One minute I’m looking out at the oppressive Saturday afternoon sky, thinking that rain never falls on Chicago anymore, even when it looks like it will. Extended forecast: hellish; 99 percent chance of perspiration.

The next minute–as though someone shouted “Action!”–fat drops are plunging down onto the street, bouncing and glittering like a cascade of dimes.

It can’t last, of course. Seconds later the downpour cuts to a drizzle, then a few scattered drops, then nothing. Big deal.

I head out the kitchen door (leaving all the windows open, and taking no umbrella), down the alley and past the courtyard, where a middle-aged woman in a flowered housedress stands serenely watering the lawn with a garden hose. Rain? What rain?

On the grass strip between the sidewalk and the curb, an oscillating sprinkler goes on sprinkling.

I light a cigarette and cross 55th Street, aiming vaguely for the museum, but before I get to the park at 56th the rain returns.

This time it doesn’t stop. When the tree I’m standing under begins to leak I give up and cross Cornell, heading back toward home and the open windows.

In seconds I’m thoroughly soaked. Cool water streams down my back–a welcome change from sweat–and then halfway down the block things get serious. A galelike wind blows my wet skirt up around my shoulders, knocking the cigarette out of my hand. I yank my skirt down and run on through the rain to the comer deli. There’s a narrow strip of dry sidewalk under the awning where I can stand and watch the storm.

The trees along Cornell are convulsing, wet leaves smacking together as branches bend and twist in the shifting wind. A scrim of rain hangs over 55th Street, billowing and subsiding. The awning begins to rattle ominously, so I duck into the deli, buy a cup of coffee, and sit down near the window. Outlook for this afternoon: partly soggy; good chance of minor flooding in my apartment.

A glum-looking couple in their 20s are sitting at the next table. Their white sneakers are unsoiled, their white shorts are creased down the front, and their hair is perfect. They stare out at the storm, mournfully chewing their sandwiches.

“It’s getting worse,” she says, sighing loudly.

He makes a noncommittal noise.

“If it’s raining like this tonight, I am not driving up to the north side,” she says.


She shakes her head. “What a day for this.”

A few other people come in and stand in line, dripping, combing their hair with their fingers and shivering a little in the air conditioning. The dry couple is more interested in the steady flow of the street–cars creeping through the intersection with headlights on; people hurrying along the flooded sidewalks, out of their element.

“Look at those two,” he says. A drenched couple are sloshing west on 55th, carrying soaked beach towels and a small cooler. “Ha! Must’ve been at the Point.”

A barefoot woman in a black dress pads by with a sopping red quilt drawn around her like a burnoose. A girl in shorts struggles along under a huge umbrella.

“Who’d have thought you’d need an umbrella today?” the dry woman demands.

“Check out the guy in the bikini,” he says.

“At least he’s dressed for it.”

Half a cup of coffee later, the dry couple sit in moody silence. The trees have stopped writhing and the lashing rain has mellowed. Traveler’s advisory: go with the now.

Back outside, two teenage girls in soaked shorts and T-shirts cross 55th just ahead of me. They skip along the sidewalk under the dripping trees and splash through the puddles, giggling and shrieking. As we near my building one of them throws her bare arms up into the rain and whirls around, laughing, like a priestess dancing thanks to the rain god.

Almost home. The woman with the garden hose is gone, but the sprinkler near the curb goes on sprinkling heedlessly in the rain.

The girls have discovered a gurgling stream running several inches deep down the middle of my alley. As I turn in toward the back steps, the rain priestess bounces in front of me and sits down–splot!–in the deepest part. I grin at her and she laughs, half embarrassed, and throws water at her friend.

I wiggle my toes in my soaked cotton shoes and–why not?–veer off course to wade up the center of the runoff, letting it swirl coolly around my ankles for a couple of yards. Then, reluctantly, I go upstairs to close the windows.