TW - themes of grief / loss.
The wipers aren’t enough. Water gushes over the windscreen in waves as unrelenting as my grief. But, unlike my grief, it is swept away in measured, sideways beats. The streetlights are blurry starbursts in my struggling vision. I steady my right foot on the accelerator and my left hand on the wheel.
Black cloud hangs with menaces above, banishing celestial light from view. The bottle in my other hand is difficult to drink from without banging my teeth, even at this low speed. But the bourbon tastes like freedom as it glugs over my tongue.
'It’s like dancing at the end of the rain' she used to say. But only when she was sky-high happy. I regretted never dancing with her. My own self-consciousness got in the way of our joint rhythm. It got in the way of so many things. The rigidity of my nerves and the well-structured failure of my confidence built their own prison around me. I never even tried to escape.
I promised her in her final days, as I felt time and options drain away, that we would dance. She smiled and touched my cheek and said 'I never needed you to be anyone else.'
Since the day I placed a rose on her coffin, I puked self-loathing every morning. Wracked with regret, and apologies she would never hear.
I’ve never seen the end of the rain. Only an occasional merging of droplets and moving air that wet my face and left me damp and disappointed.
She often told a story of how she saw it once, as a kid, in a windless field on the canal side. How the drops came down in a sheet at a certain point, splashing in the water and falling like a curtain on the corn before her. How she took a step forward, out of the cloud cover, and within two feet of her starting position was no longer getting wet. The edge of the rain still visible, like a shining wall of tiny prisms where the morning sun caught the boundary.
She held out a hand and touched the tears of heaven as they fell. But she was no longer standing in it. She was no longer standing at all. She was spinning and stretching, turning and twirling, bowing and bending. Dancing at the end of the rain.
Her lithe steps took her between worlds; one wet, one dry, one black, one white. But I knew she lived for the grey, the beautiful greys of life.
Just once in her time had she seen this, felt this, touched this marvel. But it stayed with her, like a loyal dog. The memory bounded after her through the towering high rises of her childhood, along the busy streets to school. It accompanied her around the green university campus and down the dull corridors of her office block. It followed her to our wedding and watched while she danced with her father instead of her groom. Damn my insecurities!
I never understood why she loved me, and I was too scared to ask. Maybe testing her would break us. But those words flowed from her mouth with the ease of a swallow in flight. She told me often as she looked deep into my dark brown eyes, her blue-grey irises like a storm, glinting with mischief. Sometimes she’d toy with her flaxen hair, knowing it would stir me, and we wouldn’t emerge from our blissful coupling for an hour or so.
Another car on the road sounds its piercing horn and flashes its lights as it approaches. I'm over the line. I clumsily correct and feel a moment of cold run through me as I comprehend the implications of my daydreaming. But memories are all I have. Memories and a gold band on my finger. And a promise.
I take another swig from my bottle of freedom and it warms me through. It tastes like our first date at the steakhouse. Reminds me of her laughing and using it as a ploy to touch my arm. I recall that initial electric connection, the second I knew.
As the moment passes in my mind there’s a lightning strike behind me and the flash illuminates the road. Skeletal trees on the verges are brought into sharp relief and then seared into my vision when I blink. It’s like a burned-on memory. Memories and promises are all I have.
The storm is huge and unmoving. It’s not often they come with such little wind, not often they hang around like an uninvited guest. But this one is here to stay, for a while at least. And as long as it sits still, like Kelly’s loyal memory-dog, I have a hope of finding that elusive divide.
A few minutes more and there it is. I can see the clear sky ahead, stars are revealed like flecks of silver glitter on a sugar paper ceiling. It’s coming, my moment is coming. Her moment. Our moment.
The rain suddenly stops. But it hasn’t stopped, I’ve just reached the end of it, driven through the magical gateway. I pull over onto the muddy verge and scrabble around in the glove box for my torch. There isn’t time to fumble with the sat nav or pull on my jacket, the storm could move, and all could be lost. I grab the silver urn from the passenger side, untangling it from the seatbelt and holding it firmly to my chest.
‘Why such a sorrowful shape?’ her mother had asked. But we knew, didn’t we Kelly? We knew it wasn’t a tear, it was a raindrop. A beautiful symbol of your happiest times.
I get out of the car and shut the door. I sweep my torch over the glistening road and up to the leafy hedgerow. There’s a five-bar gate separating me from the wheat field on the other side. Wheat. Hers was corn but mine would be wheat and I’d share it with her. It’s not raining on my bit of verge, but it is raining behind the car. I’m there. I’m finally there.
Droplets from the gate soak through my jeans and I hear their cold accusations against my thighs as I trespass onto the farmland. I feel unlike myself.
She was right. Even in the dark, this is an extraordinary sight. The very edge of the rain, the fringe of the storm, the place with no grey area. You’re in or you’re out. Unless you dance.
My torchlight reflects off the downpour, showing me the border. Showing me the dancefloor.
I approach the edge and I twirl, stepping in and out of the rain. The contrast between wet and dry air is thrilling. A smile spreads across my eyes before my lips catch up. I brush a tear from my cheek, or was it a raindrop? My muddy feet are finding their rhythm, finding their timing, finding their beat. My shirt sleeves stick to my arms, water trails down my neck. Droplets hang from my eyebrows and are whipped away as I spin my head to follow my boots.
I take a few seconds on the dry side of the line to open the urn, pushing the pointed lid into my pocket. I hold the lacquered container in both hands and start to shake it away from me. Kelly begins to leave her aluminium prison as I begin to leave the confines of my own self-consciousness.
Only she can see me in the dark. I move between the wet and dry, black and white, left and right.
I spin and stretch, turn and twirl, bow and bend. I don’t need music, she’s singing to me. Her ashes spill into the rain and onto the field bit by bit. And I realise, they are grey. She is the beautiful grey between the black and the white.
I keep my promise and we dance together for the very first time.