Like A Lion...Out Like Two Lions
Karen Radford Treanor
© Copyright 2022 by Karen Radford Treanor
The java-cloth curtains before the storm. Photos by the author.
“Give me a home among the gum trees” said the theme song of a now-defunct gardening show. Gum trees—genus eucalyptus—come in many varieties, and quite a few of the larger ones marched along the fence line of our home in the hills above Perth, Western Australia. Eucalyptus tend to drop their branches suddenly, especially if stressed or ill, with only a loud cra-a-a-ck! to warn those beneath.
After a long dry summer that had burnt the lawn to toast and left most of the trees looking parched, the weather bureau forecast rain. Few of us believed this—we’d had such forecasts off and on for weeks, but nary a drop had fallen. Summer limped to its end and autumn officially started on March 1.
It was usual to have ‘equinoctial gales’ in spring and autumn, but as March progressed the weather remained hot and still. Then about three o’clock one day, the sky darkened. Could rain be on the way? I doubted it, but brought the laundry in anyway. At 3:10 a few drops of rain fell and a light breeze fluttered the curtains. At 3:15 from out of nowhere a vast sheet of solid water, driven by all the sky gods that ever existed arrived in our yard. A celestial drum-and-bugle corps accompanied the wind and rain. The thunder was incredible—as was the lightning. An occasional snap and sizzle told of a treetop zapped by Zeus, who seemed really put out about something. Fortunately the heavy rain put out any small fires.
I was working in the kitchen when the lights flickered and I heard an almighty thump on the roof. It came from the south-east corner of the house, where my home office was. Shortly thereafter I heard running water. Running water? From my office? I raced up the hall.
A small cascade was coming from the air vent in the ceiling and trickling over the book shelf that ran the width of the room above the curtain rail. My entire Robert B Parker collection and a hard-to-find almost complete set of Michael Innes mysteries was threatened with imminent dissolution.
I got up on the window seat and began pulling books off the shelf. The trickle of water increased in volume and speed. This was too big a job for the dustcloth I’d left in my back pocket, but I stuffed it into the air vent anyway. (There’s never a little Dutch boy around when you really need one.)
The wind and rain was so violent I dared not go out to the workshop to tell my husband what was happening, so I rang his mobile, which he usually kept in his shirt pocket. “Don’t stay there, come in, I think we’ve been hit by lightning, the house is flooding” I said over crackles of static, not pausing for his answer.
Then the gutters backed up and the overflow battered the window, driven by the wind. Added to what was coming in through the hole in the roof, the entire south-west corner of the room became a waterfall, which started filling up the window seat. I grabbed all the towels from the bathroom and put them down to sop up what they could. The old java-cloth window curtains had been with us since we’d been young Peace Corps volunteers. They were now wet and crumpled and I feared the fabric would shred, but could not attend to them while the deluge continued.
Racing to the kitchen, I collected all my bread pans and put them on the windowsill where they caught most of the water, but filled rapidly. Back to the kitchen to get a bucket to tip the bread pans into, pausing to grab all the dishtowels from their drawer. The storm howled on and the water continued to pour in. Every towel in the linen cupboard was pressed into service, and a few blankets as well. I managed to staunch the flood before it ruined the new wood laminate floor--it could have been a "floating floor" for real—and suddenly the storm stopped, as if a giant’s hand had turned the faucet. The entire event had lasted only 25 minutes.
I piled the sodden stuff in the bathtub and laundry sink, and was debating what to wash and spin first when the power went off. Just then Gene decided to come in for a cup of tea. “Hey, the kettle’s not working,” he called. “The power must be out.”
“No kidding,” I said, squelching down the hall to the kitchen. “Didn’t you hear me begging you to come in and help? Where were you?”
“I got your call, but it was full of static, then you hung up. I figured out you were saying ‘Stay where you are, it’s dangerous to come in,’ so I stayed where I was.”
We went to survey the damage now that it was safe to go outside. A huge branch had come off one of the tall gum trees and pieced the roof tiles. “Luckily I have some spares stashed in the shed, “said the All-round Useful Bloke. These and a ladder were fetched, and in a few minutes the broken tiles were stacked on the ground to await an insurance assessor and the replacement ones were installed. Not for the first time I congratulated myself on the choice of mates—not to mention style of roof.
Gene brought the ladder indoors and climbed through the hatch in the hall into the attic crawl space and reported, “There’s water pooling on the ceiling panels over the bedroom. And there are a lot of leaves that must have blown in over the years, and a dead bird.”
