Sunday, February 3, 2008


Jeremiah and Elizabeth huddled beneath an awning at a bus stop and watched the rain come down in sheets. They turned as the wind changed to avoid getting soaked. Jeremiah valiantly shielded Elizabeth’s body with his own when a particularly hard gust made avoidance impossible. The two of them were practically inseparable. Jeremiah had short brown hair and a face slightly older than the rest of his body. His high cheekbones hollowed out his features, and it was only when he laughed that his youth became apparent. Elizabeth had the sort of body drooled over by fifteen-year old boys. Her long, straight blonde hair framed a face made striking by its simplicity and the openness of her features. Her blue eyes seemed to bear a permanent expression of quiet alarm, implanted and reinforced by the stares she received while out in public. Jeremiah loved her, and though they had been together for a time, remained thrilled by the curves of her body. A sudden change in the direction of the rain caused her to lean into him, and Jeremiah felt a rush of contentment as he lowered his arms around her waist.
They had decided earlier in the day to go for a walk, their destination a bookstore a mile or so from their home. Elizabeth wasn’t much of a reader, but loved getting out and about for exercise. Jeremiah also believed in the necessity of long walks. It had been during one at the beginning of their relationship that sparks flew and their fates were sealed. Since then, each believed the other their perfect complement, and their days drifted by with the gentle monotony of waves on a calm sea. Neither could imagine a time without the other, yet their relationship was without assumptions for the future. Jeremiah and Elizabeth existed in a state of innocence, too young and unburdened to care about anything but their present happiness.
A bus slowed as it approached the stop. Jeremiah whispered in Elizabeth’s ear. No, she wanted to keep walking. They could just wait until the rain died down. Jeremiah felt the flicker and glow of contentment. He kissed her neck and waved the bus on.
Elizabeth leaned into Jeremiah and settled her head on his shoulder. There was a time when she wouldn’t have given a guy like him a second glance. He was thin, bookish, somewhat standoffish; the complete opposite of her “type.” There was an innocence about him, though, a sweetness free of pretension that inspired a fierce devotion in her. She wanted to take care of him, and felt needed in a way beyond the mere physical. They had met as coworkers. One day Jeremiah had approached her on a break and they had begun to chat. It turned out that they both played tennis in high-school, and after much stuttering, in a sudden rush, with his head down, Jeremiah asked if she would like to play sometime. Charmed by his awkwardness, she accepted. At the current moment, standing with Jeremiah at a bus-stop amidst a downpour, she was thankful she had.
They held each other and said nothing for a quarter hour, until the rain began to relent. Jeremiah squeezed Elizabeth’s hand – ready? She smiled and kissed him on the lips. They joined hands and took off running, laughing and jumping over puddles, their hearts racing as the rain again began to pick up. They reached their destination, the recessed entryway of a closed office building, just as the downpour resumed in earnest. A clap of thunder heralded their accomplishment, and they leaned against the glass doorway, breathing heavy through their smiles.
The wet and cold drew Lizzy’s nipples out against the thin fabric of her t-shirt. Jeremiah’s eyes fell to them, and he coloured slightly, thankful that the rain would keep passersby to a minimum. Lizzy laughed and wrung out her curly, bleached locks. Her red lips quivered behind the curtain of hair, with a movement like animals hidden in brush. She shook her head quickly from side to side, sending droplets flying in all directions, then threw herself into Jeremiah’s arms. When he released her, she immediately turned her radiant expression out towards the rain.
Mutual friends of Jeremiah and Lizzy couldn’t understand what drew them together. Lizzy was rambunctious, almost silly, and could come across as much less intelligent than she was. Jeremiah, on the other hand, seemed to cultivate an air of intellectual aloofness. His ideal evening consisted of a bottle of wine and a good book; hers, which typically took priority, was of drinking and loud music. They presented an odd pair, storming down sidewalks, club-hopping late into the night – a petite, sparkling blonde, all laughter and sex, with her gangly and distracted boyfriend, uncomfortable in his own skin. Jeremiah saw his life as a series of distractions, of which Lizzy was the most enjoyable. The morning after an evening with her was typically time spent in regret; he had trouble justifying such fun. Lizzy saw going out, the thrill of discovery, the vibrant interaction with one’s city and peers, as the part and parcel of life. Everyday details were accoutrements to her identity as a hipster, from the color she painted the walls in her apartment (irony is a shade of green), to her choice in boyfriends, constant variations on a theme of thin, self-conscious, and creative.
Down the block a change in a traffic signal released a stream of vehicles that passed before Jeremiah and Lizzy one after another, plowing through the downpour with the sound of breakers on a rocky beach. Jeremiah sought out the driver for each, focused on them as they passed, then snapped back to the next, his head a typewriter recoiling on its carriage. Lizzy, bored with the rain, stared downwards and fidgeted, scraping pebbles against the sidewalk with the soles of her shoes. A casual observer might guess that the young pair were strangers, brought together momentarily by the shared need for shelter in a storm. Given a moment of quiet, a distance would develop between them, as if the circuit connecting them broke down in the absence of banal chatter. One could characterize their relationship as electric – powerful and charged, yet ephemeral, capable of dying in an instant. They stood in silence, each engaged in their own repetitions, totally oblivious of one another.
The rain began to slacken, and with a touch on the shoulder Lizzy drew Jeremiah out of his thoughts. He smiled sheepishly and followed her into the drizzle. She walked quickly, and Jeremiah had to hurry to keep up. They trotted onwards, their pace increasing with the size of the drops. A fat splash on the forehead suddenly blurred Jeremiah’s vision, causing him to stop and blink his eyes. He saw her now dashing through a downpour, across an intersection and towards the covered dining area of a small fast-food restaurant. He chased after her, barely beating the changing light. When he reached the table, Eliza was already sitting down, watching him with an ironic smile, a picture of composure. The rain had darkened her clothing and hair.
