Rain

On 145th Street, there’s a building full of rain. I don’t mean that it’s flooded or anything. It’s not like when you open the door, the jangly glass kind at the front of a store, there’s water that rushes out and pushes you across the sidewalk in its hurry. There’s only perhaps an inch of water on the floor. It must leak out somewhere, and you can see the stain as it bleeds into the pavement at your feet when you’re right outside. You don’t get hit with a wave when you open the door. You just hear it; ppt ptt ppt ppt tpp prt. Thrumming against the concrete floor.

I found the rain room by accident. I was trying to get away from a thunderstorm, if you can believe that. I was running down the street with my coat over my head and my slippery-wet hand in my girlfriend’s hand, our fingers jamming together. We were laughing like mad. It had just started raining, out of the blue. Really, the sky had looked clear as any day when all the sun wants to do is wrap you in light, but then the clouds had come. They just sort of showed up, uninvited, and then they spilled all over us. Mel and I stopped strolling when we felt the first few drops, and our steps quickened. Then, right away, the rain sped up too and it began beating down on us. We ducked under our jackets and sprinted. Thinking back on it, I’m not sure why we were running. We were a bit far from anything, and we would’ve gotten wet by the time we reached a subway or a bus anyway. We just ran, hands clinging and feet slapping sprays of water onto each other. We ducked into a building with a half-cracked door and took a breath of relief before we realized that we hadn’t stopped getting wet.

Mel tipped her face right up to the ceiling and watched the drops fall toward her. I just watched her for a moment, too dumbfounded to talk. When I found my voice, I said, “Just our luck. The ceiling must be leaky. I bet this place is abandoned. Don’t do that, sweetie, the water’s probably all dirty.” In response, of course, she stuck out her tongue. She tasted the water that down the corners of her mouth.

“No,” she said. “The water, it’s just rainwater.”

“Of course it’s rainwater! It’s raining out. And it’s leaking.”

“Not out,” Mel smiled. She always was faster to catch on to things than I was. “It’s raining in here. Don’t you see?”

I looked up too. “Shit,” I said. “No it’s not.”

“Yes. It is.”

The ceiling was dropping water on us. Or at least I think it was the ceiling. I couldn’t really see any plaster or paint through the fog. Well, clouds, I suppose it was. The clouds covered the ceiling of the building and huddled in the corners in sulky gray masses. Mel smiled into the corners, the rain running down her face and twisting her hair into tendrils that streamed down her back. I started to laugh. She laughed too, until the both of us sank down and sat in the puddle that was the floor. We leaned against each other and laughed ourselves helpless at the escape we’d found from the rain outside. At the sheer absurdity of the building that rained on the inside.

We’d had a fight earlier that day, another one about her work that was taking all her time from me. She always answered that by saying, rather cattily, that if I only found something to do then it wouldn’t be a problem. I’d been sullen ever since, but now I laughed and when we paused to catch our breath I pulled her toward me. We kissed, sloppy and soaking, in the room that rained on us. I’m not sure there was a moment before or since that I felt us breathe and beat together like that as the rain trembled to the floor around us.

When we finally went home, we were so drenched with rain that a pool of water spread on our seats on the bus and poured itself down into the grooves on the floor. We were both shivering, still wracked with giggles, drawing stares from the three old ladies who were the only other people on the bus. We got home and took a long hot shower. We broke into laughter again the moment the water began to spray.

Everything’s a little different now. With me, with Mel, everything. I think it can be better, though. I haven’t seen her in a week, but we’re going to meet up on 145th Street. I won’t bring an umbrella, just in case.

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Storyteller

I like to tell stories that shift the world slightly. Good fiction should heal, somehow, it should tuck and twist the lines around everything just enough for it all to fit together a little more easily. The universe should make more sense to people. Humans wander around feeling like everything is out of balance, like chaos reigns, like their lives have no meaning and purpose and sense. I want to banish chaos, to restore meaning, to put the balance right. More than anything, people want to be the protagonists in their own stories. They want everything to flow around them a little bit like it would in a well-written novel, where they are likeable and relatable because the main characters always are. Where what happens to them has some kind of drive behind it, and you know that it’s going to have a satisfying ending. If it doesn’t, at least the tragedy or the drama makes you sigh with real feeling. People don’t want to feel like everything that makes up who they are is false.

