[img_assist|nid=4282|title=Blue by Ashraf Osman|desc=|link=node|align=right|width=150|height=259]As the rain sopped cement becomes an ever darker hue, Jeanette calls to insist that she’ll be over to visit within the hour. Thirty-three years of watching the rain in blissful solitude isn’t a bad run. Besides, I already know that today’s rain isn’t going to be one of those eternal days. The air isn’t right. I’ll check outside anyway, even though the rain wasn’t violent enough. It wasn’t urgent. Rain needs to be urgent; my husband taught me that.
Parker loved the rain. We got married in the rain. We had our babies in the rain. I buried him in the rain.
It rained for two days solid when Parker went into the ground. As soon as it stopped I went outside. The eternal stillness swallowed me, which I like to think of as Parker’s last gift.
Parker shared the secrets of eternal stillness with me on our honeymoon. That was the first time I experienced it. Only in the fifteen minutes after a drastic rain storm is there even a chance of eternal stillness. When you walk outside and the lines of the trees are so clear, sharp, and vivid that they seem unreal—you’ve found it. The air is heavy yet clear. Nothing moves. The colors of the atmosphere are a mismatch, with every color visible in the grey light. There’s a smell in the air that you recognize reflexively, but that can’t be named. As you stand there nature takes predominance. You can’t ignore it because it’s so vivacious. From an acre away you can see the needles on the pine, the cracks in the bark. You feel yourself moving with the earth, the circular movement of time itself. You feel the lines of your own body sharpen and define. Momentary harmony. Even the grass individualizes itself, each blade separates as the excessive rain settles on its waxy coat. This is eternal stillness. In this moment you can breathe, you’ve joined the universe, and you don’t have to move. It’s not necessary.
That’s what I learned from Parker. Shared with him.
[img_assist|nid=4283|title=Untitled by Nicole Porter|desc=|link=node|align=right|width=150|height=113]Now any rainstorm seems like a message from him, even if it’s just one on the Weather Channel. Since he died there’s only been two moments of eternal stillness. Even while he was living we only had twelve together. I’ve put a window seat in so that I can watch the rain in comfort. It’s the best, most ridiculously ornate window seat that’s ever been furnished. It’s like a cotton candy explosion in silk.
In front of my window are my lantanas. The first time I ever saw a lantana was at the annual garden show. The next day Parker came home with twelve flats of those beautiful flowers. Their colorful petal cluster bouquets remind me of our wedding. They were the last thing that Parker planted before he died. When it doesn’t rain I stare at the lantana, and it makes me a little less lonely.
From my perch I watch Jeanette’s red Subaru sputter up the driveway. Today Jeanette’s got a pizza box huddled under her umbrella. Must be a turquoise day. She’ll let herself in, so I take a few moments to stare out at the rain. Shame it’s slowing down.
Jeanette slams everything when she enters—the door, her umbrella, the pizza box. Makes her happy to know that she can still cause a racket. “Lunch!” Jeanette has the voice of a windblown sailor. I can hear her in the kitchen; banging cabinet doors that she knows damn well don’t contain what she’s looking for.
“What kind?” I ask as I lug my bum foot into the kitchen.
“What do you mean ‘And’, you crazy old broad. Pepperoni. You want a gourmet pizza call your goddamn kids.”
“How many times have I got to tell you, onions aren’t gourmet.” I flip open the pizza box, and of course there’s a mix of pepperoni and onion. Jeanette waddles over next to me to stare at the pizza as well. She puts one paper towel in front of me, and another in front of herself. Scrapping the chairs across the faded orange linoleum, we sit and listen to the wooden seats creak beneath us. What happened to the days when we’d glide in and out of these chairs?
Jeanette lifts a slice of pizza out of the box. A greasy umbilical cord of cheese complicates the process. “You seen those ungrateful kids lately?”
I rub my nose. Mention of my children always makes my nose itch. “They called. Wanted to know what my plans were for the holidays.”
“What your plans were? What the hell do they think; that you’re trying to decide between the goddamn Queen of England’s invitation or the goddamn yacht party?”
I blot my pizza with a napkin, and watch the grease soak through the paper into my hand. It’s possible that Jeanette always brings pizza in an attempt to kill me, even though she’s not in the will. “No, they’re trying to decide. Benny and his nit-twit wife want to go to France for a real Christmas at Notre Dame. Precious is afraid to leave her boyfriend for a week, so she thinks she’ll spend it with his family. And don’t you know, his family celebrates Christmas at the Ritz or something like that.”
“We like having you for the holidays anyway. Fuck ‘em.” Jeanette spits out her first bite. Steam billows out of her mouth, and off the slightly chewed piece of pizza. Slurping her water, Jeanette scrunches up her face so that it’s a maze of lines.
“You want me to bring the pie again?” I ask.
“Yeah, Little Jim was requesting it on Sunday. He’s a cute little bugger. Out of nowhere he asked me, ‘will Violet bring me another pumpkin pie all my own?’ That kid’s got a memory like an elephant. Must be hell for his mother, but that’s what they call karma coming back to bite you in the ass.”
