At her annual check-up, the doctor tells her that she is suffering from a rare condition, known as tempestade sob o teto, or, more commonly, “raining from within.” Bemused, she inquires. Apparently, weather patterns do not just take place on the broad-canvased scale of the skies, but can well up beneath the canvas of skin. It is not life-threatening, usually, and in every other respect she is the picture of health: pancreas is fine, kidneys ship-shape, upper abdominal free fluids a non-issue, maybe a bit of inflammation but nothing to cause concern. She walks out of the office, takes a drink from the water fountain, then wonders if it will evaporate, condense, turn into a tiny cloudburst.
She feels like a fractal mosaic from then on, one in motion. As she walks around, a storm gathers in her right arm. Before, she would have assumed she was imagining it, or experiencing neuralgia, some such thing. Now that she knows what it is, she can put sense to what is happening as it drifts up her arm toward her elbow. She feels the droplets, small but unmistakable, splatting on the inside. She knows that there are layers of skin, doesn’t know what they are calling them these days, knows that names change, science changes. Knows that her life has changed now. Meanwhile, the storm moves up her shoulder and across her clavicle and into her neck. Where else does it have to go? Now it turns out everywhere. There are winds, too, she discovers. This makes sense, intuitively. What she had thought was just gas or heartburn, the doctor has assured her, is in fact just part of the storms. He corrects himself swiftly. “Storms” is the wrong word, he says. These are minor showers. Mostly. He does give her a thick printout of instructions. Positions for sleeping, arranging her pillows in stacks so that the storm tends to move downward toward her legs, so her brain isn’t wont to flood. She can pile these up, thinking of them as levees that she is building in her own bed. He also warns her about getting too cold. She really needs to stay bundled, keep a heat lamp nearby. A snowstorm would be pleasant, maybe tickly but delicate and even soothing. But there is the possibility of a hailstorm, of getting pelted at point blank range. This could shatter bones, could leave welts and scars everywhere. He’s only seen it rarely, but she might want to move to a warmer climate.
Strangest is when it rains outside. She can hear the rain within, faintly, a delicate patter, can almost smell petrichor emerging from her skin, though to get through that many layers, she thinks, is improbable, and thus this is likely her imagination. But when she is walking and it starts raining outside, sometimes she feels the two rains, the inner and the outer, meeting somewhere and that somewhere is her. She feels at once like a barrier and yet a meeting point, as though the rains have been separated by some circumstance—birth or history or unjustly wrenched apart by some law, as one sees so much of nowadays—and that they are struggling to reunite, are calling to one another over this divide of her skin.
Sometimes the rain within reminds her of an insect trapped in a window, thrashing its way around and around, beating its head against lightbeams and mesh, the ultimate escape room, that will wither into a corpse and fall and become part of the detritus and then one day the window will be opened and a breeze will take it away. But the rain within her cannot die like this. While it drifts through her ankles and her heels and then turns around again, it does so gently. She feels a purging within, not the anger of that trapped wasp, which is who, in retrospect, she might have been before. Containing this rain, she learns to control it just a little bit, realizing too that it is much more soothing if it takes its own course. The rain without, the rain within. The idea of carrying an umbrella becomes laughable to her. To wear a raincoat seems an act of violence, one of repelling the outerdrops with a cruel glistening yellow shield. They may never meet, but they can call to one another, sing to one another, or simply exist in proximity, for what does rain speak when it is silent other than its own voice? Is the outer rain calling the other like in that book about the dog that leaves its pack behind? Is there a more feral rain whose awakening she must dread?
She knows that one day a giant storm might strike—thunderstorm, hurricane—and yet remains as calm about this as if she's merely watching a painter at the easel, rearranging a sky. What a way to go, is all she can think. She’ll have to come up with a name for it, not one of those alphabetical ones that feel obligatory, but something the rain would name itself, something that cannot be spelled but whose signature cannot be washed away.
Tim Horvath is the author of Understories (Bellevue Literary Press), which won the New Hampshire Literary Award, and Circulation (sunnyoutside press), and is working on a novel entitled The Spinal Descent. “Diagnosis” is part of a collaborative project called Un-bow with composer/cellist Rafaele Andrade, who designed and built Knurl, a sixteen-stringed electroacoustic reprogrammable cello. For more information, visit www.timhorvath.com and rafaeleandrade.bandcamp.com/album/un-bow-2