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Happy Yellow

“You just get used to it,” an elderly neighbor had counseled Marnie when we first moved to this northwestern wonderland of always-emerald grass, dripping tall pines, and welcome mats like sponges.  “After a while, you don’t even notice it.”  A chill wind, heavy with an earthy, mineral sweetness, had blown through a few days ago, pulling behind it fat thunderheads that staked claim unapologetically to the pewter sky.  Rain droned unbroken, occasionally augmented by belching thunder or jagged sparks, but mostly just a rolling, relentless syncopation, like a tireless jazz trio stuck in an endless bass solo, the snare scraped with brushes laconically, hypnotically, the piano sparing, offering only deep, sonorant chords.  Marnie and I got used to it. 

            Sunday morning was as dark and wet as the night had been, the downpour uninterrupted, but Marnie managed an optimistic little smile, asking if I wanted the newspaper and perhaps some coffee.  I grumbled that I didn’t really care.  She pulled her bright yellow rain slicker over the long t-shirt she had slept in, cinching the hood’s drawstring to encircle her face, but not bothering to zip the jacket, then stuck bare feet into tall rubber boots that climbed over her calves and looked like they might belong to a burly lobsterman, except for being electric blue and patterned with polka-dots.  She returned with the dripping log that had been the Sunday paper, kicking the boots off and shuddering out of the slicker, standing barefoot in her own puddle in just her t-shirt, the cotton soaked through where her slicker had fallen open.

            She looked a little pathetic, but seemed expectant of something, so I cursed the useless newspaper, the idiot who had thrown it and missed the porch, and the damned, never-ending rain.

            Marnie considered it all, frowning faintly with a trace of disappointment.  “I think I need to go away,” she said quietly, wiping a wayward strand of soaked hair from her forehead.

            “Where?”

            “Not here.”

            “Yeah, don’t we all?” I snorted derisively, gesturing to the black windows popping with raindrops, streaked with silvery rivulets.  “I’m going to Maximo’s for a latte,” I told her.  “You want anything?”

            Marnie stared at the wet paper that she still held, its ink dribbling onto her fingers.  Her head rotated slowly while her lips formed the word “no” without sound.

            The line at Maximo’s stretched out onto the street, dozens of us queued up with a kind of glum desperation, bumping and poking each other with umbrella tines as we trudged a foot at a time toward the sanctuary of the coffeehouse’s bright red canopy.  Calmed briefly by the storm’s thrum on its canvas, I remembered Marnie’s empty look, inconsistent with her usual sunniness, wondering if these endless dreary showers were finally getting to her. 

            The imprints of her boot treads were ghosted onto the floor when I returned from Maximo’s, but the colorful wellingtons were nowhere around.  Marnie’s raincoat was gone.  I looked out the window, expecting I suppose, to see that vivid yellow slicker cutting through the gloom, a bright canary returning home.  Instead I saw just the streetlight pouring a sallow triangle of weak light into the gray mid-morning murk, doing little but illuminating the drops shooting through its shaft.  Silver-brown pools bubbled and swelled around the storm drains, their shimmering edges lapping up near the house.  I worried about our foundation.

            Texts went out, carefree at first, aloof, then voicemails to her that degenerated from jovial bewilderment to the barely held-together near-panic of a man on the edge of drowning as the dreary morning stretched into roiling afternoon.  I wasn’t used to worrying about her.  The track her kicky blue dotted boots had left on the floor seemed like a clue I should decipher, but couldn’t. 

            We were as comfortable as wool socks in sturdy, broken-in Timberlands.  Marnie always looked cute in her “happy yellow” raincoat, a color that suited her, always untroubled, bright eyes cutting the gloom and plump lips drawn up contentedly, her face shining round inside the hood’s lariat like a child’s drawing of the sun we couldn’t see.  Was it only the rain, I asked myself, watching little rivers sluice into yawning drains, gone forever.  What else had I missed under that happy yellow?  You get used to the rain, especially when it’s always around.  The steady staccato rhythm is exciting at first, then comforting, but after a while you stop listening. 

Finally, her one-word text flashed against the black window clotted with silver rivulets: “hi.”    

            I tapped madly at my phone, feeling desperate, as if bailing at cold, fast-rising floodwater.  With quivering hands, I pecked out, then erased, smarmy apologies and confessions, finally just thanking her for retrieving the newspaper this morning, and asking her to meet at Maximo’s for that coffee; this felt right, safe, even perhaps sage, a playful little echo after startling thunder. 

            The coffeehouse’s red canopy could have given me cover, but I moved down the block to spot her canary raincoat sooner, grasp its slipperiness in my fingers, and know that I wasn’t letting go again.  I stood under one of Marnie’s umbrellas, a bright red bumbershoot meant to be twirled on a perky girl’s shoulder as she danced through puddles singing a breezy showtune.  The drops banged out a rhythm on it, urgent and emphatic, like the jazz drummer unleashing a drumroll.    

            I peered through the gray sheets for hours, searching for the happy yellow but saw only drops slicing through the streetlight’s shaft, dying on the black pavement, rolling into drains.  When the water swelled out, covering my feet, I knew I had misjudged the storm.  The lights inside Maximo’s went out.    

            I turned to leave.  A block away, the cinched canary hood bobbed with the steps of blue polka-dot wellingtons through ponded water, as Marnie trudged from under the darkened red canopy where she had been waiting.  “Hi,” I tried to shout, the word drowned by the rain’s endless drumming.

Tim Jones is originally from Michigan, and his work has appeared in The First Line, Underwood, Into the Void, and on The Pendust Radio Literary Podcast. Now living in California, he misses those fierce rainstorms that go on for days.

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