Area of Fog #3 by Will Dowd
I’ll be honest, I was worried this week. Nothing was happening, weather-wise. Monday was mild—a fugitive March day hiding out in mid-January—while Tuesday left so little impression on my mind I could not swear in a court of law the day actually transpired.
Then the fog rolled in.
It happened on Wednesday night, when no one was looking. Dusk fell, the mercury dropped, and suddenly the whole South Shore of Massachusetts was saturated in abject eeriness.
It’s a strange thing, fog. You walk outside, look around, and your world is gone. Lost in a cataract gloom. And when you ask the meteorologist for the humdrum scientific explanation, he says it’s Heaven come to earth.
I had a few odd experiences in the fog.
While walking down the street on Wednesday night, I heard—about twenty feet ahead of me in the white murk—the hollow sound of a glass bottle rolling on its side and coming to a jangling stop. After a few seconds, it began to roll again, this time in the other direction, then stopped, waited, and started rolling again. I didn’t run, but I did turn around.
On Thursday, I paused by a lake to look at some seagulls. (Life is unpredictable and you never know when it’s going to be your last chance to pause by a lake to look at some seagulls.) The fog was obscuring the far shore, making the lake look infinite. The gulls were standing on a long swath of ice. Suddenly they were in the air, circling me, squawking at me. Were they enraged by my voyeurism or trying to warn me of something? I didn’t run, but I did turn around.
All considered, the fog gave me the haunting sense that something strange was about to happen, that I was a character on the first page of novel.
I wasn’t alone.
“I feel like we’re in Sherlock Holmes,” my Grandmother remarked when I saw her on Thursday. She was right, of course. It was fine weather for fishing a body from the Thames or swinging your cane at a street urchin.
If anyone recognized the literary merits of fog, it was the Victorian authors, who practically mass-produced the stuff. It was their way of dropping a veil on their hyper-rational, industrialized metropolis.
In one Sherlock Holmes story, the bored detective condemns London criminals for not taking advantage of a week-long fog. “The thief or the murderer could roam London on such a day as the tiger does the jungle, unseen until he pounces, and then evident only to his victim,” Holmes says. “It is fortunate for this community that I am not a criminal.”
Interestingly (at least to an English major), fog often appears on the first page of these stories. Just look at Dickens, where it pours in through Scrooge’s keyhole at the opening of A Christmas Carol, swirls with metaphoric import at the beginning of Bleak House, and even appears in its cousin form, marsh-mist, to blind Pip at the outset of Great Expectations.
That’s where fog belongs—on the first page of novels. It’s how the text comes at us. It emerges from whiteness, like a figure in fog, and if you take just a few steps into it, you lose sight of who you were, and where you came from. Take Sherlock’s advice to Watson: bring a revolver.
Will Dowd is a freelance writer based outside Boston. He received an MFA from New York University and an MS from MIT. His writing has appeared in Barrow Street, Post Road, Skeptic Magazine, and NPR.org.