I live in a top-floor flat where the balcony and most of the windows face west, the direction our thunderstorms generally come from. I’m used to experiencing them as big things, spreading across two-thirds of the sky, rolling toward me over the town like a galleon in full said. Mostly the lightning flashes themselves are deep in the cloud stack, so I can watch a quick chain of flares do a little zigzag dance from one part of the cloud tower to another. Other times the flare will seem to go for longer, lighting the entire cloud up from the inside and giving me whole seconds to look at all the curves and textures of it, and the delicate three-dimensional patterns of grey inside it. If you could make marble that glowed from the inside I’m sure it would look like that.
Or, if I’m in my bedroom where the window faces out over the hills, I can watch the landscape out beyond the last set of streetlights spring into bright, purple-tinted existence with every flash. The bright, every-where-at-once light takes away shadows and makes the forests flat, as if the hills are a cardboard backdrop that the thunder is about to tip over. I wonder what I’d see behind it if that ever happened?
Last night’s storm came in as I was enjoying a post-payday Friday evening about town, and it was funny how your surroundings change these things. There was flickering all over the sky to the west as I emerged from work, but the air itself was still quite still. A bit humid, but nothing to make me think twice about picking an outside table at the new Indian place a building over from the office. Then the wind found us: piercing and cold and strong enough to thrash the trees about and push one of the outdoor chairs along the pavement. I retired to an indoor table at that point, not wanting to get rain all over my shiny new Dave Langford book, and was vindicated within ten minutes.
A storm in a relatively narrow, brightly-lit street between multi-storey buildings is a different affair. The lightning was a simple flicker in colour in the light at the top of the street, from the slightly off-white of the streetlamps to a brighter purple-white that came down between the buildings and off the higher windows. The rain was almost invisible unless I peered out at the pavement to see it splattering or up at a streetlamp to watch the bright, swarming halo where passing drops were catching the light. (It made me think of those scenes in The Year My Voice Broke, those thick swarms of moths surrounding the town’s sole streetlight.) I couldn’t hear any thunder at all.
By the time I’d finished eating (almond and pumpkin lamb with a vegetable parratha, very good) I went over to Tosolini’s one of my favourite places to do the Ostentatious Writing In A Cafe thing. They’d moved the big leather couches out to the front footpath, as they often do when the weather’s congenial, and so I sat with the laptop across my knees looking out at London Circuit. The thunder was over by now but the rain was still going, which meant that the night was all about light and colour. If I let my eyes unfocus it was just the red, amber, green of the traffic lights, white of headlights, red of brake lights, rich blue of the cop car lights (someone had been pulled over). Then after a while a big group of kids, eighteen to twenty or so, came milling out of the restaurant and stood about arguing about where they’d all go next and who was giving a lift to who and why should I Facebook friend you if you haven’t even given me your number, you should Facebook friend me! They got between me and the traffic lights so I looked across the road instead, and so then the night was all about subtler colours and textures. There’s a car park directly opposite where I was sitting so I watched the orange lights on the thick wet foliage of the trees and the ranks of hard, curved car roofs, drank my coffee and felt very peaceful indeed.
(If you’re thinking that I seemed to be watching an awful lot of things that weren’t actually the words on my laptop screen then you’re not entirely wrong, but I moved the book forward a few notches. But the characters have to pull off a rather complicated burglary early in the book and I confess that it’s turning into a bastard of a sequence to work out. Which means back to it, I guess.)