Did she say something?
Did I say something?
Her brow illuminates under the streetlights and pulses with the beat of the windshield wipers. She won’t look at me: her eyes flash sequins at the sidewalk. Droplets floating, floating: translucent globes hanging in space. Then they burst apart.
She shakes her hair and I can no longer see her eyes.
Rain: I yawn through the misty rhythm. My eyes close continuously. Headlights and streetlights mix in the distance and through the murk I wonder when things started to go off course.
We had danced together, squeezing particles of music from our sweatshirts. Then we ate at the Greasy Spoon, where she said it.
The air between us is a stale sponge unable to soak up all these discarded feelings. Damp inside the car and heavy on my eyelids. I try to blink.
The tires below us slime their way through the night.
She sits in the passenger seat, staring straight ahead.
What`s the point?
She glances over, a quick reflex of her neck, surprised. I realize I have mumbled my thoughts aloud. Beads of sweat wander across my hairline. I keep my face forward.
She turns away. Again.
I roll down my window an inch. I open my mouth. A few raindrops land on my tongue.
We return to town.
I will return to my flat, to sleep alone, to wake up in the middle of the night due to the heat rising from the bedroom on the first floor. My roommate and his girlfriend snore there, sweating happiness. For the rest of the night I will stare at the ceiling fan, its blades shaving away layers of humidity, around and around, around, around, dizzying myself awake in this uncomfortable dream. First, though, I will have to drop her off at her house and I will stare at the raindrops festering on the hood of the car as her silhouette disappears through the door.
“Can you please close the window?” Her voice floats, then disintegrates.
I grip the steering wheel in response. Traffic lines in the middle of the street dissolve into my knuckles.
The window stays open.
Some tepid moments pass. Everything starts to overwhelm. Finally, I cannot stand it: we swerve over and stop under an impatient streetlight. The bulb sputters here and there, this way and that.
We sit staring at the puddles forming on the sidewalk. Strands of her bob flare under the erratic gaze of the torch; the little mole on her temple rises and falls as she clenches her jaw.
The stars are corrupted by thick midnight clouds. Dark outlines float around the car.
“You should turn on the radio.”
I count the lines of the road ahead: four slashes crawling through the mist. The rain becomes steadier, wafting shades against the roof of the car like sheets billowing in seaside wind. The sky turns from black to gray.
“Maybe just Public Radio,” she continues, maybe talking to herself. “No words. No singing. Classical or jazz or something.”
The emptiness in my gut fills momentarily and I glance over. A hopeful smile slips from my lips. It is not returned. Her hair sways against the breeze, which enters through the crack of the window.
Beyond the shadows of the streetlight, a poster is fixed to a brick wall: The Huber Gallery Presents: Joseba Menoyo. Starting next month, an installation by some guy from Spain. Free to the public, open bar with donation.
From the poster two large eyes emerge. A proud lady in Flamenco dress holds a flower with strong petals in her palm, knuckles surrounded by gold rings. The hand grows as it approaches my face. It fills the entire bottom corner of the poster. Red flowers printed on white fabric flow in all directions as her dress moves smoothly through the purple background. Everything meets at the vine of her tiny waist. A black heel kicks.
Her warm smile gives me a flash of hope.
The veins of the flower are purple over white. Petal edges leak into the background and she is surrounded by a climate awash with music, fuchsia rhythm showers, a silent typhoon of plum waves.
I had hoped she would be able to keep the beautiful petals dry in the storm, but the poster is already peeling from the bricks. Color drips to the sidewalk and I reach forward to take the flower.
“Let’s go.” The car radio is scratched by pushy fingers.
I shake my head, fiddle the ignition, glance over. Disdainful eyes: the dancer stares ahead, ignoring me, her smile cold and cynical. As rain strikes its applause against the brick, she smiles at the storm.
The wheels pull away from the curb. She tosses her purple flower after the car, her smile falling to the ground in splashes. The petals will become transparent in water and will disappear into the street, mixing with the freckles and dents of the tarmac.
