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Tea cups remain full these days. More for comfort than for quenching thirst, the Red Rose cools within the patterned bone china. There is a small corner Christmas tree, it’s the day after Christmas, 1941, and the peppermint-patterned packages are still wrapped. Tinsel silvers the limbs hung with a few tin ornaments she received as wedding gifts. The tree so full of wishes a week ago, now drops dry needles. She is so lonely, she hears them whisper against the paper as they fall.

War news on the radio interrupts this young woman’s trance. Patriotic music brings her back. She glances to the heavy black phone that hangs by the stove, not ringing enough. The Navy, the Red Cross, days and nights have gone by since Pearl Harbor exploded. No word. His ship not accounted for. Could it have rained down into the vast ocean in pieces too small to collect? Could he have?

Her sister at the door the next day, not waiting for an answer, using her spare key, dressing her, driving her to the Mystery Spot. Things don’t make sense in this spot, her sister explains while she exhales smoke from a thin cigarette. Vapors whirl around the closed car. The woman rolls down her window to the cool California breeze. She wishes it were male hands on the steering wheel right now, not her sister’s gloved ones.

They pay $1 for the new attraction, and the sisters watch balls roll uphill and brooms stand on end. They stumble in their pumps, feel light-headed near the pines whose branches reach in only one direction. They are told by the guide that the antigravity pull that swirls around the spot they are standing on is a vortex of magnetic fields. The woman wonders about the fact that there are still so many things in life that can’t be explained.

Evening, just before the sun disappears, she draws the blackout curtains across the window panes. Talk on the radio is that it might be the end of the world. She hardly speaks these days. Some mysteries being too tragic for words.

***

The woman can’t remember what day it is exactly, but she knows it’s her birthday because her granddaughter shows up to take her to see MoMA’s new rain room exhibit as a present. The woman wears a pin that is silver writing in a scroll: Remember – Harbor, with a real pearl in place of the word. It hangs heavy on her left breast. Over her arm, the Chanel umbrella her husband gave her 20 years ago. Because of her age and the intense heat, the crowd shuffles them to the beginning of the long waiting line. It is July 5, 2013.

When they are finally let into the room, the air is cool, water rains down, a spotlight highlights the cascade. This is something the woman wants to do on her own. She leaves her granddaughter’s arm and shuffles across the grate. This new modern mystery. The rain parts for her. To others, she looks like an ancient dancer winding down as she turns, arms outstretched at bent angles. Being surrounded by falling water yet not getting wet, controlling the rainfall like a god, to her, it is a pure moment. Like the one when she heard his voice again, crackling through the ether, after a month of the unknown. Rain sluices down, pulses, intuits its own space around her, and her memories of joy slip through.

She reaches the end of the installation and a guard helps her off the metal floor. She nods as if she knows him, starts to tell him how she survived the end of the world. The woman’s granddaughter and the guard exchange knowing smiles. She catches their look and bites down on her wayward tongue. They don’t understand yet.

She leaves the rain room behind, ignoring the sign that tells visitors how it works.


Tara L. Masih is editor of The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction (a ForeWord Book of the Year), and her debut story collection, Where the Dog Star Never Glows, was a National Best Books Award finalist. Tara has published fiction, poetry, and essays in numerous anthologies and literary magazines (such as Confrontation, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Natural Bridge, New Millennium Writings, The Pedestal, The Los Angeles Review, and The Caribbean Writer), and her essays have been read on NPR. She judges the intercultural essay prize for the annual Soul-Making Keats Literary Contest, and Wyatt-MacKenzie published The Chalk Circle: Intercultural Prizewinning Essays, a collection she gathered from this contest; Chalk Circle was given a Skipping Stones Honor award, a New England Book Festival Award, a silver IBPA Benjamin Franklin Award, and a silver ForeWord Book of the Year Award. Tara was the assistant editor for STORIES literary magazine, and a regular contributor to The Indian-American and Masala magazines. She now works as a freelance book editor in Andover, Massachusetts. www.taramasih.com
 


I love small news bits. I often find they work really well as fodder for flash fiction. I can't recall where all the threads came from and interesected in this piece, but I do know that reading about the rain room art installation at MoMA that took place last summer started the creative wheels turning. I wanted to put a character in that room, but had to have some backhistory to make the walk through it have more import. The Mystery Spot does exist, and the World War II warnings of the end of the world were broadcast. Somehow all these bits of news and history and mystery came together into this fragmented story. 





 


 




  


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