When the storm’s coming, you can feel it. The atmosphere’s tense, quivering the leaves, hot, damp air close up to your face, the cloud doubling and darkening, metallic grey, sucking in the light. There’s a portent in the frenzy of birds and the cat’s retreat into the bottom of the clothes cupboard. Sometimes night falls and everything is still on edge, pending. The child loves to hear the thunder sneak up in the dark with a low growl. She counts the seconds after each cannonade. When the rain finally falls, you can’t hear much else, even when there’s shouting. She likes to climb out of bed into her window and get gooseflesh in the wind, then to jump back, shivering, under the covers to get warm. Then she does it again. Once there were hailstones, thrashing the asbestos roof. The noise obliterated everything, like a drug; she slept.
By ELIZABETH POLINER
That summer, even before she took up mowing, Suzanne was doubting herself, an uncertainty that set in when her husband began to notice the Mandlebrauns’ oldest daughter, Alison, soon to finish college. Alison, who lived in the only other house on their riverside lane, was home in Middle Haddam for the summer and came by to play tennis on their court with their daughter, Michelle, also soon to finish college. The girls, never close friends to begin with, had drifted further apart during their time away at school. It was surprising, then, to see them suddenly pair up, even if only for tennis.
When the radiators overheat we try to turn the knobs wearing oven mitts. At night it’s too hot to sleep, and we open the windows to the cold December air. My nose bleeds intermittently, suddenly, all winter long. I wake in the night to the hot rushing smell of iron, or, elbow-deep in dishwater suds, feel the blood coming too quick to stop.
I first went to London as an undergrad, on a yearlong study abroad program in University College London’s intimidating English department. When I returned very reluctantly to the US, I often dreamed about London, but in those dreams I would find familiar places moved, distorted, and the people I missed not where I looked for them. After graduation, I moved again to the UK for a master’s program, but mainly to get back to London. I had discovered, after a few panicky weeks of foreign disorientation, that the city suited me—and also that my quiet home in Massachusetts no longer did. At 22, one seemed to preclude the other; London felt strange and exotic in a way that had become a daily necessity.
There exists a certain splendor in the protestations of the electorate on the grounds of the Elected. Here, in the southern wing of the Nebraska State Capitol, roughly 75 farmers, ranchers, environmentalists, Native Americans and other dissidents have gathered to oppose construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, and more specifically, the Governor’s authority to approve the pipeline’s path through Nebraska. They’ve come wearing belt buckles and Wrangler jeans, bolo ties and t-shirts that scream “Pipeline Fighter” and “#NOKXL.” But it’s difficult, in these marbled and dimly lit halls, not to feel awed by the stature of it all, the history cast in bronze and embossed beneath your feet. Even the atheist may be overcome by the grandeur of a cathedral.
When I was growing up, my family was in Long Beach regularly visiting my aunt Carol and uncle Rocco, friends of my parents who lived blocks from the ocean. My memory insists that it was always summer when we were there: barbecues, somebody’s birthday. And the Fourth of July parties, all-day affairs the adults would spend on the stoop eating burgers and macaroni salad while us kids—myself, my older brother, Carol and Rocco’s son, Matt, some neighborhood kids—played basketball in the street.