As I sip a cold mineral water with a splash of non-alcoholic rhubarb aperitif (bitter sweet) on the second floor landing of my temporary abode, I reflect on a strange moment of the evening. The last, quiet nights of summer hold a sad sweetness for me. I’ve written about two such nights already: Home Turf and Un Dolce Momento Triste; both special and unique and profound for me.
My father-in-law and his wife joined us at Victoria’s Pasta Shop in downtown Norman to commemorate the passing of a friend, by eating his favorite sandwich: the chicken parm sandwich–a chicken parm served on a cheesey baguette with a side of Norman’s best marinara. We shared our sweetness, sorrow, and laughter with each other. As the light began to fade on our patio table, we decided to pay the bill and take a stroll in the warm, evening air. While my father-in-law and my wife went to put some stuff in their cars, I stood in the back alley of the line of downtown shops and restaurants chitchatting with Linda about wanting the Norman Music Festival to return. We’d seen many bands near this alley over the last few years.
“You know it’s gonna rain tomorrow.”
We both turned to see who was speaking to us in such a low, gruff voice. He had a slightly rough appearance–dirty t-shirt, tan skin, ballcap, gray beard. The beard was the tidiest piece of his appearance. He was smoking a cigarette and smelled faintly of beer. I couldn’t gauge Linda’s response, but I was a little anxious about being approached by a stranger at night in an alleyway. I stole a glance back to the parking lot to see if the rest of our party was returning.
“Oh yeah?” I said, remembering that rain wasn’t in the forecast until next week…the day before fall, in fact. I gave him the benefit of the doubt. “Yeah, I heard there’s some rain on the way.”
“Yup. I woke up in the middle of the night last night, and saw stars, but no moon,” he continued. “The stars were as clear as could be. But no moon.”
Linda looked up to the south of us, over the roof of Victoria’s and pointed out the half moon. “Well there it is tonight.”
“Oh but it wasn’t there last night,” he said with easy certainty. “You watch. It’s gonna rain. Won’t be much, but it will rain.”
He stamped out his cigarette and began to walk back into the bar with his back to us, saying, “Yep, it’s gonna rain, and you can tell people I said so.”
“Ok then! Well I’m gonna hold you to it!” I shouted after him with good nature. “If it doesn’t, I’m gonna come find you!”
I’ve learned that street encounters like this are usually worth enduring a little unease for. I don’t know the basis of his science. Perhaps he was a farmer with folk methods. Perhaps he was just drunk, prone to storytelling. While writing this, I did look a the forecast–nothing but sunshine.
I believe in signs. I look for them in the difficult times of my life such as this week; losing a friend and losing my aunt. I don’t know if this is a sign for me or for just the rain or for the folly of a strange men in alleyways.
As I reflect, I am remembering a detail. When he approached, I thought I knew him. He looked vaguely like my friend who had just passed. If it were some spectral manifestation of him? I wonder what sign would he be giving me?
We’ve been looking to the moon and stars for signs as long as we’ve been a species. The stars to guide us, the moon to give us just enough light to make our way. And right now? I’m fumbling in the dark a bit. With grief, with indecision, with fatigue, with insecurity…no moon to the light my footsteps…and yet there are the stars giving me the tools to continue to move in the right directly even if a little clumsy–to what, I cannot say.
Perhaps there will be an inexplicable rain shower soon, but I don’t need it. I don’t need something to validate the mysteries and wonders and unknowable truths in my life. What I will remember is not whether it rained or not, but that a stranger in a sometimes lonely world wanted to give me a peek at his truth.