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    He lay in bed staring at the ceiling, listening to the night fall apart outside his window. It buckles, the night, under the weight of relentless clouds and a forgotten moon and the sleeping stars that fall in slight drops of water to puddle and reflect the shores they sailed from for lightyears. He still wears an ill-fitting suit of navy blue and his eyelids fail to meet for longer than the instants of blinks. He rises and looks out his window, pushes it open, and catches the rain in his palm.

    On the street, the rain beats against his face and he squints through the splintering sky. A face glows in the clouds above and he ascertains the position of the flowering gibbous. A face like the smile of god or the glower of the devil. Which, he cannot say. A grumble, a crack, and a bright gash appears in the sky ripping the darkness apart in a photonic ablution whose afterimage remains in his eye for minutes, stained there until he returns his gaze to a featureless night shrouded by the rain.

    The witching hour and the streets are a mix of congestion and desertion. Haggard faces stumble over the pavement, taxis screech like jaguars, and the high heels clack clack clack, echoing off the buildings, creating a cacophony with the thunder, the collapsing sky, and the squeals of girls too drunk or young or both holding tiny purses like umbrellas.
   
    The water level is too high and the bridge cannot be underpassed and it threatens the overpassage with slapping waves and rapturous current. Visible beneath a streetlight, her face lit, stands a lady on the rail of the bridge. She frowns and her long white dress clings to her, an angel emerging from the river just feet below. Her hair is a mop of blonde painted dark by the fallen sky. She turns her head and sees him seeing her just feet away. Her eyes are electric green, flashing like christmas bulbs. She looks back to the torrent.
    He asks her what she is doing.
   
    Killing myself, she says.
   
    Why?

    She scowls and meets his dull grey eyes, Because I no longer want to live. Her voice is not a whisper or a torturous lament, but brazen and full and low.

    The water's too high, he says. It'll just push you down river. You might live.

    She sighs, her eyes drooping, the water flowing in rivers down her face, and hops down the sidewalk. She stares at him through the curtain of rain with those vibrant green eyes that wilt men.

    He stares back and asks if she wants to get some coffee. She laughs and laughs, but he remains where he stands and puts his hands in his pockets like it will keep them dry. She cannot stop laughing, but she asks him his name and he tells her, Daniel.

    Well, Daniel, tonight's not such a good night to die, but it may be a good one to drink coffee.

    Let's hope so, he says.

    She walks past him and he follows watching the white of her dress cling to her plump hips and he can make out the pattern of her panties through the saturated fabric. She wears no bra and her arms swing wide and long. Her barefeet patter against the puddling concrete. He asks if she would like his coat and she erupts once more in laughter that creates a bubble around them. The water attacks and their clothes are soaked. It runs off them and combines with the lakes and rivers forming all over the city. Their skin is soaked. Their bones are soaked. Their blood dilutes until only water runs and their hearts will stop if they remain, but there is no reason to hurry, for tonight is no night to die. The water floods their lungs, but they breathe anyway. He coughs up a fish and she laughs harder. Her laughter fights the rain, but there is too much and it protects them for only moments and for no space at all, just their tiny bubble of sound that the rain cuts through like glaciers through continents.
 
    The sign promises hot coffee and breakfast all day in neon green that makes each raindrop visible in its glow like they are mosquitoes and it is an electric pulse of death. Still laughing, she leads him across the empty street. She kicks her barefeet, splashing the fallen raindrops with their already fallen brothers.

    The door chimes when they enter and her laughter is the only sound in the diner. Cool recycled air relieves them of the pregnant storming air. The sign says to seat oneself and he follows her over green tile to a green booth near the street. The sound of emptiness under the flat light of florescent bulbs sticks to the clothes that stick to them and neither speaks. Her breasts are small and the left is larger than the right, but he does not measure these with his eyes, rather he focuses on her green eyes that dart to her hands, his hands, the walls, the window, the dull light fixture above them, and back to where she believes a waiter or cook should be. Her features are hispanic with a small but thick nose and square jaw uncomplimented by her blonde hair struggling to return to the natural black. The green of her eyes pulses and matches neither her features nor her voice, a juxtaposition of ethereal beauty and crass physicality. The smile that began when she first stepped from the edge of suicide never leaves her mouth. She shivers miserably, damp and barely clothed in the cool inside air. Pools form beneath each of them on respective booths and she wrings out her hair forming a puddle on the table. He keeps his hands in his lap, which centers his wetness causing it to spread less noticeably.

