Rain drummed incessantly on the shell of my hood as I walked through the rusting iron gates of the public park. Fingers red and burning as they gripped the plastic handles of shopping bags, I started the long trek up the hill, rivulets of water streaming down the path to run around the soles of my shoes. I trudged steadily upwards, getting closer to the clouds, passing the ‘Mediterranean Zone’ with its laurel trees and then the ‘Prairie Gardens‘ with its grasses weighed down by water. As I walked higher and the rain fell down with more intensity I began to make out wisps of a voice ghosting through the watery air. It was so soft that I had to turn my ear towards the peak of the hill to hear it against the pattering raindrops. Intrigued, I walked faster, squelching upwards towards the source of the voice and the water. Passing the rhododendrons of the ‘Asian Zone’ and the clipped hedges of the ‘Lost Garden’ I came to the green lawn that spread downwards from the Edwardian glasshouses that stood at the edge of the park. On the grass stood a wooden stage and the source of the voice. Above the stage hovered a dark cloud and the source of the rain. I sat on a park bench, facing the direction from which I had come, to contemplate both.
I sat next to my bags of shopping as the opera singers rehearsed for the next day’s concert. Behind the stage, grassy slopes slid away to reveal a vista of what I had just been a small part of: undulating waves of redbrick terraces, grubby spires breaking free from the parallel lines to shoot upwards towards a seething sky. Streaks of cloud scudded at right angles to the spires, some high, some low, some a pale white, some a bruised blue and some a peachy red as they reflected the rays of the dying summer sun falling behind the western hills. Bolts of that fading sunlight speckled the urban blocks, dancing across house windows to produce a sparkling luminescence that flickered in waves across the hills. This shifting mosaic of light and colour formed the backdrop to the motionless stage as, overhead, a lower dark cloud moved stubbornly slower than the rest to pour its contents onto the heads of those few who watched the rehearsal.
A few damp figures composed this audience; the elderly, the unemployed, and young mothers with pushchairs. These figures stood in disparate clusters in front of the stage or, like me, sat on the benches that lined the path. One enthusiastic group had even produced small flags to wave at the climax of each song, striving in vain to shake the cheap rectangles of red, white and blue plastic free from the heavy water that weighed them down. We listened in the rain as the singer sung songs of victory, glory and hope; the words and ideas as dusty and old as a grandfather clock, a porcelain teapot or a cucumber sandwich.
During one such song, a single shaft of sunlight shone across the stage to fall on the ‘Western Temperate Zone’ and reflect off the glistening bark of the native oaks. As it did so, the silken waves of rain sparkled with the line of falling sun, the convergence of light and water representing the brief merging of cycles that had continued for aeons. Behind these curtains of flickering light the orchestra reached a crescendo of noise and the singer held onto a wavering note. Suddenly, as he did so, the whole scene was bathed briefly in a flash of nearby lightning to burn the outline of the scene onto the retinas of the watching few. Seconds later a loud blast of summer thunder tore the watery scene asunder to shock the singer from his third ‘never’ and upset the harmony of the instruments. The performance faltered as rhythms and pitches clashed together in anarchic waves of clattering metal and rasping air.
The dying orchestra grew quieter than the pattering raindrops and the feet of the audience members shifted on the sodden grass. The flags hung limply in the rain, no longer moved by waves of patriotism. The unemployed and the elderly looked around, embarrassed for the musicians. Then suddenly the opera singer broke into a giggle that flowed into wild laughter. His huge lungs went from belting out lines about nationalistic mercantilism, to silence, and then to generating booming laughter. The orchestral players looked around at each other and began to laugh too. As they did so more bolts of sunlight shot down to fall across the glistening grass like spotlights across a Gilbert and Sullivan stage or like searchlights against a Vera Lynn sky. The rain lessened to a drizzly mist, more air than water, and I pushed my hood back to warm my forehead in the soft evening light. With the laugher behind me, I picked up my shopping bags and left to walk out the entrance of the park, upwards towards the clouds that flowed in waves of red and white across the darkening blue of the summer sky.
© 2012 Thomas Halvë