Another Rainy Day

Another Rainy Day

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Rainy had left the backdoor open to the cold sweat of the world, its swinging clanks her remains, as if she were now the wind itself – whipping around the loose, lilting porch and flying off the faded shingles of the roof, west across the piedmont toward the Carolina mountains before blowing back. Just as before, our lives were busy in both Rainy’s presence and absence, swirling around and drifting off.

Rainy had talked of running away days earlier.

“It’s not like it’s a crime,” she’d said to me.

And Rainy knew this was true from experience. All too well. From the battered shelters, foster homes and friend’s couches to homeless camps, weekly-rate motels and boarding houses.

My memory of Rainy was clearest when I recalled her gasps and sighs and whispers, spiked with her howls and exclamations, and this company of remembrance stirred with me on the salty, Atlantic breeze that sweeping, overcast morning she left us.

Gusts of image and feeling flashed and mimicked in my mind: her birthday balloons slowly dying of gravity in her bedroom, now quiet, where her favorite flower petals lie wilting in a gifted cigar box, each picked for their beauty; the fresh rags of a wash soaking into her empty single bed; strands of her greasy, auburn hair caught in the hinges of drawers, and the dust of a former life collecting on a nightstand; even the cradle of death, a banded trove of torn baby pictures and crumpled love/lust letters, wrapped itself in the blustering blister of her final dawn chorus – a song for anorexic, bleeding angels.

“You could leave a note, maybe, at least,” I’d told her. “Besides, that way they won’t come looking after you.”

Her family. Police. Older men. Just to name a few.

“Yeah, maybe,” she replied, a common refrain when what’s unknown is said aloud.

Rainy would commonly nod along to my smatter, but never in throated agreement. I was always looking to appease, or simply please, she believed – to defer, or conjure a peace that looked more like a hard freeze – and any revelation of her plans would generate questions she either wouldn’t, or couldn’t, answer.

Why? Just because. So, why not?

How? However, you see?  

When? Today, tomorrow, whenever.

Where? Over there. Right here. Back home. Away from it all.

But I filled in the blanks left by the following two questions, a mix of her admissions and my assumptions, evenly objective and gross, all the same.

What? The betrayal. The missed classes. The broken system. The desire for attention, anyway it comes, from fists to blunts, from prayer to sex, from insults to food, with a compliment on the side – or, talking to yourself for dessert. But it was also her dreams, her ambition, all the propulsive things hurling her toward social appeal and lived imagination.

For who? The stalkers and strays. The family and friends she wanted to repay with fame. The perps and quips, too. The fairy devils and lookouts, yes. The bruised hearts carrying jokes, for sure. Even the jokes played on the high and tired. Like Rainy. For herself.

After the hotel manager had run her off around Easter, Rainy came to know the tramps of the old homeless camp bordered by Flat Creek, a closed mill, woods teeming with tick nests, and crisscrossing train tracks. City officials had criminalized homelessness, using the euphemism of “urban camping” to enshrine its penalties, while law enforcement ran down and drove off those pushers and suckers and dead-luck workers from beneath the highway bridge into a patchwork of hardpan trails, weeds bedded under wooden pallets for sleeping, and tarp-shaded, broken-mirrored, mud-and-piss bathing holes.

For all the stiff smiles and silent, eye-blinking hopes corralled in the camp, Rainy made a storm with her fractured, incessant pleas for more and more, coupled with halting cries for less and less. Everyone took notice. Their faces twisted. Lips unlocked. Sight cleared. Pants down. A danker smell. Confusion. Shirts tied around foreheads. Goosebumps. Sore ankles. Celebration.

“I want to leave, I want to go,” she’d often say, never specifying time or place. “Maybe I’ll stay.”

Elizabeth, a self-ordained matron of the camp, with her mix of priestly blessing and dismissive, authoritarian, shutdown-style declarations, had told me of Rainy when I last visited while handing out crew socks, tank tops and notebooks for journaling life on the streets.

“She’s too young, man,” Elizabeth complained. “And I can’t look out for her every minute of the damn day. She’s already filed one police report, man.”

“For what?” I asked, needing not specifics, but confirmation.

“John Boy, that bastard, he had her in his tent last night. But she’ll be back again once tonight comes on us, looking forgetful and acting like she can handle anything. Then they’ll come for me knowing I been helping her. Man, and if the police come, all of us here’ll have hell to pay. You know I’m right.”

And that’s how Rainy had come to live in the boarding house my wife and I had bought and renovated the previous year as a way to shelter ourselves against zoning laws and rent inflation. The house was both service and sacrifice, and yet it was also neither. Sometimes a bed is only a place to sleep, and that is not the same as getting rest. Rainy knew this, casting her insouciant pall over our shared home.