This is why people give excuses to teachers and parents, professors, coaches, spouses, and priests. My printer broke. I came down with a fever, suddenly, and couldn’t write the paper. I couldn’t get home in time because the car broke down. My grades are slipping because the teachers are out to get me. I was only talking to her to be nice. I was only sleeping with her because the devil tempted me. Whatever. There has to be a reason to it. A story. If there isn’t a story, it’s too empty, too dull, too flat to be real life.

My story for my college (ex-)boyfriend is that I was falling for him and I was afraid, and we were graduating, and so I veered away in order to avoid all that pain and heartbreak I just knew we would feel for each other. That way, when I told him that, he could feel that razor brush of love, the scrape of sorrow, the wistful nostalgia for something beautiful that could have been true. I don’t think he knew I was sleeping with someone else, but either way, my story lets him believe that we were pure and good and that I loved him. It’s much better to be loved than to be lost.

Last year I told a story to half my family; my friend here was sick, so sick that I couldn’t come home to my parents’ house for Thanksgiving. I had to stay and visit, make soup and bring casserole. The year before that, another friend’s mother died. My parents like to know that I’m a good friend, a caring person, a responsible and compassionate human being. When I don’t go to the dreaded four-hour meal full of my aunt’s tirades and my father’s stoic silence, everything is a little bit better. My world doesn’t have to be miserable for days, and their world is sweeter because they believe in me.

If you pay attention to the stories, you start noticing them everywhere. They laid you off because money was tight in the company. He left you because he had to go find himself. She stopped calling because she got wrapped up in caring for her child, and you know what that must be like with a kid like that. I told my sister that I needed to visit for a bit because I was depressed, and just wanted to feel close to her again. I told my boss that I was so caught up in it that I worked through lunch. I told my dad that I knew everything would be okay. Everything is easier when you can fit it in a story, as small and cramped as that might be. Sometimes they are close to true.

There’s one story that I don’t tell. The purpose of stories is to heal, not to hurt. If there’s pain in a story, you know it’s there for a reason. I don’t tell stories that wound unnecessarily. I don’t see the purpose in it. Pain can be useful, but only when it brings you closer to some kind of resolution. I don’t tell her that I’m half in love with her. Even for a story, half is not enough.

Keep Going

Go go go don’t stop don’t look back. If you look back they can get you, the demons, the shadows, the ones who never slow down. Keep running they’re catching up. They’re always catching up. You said to me once that the truly terrifying thing, what makes you prickle cold with sweat at night and shakes your bones all day, what scares you is that you can go a long way pretty fast but they go slower they do they plod on but they never ever ever need to sleep. You slowed down and they got you.

If I keep going fast enough they won’t get me. If I keep running I’ll be okay. That’s what you told me. Your words go in my head keep going keep going keep going run run run and one syllable with every time a foot hits the ground so I’m saying the words as I go even when I’m walking because my legs might fall out from under me. Those words keep my feet forward, keep my bones working and my blood churning and my face turned up and ahead of me so I don’t look at the ground so long that I just sink right onto it. Sometimes the dirt looks so inviting.

There’s no way I give up, you have to know that, you might be gone to me but I can still talk to you in my head. It’s not like there’s anyone else to talk to either and I’d always rather talk to you than anyone. You know. You always know. Now when I have to do all the knowing when my brain has to work all the time and my body has to go go go all the time and I’m without you and all I have is your words that keep me going because I have to keep going. Now that it’s like this, I still talk to you in my head. I always did and always will. There isn’t anyone better to talk to. Even if there was someone they wouldn’t be better couldn’t not possibly because you’re always you even though you’re not here you’re not with me you’re still you. When I ask myself questions because I’m so so so tired sometimes I can hear your answers because I know what you would say. Sometimes I ask just to hear the answer you would say come back to me and I can pretend for a little minute there that you’re telling me how to survive how to be how to live and it’ll work and because of you, your words in my head, you’re gone but I have your words and so I’ll be okay.