Once the pizza cools we eat in silence. Or rather, we don’t speak. These days there’s always some sort of noise accompanying a meal. We’ve accepted it, even though our children haven’t. Today, Jeanette eats her crust. I wonder how long it’ll take her to tell me what’s wrong. That’s the thing about Jeanette; she’s never been good about just coming out with a problem. Even after all these years she has to work up to it. That’s why I call it a turquoise day, getting to the trouble takes as long as it does for one of those pretty blue stones to form.
Jeanette begins folding up her paper towel into a neat, greasy little square. “It’s raining.”
“Sure is.” I listen to the drops pinging off the roof. Out the kitchen window I can see the drops hanging off the laundry line. It’s a murky rain. A chill seeps into the house. Not my favorite kind of rainstorm. It’s more on the line of eternal monotony rather than something sublime. I can hear Parker lecturing me, ‘if it’s been raining for thousands of years, then consider this storm just as miraculous.’ He was always kind of sappy that way. Still, I’ve come to the conclusion that he’s right.
“Parker out there?” Jeanette nods her head, with its beehive of died black hair, at the window. She knows that I believe Parker’s spirit returns with the rain and she doesn’t think I’m crazy for it. That’s friendship.
“I think so. He’s not making himself known.”
“Just like him, the old bastard.”
I don’t know what to say, so I make sure the cardboard lid is tightly pressed closed. One thing about Parker, he was never a bastard. At least not to my knowledge.
The clock ticks away, as it always does when there’s a need for distraction. I take Jeanette’s napkin out of her veiny hands. “What’s eating you?”
Jeanette looks at me, with those droopy eyes that used to devour everything she came in contact with. She shakes her head. “Just been thinking lately.”
“About things you can’t control?”
“I know. What’s the goddamn point? Sunday Little Jim gave me a mug with World’s Greatest Grandma on it, and all I could think was what the hell am I going to do with this. How many other women got the same goddamn mug? Florence McAdams probably has one, and I’ll be damned if she’s the greatest anything.”
“I don’t have a mug that says that.”
“That’s not really a consolation.”
“No.” I look over at the wall by the stove. There used to be a picture of the kids there, but I took it down last year. Actually, I threw it at Precious when she got mouthy with me. Still haven’t figured out what she did with it. Now there’s a square of unfaded wallpaper in the middle of the wall. It makes the whole kitchen look tacky.
“You want a mug that says Worlds Greatest Grandma?”
“Not really. Even when they were babies, the kids always knew they rated a distant second to Parker.”
“You want to go look for him?” Jeanette scratches her chin where three sharp, thick, white hairs poke out. I kinda like that she got hairy in her old age; it serves her right for all her former pampering.
“Depends if you mean you want me to drop dead right now or just go outside.”
Jeanette stands. “Outside. It’s too goddamn stuffy in your house, and it smells like meatloaf.”
“I don’t even eat meatloaf.”
Jeanette pulls her coat onto her left shoulder before flinging it to the other side. “Then why does your house always smell that way? Get the damn umbrella.”
Outside the rain is slow enough that I don’t need to worry about the blue rinse washing out of my hair. Jeanette throws both of our umbrellas onto the stoop in front of the front door. A few of the surviving remnants from my garden perfume the air. Of course, the pines are particularly fragrant.
Parker would have pulled me into the muddy grass by now, to wait for that moment of eternal stillness. We would have waited until all possible hope was gone, then we would have laid our heads down, so that we could see life from the perspective of ants, with every blade of grass becoming a mountain.
Today smells like dirt.
Jeanette and I walk up the driveway, and circle around her car. There’s not much to look at other than an old beat up aluminum shed that I’ve always hated, and the little cracked stucco house that would shame the kids if they could see it in its current state of disrepair. Personally, I like the weather-beaten look. Although a new coat of paint on the shutters would liven the place up. Maybe I’ll finally go for the purple trim. That’d piss everyone off. Even Parker.
Jeanette heads over to the vegetable garden that’s already in hibernation. She crouches down. I didn’t even know she could still kneel, but that’s what you get for being Catholic your whole life. I join her, and feel the rain seep through my trousers. You’d think I’d feel closer to Parker at this moment, but it’s just the opposite. I want to be in my house, my smelly house.
Pulling at some of the weeds, Jeanette tears the limp green stems apart. Pull, tear. Pull, tear. I’d tell her to stop, but I hate weeding, and it needs to be done. She sneezes and wipes her nose with the back of her hand. “Vi, I’m loosing my mind.”
“I’m really loosing it. They’re going to pack me off soon.”
“They won’t do that if you don’t tell anyone. Look at me. I’ve been seeing Parker outside this house since the day he died. I’ve obviously lost my mind. Thing is I know who to tell, and who not to. Besides, neither of us ever had much of a mind anyway, least not a great one. Now we get to be as dingy as we want.”
Jeanette’s voice cracks, and as it does so, her body looses its rigidity. She slumps sideways, so that her left leg is in full contact with the wet grass. “I don’t want to lose my mind.”
“Too late for you to start being a conformist.”
