Melissa Bull (Concordia University, Canada)
Omissions are not accidents
It was a dark and stormy night. No, seriously, it was. I can totally commandeer stock storytelling phrases if I want. People have done it. Like Anne Sexton, she did it – hey Anne Sexton! So anyway. It was all thunder and lightning and I didn’t have an umbrella, and my boyfriend Tommy wouldn’t have wanted one anyway, he was cheerful about the rain – and I’m sorry about that, I hate italics and I’ve used them twice already, but I have to stress that word, cheerful, because there was just something wrong with the way that guy liked to get himself all bone-soaked sick bad weather wet. It reminded him of when he played team sports in autumn storms and skids and falls and rocks under knees hurt with real pain. Wait.
Right before the rain came down, the air had the trapped smell of warmed over cement the day after garbage day. You couldn’t have cultivated more indigo a pigment. The scythed out sky domed, glowed cobalty-luminous with the late August transparency of a stained glass window. Then clouds moved over slow and heavy and an electrical crackle filled the air. Rain fell hard. My mother and I used to call big tear-shaped raindrops des p’tits monsieurs because they look like tiny men jumping in and out of puddles. And now I’m getting a memory from when I was about three and my mother had her store and I was in her arms eating a peanut butter and banana sandwich. We looked out at the downpour and she said, Regarde les p’tits monsieurs. And I said p’tits monsieurs, and her laughter was gentle. Wait.
The story I started–the one from before–happened sometime in the 90s, when I was about 20. Picture me the way you know me now, except shyer, pudgier, nerdier. I was wearing a Balinese sarong and this grey ballerina top. That word, Balinese, reminds me of baleen and I definitely thought the whale was my spirit animal, which is why I got a super original dolphin tattooed on my ankle. So there I was, soaked to my tattooed skin – like, coincidentally, a whale might be, yes, if it was like pouring in the ocean. My boyfriend thought I looked hot but I was freezing and those rounded padded bras that make boobs like scoops of ice cream weren’t the rage and the whole nipply thing was definitely part of the appeal for him except it was embarrassing for me because of the hello naked-looking tits, right? He said let’s go to Westmount Park. And we did, because I was 20 and I didn’t speak my mind, because we weren’t far anyway and I thought I’d just wait in the gazebo while he got his crazy out.
The gazebo was whatever quaint shape it was–a hexagon or an octagon–and it was fine apart from the teenagers fucking on one of the benches. Clearly they weren’t keen on me hanging out like a perv. It was like gazebo-chicken–they carried on with the carrying on and I hung out like penetration was no big deal while rain drummed over us all. No, seriously, the rain came sheets and there wasn’t anyplace else to be. So I pretended like I didn’t notice their humping, keeping a safe distance, and my back to them, wondering how long Tommy’d need for his screaming and flinging on the football field. Turned out longer than I could stand. So down I went on freshly painted rain-slicked and slippery gazebo steps. Everyone uses that same shade of greenish grey on benches and stairs and balconies around there–it’s like shabby-chic, rustic clean, authentic old building style we got some anglo historical clout green. I walked along the field toward Tommy, who was acting like a cat nutted out on catnip. He’d taken off his shirt and kept shouting MORE! at the sky like some fucking urban shaman. My Birkenstocks slurped and sucked and stuck in the mud. I kicked one right up in the air trying to unstuck it, which got me to see the sky again and I thought about how we never look at the sky, in the city, we’re always seeing what’s at eye-level. Regarde, my mother says, when she sees clouds like those ones–those tearing kind of cargo ship shaped clouds–regarde comme ils courrent. Y courrent! They ran across the sky, they pushed, they rode, they dumped.
My mother and I used to stand inside the door of the balcony of our apartment just a couple blocks from Westmount Park, and watch the rain pour down in summer’s big electric storms. She never jumped when the thunder crackled but I did. Drafts slammed doors shut. Bats blew in. And every summer, in mid-summer, the rain would turn to hail, and these meteorological phenomena would clatter and crack and clatter around us, like some kind of absurd accident. And that rain smell of cement that’s more cement than water fizzed around and hung out of the roads, when everything stopped, abruptly. But wait.
By the time I’d waded out to him, Tommy was dangling by his arms from a soccer net. He told me he’d thrown a rock through the football horns, whatever they’re called. I said, Can we just go now? And he said, Oh my god you’re so hot. And he wanted to make out and I was shivering, thinking I was going to get tonsillitis or consumption. And he said, The rain’s so warm. I said again, Can we please just go? And he was like, Don’t you like the rain? I said I liked it better from inside. I sounded like a school marm. And I knew he was disappointed his girlfriend wasn’t more adventurous. He said it was like dating a Playboy centrefold. She’s hot but you can’t touch her for real–you just imagine how great it would be if she wanted to suck your dick. Fine, I said. I’m going. He got his shirt and jogged up to me. I didn’t think you meant it, he said.
It stopped pouring just as we got out of the park. The sky clear and star-pocked as if it had never rained, which made me feel ridiculous to be walking in my post-wet-t-shirt outfit, skirt all taped around my legs turning my gait into a Munster wife’s.
Tommy stopped into a corner store to buy a disposable camera and snapped a picture of us. I just saw it. My hair’s spiky. His Indian shirt’s mud-soaked through, showing a V of freckles and orange chest hair. The runny night sky above Oxford street takes up most of the shot.
Melissa works in Montreal as a writer, editor and translator. Her first collection of short fiction, Eating Out, was published by WithWords in 2009. She is a graduate student in Creative Writing at Concordia University.