Poetry & Prose

Green Umbrella

The rain splattered all over the open book in his hand in large drops, wrinkling the pages into an almost an unrecognizable shape and causing the ink to blot and twist the solid world into incomprehensible smudges. The book had been pretty awful anyway. Skill-building, they had told him; it would take a while to fully recover from the accident, and it would only set him back farther if he didn’t complete the therapy assignments. He sighed and fingered the large scar barely hiding beneath his dark cropped hair. Having forgotten his hat on the train, he was certain that everyone who passed was staring at the disfigurement.

Just when he had decided that he had destroyed the book enough for one day, a bright green umbrella skittered across the pavement and landed near his feet. Its owner ran up and deftly plucked it off of the ground but not before shooting a quick glance up at the man on the bench. That one offhand glance floored him. His mouth opened in an attempt to kick-start his lungs, which had suddenly decided that oxygen was a bit overrated. By the time his battered brain recovered, she had already walked away.

There was no decision-making process, no should I’s. One minute he was sitting on the bench, staring at the spot where the green umbrella had been moments before, and the next he was walking toward the library, following the bobbing umbrella. The rain soaked through his clothes within a second, but the drenched state of his apparel went unnoticed. Once again, without a conscious decision, he hurriedly crossed the street to get a better look at the girl with the green umbrella.

She was beautiful; he had known that from the start. Her hair was the color of the wet autumn leaves underneath her brightly colored sneakers, her eyes matched her umbrella, and she had a light summertime sprinkling of freckles. But there was something else about her that made him keep walking in the pouring rain, following this stranger. Perhaps it was the way her eyes traced the patterns of raindrops on her umbrella like they were looking for constellations or maybe it was the fact that she was barely mouthing the words to the song she was listening to as she walked. Whatever it was, she was like a magnet, and all the little iron filings in his body relentlessly pulled him toward her. He waited a few moments in the rain as she went into the library before he crossed the street and slipped inside.

Ignoring the silent protest of the librarian behind the desk, he slipped and slid down the corridor, glimpsing her dark red hair near the café. He pretended to be immensely interested in the menu posted on the far wall while she ordered something in a voice that sounded like the hushed murmur of turning pages. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw her take her drink and walk to the upper level of the café where the more secluded tables and oversized chairs were. He ordered the first drink he remembered reading on the menu, waited impatiently while the bored teenage boy behind the counter sluggishly made it, and then tripped over himself trying to get to the stairs. He wasn’t surprised; they had told him that it would take a while to fully recover his coordination after that day that had taken so much away from him. The hot drink had sloshed all over his hand, but he ignored the liquid fire and half-heartedly wiped his hand on his soaked shirt.

She sat in an oversized armchair in the corner of the upper level, a large book balanced on her lap with one hand while the other held her drink. Her feet were propped up on the small coffee table in front of her, but her sneakers had disappeared, revealing one electric-blue and one magenta sock. His muddled mind stumbled over this fact, and as he approached her, words dropped away until all that was left was the image of those two mismatched socks on the table. He stopped a few feet in front of the coffee table and waited for something incredibly charming and clever to come to mind.
“Your socks don’t match,” he blurted out. Realizing that this was neither charming nor clever, he began to blush furiously and waited for a polite suggestion to leave. Instead she laid the huge book in her lap, sipped her drink and looked up at him as a wry smile crept across her lips.

“You followed me all the way from the park to the library in the pouring rain just to tell me that my socks don’t match?” she asked, now with an outright grin. She shook her head before muttering, “Typical.”

As he tried desperately to decipher that last cryptic word, his eyes found a golden nametag with the word “APRIL” in small block letters crookedly pinned to her blouse. He aimed again for clever, or at least slightly amusing, as he gestured to the nametag. “Were you born in April?” Swing and a miss.

She arched an eyebrow before replying, “No, my parents are just mean. They named my brother Thursday.” She grinned again and gestured to the armchair opposite hers. “After all that trouble, you might as well sit down.” She didn’t ask what his name was, which he thought was odd, but he sat down anyway since he could think of nothing better to do.

“So, April…” he grasped around for words but the right ones melted away into the gray obscurity of his mind, always just out of reach.

“Let’s not do the usual ‘what brings you here, what do you do’ nonsense,” she interrupted. He tried to decipher the beautifully muted sentence, but she had already moved on, leaving him in the dust. “Tell me something interesting about you.”

He let the question drift through his mind for a moment before responding, “I left my hat on the train today, and now I feel exposed.”

Immediately, he wished he could take the absurd thought back and stuff it in the dusty corners of his memory. Surprisingly, though she didn’t roll her eyes or asked him why he felt “exposed.” Instead, she merely nodded and said, “I’m hiding in the library because my new roommate is driving me crazy, and I miss my old place so much it hurts to look at my stuff somewhere else.”

“Why did you move?” Her fine features darkened ever so slightly.

“I lived with someone…but it didn’t work out. My turn to ask you an embarrassing personal question.” She smiled playfully, but he could see a grave sincerity hiding in those glittering green eyes. “Why did you follow me here?”
The brash question knocked the air out of him, especially since it was delivered in the rich velvet tones that hung in the air before him like snatched-away memories. She spoke to him with such a familiarity, he felt the truth slipping out of his mouth before his mind had even fully formed the intention to speak.

“I had to. For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been…drifting.” Staring at the table, he fingered the long, raised scar absently. “When I saw you, with that green umbrella, I finally felt like I had a direction. And so I had to follow it…follow you.” He shook his head and spread out his hands. “I’m sorry, this makes no sense, and I probably just seem like some insane creep. I’ll leave you alone now-”

Clumsily, he started to stand up, but her small hand shot across the table and grasped his arm. Startled, he looked up at her and saw her eyes shining with emotion and felt the burning electricity running from her palm through his arm straight into his bloodstream. “Please…stay,” she choked out, her voice charged with those same sparks that made his skin tingle where she touched him.

“The park on Jameson St., three summers ago,” she suddenly blurted out. He continued to stare at her, completely baffled by the outburst. “You were standing by the duck pond, reading just like you were today…” She stopped, seemingly unable to continue.

They stood in silence for a moment, separated by the coffee table in between them yet brought intimately close to each other by that hand on his arm. She stared at him fiercely, as though willing him to say or do something extraordinary, and he wished he was a different kind of man who could understand what she was saying. The tension mounted between them as she stared at him searchingly, desperate for something he could not give her. Seeming to realize this, tears welled up in her eyes.

“You really don’t remember me, do you?” she whispered huskily. The question baffled him, but she didn’t wait for an answer. Instead, she leaned over the table and brushed a gentle kiss on his cheek before releasing his arm. “I’m sorry, I can’t do this. I can’t start over, John.”

With those simple words, she hurried off, leaving him standing alone, staring at her still-steaming cup of coffee and the green umbrella lying forgotten on the floor.

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