Sunday, October 28, 2012
(For the Scriptic Prompt Exchange this week, Kurt gave me this prompt: "It was a dark and stormy night (for Halloween's sake)". I gave the mighty Jester Queen this: " 'The things you should have given to the relationship, you give to the work' -Billy Joel")
It was a dark and stormy night. Every time I write that phrase, or even think it, I invariably picture Snoopy, banging away on his typewriter on top of his doghouse. H e never wrote the big book he was starting, and neither had I. But it really was dark, and it really was stormy, as I sat in the big old green house on the top of the hill to wait out the storm.
I had given in to the inevitable power loss, lighting up a few candles and settling in on the couch for a long night of reading and the radio. I had found a country station that was coming in pretty well, despite the occasional bursts of static. I turned it down low, giving me a nice background hum.
The DJ, whomever it was, was playing a lot of old stuff, from Glen Campbell and Johnny Cash to Hank Williams and Waylon Jennings. It wasn't my style of music, totally- I tended towards men that they influenced like Bruce Springsteen and U2, but it was the station I could get, and I was enjoying the low fi feel it gave to the evening.
I was tucking into a volume of Borges stories that I had been trying to tackle for some time, listening to the wind lash the windows and the rain hammer the roof. Suddenly, there was a pounding at my front door. It was so shocking I couldn't figure out, for a moment, what to do.
I got up and walked haltingly across the living room. I opened it to a woman in a deeply inadequate rain slicker. Her shoulders were hunched against the wind, and her dirty blonde hair was plastered to her head. She looked up at me, her eyes wide with something more than fear. She was tiny, with a dancer's tiny feet, but with enormous, expressive features.
"Um, I'm sorry," was all she could say before I ushered her inside.
"God, get in here," I said. "It's not fit for man or beast out there."
She came inside. Her jeans were nearly black with absorbed water, and her fashionable, worthless plush boots were soggy. She had a sweatshirt on under the jacket, which I took away as soon as she unzipped it.
"Let me get you a towel," I said, taking the jacket into the bathroom and emerging with a pair of towels I had thankfully just laundered.
"Thank you," she said, rubbing vigorously at her piles of blond hair. Her roots revealed her true color, a dark mousy brown. "My car flooded right in front of your house, and I hoped I could call for a ride or something?"
"Well, you could certainly do that," I said, "except the phones went out a couple of hours ago."
"Seriously?" she said. She looked stricken.
"Yes," I said. "Try it if you don't believe me."
"No, I believe you," she said. "It's just that I..damn it. I don't know what I'm going to do."
"Well, even if we could call for a tow, or a taxi, nobody would come out in this anyway."
"I bet you're right," she said, looking down at her feet.
"Stay here," I said.
"Oh, I couldn't," she said quickly. She looked panicky.
"I don't think there is anything else you can do," I said. "What are you going to do, walk?"
She looked at me, and then out the window. The wind blew alarmingly hard against the glass, howling with rage.
"I suppose you're right," she said. She looked small suddenly, defeated and alone.
"If the storm is over in the morning," I added, "like it is supposed to be, we'll see if your car will start. If it will, you can be on your way. If not, I'll give you a ride."
"Really," she said, "you'd do that?" She shivered.
"Sure," I said. "Go in my bedroom and change. I've got plenty of clothes in the drawers. Put on something dry and I'll make some tea."
She looked out at the dark sky, as if she could will her car to start. "Thank you," she said, and she squished into my bedroom.
The power was still on, for the moment, so I started a kettle and got down some tea bags from the cupboard. Since my wife had been taken by cancer and the kids to college and the Navy, the old house was too drafty and troublesome for one person. But I stayed, mostly out of provincial stubbornness, because I could.
I heard drawers opening in my bedroom. She could have ill intent, of course. I was dangerously naive about women in general, and young ones in particular, but I wasn't stupid. There wasn't much in the house to steal, and something about the improbable earnestness of her encounter made me think this was genuine. I peeked through the window through the slanting rain, and thought I could make out a car shape near the bottom of my driveway. She was real, I thought.
She came out in ludicrously large sweatpants and a huge t shirt with a Red Sox logo on it. She appeared to be bra less.
"I'm Sam," I said.
"Jessica," she said.
"Did you hang up your stuff in the bathroom?," I said.
"Yes," she said. "It looks like a girl's dorm in there now. Sorry."
"That's okay," I said. "It's been a while, but it's not the first time women have dried clothes in there."
The water was hot, so I shut the stove off and poured two cups. We both prepared our drinks, finally sitting at the dining room table together. I looked at her eyes, dark ringed and scared. Outside, the wind lashed away.
"Why were you out in this awful weather?," I said.
"It's a long story," she warned.
"We have time," I noted.
"I'm tired," she said.
"I understand," I said. "The offer still stands, whether you want to talk about it or not."
She took a sip of tea, wincing at the heat. She paused for a moment. "Have you ever been so scared that you just had to get away?," she asked.
"Sure I have," I said. She was looking at the tendrils of steam coming off of the surface.
"You shouldn't have to be scared," I said. "It's a terrible thing, to be afraid."
She was quiet.
"If you need to stay here beyond the storm...," I said.
She looked at me, her face a mask.
I listened to the wind howling. Somewhere, a branch cracked.
"I'm tired," she said again.
After a brief battle, she took my bed, which I had made two weeks ago and hadn't disturbed since, and I went back to the couch. It didn't take long for sleep to take me, and I awoke to sun coming through the branches in my back yard. I stretched and listened for my night visitor, but I heard nothing.
I got up and walked across to my bedroom door. I knocked gently, and then more vigorously. "You hungry?" I asked, trying to sound friendly. I tried the knob and it was open. I opened the door slowly.
"Hey," I said. "You up?"
I looked inside the bedroom, where my bedspread, tucked like always, looked back at me. Puzzled, I continued in, finding the bathroom as I had left it, no underwear drying, no jacket where i had left it, an old Esquire in the magazine rack. I went back to the front door, smelling the delightfully clean air and looking for the car I had seen by the road. It was gone, utterly gone, like none of it had ever happened. I surveyed the limbs that would need removal that were in my front yard, looking around for someone to explain what had happened.
I slid on some old Nikes and walked down to the bottom of my driveway. Not only was there no car, in fact the worn area of dirt that marked the edge of my yard was a sea of mud, only just beginning to dry in the apologetic sunlight. Not a tire track in sight.
I walked back up to the house, thankful that the power was still on, and wondering if I would ever see that Red Sox shirt again.