A Storyby T. C. Boyle
A light rain fell at the end of the second year of the drought, a female rain, soft and indecisive, a kind of whisper in the trees that barely settled the dust around the clumps of dead grass. We took it for what it was, and if we were disappointed, if we yearned for a hard soaking rain, a macho rain crashing down in all its drain-rattling potency, we just shrugged and went about our business. What were we going to do, hire a rainmaker? Sacrifice goats? There were vagaries to the weather, seasonal variations spurred by the El Niño Southern Oscillation and the Pacific Decadal Oscillation and the Northern Hemisphere Hadley cell, and certainly the dry years would be followed by the wet in a cycle that had spun out over the centuries, the eons. Daily life was challenging enough—people had to go to the dentist, sit in traffic, pay taxes, cook dinner, work and eat and sleep. It would rain when it rained. No sense worrying over it. Nobody gave it much thought beyond the scaremongers in the newspaper and the talking heads on the television screen, until the third year went by in a succession of cloudless days and no rain came, not male, female, or androgynous.
It was that third year that broke our backs. We began to obsess over water, where it came from, where it was going, why there wasn’t enough of it. It got to the point where everything that wasn’t water related, whether it was the presidential election, the latest bombing, or the imminent extinction of the polar bear, receded into irrelevance. The third year was when it got personal.