“I thought you’d never make it,” she said, eyes twinkling.
Jeremiah stood a few feet in front of her, looking away to the right as he struggled to catch his breath. Eliza turned her gaze downward, smile unchanging. He glanced at her. He often wondered where she got the right to that smile. Her alabaster face, smooth and beatific, was flawed only by that cynical, ever-present turn of the lips. She appeared to him like a statue of the Virgin, set up in the foyer of a brothel.
Jeremiah moved to sit, and Eliza scooted over to make room. Seated next to one another, the pair instinctively adopted the same posture and expression. They appeared, each staring at the ground, like a single sculpture endowed with reflective symmetry. Eliza appeared immobile, a natural outgrowth or meditative animal, heedless of the scenery or passing glances. Jeremiah gave a passable impression of this, save for a twitching around the corners of his mouth. He appeared generally as a somewhat hollow impersonation of his companion, a papier-mâché Eliza. When she moved, he moved, and her emotions seemed transmuted through his medium; it was as if she manipulated him with invisible strings. Neither thought anything wrong with this; they were simply well connected. Alone, in the rain, a solitary couple in a patio seating area, they may as well have been siblings, the last of their species, stranded on an island in the midst of a deluge.
There are few places as depressing as a fast food restaurant on a rainy day. The bright red plastic table where Jeremiah and Eliza sat seemed to float on the prevalent grayness like a toy boat drifting down a swollen gutter. Eliza seemed at home; the combination of her severe beauty, black hair, and children’s book tattoos mirrored nicely the contrast between the primal storm and the empty kitsch of the 1950s style drive-in. Jeremiah looked like a soaked terrier. Eliza felt drawn to his vulnerability and relative naivety. When she placed her hand on his, or allowed him to hold her closely, it was with the acquiescence of a distant, yet obliging mother. Jeremiah sought to lose himself within her, to atone for the deficiencies she made him conscious of through emulation of her person. Her tastes dictated everything from his clothing and music to his posture and views on sex. When she fucked him, she was fucking herself, a manikin created in her image. If asked, however, both would identify the other as the love of their life. Hers was the love of a creator for her creation; his that of an ignorant primitive for a remote and unknowable goddess.
Surrounding them was an expanse of concrete and asphalt, populated here and there by other solitary and shared lives. Each was a drop of mercurial color on an otherwise featureless landscape, like puddles of motor oil scattered over a parking lot. Across town a couple walked through a park, holding hands; they seemed in a daze, blissful smiles written across their faces, eyes filled with warm complacency; they were aware of neither their surroundings, nor that in a week they would break up. Their mercurial drop would split, spread apart, two halves would shiver with uncertainty - and then each would gravitate to another, collide, swell towards a seam, and meld. The flux of this action, performed by the multitude over and over, lent the asphalt and concrete the semblance of life.
These movements of months and years were often observable in miniature over the course of a single day. At that moment, huddled together amidst the storm, Jeremiah and Eliza felt closer than they had in weeks. He had an arm wrapped around her, she leaned into him, eyes closed, a soft smile gracing her lips. His other hand rested on her thigh, and he stroked lightly his fingertips over the red fishnet of her stockings. Their relationship was tempestuous; like the storm that raged about them, it was furious, turbulent, a gauntlet that they ran in expectation of lulls. These breaks, which lasted anywhere from an hour to a week, filled them with drowsiness and cast a warm pall over the world. The edges of their contention disappeared, and their eyes, so often hard and opaque, became soft, translucent but for the face of the other. Each of these moments was for Jeremiah a glittering jewel stored close to his heart. When he closed his eyes and thought of her, these memories supplied the images representative to him of her; when he imagined their future, he drew upon this stock of images from the past.
Lost in his thoughts, Jeremiah failed to notice that Eliza had stood. The rain had tapered once again, and she was already walking rapidly down the sidewalk. He rose and followed, falling farther behind as her pace quickened. She began to run the moment he broke into a jog, as if to frustrate his efforts. With a crack of thunder, the sky suddenly opened and crashed down upon him. Jeremiah called after her, but she gave no sign of hearing, and turned the corner at the end of the block. He called out again, but the intensity of the downpour drowned out his voice, and he felt himself frustrated by distance and cacophony. Soaked to the skin, Jeremiah stumbled forwards, feeling, yet refusing to acknowledge the trickle of warmth amongst the rain streaming down his face. Reaching the corner, he turned and saw a bus-stop. It was vacant, save for a newspaper left on the bench. Looking further down the street, he saw it was empty. Taking shelter, Jeremiah sat next to the newspaper and hugged himself, shivering in his wet clothing. He had not expected her to wait for him. Wherever she had gone now, and whatever form she took, was not for him to know. As he sat alone with his quiet, murmuring thoughts, the chill began to lessen, and the rain began to flag. He began to notice people moving on the sidewalk to either side of him. An old man appeared on the bench, and down the street a mother walked hand in hand with her child. The rain ceased, leaving in its wake a heavy humidity. The cloud ceiling broke, and the puddles dotting the street came to life with captured sunlight. Jeremiah sat and looked at the puddles, marveling at how quickly a little attention from the sun could bring a stagnant pool of water to life. He imagined that in each of them he might see his face reflected, painted gold, like the specter of a better self, seen through stained glass. Later, when confronted with his solitude, he would remember the girls with whom he had huddled out of the rain, and saw in each of them not a loss to mourn, but the temporary vision of a different life, a window of possibility that was open for a moment, then shut. A bus approached slowly and stopped. The doors opened with a hiss, and Jeremiah and the old man rose to enter.

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