The derecho is a long and violent wind. It is not a tornado, and it is not a gale, and it is not a straight-wind. This force is the belly of the storm—a gymnastic feat of air, only it has no intelligence, and seems to take no pleasure in the aesthetics of its destruction. While I cowered in a stairwell in my boyfriend’s house, it passed overhead and dropped rain like slobber, and patted down trees as a baby might elbow its way through Duplos.
I finished “The Magicians” in my boyfriend’s sweltering garret. That is, in his attic apartment. The weather in the Midwest has been heatwaving; this produced a supercell that ripped through my neck of the woods, and took down many trees, and many more power lines, throughout the city of Columbus on my visit this weekend. (Nicholas’s mother used the term “duratio” to describe the windstorm; I cannot find a definition for this word, nor does it seem to have any currency on Google or weather-related blogs. What gives?) The night of the storm in the darkness was just all right because the temperature was cool. But then the temperature got back up. And the humidity, too. The air was a warm custard. For too much of Saturday night I lay reading in front of an emergency LED. Lying in the bed had all the comfort of lying in the turreen for the custard.
Yet its name reminds one of music, a length of sound, anyway, finessed by some maddened maestro, his baton in hand. Furious phantom mastication; hair whipped to and fro above shoulders blackened by a tuxedo, sinewy and dark, like a panther’s; each stroke a flash of lightning, a crash of bricks, a porch rent from its foundation. I sat vibrating in the stairwell texting Nicholas, “The basement door is locked.” In the street a man shouted, “WE HAVE TOUCH DOWN! WE HAVE TOUCH DOWN!” before staggering back to the safety of his porch, where hanging plants pitched on their hooks as though smacked by invisible bats. The pots retracted, then surged forward again, losing their soil and flowers in a stream of grit and crinkled color. The air filled with this wet confetti and sun-bleached trash and a collation of weak green leaves silvered by the lightning, and then branches followed, and lawn chairs, and the sound became the distillate of concrete broke open, as sonorous as an eggshell on the lip of a bowl, ringing in the bell, chthonic in the streets of the neighborhood—the sharp thunderous reply as first one tree, and then another (and then too many trees), filled with streaky white light and the curses of blows, until as full as sails they tumbled wind-borne. They sprayed splinters. They fell upon cars. They thrashed their way through electric lines, twisted up, manacled in sparks. The man, whom I later learned smokes crack, shouted into the roar, “HERE THE SECOND COME! HERE THE SECOND COME!” The windowpanes were blurred by the wrath, but only just, and the smear of chaos seemed to test the house like a seduction, relaxing it a bit, teasing it to odd, low groans and embarrassing squeaks, before the house became righteous against the advance and clacked.
Finishing Grossman’s novel was difficult not just for the atmosphere. By the last one hundred pages, the major characters were mostly alcoholic, catatonic, betrayed sexually, maimed, moronic. I read somewhere that he was conscious of critiquing the trajectory of contemporary fantasy heroics (a la Harry Potter, The Wheel of Time, Percy Jackson, His Dark Materials), and the novel continuously riffs on the mythology of the Narnia books—so, it was perhaps in good faith that Grossman articulated such unlikeable anti-heroes, and shaded their adventures so glumly, and gave them no glory or wonder whatsoever by the time their quest is underway; because such is life, and such is magical thinking: specious, delayed, apolitical. It’s telling that one of the book’s most enduring and mysterious images is related merely in passing, as a footnote to a character’s fate. In the last battle, one of our young magicians has his hands eaten off by a sadistic foe, and though he survives, he leaves the group of adventurers in an in-between place between the universes, a city comprised entirely of Italianate plazas with stone fountains. He stands before the doors of one of the innumerable columned buildings that form the squares, the doors of which had previously been sealed. He bows hands-less in prayer and the doors open. Inside the building—as in all the buildings in this infinite arcade—are shelves upon shelves of books; he shuffles inside; the doors close behind him. To his friends he may as well be dead. And isn’t he? He’s disappeared into a vast, inter-dimensional library and he has no hands! It’s a very cruel, very Borgesian irony. The sequel is out now so maybe I’ll find out if this was as significant and heartbreaking a development as I hope it to be… .
I hope your travels are unharried and that you’re absorbing many interesting places, faces, and encounters. Or that you are merely in some state of peace with little in the way of distraction. Also! That you are in cool, dry air at night.
Back to pretending to work,
I crept back up to the attic space. From Nicholas’s bedroom I could see the fierce bloom of an exploding transformer, flashing orange and eidetic against the low smudgy front. The mums on his fire-escape were gone. Earlier, I had texted A.J., “Storming?” He replied: “vry much so trees down everywhere in the road.” I said, “No waaay! I thought it was going to be cray. Winds? Columbus has none yet.” He replied ominously: “oh you wait for it.” And not ten minutes later a sky too dark to read by, and the skittering, slithery sound of minerals aloft like insects, brushing against the downspouts, sandy and purposive and secretive, the rough beasts of a desert prophet. I texted him back, somewhat feebly, “It’s really scary.” And seven minutes later: “Now it’s just rainy.” For the onslaught lasted a little under fifteen minutes—and then the spell lifted to cast another, a vanishing, all sweetness, all mildness. Ember-red embrasures opened in the bruised cell above. Now I sat waiting for the power to come back on. And it didn’t. And I knew it wouldn’t. So then I waited for Nicholas to come home. “SHE’S COME DOWN!” shouted the crack head. “SHE’S ALL COME DOWN!” From my attic perch I could see him rutting through the avenue, gesticulating grandly at the clot of brambles and shingles and trashcans and glass blocking the way, and two trees crossed in an ex upon the pass, some trapeze act gone wrong, all twisted up and done.