by Sue Allison
One day the weather disappeared: it wasn’t fine or foul, hot or cold, wet or dry, mild or severe. It wasn’t anything you could name. It wasn’t light but it wasn’t dark, either. It was murky. The outside was murky, as if an opaque scrim had descended and hidden the blues and greens and lilac shades and all the varying temperatures there wasn’t a scale could measure, there were too many and they were in flux. At first, everyone assumed it was a new weather, but still weather and as such would burn off or blow through in a day or two, the way weather did. If anyone had known it was going to be permanent, something might have been able to have been done about it, or so people said afterwards; but, as other people said after that, it is easy to say things afterwards.
The important thing, the step that would define the rest, was that on the first day no one even mentioned it. So of course they didn’t mention it on the second day. And so the first day passed, and then the second. On the third day, people began to think of not as a different weather, but as a new kind of weather, a kind of unweather, which would explain why it wasn’t behaving like weather and changing minute to minute, hour to hour, day to day. It was the same all the time. The same temperature, the same light, the same lack of wind or heat or damp. Every night when people who worked in offices left their offices, the “weather” was the same as when they had arrived, and in the morning, when they went to work again, it was exactly the same as the morning before. Afternoons and mornings were indistinguishable from each other, days were indistinguishable from night. Every minute of every day was exactly like every other minute. By the sixth day, they found they had nothing to complain about, since they had already learned to live with it. If they had put up a fight, resisted, gotten angry, upset, confused, would they have been able to keep the old weather? But how could they have fought? What with? And how? And against what, exactly? They adapted, as people do, and they looked on the positive (I was going to say “bright”) side: at least it wasn’t a tornado or an earthquake or a flood or a tsunami or a blizzard. Though later, they would wish for just those things.
No one knew whether or not this was related to the change in the weather, but coincident with the change, unusual and interesting things began to happen. Newspapers began writing features about former smokers suddenly taking cigarettes up again, while longtime smokers were quitting; about couples who had been eager to start families deciding to wait, and other couples, who had been putting it off, were now rushing to try, before it was too late. But there are always people like that, people who fly off the handle, people said, and people also said it was only because the papers had nothing else to report since there was no weather to write about. So, as with the weather, the stories were shrugged off and eventually peopler stopped buying newspapers because they didn’t want to hear about it anymore. There was no weather, and now there was also no news.
For a while, people still looked out their windows. And for a while, they took drives in the country or to the sea. But since the weather in the country was no fresher than it was in the city, and the weather by the sea just the same old murk everywhere, gradually, people just stayed home. They continued to go to work, have meetings, meet deadlines, plot to take over the competition’s market share, increase the shareholders’ bottom lines. Business carried on as usual, but the atmosphere in the offices changed. Chatting in the halls dwindled to a dead stop. People closed their office doors, even when they were inside. They didn’t congregate at the coffee station for morning breaks, and at the end of the day, no longer met for drinks. They just put on their identical coats and unnecessary hats and went home to their identical apartments in identical apartment houses on streets in a grid of identical streets. It made sense that the weather now resembled the rest of their lives.
For a generation, or more, there were people who remembered the weather. They remembered what balmy meant. They remembered brisk winds that made them want to take their sailboats out, snow storms that sent them to the country to ski or kept them cozy inside. They rememberd cross country skiing and ice-skating on the frozen lakes and sliding down hills on toboggans. Then first generation, the generation that lost the weather, finally mostly died. After a time, the equipment on which videos of old weather reports could be played—waves smashing piers behind wind whipped journalists shouting into microphones; floods that turned streets into rivers; whirring helicopters on missions in the mountains to rescue stranded steer or climbers lost in a squall—no longer worked and so could no longer be used to show what weather once was. All that was left finally were paintings of mysteriously ethereal light and poems and prose in which the world weather had once created was described: verdant valleys dotted with larkspur, groves of poplars growing on headlands of green oats; furze, gorse, fireflies, bluebottles, forget-me-nots. They became only words, obsolete calls from a distant past, evoking nothing since no one any longer knew what any of them meant. The same with weather words themselves. What was a waft of air, a whiff, a whorl, a gust? What was balmy? What was bone-chilling cold? What was cold? What was air? And as with the words describing weather, so went weather metaphors. No one knew what it meant to be free as the wind, to weather a storm, to stand fast. And with the metaphors, so went what the metaphors described.
With nothing to distinguish them but the varying particulate count, which determined whether people went out at all, and if they did, what thickness of mask they wore, days ran together, and then years, so that not only was the weather gone, but time, too. And with time, memory, and with memory, history, and with history, any sense of a future. Some people said this was a good thing. But some people will say anything.
Sue Allison was a reporter for the London Sunday Times and Life Magazine. She is the recipient of a Pushcart Prize and was included in Best American Essays 2009.