Do you think I’ll ever be able to rest? No don’t stop run run run never stop.

When Clara Meets the Man of Her Dreams

The walls are made of aluminum and Clara is sure that they will rattle with a hollow metallic ring if she brushes against them. She knows she is looking for somebody, but she doesn’t know who. When she steps her feet sink slightly into the floor and lift out of it with a slight sucking sound. Her skin tingles. The walls are rising higher around her like a maze and then they melt away into puddles at her feet and he’s there in front of her. She won’t be able to describe him later. His face is beautiful, but it is indistinct. Clara walks toward him and he reaches out a hand toward her. She brings her fingers to touch him and jumps a little as though it was an electric shock. He catches her up in his arms and kisses her, taking her breath away. She wakes up gasping.

Her bedroom is square and sharp after the soft edges of her sleep. She blinks bewildered eyes at the walls that only go up to the ceiling and the mess of clothes she left in the corner last night. The breeze from the window brings a musty smell into the room and a car alarm is going off in the distance in the relentless beep-beep-beep that she’s almost learned to tune out completely. Almost. What a lovely man, she thinks.

Clara falls asleep that night half-smiling, wondering if her brain will produce the same man again. She wakes in the middle of the night to stare at the white shape cast by the window and to feel a vague disappointment that he has not returned to her. She dozes again, skimming the surface of sleep and finally sinking beneath it. He is there, and he folds her into his embrace. When she wakes in the morning she can nearly feel the burning imprint of his lips on her skin. Her ears seem to know the sound of his voice, for all that it never sounds in daylight.

The next night, Clara does not see the man at all. She wakes in the morning and her stomach is filled with acid and disillusionment. Sleep is nothing but black when she has no visions of love. The night after, though, she falls asleep bitter and she wakes up delighted, for he came back to her. He’s in there somewhere, she thinks, huddled in her mind until she sleeps when he can come to her. The following night she knows she will see him, and there he is. When she wakes she is shivering from his hands, his tongue, his skin on her. She drifts into reveries during the day thinking of the softness of his hair in her fingers and the glint of light that dances in his eyes.

Clara begins to resent mornings. When she opens her eyes it means she no longer sees him. Her days are long and she counts the hours until she can be in bed again, with her lover again. It never comes soon enough. Everything bothers her in the daytime. The stairs are too steep and the muscles in her legs strain likes strings pulled too tight. Work seems to freeze time, and when she gets home she is impatient to be tired, for her body to soften enough that she can go to bed. She tries sleeping earlier and waking right before she has to leave for work, but it doesn’t work. She has trouble falling asleep early and when she succeeds she jerks from slumber in the middle of the night and cannot return to it. The rest of the night is a long gray block of longing.

Occasionally there is a night that she does not see him. On the mornings after uninterrupted sleep she wakes livid, angry at her brain that it did not produce her lover. She spends all the day in a quiver of irritation until she can rest her head and close her eyes to see him. She has started to notice the process of waking up and the sluggish drag out of the cling of sleep. Her eyes are still closed and her lover still before her, but she can feel the morning come. The light creeps into her room like a thief and robs her of her sleep. She bemoans its loss. Her days are dry and long. Her nights are too short and too beautiful. Clara lives to slip into sleep, where she is loved.

Tell Me A Story

Okay, honey, one. I’m tired and it’s been a long day. You have to go to sleep after that, promise?

