It was the rain that woke me up. The incessant drumbeat on the flat kitchen roof, the higher singing tone of water cascading over the blocked gutter. And now that I'm awake, it's the rain that keeps me up, watching its drops break against the window pane like a series of morse code dots and dashes.
There'll be sandbags across the doorways of the cottages by the river tonight. Bags to sop up the encroaching water, stop it coming across the doorstep; a lumpen wordless bodyguard for each house. I wonder how high the water is now. In the few years we've been here, I've seen it swell over into the fields across the river, reminding me of the Chinese rice fields we learnt about in school, but it's never been high enough to cross over to our side, or inch its way up our street. I imagine the water filling up all the cracks and holes left in the tarmac by the recent frosts and snow, forming puddles for wellie-clad children to jump in tomorrow.
We've been here long enough for me to know which of the roads gets tricky to pass after a heavy downpour, the big dip further along the valley, the road by the lake, where there's nowhere for the water to drain away. I'm never sure how to drive through standing water. I'm scared that if I drive slowly the water will seep into the engine, creep in around the door sills, suck me and the car into its clinging wetness. My urge is to accelerate, push through it as quickly as possible, no matter what great bow-wave I create. Then through the other side, where, if my car was a dog it would shake from side to side and nose to tail, creating a halo of raindrops. Instead I pull away fast, hoping the wheelspin will drive away the water.
When I was a child, my younger sister Caroline was scared of the rain, she always thought it would flood. And as kids so often do, we picked up on her terror. We could reduce her to tears, a flood of her own, by telling her that the house would float away each time it poured. I always liked the imagined idea of de-camping upstairs in a storm, piling up the furniture, eating picnics on our beds, but that probably didn't help for Caroline. Upstairs wasn't a place of refuge for her - not since the time our big sister Ros had so vividly imagined and described 'The Black Crow' that hovered at the top of the staircase waiting to pounce.
Perhaps it was just water that Caroline hated, you'd have certainly thought so if you ever heard her having her hair washed. When we were kids, there was no shower at home and it wasn't til I was a teenager that we got one of those rubber shower hoses that you can fit over the bath-taps. So for years, our mother washed our hair while we stood at the sink, using saucepans full of water. Pour, shampoo, rinse, then repeat. When it was Caroline's turn the sound of each saucepan-full was accompanied by the sound of screaming as she wriggled to escape, trying to duck the water, failing to keep the shampoo out of her eyes. Pour, scream, rinse, shriek, shampoo, sob, rinse, screech, then repeat... scream, scream, scream.
I can almost hear it now.
As I sit and listen in my head to those sounds from long ago, I realise that it's quieter here now. The deluge from the drain has stopped; the ticking of the mantelpiece clock has replaced the rain-beats on the roof. Time to go back up to bed.
I wonder where The Black Crow sleeps tonight.