In The Rain
The water pooled in slow eddies at the base of the hill. Emily watched it from the covered porch. It had been falling softly, steadily, all afternoon. Some quality of the rain, she mused, matched her thoughts. Or her thoughts had taken on the slow steady patter of the rain. The ghost of a smile touched the side of her mouth and she closed her eyes again, continuing to listen. The tin-like drumming on the roof combined with the low hum of rain in the yard and the trees near the edge of the property. A less steady drip from the roof into puddles rounded out the sound. She let it all wash over her.
After several minutes she opened her eyes again. They travelled immediately, for the hundredth time, to the box of cigarettes on the table. She didn’t reach for it; she’d smoked enough. Yes, save the rest for tomorrow. She sighed. Tomorrow. She’d have to head into town, get more groceries. No coffee in the morning, none left. Would the truck start? Would she have to hitchhike? These thoughts filled her with a stab of anxiety and she tried to shut them back in a certain drawer in her mind she hadn’t meant to open. She tried to let their afterimage, a silhouette of anxiety, float away, to focus again on the rain. It worked for a few minutes and she listened again in peace, thinking of nothing. But then thoughts returned.
If only Roy had left her the car. But he wouldn’t have made it to California in the truck. They had discussed it and agreed. All the same, he should have left her the car, not this useless unreliable metal heap. They had driven it all over the surrounding countryside, gone on picnics and hikes, visited farms and wineries. Emily had wanted to start a small farm here, on the plot of land she’d inherited. At first Roy was enthusiastic as well. But he was like a child, always enthralled with some new thing. A friend had called and offered him a spot in a new business they were trying to launch. Emily and Nick had argued. The business sounded to her like nonsense. Either way it was risky, there was very little chance it would make it. She wanted to farm. Well that was risky too, he insisted. At last they had agreed, he would go for a couple months, see how things went. If the business was still alive then Emily would get the truck fixed and head south to join Nick. After all, this place would still be here, waiting for them. If the business failed then he would come back north and they would try to farm, probably getting temporary jobs in town until they could buy some equipment.
Nick had only been gone a week but she missed him terribly. Things had been busy for him. They’d only been able to talk once, briefly so far, and he had been distracted. In the meantime she’d whiled the hours away reading, sitting, or strolling about the fields. She should have been in town looking for jobs or here planning out the farm, but something made these endeavours impossible.
Another day passed. The rain continued, a constant drizzle that blanketed everything, muted colors and sounds. She didn’t have coffee, didn’t go to town as planned. She ate toast and the last leftovers and smoked the rest of her cigarettes. She read half a Jane Austen novel between the bed, the kitchen, and the porch. Nick didn’t call. At 7:00 PM she pulled on a rainjacket and some boots, grabbed her phone, and trudged through the rain and the last of the daylight up to the top of the hill where there was better reception. A bit of sunset was visible below a layer of clouds off to the west, and the rain had suddenly slackened off. She watched the sliver slowly close as she panted up the last portion of the hill then caught her breath on the crest. A cold breeze was blowing. Her phone said 7:19 PM. He should be home by now, not driving. Would he pick up? She dialed. Ring. Ring. Ring. The fourth ring was cutoff just as she began to consider ending the call.
It was a woman’s voice.
"Hey!" she could hear Nick say in the background. Emily could hardly speak. Finally she managed to ask "Who is this?"
"Who is this?" asked the voice on the other end, and laughed.
"Give me the phone!" said Nick angrily in the background. After a couple of seconds his voice filled her ear. "Emily? Honey?"
"Listen Emily, that was Sarah. I’m giving her a ride home from work, and she apparently thinks it’s funny "—this was addressed to the other girl— "to answer other people’s cellphones."
"Oh, erm, that’s alright. Are you free to talk though?" She paused. "I miss you."
"I miss you too. We’re about fifteen minutes from Sarah’s place, and then I’ll be home in another fifteen. Do you mind if we talk once I get home? It’s been a long day." The breeze had kicked up and it was now almost fully dark. Emily realized that she was shivering.
"I’m up on the hill now Nick, and it’s getting pretty cold and dark. I don’t think I can wait that long."
"I called you last night, and the night before as well. Didn’t you see my calls?"
"Really? No, I don’t have any missed calls and I didn’t hear it ring ever."
"Nick, maybe we can talk tomorrow. Can you call me on your lunch break?"
"Yeah, that should work. Tomorrow is supposed to be a little less busy actually." He sounded distracted again. She could hear the radio in the background.
"Great. What time should I plan on?"
"What time..." he paused. "Oh, let’s say 12:15."
"Perfect," he repeated.
"I love you babe. Sweet dreams, talk to you tomorrow."
"I... love you too babe. Talk tomorrow. Sleep tight."
He hung up. She looked at the screen to confirm the call was over. Her cellphone was now a bright blinding rectangle of white in a sea of dark. When she looked at her feet to find her footing she had an afterimage. Time to start back down the hill. No more sunset.
She turned the phone around and used the screen to light the path back down the steep hill. The conversation played back in her head. Nick’s voice had sounded so ... odd. She wondered about Sarah. She continued carefully, shivering but hardly aware of it. Then all at once she realized that she was crying. She reached the base of the hill where it was warmer, out of the wind. A couple big tears ran hot down her cheeks. The soft drizzle of rain started up again. She stood there in the dark and sobbed quietly.