Once upon a time in a faraway forest there was a fairy named Erstenpraktertolanima. She was a very lonely fairy, because she had no friends. This is because all of the other fairies who tried to befriend her could never pronounce her name, and so they gave up. One day Erstenetc. walked away and climbed up a mountain and then she met the trolls. She met a lovely (though ugly) troll named Prince Lumpy, and he told her, “Ersten… um, Fairy, you should go visit the goblin-people of Shhhhton. They are exactly what you need.”

Don’t you remember Prince Lumpy from the other story? Well here he is. He’s doing fine, happily ever after. Are you feeling sleepy yet?

So Erstenetc. walked and walked and walked, and just when her feet were so blistered that they had polka dots and her body slumped so that her fingers nearly dragged on the ground and her wings were folded like a moth’s to her body, she came across the goblin-town.

Well, it looks just like our town except that all the houses are green and there are signs everywhere. Like there’s a sign outside the first house that says, ‘House Number One! The Collinses!’ and the second one says ‘The Post Office!’ and the third one says ‘The Bennets! Also The Bakery!’ You see, goblins really like signs, and they are often excited about everything.

She walked in and tried to introduce herself to the little old goblin-lady selling doughnuts, but the lady shook her head helplessly. She waved her hands in the air and looked at Erstenetc. with a look of expectation on her goblin-face. After several failed attempts at conversation, Erstenetc. realized that the goblin-people of Shhhhton did not speak with voices. They spoke with the quick-sharp-graceful-soft fluttering of their long-fingered goblin-hands, and they shaped words and sentences and whole stories with those drawings in the air. Erstenpraktertolanima learned the sign-language of the goblin-people and made wonderful friends who never had to pronounce her name at all, and she lived with them happily for ever after.

There, sweetheart, there’s a story. Did you like it? Oh, you’re half-asleep already. Good night, darling, see you in the morning. Sweet dreams.

 

Breath

He had missed the lilt of her eyelashes when she looked up at him. Sam missed her intoxicating smile and the comfort, the cool sheer relief, of seeing the wisps of hair curl away from her face the way they always did. All was quiet in the room, though he was breathing a bit too loudly, from the nerves. She was patient, fingers pleating and smoothing the fabric of her blouse. He could almost smell her perfume, faint and sweet.

“I miss you,” Sam said, and she nodded. He took a deep breath, filled himself with air, and launched into speech. “I missed you for a long time and I still kind of miss you. I can see you right there in front of me and it’s like you’re not really there, and I miss you still. You look at me like you’re looking over a long distance and you barely recognize me, like you don’t care, like you don’t want me. What’s wrong with me that you’d leave me? What’s wrong with me that you don’t want me? I’m sorry, love, I am. I love you anyway, but I don’t understand. Why don’t you love me anyway? Why don’t you love me still?” He paused to catch his breath, and his gulp for air snagged in the silence after his words.

She didn’t move. She sat folded in the armchair, her legs under her. She didn’t make a sound. She just looked at Sam with her dark eyes welling with tears, but he didn’t know why. It could have been sadness or anger or fear. Or he could be imagining it. He was choking on his disappointment and his pain. The bemusement in the twist of her mouth was clogging his throat, like sawdust he’d swallowed. It tasted bitter in his mouth. The words he wanted to say were crammed in his chest until his ribs ached with them. They crowded until they burst out again, all tripping through his mouth.

“I just can’t, I don’t know what else to say, but why are you so far away? Why, I mean, what happened to make it like this? I want to be able to go back, you know? I want to make it like it was. Or at least, I don’t know, I want to be able to have what we did, but better. I know it’s not like that and I know that everything happened like it did, but my god, I don’t know.” He stopped talking for a moment. The sunlight from the window had turned yellow and bright in the last gasp of day. She moved in her seat, and the light shifted and trickled down her face and shoulder like gold. He took a deep, shuddering breath.

“I didn’t think that would really be the end. I didn’t really think about it, I mean, I didn’t let it sink into me that you were just going to be gone like this. It still is hard to think it, like it’s not real, that it’s never going to be like that again. How can that even be? That it’s just gone and there’s no getting it back? That seems like it can’t really happen. I can’t believe it. I really can’t. That I’ll never get a chance to have you again, to be yours again, to make it right and make it real? How could I let that be true?” Sam rocked back against his chair, as though the words had given him a parting kick on their way out.

