The hour just before dinner was always a quiet one on the island. Work was ending, men and women finding their way home in the diminishing light, and the children were tearing themselves away from school or play or anything else that had occupied them for the day. The air was full on goodbyes, and not yet warmed up enough to find the newness behind the hellos of coming home to faces and hands seen day in and day out.
Kevlin had been on the island for two months. He had adjusted to the calm and quiet for that single hour in bits, but not entirely. It surprised him to be able to hear the echoes from the street outside, to listen to the haphazard clatter of doors on the street outside, each one a singular clap in the breath at the break in the day.
He paused in the middle of cleaning his boots, one hand balled into the leather foot as he lowered it to the floor. There were a lot of doors clapping that night, without the usual space between them, as if everyone had gotten home all at once. He blinked, because that seemed unlikely. Most people would have gotten home earlier than this.
“What’s going on?” he asked quietly.
Bendon set the last plate on the table, and wiped his hands on the apron he’d tied over his clothes to keep off the grease from cooking. “A storm’s coming in,” he murmured. “Folks are probably just going out to watch.”
“A storm?” Kevlin repeated.
Bendon smiled at him. “Thunder, lightning, rain, great big black clouds. They have those on the mainland?”
“Of course,” Kelvin said. “Is it a bad one?”
Shrugging, Bendon looked over the table again, and didn’t answer.
“Why are so many people going out their doors?” Kevlin asked.
“Because here in the civilized world, we’ve discovered that we have a great chance of landing on our feet when we take the door instead of the window,” Bendon told him, turning back to the stove top.
Kevlin glared at his back.
Another door clacked, closer than Kevlin expected and he jumped, then stared at Hanna as she came running down the stairs. She was throwing her coat back on, and grinning, and aimed herself straight at the door without pause.
“Where are you going?” Kevlin shouted after her. He ran to catch up, and stopped himself in the door frame when she came to a stop just as quickly, halfway down the front steps. When she looked back at him, she hadn’t managed to lose her smile, and just covered it over in tones of apathetic curiosity. She blinked at him as if she didn’t know an explanation for her uncomplicated action.
The dark clouds were seeping in over the roofs. They laid smooth, as if the winds had brushed them straight before they turned their attention to combing through the city. Hannah’s hair barely touched her shoulders as the wind played with it, and she crossed her arms over her chest to keep her coat closed.The rain had started to fall, though most of the sky was still holding onto the silver-gray of early evening. One drop struck Kevlin’s shoulder, and another drove a dark point into the dirt a few feet ahead of him.
Men and women stood in front of their doors on both sides of his house, arms tight to their chest and stomachs, faces tilted up. The chill alone should have driven them inside, but they looked happy as if they had come out to be kissed.
“What are you doing?” Kevlin asked.
Hanna looked over her shoulder, with no better explanation for herself. She just shrugged a little and hugged herself tighter.
“She came out to watch,” Bendon said, coming up behind him. He dried his hands on a towel and threw it over his shoulder, looking out at the clouds as well.
“Shouldn’t we be locking the doors up tight, not throwing them open?” Kevlin asked.
Hanna shook her head at him, slowly. “I think the house will survive the storm without needing a locked door for support. It’s better built than that.”
“No, I…” Kevlin stopped himself. He glanced between his housemates carefully. “You all don’t lock yourselves in for a storm?”
“Maybe on shipboard,” Hanna murmured. “If the squalls get real bad.”
“Is that they train you to do on the mainland?” Bendon asked.
Kevlin hesitated, then wasn’t sure how he could say differently. “Yes,” he told them.
Hanna shuddered and shook her head. “How sad,” she murmured.
Bendon draped an arm over Kevlin’s shoulders. “I am so glad you found your way here, where we can teach you proper manners.”