Stormy Night

This was a piece I wrote a couple of years ago. It was anonymously published in my university newspaper, and I haven’t really done anything with it since. Seeing as it was published anonymously, I didn’t get any feedback on how people thought it was, so I figure if I post it here then maybe you random lovely internet folk can tell me how it is. I’d really love that.

Rain runs in winding rivers down her bowed head, snaking its way down her dark hair and down her neck. Her eyes don’t so much as glance to the side as she makes her way across a street which just seconds before teemed with cars finding their way home. She takes no notice of the car that has to slow down to let her pass, even though he has a green light. Her shoulders are hunched together; partly to hide her from the rain, partly to hold her shaking frame together. It’s indiscernible whether the water running down her face is from the sky or from her eyes, but it doesn’t really matter. The windbreaker she has pulled tightly around her isn’t doing its job, despite her hands being thrust deeply into the meager pockets. The zipper doesn’t go all the way up, and she long ago gave up on trying to keep the hood perched atop her head. The scarf that’s twisted around her neck is useless to keep the cold water from making its way inside her clothes. She’s thankful for the thickness of her jeans to ward against the wind, but the canvas shoes she wears are soaked with muddy water, and the mismatched socks hidden inside them are equally wet.

She crosses street after street, never once turning a corner, and never once checking for traffic. She doesn’t look up at the sky, or at the houses and shops around her, but only at her rain-drenched feet. The only break in her stride comes once when she kicks a small stone off of the sidewalk and into the road. People running from their parked cars into the safety of their front porches turn and look at the girl, walking none too fast through the wind and rain. There is an unmistakable sense of determination which captures their glances for a moment longer than expected, as they allow their imaginations to wonder where she’s off to, where she’s coming from.

They’re too far away to see her deep brown eyes, barely open as she stares absently at her shoes. Even if they could see that far, few could translate the expression held within them. First there’s just a look of resignation, of partial acceptance, of submission to some unseen force. That alone is troubling enough to make a person break her gaze. But if you held that gaze steady for just a moment longer, you’d see a whole other sort of expression, just below the surface: traces of ancient understanding and brand new wisdom pulse, flanked by flashes of unresolved uncertainty and unexpected jolts of pain. All of this is only hinted at as her eyes seem to retreat into a distant time and place.

No song or melody enters into her bowed head as she walks down a hill and below an overpass. No plans or ideas form themselves into schemes as she comes up the other side of the hill and back into the rain. Her thoughts move slowly, contemplatively, from one moment in time to the next. Some of her thoughts are disjointed, or so it would seem, but the truth is that they all process in an orderly sequence of events. It wasn’t just events, of course: there were smells and tastes and tactile sensations and remembered emotions, all forming tangible memories in her head. Not one made her smile, though some of her best memories waltzed through her imagination. She had no energy to smile.

Nearly nineteen blocks pass before she turns for the first time. Her sodden sneakers crunch their way onto a gravel path which winds its way up the only hill around. Evergreen trees nearly cover the side of the hill and reach their crisp branches up towards the crying sky, their brown and green in stark contrast against the deep grey heavens. Another fifteen minutes pass as she continues upwards, never looking back, never taking note of the animals which hide in the underbrush of the forest around her. This is a girl with a single destination in mind, and nothing will distract her from her path.

Soaked fully through but barely noticing it, she finally comes up into a clearing of trees. She is high enough on the hill that when she finally raises her head to look about her, she can see the dark buildings of the city below her in every direction. Beyond the city are places she has never been, but no matter how much she yearns to see far off places, her destination is close at hand.

Dusk is descending to meet the tops of the majestic pine trees which surround her, meandering their way in zigzags across the grassy clearing. In the darkness, the clearing seems to be full of shadowed shapes in various sizes, all in straight lines like an army on the march. Though the path is well worn, the girl squints into the deepening dark as she greets first one and then another of the familiar sentinels. Some tower over her head and some are comfortably short and unimposing. She stops before one such shadow.

Her shoulders hunch a little more and she sinks a little deeper into her shoes as the rain begins to come down harder. “Hello,” – she whispers into the blackness. Only the wind answers her reverent salute. She holds her breath, as if still expecting some response, or at least hoping… But none comes. Turning her face to the distant sky for the first time, she takes a deep breath and speaks into the dark night, “are you there?” Leaving her face upturned, she closes her eyes, allowing the rain to wash the first layer of exhaustion off of her countenance.

The world is silent around her. She takes another deep breath and sighs. Lowering her face, she takes her left hand out of her jacket pocket. Clutched in her hand are two daisies, half crushed from their confinement. Using both hands she slowly and deliberately straightens each stem and petal. Crouching down near to the ground, she carefully places the flowers at the foot of the headstone. Two names are engraved deep into the wide, cold stone. With one hand placed on each side of the small monument, she leans forward and presses her lips to the granite. Then she leans back to sit on her heals, her hands still tightly grasping the dripping gravestone.

With her eyes squeezed shut, she permits herself to shed her tears, but it is as if the rain has done all the weeping necessary. Her eyes remain dry, but she keeps them closed as she wills herself to feel the presence of those who are gone. Minutes pass and she is about to go, but before she can open her eyes, she feels the rain stop pounding against the top of her head. She feels the familiar heat of two bodies standing close beside her. She knows it isn’t real, but the concreteness of the memories poised at either side of her give her a surge of joy and sorrow that she could not have imagined. Two hands hug her shoulders and their warmth spreads through her, as she thanks the universe for the gift that it has given her.

Standing, she opens her eyes again, and though there is no one to be seen standing beside her, she again lifts her eyes to the sky. When the rain ended, the clouds parted. Now the moon shone bright among a million twinkling stars, and she is filled with the knowledge that even though her father and brother have been gone from her for months, she can always speak to them, and they will always hear her.

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