    She coughs, her fingers dance on the table. She says, I don't have any money. I was supposed to die, so I didn't bring anything with me.

    That's okay, he says. I should have enough.

    Her eyes meet his, locked, challenging him to wither beneath her piercing emeralds. She does not blink and he does not mind. He walks into them unassuming, circling the iris, and testing their waters with his toes. He is too wet to be deterred and so he steps into the blazing mist of her iris and finds himself dried, waving his hands back and forth, watching the trails they leave. He is made of light and his eyes are too slow to perceive the actuality of his movements.

    A dirty apron clings to narrow shoulders and Daniel is ejected from the brilliant fog with a single blink. The man is ageless and his face resentful. Daniel takes the menu from the man. The man wipes the pools of rain from the table.

    'What'll you have to drink?' His small eyes peer from deepset caverns and his face has not seen razor for several days. It grows in patches of black, like a haphazard and dying forest.

    She orders a coffee, black. He takes his with cream. The waiter disappears, his image is forgotten as if he never existed.

    Her eyes are back on him, digging into his, trying to reach his brain. She says, So, what do you want?

    Coffee.

    You want to save me?

    Not particularly. He picks at his index nail.

    Her smile cracks open and her laughter fills the room. It is louder without the crashing of rain and it startles him. Her elbow on the table, her chin in her palm, she says, Want to know why I want to kill myself?

    Only if it's a short story. His eyes run slowly over her face, examining.

    She laughs and beats the table, her smile bigger, taking up her whole head. You're odd, she says. I like it.

    His eyes trace the long scars up her wrists to the matching tattoos of mermaids holding the scars like tridents.

    Clever, huh, she says, noticing his gaze. It's a better joke this way.

    What's funny about mermaids?

    He meets her gaze and her eyes go blank, then light up in laughter once more.

    The waiter appears from the emptiness and sets down a pot of coffee and two cups. 'What to eat?' He blinks hard.

    She orders an omelette with bacon and a hamburger. Daniel orders cherry pie. The waiter takes back the menus and slips back into the silence.

    Daniel stares out the window. The rain waterfalls from the awning and clings to the glass like a stream, blurring the world beyond. He removes his coat and rolls up his sleeves, which are too short. His watch no longer ticks, so he removes it and places it on the table. She picks it up and asks him if he is going to leave it. He shrugs and she puts it around her wrist and asks him how it looks. Fit for the dead, he says. She laughs.

    You don't smile much, she says.

    He shrugs.

    Don't you wanna know my name?

    Not if you die tomorrow.

    Maybe it'll keep raining. No good to die in this rain.

    No good to die in the sun. It makes sense to die in the rain.

    She laughs, Jesus, Daniel, ever thought about a suicide helpline?

    He sips his coffee. The minutes tick by, punctuated by the rain that continues as if it had been forever, as if the sun were a memory for a forgotten world, as if the clouds were all that ever clung to the sky, as if the sky was born grey. The silence heaves and waves in the diner; it binds and swirls them elliptically. Hollow and mute, stale oxygen and dead light, the only noise is her breathing, which sounds miles off, and the crashing rain, whose sound comes from within them, like they are the cloud drowning the city. She stares at him, boring her eyes through his skull, investigating what lies behind his pale skin and wideset eyes, beneath his lips that never smile. She finds little but the bones that make his face appear carved from rock and her own reflection. His expression is reserved wiping his face featureless. If she turns away, she cannot remember the shape of his nose or the color of his eyes and she believes that they are changing, that he is willfully changing their color in order to confuse her, sometimes blue, sometimes brown, sometimes one is green and one is black. She realises that she fills in the colors, that his eyes are empty. Her staring does not bother him and he stares back. The food arrives and she dives into the omelette, switching back and forth between it and the hamburger that she piled the bacon on. In her hunger, he does not exist and she eats by herself, vaguely aware that a phantom watches the course way she digs with her fork and the way her knife lies untouched. She gulps down coffee and does not wipe her mouth of food or condiment or drink. When she finishes, she leans back with a sigh to see him seeing her, an endless reflection between their eyes, a thousand mirrors facing a thousand mirrors. His plate that once held a pie is clean and near the edge of the table.