She looked at him with crinkled brows and a different twist to her mouth now. It might have been pity. His words were still repeating through his head, a skipping song lyric stuck and playing over again. She shrugged, and faded, and then she was gone. The armchair she’d been sitting on was smooth and undisturbed, without a dent or wrinkle. Sam slumped, his shoulders loose and his head lolling back. He was still grasping at the air with lungs full of dust. The room was just starting to empty of light, the shadows stretching from one wall nearly to the next. The lamp hanging from the ceiling seemed brighter now, bravely bursting with light in the oncoming dark. Sam sighed, his breath soughing over the heavy knot in his throat, and glared at the empty room.

Maybe

It was Tuesday that it happened. Or actually, maybe it was Thursday. I know it definitely wasn’t Sunday though. Anyway, it was sometime in the morning and I had just gotten out of the house. I saw Mr. Rowland when I was walking down the street, and he waved at me. Or Mrs. Rowland. One of them had the little girl trailing along like a little piece of cotton, caught on an adult’s hand and dragging a bit on the snarls in the road. Megan, I think her name is, right? She waved at me with her free hand in kind of a desperate grab at the air, though I think I’m a stranger to her. I waved, saluted back in a way I guess.

I didn’t see anyone else I knew til I got to the school to pick up Patrick, early, because he was sick. He had a headache. Or a stomachache. Wait, no, I definitely saw Ellen running home with all her grocery store bags slung over her arm. She always walks, because the store’s only a block away–two blocks–and then she piles herself with cans and bags and hobbles home, trying to get everything unloaded before she strains something. She was so harried and shiny that she didn’t even kiss me on the way, just gave a bit of a nod. Though she might’ve said something.

When I got to the school, there must have been at least two police cars in the lot, their lights all flashing. Four cars. Lots of police officers. They were all milling about like ants swarming on something sweet. You could practically see their mandibles clicking. Do ants have mandibles? Anyway, I edged past them and tried to go inside, and someone stopped me, a policeman. A policewoman, and she said–he said, “Excuse me, this is a crime scene. We can’t let you past.”

I felt the ground waver under me and I said, in a voice gone high with fright, “You don’t understand, my son is inside. I have to get in. You have to let me in, my kid’s in there. Please.”

She shook her head, but she was uncertain. I said “Please,” again and she turned to ask. I ran in, like I was sneaking in, my heart pounding too fast and my brain blurred with panic. I shoved through the doors and ran, and my feet pounded as fast as my heart down the linoleum hallways of the school. I could hear the buzz of voices in some nearby corridor, down the English wing. Or math. It must’ve been science, actually, I think I remember the wasp wings or frogs and skulls or whatever it is in lacy tufts and clunks of bone, all caught in jars that lined the shelves running down the hall.

I rounded a corner and there was a whole gaggle of people crowded around a body on the floor, my god there was blood streaking the cheerful dull tiles and limbs crooked and there was Patrick’s face in the crowd peering over and my god, my heart skidded and thumped and then picked up its ragged rhythm. I thought all my bones might just let go and clatter on the floor. He saw me and he ran to me. He elbowed his way through the crowd of kids and teachers and the shrill words, “Everyone, it’s okay, he’s going to be fine, it was an accident. Back up–Sarah get back right now or you are staying in detention for a week. Back up.” Patrick landed in my arms and I don’t know what they were all saying or what the other kids were doing or what was happening with the kid on the floor or the cops who were filtering through, saying things like “The ambulance is on its way, ma’am, has someone heard from his parents?”

My kid’s arms were locked around my neck and he was shaking a little, just a tiny shuddering in his shoulders, and I held him while he tried not to cry and I felt so immensely hugely scared and relieved and certain, for a moment, that holding onto Patrick meant everything was going to be okay. I remember that.