the clouds were gathering thickly; the thunderheads gleamed eerily from the early blue-black darkness of a stormy sky. it was summer again, early yet, but the city caught and held the heat until the tension was palpable and everyone longed for the storm to break.
it had broken for her long before.
she pushed back the curtains and let the twilight melt into the deeper blueness of the room. she’d always loved the interplay of light and shadow, how they eternally chased one another trying to gain the advantage. but never, she supposed, did one completely swallow the other. except, perhaps, in space. she looked up at the sky, but there were no rifts in the clouds for stars to shine through. the world was dim and growing darker.
she didn’t mind.
she opened the windows and let the wind rush in, heavy with the scent of dust and rain and memories.
after her return she had only seen him once. he’d knocked on her door one evening in early spring to tell her he was moving — to a new apartment and a new company.
“oh,” was all she’d said at first, too surprised at seeing him to understand what he’d said.
“i’m moving,” he repeated.
and “oh,” she’d said again. “oh — congratulations. that’s … that’s … exciting, for you, i’m sure.”
“yeah,” he muttered. “well. i just — thought i’d let you know. in case you ever, you know — wondered where i’d disappeared to.”
“thanks,” she said absently. she stared at his jaw without really seeing it. disappeared? she supposed she had been the first to disappear … but he hadn’t come looking for her. until now. when he was leaving. it sounded so permanent, so — foreign.
“well … i guess i’ll say good night,” he said after an awkward pause.
“oh! won’t you, um, come in for a … drink or something? you could tell me about your — your new place.” she fumbled for words, knowing she had to say something.
he smirked. “i didn’t know you drank.”
“i might not have meant that kind of drink,” she replied, feeling more sure of herself on the now-familiar ground of sarcasm. “besides,” she called over her shoulder as she walked back into the apartment, “you don’t know everything about me.”
“that’s for sure,” he said under his breath as he closed the door and wandered over to the sofa.
she returned from the kitchen with two glasses in her hand.
“have a seat,” she said, and handed him a cut-glass tumbler half filled with something that was unmistakably whiskey.
“what, you’ve taken up a taste for hard liquor since i saw you last?” he said.
“only if you’ve started drinking wine since then,” she shot back.
he swallowed, grimacing a little. “what did they do to you in that hospital, anyway?”
“i … don’t see what business that is of yours.”
“oh, so you thought you’d just run off without telling me anything about anything and let me pick up hints from the office gossip only after you’d gotten back? thanks. thanks a lot.”
“would you have cared if i had told you?”
“that’s what i figured,” she said, taking a long sip from her glass.
her hand shook a little, and he noticed how long and thin her fingers looked. had they always been that way? he couldn’t remember anymore. but she looked smaller, somehow. fragile, like a little doll that would break if it were dropped. but that would be the whiskey talking. he took another quick drink.
“i’m moving to seattle,” he said.
“seattle?” she looked up quickly. “that is quite a move.”
“yeah, well, it was a good offer and —”
“and you never could stand the heat,” she finished. she smiled at him over the rim of her wineglass. “or the cold, for that matter. or the rain. i hear it rains a lot up there.”
“so they tell me,” he said, and shrugged his shoulders.
“well, i’m very … very … .” she paused, trying to get the word out.
she knew exactly what word she wanted, but her mouth didn’t seem to be cooperating.
“… very … happy for you,” she finally managed to say.
“thanks.” he gulped down the remaining whiskey, ignoring the burn in his throat and the whirring sensation in his brain. “well,” he said, getting up abruptly, “i suppose i’d better be going. getting late, and all that. busy weekend packing, you know.”
“oh, yes,” she said, standing up as well. the floor didn’t feel as solid as it usually did, and her eyes wouldn’t focus. “here, let me walk you to the door.”
as she tottered down the hallway in front of him her sweater slipped off one shoulder, and he couldn’t help but notice the stark ridge where her vertebrae jutted out.
“what are you doing, trying to waste away?” he asked, half-jokingly.
she whipped around to face him, but lost her balance and grabbed the door handle to keep from falling.
“what did they do to you in that hospital?” he repeated, completely serious this time.
she stared at him for a moment, making herself focus. things were uncomfortably unstable in her mind. was this how he felt when he drank — out of control? paranoid? vulnerable? she failed to see the attraction in that. then, he was a man. men weren’t vulnerable — oh, not that way, anyhow. weak, but not helpless. but she wasn’t weak, either, no matter how little she looked. no. she couldn’t be weak.
“they cut my brain open,” she said simply. “good bye … and good luck.”
he paused at the top of the stairs, as if trying to think of something more to say. then he nodded at her and walked down. and away.
lightning broke out against the blackness of the sky, and in the momentary brilliance she saw the building where they’d lived and wasted time. few things lasted forever. she hoped by now he’d found the thing that did — she certainly hadn’t helped him. had she kept him from finding it?
in the old building all the windows had been sealed shut. afraid of people falling out, they said. or worse. but she wasn’t the kind to jump. she stuck her head and shoulders out the window and let the rain beat down on her. she laughed as the water trickled along the scar through her hair and down her back, but the sound was drowned out in a crash of thunder. nothing was strong enough to out-shout the storm.