    You're an odd sort, she says after the waiter removes the plates and brings the bill. He puts money on the table and pours himself another cup of coffee and looks at her; she nods and he fills her cup.

    Why did you bring me here?

    Better to watch you live than watch you die.

    You don't know that.

    He meets her eyes and says, I do.

    She looks at her hands and he watches her fidget.

    There is nothing wrong with death, he says, but it is usually better to not die.

    What if you're tired of living?

    Are you tired?

    Well, to tell you the truth, she leans in, dying's become more of a hobby for me than anything. Or, not dying, but suiciding. Or, you know, trying.

    He stares.

    It started a long time ago. There's a story, but I haven't the time to tell. There's never time to tell a stranger of your life.

    There's usually no one else to tell.

    You can tell a stranger anything, but that won't make them care.

    He says, Stranger or father, you can't know if they'll care forever or even a single day.

    She looks away and puts a finger to the glass of the window and draws a face. Her eyes emanate sadness and she shivers, but the smile remains. She says she wishes the rain would stop. He tells her to stay alive. She shakes her head and laughs, but the laugh is subdued, quiet, taken by the destitute diner.

    Let's go, she says.

    He follows her back to the rain leaving the emptiness behind the door where the chime will hang until it is swallowed by all that is not there. The rain bites her skin, each drop a pellet leaving an indefinable blemish. The streets run high and their ankles submerge with each awkward high step they now take. She clings to him, afraid the water will dissolve her from her skin to her soul and sweep her off into the ocean to be forgotten and lost amongst the apocalypse of this sinking city. Her hand takes his, but he does not return the squeeze, his fingers limp on the plump of her hand. They walk like the blind, shielding their eyes from the downpour like it is the blazing noon sun and the street is a desert rather than a river. She brings her mouth close to his ear so that he can hear over the roar of the shower, Where should we go? He takes her hand in his and leads her past the streetlamps and over the bridge that they can barely cross, the water risen over, the current strengthening. Their steps hurry, her barefeet plunging in and out without resistance, his shoes like two sunken canoes. Time rushes with them, but when the sun is meant to rise, there is only more rain, falling harder, translucent knives.

    He struggles to open the door to his apartment building, pulling against the tension of the flood. They enter and the waves rise to the first step. They race up the stairs, him pulling her along, her laughter echoing with the same vigor as when they met just hours before, when the river and city were distinct.

    In the apartment, they stand, unsure. She never questioned where they went, only demanded they find shelter. She did not expect to be in his home, dripping wet and cold. He tells her she may take a shower if she like. She asks where and he shows her.

    She disrobes and feels the water seeping through her pores and diluting her insides, so she turns on the shower, hot, and waits in the steam that fills the room. She loses herself, her body becoming dimensionless in the fog. She breathes and feels herself in her lungs, reconnecting tissue and rebuilding the disintegrating cells from the deluge. Her eyes glow in the mirror through the steam and she remembers herself, wiping the condensation from the glass and reconstructing the form of her body. She enters the tub and takes in the warm water that washes the disintegration away.

    On the floor outside the bathroom door lie sweatpants and a shirt that are too big for her, but she trades them for the towel and the prospect of rewearing the drenched dress. She finds him sitting on a couch, a book in hand. He, too, is changed. She sits across from him and thanks him for the clothes. He nods and picks at the nail of his index finger.

    He looks at her then and says, Why were you wearing that dress?

    I wanted to die looking like an angel. Her smile stretches across her cheeks.

    He says, You don't seem like the type.

    Not angelic or not a suicide?

    Neither.

    I suppose I'm not.

    Then why?

    She shrugs, Why not?