“The goddamn doctor said there’s no cure. He said all my fucking eccentricities aren’t eccentricities, and it’s going to get worse. It’s going to get to the point where I don’t know anyone. Might be a good thing, but Vi, I don’t want to forget. Too much has happened just to forget it all.”
“Maybe the doctor’s wrong.” I start pulling at the weeds as well. We put the green scraps in a pile that quickly becomes a mound.
“I told him he didn’t know what the fuck he was talking about, and he had the nerve to say that kind of language didn’t help anything. Condescending prick. He reminds me of Benny.”
“Sounds like it.” It’s true my son is a condescending prick, and a doctor.
Jeanette yanks up a large weed, that turns out to be a forgotten carrot. She tries to pull the stem off, but it’s stuck on tight. So she traces the carrot through the mud. “There are some things I was planning on telling you, on your deathbed. Now I can’t, because I probably won’t remember any of it.”
“You’ve been planning to have a scene at my deathbed? What if I died suddenly, fell down the stairs or something?”
Jeanette shrugs. “I don’t see that happening. You’re a stubborn ass; you’ll make us all suffer along with you.”
I nod. It’s true I was planning to have an elaborate deathbed scene, just like Parker. Not that his was enjoyable for any of us, but it was memorable. I wouldn’t give up that time with him for anything. The drizzle stops. I look around, there’s nothing extra vivid or alive. It’s a murky post-rain just as I predicted. “Tell me now.”
“Vi, I tried to seduce Parker. I tried for almost forty years. The most I got out of him was a sloppy kiss that had more to do with you than it did me. He was mad at you for something. I don’t remember what. Christ, I used to know. I knew yesterday. You have no idea how much I wanted Parker. I tried everything. Once, I thought about pushing you down the stairs while you were pregnant with Precious, but I decided that Parker would be a miserable widower, and I didn’t want to deal with that.”
A drop of rain, probably from the pine tree, drips onto my head. One large splat of water, nothing else. I wait for another drop. A bird calls out without receiving an answer. “Why’d you tell me that?”
“Thought you should know. It wasn’t fair of me, hiding it from you all these years. I’m a shit, and you need to know that. Because I consider you my best friend, that’s how I describe you to everyone. In my heart I’ve been a complete bitch to you. Vi, I tried everything.”
“You didn’t need to tell me that. I could have died happily never knowing.”
“Vi, you have no idea what I’ve done. I couldn’t help it, Parker was everything to me. Still is. If he had let me, I would’ve taken him from you and the kids, and moved far away. I never would have felt bad about it, not even a little.”
“Well, you’ve cleared your conscious. I guess I’ll have to forgive you. Nothing happened, and besides, I need somewhere to go for the holidays.”
“Thank you, Vi. It’s more than I deserve.”
“Goddamn right it is.” I swish my hand through the pile of weeds we had just created. The wet stems stick to my hand. It’s time to go back inside my smelly house. As I try to get up, I notice that Jeanette remains seated. She leans back with an arch.
Jeanette closes her eyes to sigh before she continues her confessional. “You know, Parker used to tell me about the moment of eternal stillness after a big rainstorm. I was kinda hoping that would happen today. That’s why I’ve been waiting to tell you until it rained. Sometimes he’d take me outside and we’d walk until it was quiet. Then we’d wait. I never saw it, but Parker said it’s the moment when everything is clear and distinctive. Only when the world is sharp, will you know that you belong to the eternal circle. That’s what he said.”
I grab the carrot right out of Jeanette’s hands. She rocks back slightly as I take it from her. Then I beat her over the head with it. That soggy carrot strikes her shoulders, her back, her head until she’s laying in the fetal position next to my dead vegetable garden. With each whack I feel the carrot loosen. I’m not sure if it’s the carrot or my fists hitting her anymore. Only when the carrot brakes off its stem do I stop.
I throw the carrot in her face and stretch my body up so that I’m standing fully above her. “I hope you forget everything except this goddamn carrot.” I try to run back into my house.
I slip as I get to my door and fall on my hands. The stinging travels through my entire body. Instant soreness. I look back; Jeanette hasn’t moved yet. I look up, and the clouds begin parting, revealing a lighter sky. As I pull myself back to standing, I see that my my potted lantana blossoms are filled with water. Each colorful delicate cup has a perfectly round bubble of rain in it. It’s like the rain is being held in a perpetual freeze. That’s when I know that Parker is present—watching me and Jeanette. He’s resting in the lantana, where the rain has frozen in a moment of eternal stillness.
With more strength than I know I have I pick up the planter and carry it to Jeanette’s car. She watches me as I get closer. I put the planter on the top of her trunk. “Now you’ve got him.” Jeanette doesn’t move. Part of me wants to hit her again.
Instead I return to my house. From the front door I watch her slowly stand up, stumble to her car, and place the planter in the passenger seat. After she and Parker drive away, I rummage through my junk drawer, looking for purple paint samples.
Melissa Mowday is a Philadelphia area writer. Her fiction has appeared in the Avenue Literary Journal. She was also commissioned to write the 2005 Hibernia Park Murder Mystery, which is her second play to be performed. Currently, she is completing her