The Umbrella

Events upon events, emotions stretching on forever. There was no end to the love, the pain. Everything was there. Every second of forty-two years, five months, and seven days passed through his senses. The blur of childhood, the pain of adolescence, every idea was clear. Every moment existed in this instant.

The icy rain poured down. It beat against the shades of the sidewalk café, and pelted the leaves hanging resolutely to the light grey branches of the locust trees. The mist of the low clouds drifted through the high buildings that formed this concrete canyon, dropping their wetness on the blacktop. Passing cars threw water at the curbs, hopelessly trying to swim with their black wheels. Everything existed in the undercurrent of sound caused by the falling rain.

If Max could have felt the could drops, his heart would have warmed even as his body chilled. His mind would have drifted to a quiet room in the past, where the fire crackled and hissed at the raindrops falling down the chimney. His eyes would have fallen on the soft curves forming the body of the woman he loved as they lay serenely, each complete in that beautiful silence. If he could have felt those drops, he might have been able to remember love, but he couldn't. His body was numb, dead. Those freezing drops fell right through.

"Who am I?"

Opening his mouth to the sky, he tried to swallow his world. Rain hit his eyes, hit his teeth, his tongue, his lips, his slicked head of dark brown hair. he closed his mouth. The tall walls of gray and glass stretching to the sullen sky seemed to fall in, and for a moment he realized where he was. He lost the thought, eyes open.

Across the street, a mother and child held hands and walked under the shelter of their blue and white umbrella; Max thought how calm the sight was. How easily the two walked with each other. They talked the talk of mothers and young daughters, happy, simple, kind. With their heads turned, mother facing down and daughter looking up, they looked just like sunflowers to the sun.

Max was suddenly on the other side of the street, cherishing a moment frozen in time. He was so close between the pair as they held hands, how didn't they notice him? He looked right into the eyes of the mother, inches from her face, but she continued her soft conversation. he tried to touch the arm of the girl, but he couldn't. Somehow, he couldn't touch her; it was as if his hand slipped by. When he reached out at her shoulder, she shivered without observing his presence. He wondered at how the pair was talking through him, but it didn't seem to matter. He caught a bit of their conversation:

"Mommy, are you cold?" Max thought she was articulate for her age; she couldn't have been four and a half. Her words were exact, and careful, but warm.

The mother shook her head and tightened her grip on the little girl's hand, "No, sweetie, but it's a good thing we're walking under this umbrella, isn't it? Just a little bit further, and we'll wait for Daddy to pick us up."

The girl nodded, not whining, even though she was obviously tired after a long day of errands with her mother, and they kept on walking. They stopped at the intersection, waiting to cross to the small park across the street. Max was behind them, watching the pair as they waited for the walk signal. At the other end of the block, a black sedan ran a red light.

The frigid rain continued to pour down on the dreary world, a world lit only by the bright blue and brilliant white of the mother's umbrella and the hazy gray shadows of the sky. A sudden gust of wind blew the umbrella out of her hands, away from her startled face, taking it up into the air. Max, in his single-minded numbness, chased the brightness into the road just as a signal across the street flashed, "Walk."

Somehow missing Max, mother and child looked both ways, and walked into the street calmly, knowing that they would retrieve their umbrella. Not far away in this frozen second of time, the driver of a speeding black sedan noticed a tall figure chasing an umbrella into traffic, and swerved to miss the man. He didn't notice his wife and daughter calmly walking along the crosswalk.

With their attention on the spinning pinwheel of blue and white, both mother and child missed the erratic, unlikely car until the last second. The mother died instantly, her legs and neck snapping while her head hit the front windshield. She tumbled cartwheels over the car as her daughter was thrown by the bumper of the car, screaming through the air. She hit the pavement with a violent silencing crunch of bones and skin just as the driver lost control and slammed into a telephone pole.

The little girl, like a spring flower after a late freeze, lay dying on the centerline. The incessant rain pounded down around her bloodied blonde hair. Max looked into her eyes, and there seemed to be a hint of recognition.

"Daddy, is that you?"

Max tried to respond, but he realized that he had no voice, so he moved to where the car had wrapped itself around a telephone pole. The driver had died on impact, his head slamming into the steering wheel, causing the horn to blare its scream of pain. The way that he lay against the steering column, Max could see the driver's expressionless face looking out through the broken glass of the car window.

He looked up at the sky. Far above the greyness of the streets and skyscrapers, there was a break in the clouds. A thin ray of light filtered down through the grey world. There, the umbrella was spinning high in the sky, carried upward toward the break by some strange updraft. Max closed his eyes. He shed a silent tear of recognition for the face smashed on the steering wheel, and for his daughter. For she lay dead on the pavement, as the icy rain poured down around her small body.


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