They had finished dinner a half hour ago, and now they sat on the porch waiting for the rains to come. The nighttime air was heavy with moisture, but it held its burden in check, like a widow blinking back her tears. While they waited, the storm entertained them with its flash and dazzle—the drumbeat of the thunder, the silver slashes of lightning against the black skin of the sky. With each explosion of lightning they saw the scene before them—the tall shadows on their front lawn cast by the coconut trees, the still sand beyond the lawn, and even beyond that, the restless, furious sea, straining against the shore.
He had always loved thunderstorms, even as a young boy in Grand Rapids. While his older brother, Scott, cowered and flinched and pulled the bedcovers over his ears, Frank would stand before the window of their shared bedroom, feeling brave and powerful. Talking back to the storm. He would deliberately turn his back on Scott, embarrassed and bewildered to see his older brother, usually as placid as the waters of Lake Michigan in the summer, turn into this fearful, unrecognizable creature. If they were lucky, their mother would come into their room to rock and calm her oldest boy down, and then Frank was free to escape to the second-floor porch that was adjacent to the guest bedroom. Being on this porch was the next best thing to being outdoors. From here, he felt closer to the tumultuous Michigan sky and violently, perilously free. Thunderstorms made him feel lonely, but it was a powerful lonely, something that connected him to the solitude of the world around him. If he stood on his toes and leaned his upper body out on the porch railing just so, the rain would hit his upturned face, the tiny pinpricks painful but exhilarating. The wind roared and Frank roared back; his hands tingled with each burst of lightning, as if it was nothing but a projection of the jagged, electric energy that coursed through his pale, thin body.
Years later, it would become one of Frank's greatest disappointments that his son had not inherited his love of thunderstorms. When little Benny would crawl into bed with them, when he would whimper and bottle up his ears with his index fingers, Frank fought conflicting urges—the protective, fatherly part of him would pray for the thunderstorm to pass, would want to cradle his son's trembling body in the nest of his own, even as a small disappointment gathered like a lump in the back of his throat.
Unlike in Michigan, thunderstorms in western India did not pass quickly. They had been in Girbaug for seventeen months now and knew how it could rain nonstop for days during the monsoon season. Now, although it was only May, the forecast called for rain tonight. Frank felt grateful to be home to watch it. He sat impatiently, waiting for the heavy, laden sky to deliver its promise. The wind whipped around them, high enough that they didn't have to rock the swing they were sitting on. Behind them, the house was dark—Ellie had turned off the lights after they'd picked up their after-dinner coffees and padded out to the porch. Every few minutes the lightning lit up the whole panoramic scene before them, like a camera flash. Frank knew that when the rains came crashing down they would come swiftly, brutally, and his body ached with anticipation. So far it had all been foreplay—the whispers of the tall coconut trees as they leaned into each other; the cloying sweetness of the jasmine bushes; the painful groaning of the thunder. Now, he longed for the satisfying release that the rains would deliver.
He turned toward Ellie and waited for the next flash of lightning to illuminate her face. They had exchanged a few aimless words since moving to the porch, but for the most part they had sat in an easy silence for which Frank was grateful. It was a contrast to most of their interactions these days, which were laced with bitterness and unspoken accusations. He knew he was losing Ellie, that she was slipping out of his hands like the sand that lay just beyond the front yard, but he seemed unable to prevent the slow erosion. What she wanted from him—forgiveness—he could not grant her. What he wanted from her—his son back—she couldn't give.
The lightning flashed, and he saw her white, slender body for an instant before the darkness carried her away again. She was sitting erect and still, her back pressed against the wooden boards of the swing. But what made Frank's heart lurch was the look on her face. She sat with her eyes closed, a beatific expression on her face, looking for all the world like one of the Buddha statues they had seen on a recent trip to the Ajanta caves. She seemed to feel none of the agitation, the exciting turmoil, that was coursing through his body. Ellie seemed far away, as distant as the moon he could not see. Slipping away from his hands. Completely unaware of the memories tumbling through his mind—Ellie and he running through the streets of Ann Arbor at night during a thunderstorm, laughing wildly and singing at the top of their lungs before arriving at the house she was renting, stripping off their wet clothes at the door and falling naked onto the couch she had inherited from the previous grad student who lived there; him coming home from work one evening and finding Ellie lying on her stomach on the floor, trying to pull their four-year-old son from under their bed where he was hiding during a rainstorm.
A savage malice gripped Frank. As was common these days, something about Ellie's calm irritated him. Deliberately, he said, "Do you remember how he used to—"
"Yes. Of course I remember." She was wide awake now, having heard something in his voice that perhaps even he was not aware of. The satisfaction that Frank felt from having destroyed Ellie's calm was tempered by something approaching regret. Her serenity, which he used to value so much, was now a scab he had to pick away at.