The rain is sticky in the air; the droplets clinging to each other, dancing wildly as they fall toward abandon. They find a shoulder, a lock of hair, an upturned eye and break apart before hitting the hard world below. Maybe they prefer that, I think. In the hierarchy of raindrop culture is it better to land on a person than a sidewalk? Is it more honorable? We try to avoid rain at all costs and maybe they’re just looking for a rite of passage. What if social acceptance for a raindrop depended on what you landed on?
Ooh, a fire hydrant? Tough luck man. But hey, it could be worse, you could be Earl over there. Landed in a gutter, straight to the sewers for him.
The rain looks like puzzle pieces on the glass from inside the coffee shop. It takes the whole of the outside world and distorts it into a mass of color and light. I try to sort it all out, try to make sense of the muddle, but I can’t change the fact that water distorts. It is part of the nature of water. You look through it and what you will see will inevitably be changed.
I notice him as the thought of distortion takes hold of my mind. His gait is unmistakable: a proclamation of who he is rather than a means of transportation.
The sidewalk comes up to meet his feet. The raindrops in front of him pause and wait for him to pass into them. The air circles around him but stays swirling.
His legs are long, his strides like a whole gazelle in motion. The raincoat around his torso is dark like tar and clings to his form with heavy wetness.
I feel the familiar tightness of fear in my chest. The slight prodding of a metal pole right beneath my skin. I should be ready for this, I think. I wanted this. I wanted to speak with him.
But even as the door swings open with the slight trill of a bell, I know I’m not ready. He sits across from me, a slight drip to his hair, an eery magnetism in the way he is. His eyes are almost as dark as his coat; they look like little black holes set in his bony skull. He sets his hands on the table, knits them together as if they’re a tapestry. His lips are pursed in curiosity, his bony fingers point toward me: an invitation.
He raises his eyes. I take a sip of whatever is in my hands, just something to occupy.
“Well?” His eyes are fixed on mine. The rain patters like ice on the window next to us. “You invited me here,” he says.
“I know,” I say. “I’m starting to wonder why.”
He laughs and the sound reverberates against the window next to us, lasting longer than it should.
“Are you angry with me?”
I stir my drink and mull that over. My hands are steady despite how shaky I feel.
“I don’t know, honestly. Mostly just . . .”
He cocks an eyebrow, but his eyes don’t move.
“Curious? About what exactly?”
I want to have a particular instance, an example to give him, but too many things come to mind; so I say nothing. There’s so much swirling around in me it’s as if there’s nothing. My head is full of nothing.
“Why do you do what you do? Why do you—”
“Hurt people?” he finishes.
I stare at him; into the dark of his eyes.
“You said it, not me.”
“But you meant it,” he says.
He finally moves his eyes, now to the rain pattering outside, the beads of water clinging to the other side of the window.
“I don’t hurt people,” he mutters. “People hurt themselves.”
“Really? ‘People hurt themselves?’ That’s the best you can do?”
He kept looking out the window, his eyes seeming to glaze over. His eyes were dark, but his face was grey like clay; almost cracked in places where his mouth and eyes crinkled.
“Humans always want answers.” He unknit his hands and placed a finger on the window. “They ask and they ask and they seek—” He spits the last word like a rind from his mouth. “—But for all their searching they never seem to be satisfied with the answers.”
His finger begins to make a circle of warmth on the window. The glass is fogging over in a half-inch around the pad of his index.
“Yeah, but ‘people hurt themselves’ barely qualifies as an answer,” I retort. “You’re telling me that everything, all this—” I spread my arms as if to contain the whole world in this one gesture, “—is our own fault? Everything we go through. Everything that haunts and torments us is our own doing?”
He let that comment linger in the space between us. Let it swirl as his own thoughts turned in his head. He removed his finger from the glass, leaving an inch-wide ring of condensation and a spot of clean glass where the pad of his finger had been.
“I never said that,” he whispers. He looks down at the table now, his hair fringing the top of his dark eyes.
“What is that supposed to mean?” My voice is hotter than I intended, my mouth filled with a burning coal.
Maybe the anger has been here the whole time and I was simply waiting for it to reveal itself. Maybe I knew, but I kept it constrained, waiting for the right moment to let it emerge.
“I never said that,” he repeats. “I only said that people hurt themselves. And I should add, each other. So much of what you go through is caused by your own kind. I happen to be a side-effect of many of those actions.”
The anger, maybe rage now, spreads from my mouth to my limbs; sits heavily in the palms of my hands and tickles like little flames in my feet.
Her face flashes in my mind and it won’t leave. I can’t make it leave, even if I want it to.
Her juniper eyes. The softness of her young skin. The way she sits, struggles to stand and decides to stay sitting with a smile.
Her laugh is birdsong in my ears. When she cries, somehow I want to cry with her, but also laugh. Her red face, the way her eyes scrunch up and let the tears pool next to them.
I start to feel the tears pool in my own eyes.
“I didn’t take her from you,” he says.
My eyes widen, but somehow I’m not surprised that he knows.
“But you made it unbearable,” I choke.
He moves his gaze to the window again, to a bead of rain that has split the condensation from his finger in half. Right down the center.
“Maybe,” he shrugs. “Either way, you loved her. Why let me ruin that?”
“You didn’t ruin that. Don’t even think you could ruin that. Nothing could.”
He smiles, ever-so-slightly, something more of amusement than mockery.
“Exactly. So you loved her and you lost her. What I did to you hasn’t changed that fact. And really, how could you expect any differently?”
He stands up and places a bill on the table.
“To hurt after loving so deeply,” he finishes.
I’m speechless as he scribbles on a slip of paper and leaves it next to the money.
“This one’s on me. Let’s do it again, sometime.”
It still feels as if he’s sitting in front of me even when he walks out to the tinkling of the bell and I see his dark form waltz down the street. He’s lost in the blur of the rain soon enough.
I reach out to the slip on the table and slide it towards me. Somehow, I smile and I see her smile under mine.
“Let’s do it again,” I whisper.
I leave the paper on the table next to the bills.