Naomi Leites

It was about to rain.

V squinted into the white sky and was unhappy suddenly, staring with a frown at the gray rain cloud that hung over the town in the distance. She was unhappy both because she realized she had been in a fine mood until the rain cloud, and because rain today was so fitting and perfect that it made her heart tight. Someone up there woke up every morning just to antagonize her. Her hands around the wheel clenched, unclenched, clenched again.

“Unhunch your back, you’re going to die from lack of blood supply to your organs,” her mother said from the passenger seat.

V didn’t change her position and said, “That’s not scientifically sound and you can just say ‘sit straight’ like a normal person,” and her mother said, “Sit straight.”

It was quiet except for the car engine and the wind whistling through V’s slightly open window.

“We might have to postpone, it’s about to rain,” V said out loud because she couldn’t think of anything else to say and she couldn’t think of anything more horrible than being quiet.

“We can’t postpone a funeral, and you need to learn to live in the moment. It’s always ‘about to’ or ‘almost is’ or ‘might’. What if you looked in front of you at the road for once and said, ‘I’m driving. I am in the car.”

V decided silence was better, actually, and didn’t say anything for the rest of the way.

Seventeen people looked in her eyes and pouted and squeezed her hands and said “So sorry” in the same tone of voice, V counted them. She decided she would try and be nice today so she smiled at all the people and squeezed their hands and gave extra long hugs so that she wouldn’t have to look at their faces, and when her mother said “Don’t stand like that, you look like you might keel over at any moment yourself” she stood up straight and made a little dent in the mud with her shoe.

It didn’t rain in the end (which made V actually more irritable than if it had) but there was still an odd sort of wetness about the day, a moistness to the air and the ground. The birds in the garden looked tired, limping around with an unusual lethargy, as though to attend the happenings of the day they’d had to fly through a thunderstorm. V’s mother complained to a friend after the service that her socks felt wet, and V walked behind them and looked down at her mud-tipped shoes and felt a stark, sharp anger building in the center of her chest, and she pressed down on her breastbone with her pointer and middle finger as if to soothe an inflammation. She felt her foot come out of her shoe momentarily, realized someone had accidentally stepped on the back of her foot, smiled politely with her teeth and turned to face front with the anger spreading to her shoulders and stomach.

“It’s nice,” V’s mother said later of the reception, standing next to V. She had left about a foot of space between them when she had come over, and V decided she wasn’t going to be the one to close the distance.

“Yes, it’s beautiful,” V replied. She thought maybe she’d made her voice sound too chipper and she was right, because her mother turned to look at her.

“Don’t be like that,” said her mother.

“Okay,” said V.

“How’s the fish?”

V looked up from the salmon spread into the eyes of a man with glasses. She set down the knife and the cracker and thought for a moment, and then said, “Fine.”

“Not good?” said Glasses, and V looked at him, hard, in order to discern what type of conversation this was going to be. She couldn’t detect playfulness in his voice, and he looked genuine, so she decided that he probably was.

“Fine is good,” said V.

“Fine is fine,” said Glasses. “I’m not a huge fan of salmon either.”

“Okay,” said V.

And then she heard herself ask, “How did you know my grandpa?” which surprised her, and she looked down at her feet, feeling her cheeks flush.

Glasses gave her a look somewhere between longing and curiosity, and then he looked sad behind his thin frames. He ran two fingers along his tie, looking down and holding it between his thumb and forefinger, dragging his hand down as if to straighten it. He looked at V without moving his head, only lifting his eyes and looking out from under his eyebrows, thick and gray, but V was still looking at her feet.

“It’s not a long story, but let’s sit,” said Glasses after a moment. “If you have time, I have time.”

“Okay,” said V, and they walked together to a table near the house, away from the chatter by the garden.

She learned that Glasses had known the man in the casket from their childhood, only she was confused for a moment because Glasses said they had been nineteen when they’d met.

“Nineteen is childhood,” he said. “And twenty, and twenty-one, and twenty-two, as far as I’m concerned; I don’t think I’m quite out of childhood still, if you can believe it,” and V almost laughed a little and he said he wasn’t making a joke but smiled anyway.

“Okay,” said V. She watched Glasses as his smile settled into a soft curve. The lines around his eyes were deep, like canyons between folds of skin, and she thought that whenever he cried all his tears probably disappeared into the canyon like a river, and she suddenly felt an overwhelming love for him. “Go on,” she said.

She learned that they had been in school together, and that they hated each other immediately as only soulmates can. Their paths had crossed and uncrossed, intersected, merged and split, and eventually had become one when they had decided to travel together for a year after their studies ended.

“The first woman I loved, Yvonne, became his wife,” said Glasses. He told V that he remembered the smell of her sweat, and V thought, what a weird thing to remember, and she listened as he told her about Yvonne’s many attributes and the ways she had made him insane, and how she was beautiful but he had only seen it after he realized he didn’t love her anymore.

“Some things just work out that way,” said Glasses.

V told Glasses that she had never met Yvonne, and he said that was because the two of them had gotten divorced a year after they married and neither of them saw her again.

“He just didn’t love her,” said Glasses, and then there was quiet, and then he said, “Actually, the first woman he really loved was you.”

Neither of them said anything for a very long time.

“Okay,” said V after a while, in a small voice. She felt like one of those birds in the garden, very tired suddenly and unable to move.

“Before he died he asked me if I was scared,” said Glasses.

“Oh,” said V. She looked at him and wondered if he really still felt like a child. “Were you?”

“No,” said Glasses. He looked at her and smiled, and the canyons around his eyes deepened. “I asked him if he was scared, too.”

“What did he say?”

Just then, it started to rain.

It rained all the way home, and V turned the windshield wipers to the highest setting.
She felt peaceful, and when her mother said, “Why’d you pick that radio station,” she switched it without being annoyed, and a cover version of Fire and Rain had just begun playing on the new station.

“Grandpa liked this song, right?” said V, and the windshield wipers were humming in the background, Swish, Swish, Swish. The rain was falling more heavily now.

“Yes,” said her mother. V looked out at the road. “But he hated when people covered James Taylor. More than anything, actually. I’m almost glad he’s not hearing this.”

Swish, swish, swish.

“Turn it down,” said her mother.

“Okay,” said V, and in her head she started singing along, “Just yesterday morning, they let me know you were gone; Suzanne, the plans they made put an end to you.”

Naomi Leites was born and raised in Seattle, Washington and is an aspiring musician, writer and visual artist, currently studying Songwriting at Berklee. Additionally, she is working toward a minor in Drama, writing plays and screenplays.