Friday, March 4, 2016

Umbrellas—short fiction

Originally published on Amarillo Bay in 2012.

In Santa Fe, in the summer, the clouds build up over the mountains in the afternoon and around three o’clock they rumble down the canyon and pour rain on the city for about an hour, sometimes so hard that driving can be almost impossible and small rivers flow down the streets.
Two blocks past the elementary school the girl stood under a cottonwood tree in the downpour, hunched over trying to find the least wet spot under the branches. He drove past in his car and she looked through the window at him. He looked at her in the rearview mirror and saw her turn and watch his car. He stopped, backed up and stopped again in front of her, leaning across and rolling down his window. “Hello! Do you want a ride?”
With raindrops hammering down on the car roof he could barely hear her small voice say, “No thanks.”
“Well, do you live close? Or do you know somebody nearby?”
Again quiet. “No. My mom’s supposed to pick me up. She’s late so I’m walking home.”
“Well come on, get in my car at least and we can wait for her.”
Her face dripping, long black hair starting to plaster to her head. “No, I can’t. I’m not supposed to talk to you. I’m not supposed to talk to people I don’t know.”
“Yeah, I know but...hold on.” He unbuckled himself and got out, grabbing his umbrella. If anything, the rain got harder. He walked around his car unfolding the umbrella. She only came up to his waist. He held the umbrella over her and hunched over so they both were somewhat covered. “Here, this rain doesn’t usually last for long.”
She looked up at him with just her eyes, her chin staying tucked down. “Thank you.”
“How far is it to home?”
“Not that far.”
“Have you walked home before?”
“Sometimes. Sometimes my mom is late. Sometimes she picks me up along the way. I don’t like to wait at school.”
“So she’ll know to come along this road to find you?”
“Ok.” A thin stream of rain drizzled off the umbrella onto his back. “You’re sure you wouldn’t want to wait in my car?”
“I’m not supposed to.”
He sighed. “Ok. What’s your name?”
“Nice to meet you Rachel. I’m David.”
“Hello.” She looked down at her feet. “My shoes are wet. They squish.”
“Well hopefully your mother will be here soon and you can go home and have some hot chocolate or something.” He looked at his car and realized he had forgotten to roll up the passenger side window. “Fuck. Rachel, here, hold this.” He gave her the umbrella and ran over to his car. Opened the door, rolled up the window and shut the door and back to the girl, taking the umbrella from her.
“You said fuck.”
“I know. Sorry.”
“My mom says I shouldn’t say fuck, but she does sometimes.”
“Sometimes people do.”
She looked thoughtful, then smiled. “Fuck.” She looked up at him. “What does fuck mean?”
“Oh shit. Well, it’s something people do when they like each other. It’s sex. Do you know about that?”
“Yes. Why is fuck bad to say then?”
“Well it also means....” He thought a minute. “It can also be something someone does to another person even when they don’t like it? So when you say fuck it means something bad happened to you when you didn’t want it to. I guess.” He shrugged.
She watched a car pass them and watched the water spray up from the tires. She silently mouthed the word fuck again and stamped her feet. “Do you have a girlfriend?”
“A girlfriend? No. Not right now.”
“Do you like girls? Some men don’t you know.”
He smiled. “Yeah,  I know. Yes I like girls. Do you have a boyfriend?”
“No, I don’t like boys.”
“Oh. Well that makes two of us.”
“Why don’t you like boys?”
“Oh, they start wars. I hate that.”
“But you’re a boy.”
“I know. I don’t like wars but I fantasize about killing men who start wars. So, just as bad I guess.”
“I don’t think that’s bad.”
“Why don’t you like boys?”
“They’re mean.”
“Hm, well...”
She looked up at him again. “You don’t have to stand here.”
“Oh, it’s not a problem.” A gust of wind blew drops on them and he felt water seeping into his socks. “You should get your mother to buy you an umbrella.”
“She did. Somebody at school stole it.”
“Oh. You know, when I lived in New York, there were these guys who sold umbrellas on the street. They were really cheap, like they would only last a day and fall apart. But there were always lots of people who would buy them because nobody ever wanted to carry them all the time. I remember this one guy, I think he was from Africa, and he didn’t speak English, but he said umbrellas like, um-brellas, with the accent on the first part of the word. ‘Um-brellas! Um-brellas!”
She smiled. “Umbrella. That’s funny.”
“I always liked that. Seems like they should always be called umbrellas.”
“I think so too.”
The rain started to let up, and suddenly patches of sunlight started to show. “Et voilá, le soleil.”
She pointed. “Look! A rainbow!”
And it was. A full one, stretching from the mountains across the valley toward Albuquerque.
A car stopped in front of them and a woman got out. “Rachel! Rachel! Get away from him! Leave her alone you son of a bitch!”  She ran over to the girl and picked her up.
“But mom...”
She glared at him. “How dare you?!”
“Mom, we talked about umbrellas.”
“What?” The woman carried the girl to her car and put her in the passenger seat. She closed the door and turned to him. “I’m calling the police. If you touched her I’ll kill you!”
“Ma’am, I was just—”
“Oh I know what you were doing.” She got in the car and he saw her pick up her cell phone and dial as she drove away.
He shook his umbrella and closed it and stood a second smelling the wet pavement smell and listening to the water drip off the cottonwood tree. The rainbow was still there.

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