    The sun does not rise and the rain does not stop. The moments pass between them and they pass through one another, both staring into the universe behind the other's eyes. One appears as a void, the other so full it is overflowing in light visible to all who have eyes to see. The shock of hers is the shock of her entire life, the tightrope from tragedy to tragedy, the curtain of love, the prism of her birth, and the orbit of her many deaths. Daniel walks through the mist, each particle a firefly. There is no sound, but he feels the hum vibrating against his skin, setting each of his nerves afire, causing a cascade of activity, a hum that resonates through his entire being until he is face to face with a dark skinned man in the arms of a young red haired girl. His breath hot on her neck, his skin moist and soft on hers. She heaves with every pulse of him until she erupts in a whimpering scream that expels a dark child with electric eyes like the neon of signs haloed by gold rings of Saturn cycling in her iris. She crawls into a feeble walk holding the pale freckled hand of her mother and waving to her father on the last moment that he will ever appear real before her. The tears come later and crowd the pale woman out of her heart where she sees no reflection of herself other than the green eyes that light up the darkness and wilt any man who looks into them. She notices this first when she turns sixteen and her hands run over his pimpled back and her breathing cuts through the stillness of that summer night beneath the shadows cast by century old trees in the manicured grass of the park. She knows it again each time a potential lover is caught in her eyes, like a fly in a web, unable to escape, for she is not beautiful, rather plump and asymmetrical, but her magnetism, the eyes that hold galaxies and centuries inside, cripple their wills and leave them prey. She defies it by opening her wrists and swallowing pills and wrapping cords round her neck, but there is no escape even for the predator. Her eyes push her on and they glow most radiant at the hour that her mother dies in the throes of radiation poisoning caused by complications with her cancer, which makes her body cannibalise itself. Her memories dance like an incandescent asteroid belt round her pupils and he stares into it, teasing apart the moments of her life. She is transfixed, captured by the eyes of another and she knows now what it means to be lost, for she is hopelessly consumed by his dull colorless eyes that vacuum her existence. Her life lies bare before him and she grips herself, feeling naked, defiled, like she has never felt before. Her power, all power taken from her in an instant, in the moment he looks not at her, but inside her. It is taken from her. Unfathomable and eternal, her soul does not collapse, but blooms and he pulls the petals away. In the quiet of the new day, there are no words; there is only the sound of raindrops and the transformation of the urban into the submerged.

    I see you.

    She is not sure if he says this or if he speaks directly into her mind that is now at his disposal. An oppressive force lifts and she falls through the earth and cries, saturating his carpet with the rape of her memory. Hours ago, I should have died, she says, and now, for the first time, I truly wish I had.

    His hand touches her back and, rather than recoil, she looks into his face, into his grey eyes, and sees herself crumbling.

    I see you, he says.

    She throws her arms around him. He squeezes her and whispers into her ear. His voice weaves through her body, connecting tissue, building a house inside her. The house is small and far away beneath a blushing sun and vanilla skies.

    That night they sleep beside one another beneath the crashing of the purifying baptism. A thousand dreams pass between them, a thousand moments passed from the future into their minds. They fill the room in a hurricane of sensations and emotions, each dream a fragment of what has yet to happen. At the center are her eyes, a dream they share, a dream pulling them through the fallen sky above the clouds to where the sun shimmers gold like the rings of her iris. Inside their phosphorescent fog, a city grows from the ethereal dust. A city with no past to forget or memories to regret, a city filled only with songs of the future. There are no walls and no deaths. She plummets through the bed and down the five floors into the water and further through the earth following the cyclone trail of their dream. He chases, her eyes lighting the path through the labyrinth of their minds. Their fingertips meet outside the city gates and they draw close, exchanging self and mind, collapsing into one another like bodies of water, the cyclone jigsawing their selves and reforming a singular entity. Her heart is the ocean and he dives until his lungs give way and he swallows mouthful after mouthful. Passing through the city, it blossoms in cerulean and emerald, their consummation birthing life for the world yet to exist.

    The rain continues for days and they never leave his bed until the ceiling crashes in and they swim out the window in search of what will someday be.




Edward J Rathke wanders the world in search of adventure while masquerading as a poet and lover of the arts. In truth, he
wastes most hours making bad decisions and trying, desperately, to not die. More of his life and words may be found at edwardjrathke.wordpress.com

 




 





  


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