers on high speed, greasy streaks and shards of leaves whip back and forth across the glass. Tiny branches are caught in the slapping of the wipers, obscuring anything close to a clear view. There’s a squeak in one wiper that’s impossible to tune out.
I glance over at Gertrude. Leaning up close to the windshield, she’s turned her eyelids into wipers, blinking in tic-like fashion, and moving her head back and forth, along with the swishing blades, trying to catch the nanosecond when the windshield is clear.
“How do you drive in this?” she asks, having never been exposed to a storm of this magnitude.
(I’ve cautioned myself not to grumble about the rain. We get so little of it.)
“You have to look past the windshield,” I tell her. “To the other side of the glass.”
That works for driving in the rain, but when you’re writing, it’s best to stare full force at those streaks and splotches. At the way droplets of water refract the landscape into an otherworldly arch. The sound of the wipers slapping the edge of the windshield and the sudden blast from a sheet of rain as it splats against the roof of the car. How the wind spits out rain underneath trees. Some people stroll right through a puddle. Others tip-toe carefully, or go around. The driver who gushes through a rivulet of water, leaving pedestrians soaked to the knees. The smell of wet wool. The clammy, sticky squish of water-logged shoes.
The first time I drove in the rain was on Long Island, coming home late at night—17 years old and driving my parents’ car. It was challenging enough just to find the wiper controls. Let alone navigate in the torrential downpour.