“It’s never enough, I think,” she’d say. “But, also, too much, too soon.”

It was only a couple months. I’d scold her over morning cigarettes about wanting to punch everything, and my wife would listen in agreement, only correcting Rainy when it came to the risks young, unstudied women faced in both homeless camps and mansion estates. I’d listen to her dreams narrow to a pinch by midnight, then widen like a flower in bloom the next day, only to drown again in the wet gloaming.

But Rainy insisted her trauma had been excised with the promise of a fight, a feeling of inevitability, and an expectation that bad things can, will and should happen. Threats were signs of life to her, and promises of fortune looked a lot like death – funeral beads and other goods for the grave.

“I’ll do it,” she’d say. “I swear – again and again. Then never again. Except once more.”

Ah, the assurant delusions of youth. I miss them for myself now more than ever.

In the kitchen of the boarding house that morning I’d found Rainy gone, I prepared breakfast, breaking the yellow yoke, mixing it with white cheese in a heated black pan, ready to fry nature’s hues.

“Rainy ran off,” I told my wife as she shuffled in toward the smell.

She looked at me as quiet as a mousetrap waiting to bite.

Feeling in my pocket, I drug out a lighter, tossed it on the counter – then a slip of paper, half-ripped, with numbers scribbled across letters, a kind of Zodiac for the disappeared, which I’d found by Rainy’s bedside that morning. I sprinkled the remains of my pocket over the note and across the counter, like flavoring the goodbye, adding crumbs and lent, a coin and a charm.

“Here, read this if you don’t believe me,” I told my wife, knowing she thought Rainy would be pouring through the front door sometime that night, begging again to be remade, maybe asking to be baptized in a hurricane, or trying to hold her breath in the bathtub.

“I 3 jus 5 can’t 7 be 9 yer 2 burden 4 no more 6 I can’t 8 fill 3 yer 5 need 7 to 9 serve 2 me 4 to save me 6 to free me 8 I’d 3 rather be 5 yer 7 sacrifice 7.”

“See ya later!” my wife exclaimed. “There it is, you see, that’s how she signed off. I told you with my eyes.”

“Yes, but ...” I responded, letting the imagined ellipsis in my talk fill with my wife’s competing, but teary, crippled thought.

“Yes, but ...” she answered.

Our minds demand that holes be filled – with speculation, documentation, imagination, realization. In patterns, we love, we abide. In asterisks, we cover, we hide.

What lingered in Rainy’s words made sense, too, since what had taken her away no longer had a sound, deafened as it was by the quiet frenzy of losing her trail and the muted enterprise of cold rationalization: Oh, well. Can’t do nothing about it, I told myself. Rainy had taught me that inscription for Loss itself.

But, perhaps, she would return one day. After all, what’s right stands between what could have been and what will be. Even Rainy knows this, herself a victim and abuser, broken and breaking, generous and cheating – a duality shining in youth and shadowing with age.

“Why not me? They did it, too,” she’d frequently say in some way to explain her impassioned assaults on her own character and body, as well as on the hearts and minds of the do-gooders who stared her down. Perhaps it was an expression of hope, too.

Whether Rainy was thinking of someone specific, or no one at all, herself or the whole world, its gods and queens, too – I wasn’t sure.

That’s when good grace came for my doubts. I’m usually suspicious of love when the storm never breaks – only its temper wanes. But this time felt different. I had no more explanations. Just dumb acceptance, pure and readymade for exploitation.

Still, the big illusion of ambiguity keeps my wife watching for Rainy’s return, and the distortion of belief leaves me sleeping without a pillow.

“Why not me? They did it, too,” I dreamed.

Then I woke up – younger still. The past is a coming-and-going affair.

“It’s raining again,” I whispered to myself.

About the Author

Joshua Silavent

Joshua Silavent is an award-winning journalist and educator based in the greater Atlanta area. He was named the 2016 Beat Reporter of the Year in Georgia by the Associated Press for his extensive reporting on poverty. Furthermore, his reporting and independent homeless outreach earned him the 2019 Martin Luther King Jr. Drum Major of the Year Award from the Newtown Florist Club, a 70-year-old civil rights organization in Gainesville, Georgia. Silavent also writes lyrical, narrative and "reportorial" poetry and short fiction. His work has appeared in Driftwood Press, Prometheus Dreaming, Sky Island Journal, New Plains Review, Fearsome Critters and Pinky Thinker Press.