Rather than let the ceiling collapse onto the bed, bookcase, wardrobe and floor, we put buckets on the floor and Gene poked holes in the lowest points of the weakening ceiling. We collected gallons of dirty water. There was no place in the bathtub to dump the water, so it was bucketed out to the garden. Then Gene went back into the crawl space and scooped up mounds of sodden leaves—and the dead bird--and bagged it all. He passed the bag down to me, but as I grabbed it, a piece of broken tile that had been hidden in the leaves cut through the bag, which disgorged its wet and smelly contents all over me, the ladder, the floor and the old cat who had wandered in to see what all the fun was.
To add to the general unpleasantness, Gene had to do all of the crawlspace work with the aid of one tiny flashlight, because the big one had chosen that time to drop dead. Of course it did.
I rang Western Power to see when the lights would be back on. Nine p.m. they said. Only a few hours; I can live with that. I opened the fridge and freezer and took out food for supper and ice cubes for drinks, because I knew the power would be back on soon and my cooling would come back....
Meanwhile it was getting dark and gloomy, and there was nothing else we could do except report the mess to our insurance company. Imagine our amazement to find the phone was now dead. Using the mobile phone, which in those days I only had for emergency calls and so therefore paid a huge rate per minute, I rang the agents. Surprise! They could not register my claim because they were all sitting in the dark staring at dead computers. At least they had phones, but that wasn't much good without computers.
Next noontime we were still without power and I thought of all the meat in the freezer. Good though the machine is, we'd been having a lot of 100 degree days and our little brick house was a veritable heat sink by this time, so the freezer's insulation was probably fighting a losing battle. "I'll just nip out and buy a few bags of ice," I told Gene. Two hours later and 20 kilometres from home, I was still looking. Apparently the other 30,000 people in the shire had selfishly purchased supplies of ice before I thought of it. (Either that or there was one helluva Bar Mitzvah or wake going on somewhere.) On my fourth attempt I found a store that still had ice. Barely. Their generator was labouring to keep everything running, so they'd switched off the line to the ice storage area, and the bags of ice were somewhat less than totally frozen. “Never mind, I'll take six bags anyway”, I said, expecting a discount. Har-har.
Back home I drained off the water and re-packaged the ice into smaller bags. Whipping open the freezer, I laid the smaller bags wherever there was space, as fast as possible. More bags went into the refrigerator, and everything that could be removed from it was, in order to conserve cooling power for important stuff like milk.
I ferreted out the non-essentials and passed them to Gene, who stacked them on the counters. He said, “This could be the basis of a TV show, ‘A Brief History of Food’, but without Stephen Hawking to make sense of it. Why were we keeping vindaloo paste in the fridge? Surely nothing bad could possibly grow in that! And what’s this bright green stuff?”
“This is not a good time to wind up the cook,” I grumbled, looking at the box of palm sugar I’d bought in 1998, apparently with the idea of making some ethnic goody or other.
Two hours after I did the ice packing, the power came back on. No fool I: the ice bags were left where they were for another two days, just to be sure--in fact, a year later I still had a bag in reserve in the bottom of the freezer, just in case.
Now we had power, which was great, but still no phones and therefore no internet. I reported the outage to the telco and was told that 'nobody else on your street is having problems.' I didn't believe that: we had all been having trouble intermittently for several months since the last freak storm. Next day the phone company turned up in a van full of equipment. The van was personed by a 14-year-old male. OK, maybe 16. He flitted back and forth between our phone pole and the big junction thingummybob up the street. Eventually the line was fixed and we rejoined the 21st century.
After three weeks the house insurance company remembered to tell me they had accepted the quote for repairing the storm damage, and a few days later the ceiling fixers turned up. “We can rip out the old ceiling, which will take time, make a mess, and cost extra. And you’ll have to remove all the furniture. Or we can install a brand-new ceiling 75 mm (3 inches) below the damaged one, using the old crown moulding as a spacer. We’ll put up new moulding, and you’ll never know there was any damage—plus, you will have a handy air pocket to insulate the bedroom against heat,” the ceiling man explained. This seemed eminently sensible, so I told them to go ahead.
Three days later a brilliantly white and smooth ceiling had been installed. As we lay abed that night admiring it, we heard the smallest of noises. Tap-tap, tippity tap. Small paws were traversing the brand new ceiling on the top side.
“Next time we get a new ceiling, remember to ask the man to patch the holes in the old one first,” said my husband.
“Meanwhile, let’s hope whatever little beast is up there doesn’t have roller-skates.”
“Or a weak bladder,” I replied.
And that was all it took: next day Gene was up the ladder and across the joists again, this time with some patching material. (First, we’d tapped on the ceiling to scare off whatever might be in the void between old and new ceilings.)
“It doesn’t look flash, but it’s only visible from up there, and it should keep out unwanted visitors,” he said, passing down the empty silastic tubes.
There were no more tap dancers in our ceiling, but that was not the end of visits from uninvited wildlife.
(You can find those stories on my story list page. Click here.)
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