Moving forward, we listen to the end of some symphony on some late-night classical music program. Eventually, the music ends. A tired presenter begins his monologue: “. . . and that was this-and-that by so-and-so, who was considered a child prodigy back in the day. He played his first recital at the tender age of thirteen and was a hit ever since. He wrote this piece, the one that just finished, while he was in his mid-thirties, on a tour through here-and-there. He died a little while later, after writing his Magnum Opus, the such-and-such . . .”
We both yawn.
“. . . and now let’s switch courses here. Just for a little while. I’ll get something out of the stacks which I’m sure you’ll dig on your drives home. I hope you enjoy . . .”
A moment of dead air and a clicking noise. Thunder rumbles in the distance. We squint at the huge clouds, ashen mountains of drink, rolling over the dark lines of hills as the car creeps ahead.
Then, without warning, buckets overturn onto the street and the houses surrounding. The skies crash together. At the same instant, the music inside the car swells and bursts: it is a hurricane of instruments. She gasps and I look to see her teeth, hair, and lovely blue eyes flashing against the white lightning outside the car.
Sometimes the morning sidewalks are coated in a mood. I stroll, walking in a vague direction, going nowhere in particular, ears smothered with headphones, preparing myself for that moment when leaves change color. Nothing unusual is planned, but inevitably after having walked for a while I realize that I am stepping in time to the music in my ears. This is a natural thing: it just happens. But then I look up to see that the whole world is attached to the beat. Traffic lights change with the bounce of my footsteps. A young couple, holding hands, breaks their link to enter a coffee shop: the door swings open as backup singers introduce a sublime harmony. An old lady bends over to pick up a recyclable bottle at the bridge of a song and totters away, her fragile backside bent, swaying from side to side: she really digs her groove. A dark cyclone of crows bursts from a birch tree as the melody crescendos one last time before diminishing into silence.
Driving into the nocturnal storm, I am reminded of these walks, when nature and humanity match each other perfectly and without warning, after which the lucky witness is left breathless and cannot wait to tell of the wonderful circumstance just experienced, knowing that the person told will not completely understand: “You had to be there.”
This moment is like those moments. The radio swells at the same time as the thunder, big tympani push cool air into our faces, snare drums patter on the roof of the car.
She makes a noise. Her head goes back and her eyelashes flutter between the streetlamps and lightning.
The storm is upon us.
The first movement passes; music and thunder become still. We exhale simultaneously. The sudden shock of music has forced us to relax.
Rain washes upon the car.
She claps her hands and her laugh is bright. Her teeth gleam under the anguished cadence of streetlights, trying to wring themselves dry in the wet. I chuckle also. Our sorrows have washed by, I am sure of it, and our eyes meet, the first time they have done so since the Greasy Spoon.
“Hey. Turn right.”
I look over, surprised. The way she points is not toward town, but toward the city forest.
The second movement swells and thunder crashes against the sky as we enter the tall gates. Once more, I pull over. The windshield is marbled by showers.
Two other cars are parked in the clearing. I think of the couples inside looking up at the sky, holding each other tightly, squeezing particles of music from their sweatshirts. Warmth fogs the windshields of their vehicles. Symphonies fluctuate and trees quiver as thunder rolls forward. The entire park trembles like an enormous bass drum on its side, vibrating from underneath, slowly filling with water until it can no longer make a noise.
The rain has started again, softer than the first movement, more forgiving, but steady still. It makes interesting noises on the windshield and as I settle back to listen, eyes closed, she leans over and quickly kisses me on the cheek. I react in surprise and she flashes a smile so generous, so warm it could dry a damp shirt. She opens her door, jumps out and runs to the edge of the forest. I see her blond hair waving, pixelated in the storm. Her image pauses next to the wooden signs showing the walking trails of the park. The outline of her body shimmers from behind the watery scrim. Her silhouette turns and waves, then vanishes into the forest.
Another smile spills from inside me.
I must run with her.
Let us run together in the rain.
Johan Alexander is a musician and translator based in Portland, Maine. Born in Medellin, Colombia and adopted at 18 months, he currently spends a few months every year in his birth country teaching ESL. This is his first short story.