Cloudy Skies Burned Clear
Rain cascaded from a black-but-not-dark sky, swarming our collective mass. It came out of nowhere — a clear day melted, dusked — darkness shrouded the gathering clouds. Drops fell cold, sapped her remaining heat until cheeks shone white and glowed with reflections of the dazzling facade — the moon echoing the sun. I cradled her sleeping head, the pavement’s undulations digging and cutting my knees, and I gave her my breath until she woke.
A melody of sirens rose to a feverous pitch. They emerged from vehicles — pants matching shirt matching hat — drenched the air with commands. They loaded her into the back, attached her to the machines. With him, they didn’t even bother, just draped a sheet over his lifeless bulk. I probably should have stayed, they probably had some questions, but I slipped out through the alley and turned left down the sopping, sodden street.
Morning came, a trying sun rose in an otherwise empty sky. Sidewalks steamed, puddles disassembled while I walked. I only wanted a glimpse, assurance that she survived. I peaked through the windowed door, saw her up and alert, turned to leave before feeling a grip on my arm. She pulled me inside, sat me in the chair. It’s you, isn’t it? she asked. I nodded, my eyes to the floor.
She forced me to explain. I told her that I stumbled onto the scene just as the assailant struck her. No, I didn’t get a good look at him, I was trying to save you. Yes, your husband was already down. I resuscitated you, yes, then the ambulance showed up. I left because I have a history with the cops. Yes, priors. They’ll never believe me. You’re welcome. Yes, it’s okay, you’re welcome.
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Weeks later she insisted that we meet. She sobbed into her clear, necked glass under dim lights that sprang from wooden rafters. She claimed that all was lost, that everything she cared about had been taken from her. She pleaded for my help, cursed the buffoons who couldn’t solve the case, said I was the only one who could help her. I told her I would do what I could.
After that we met often. She was thirsty for every detail — taste of rain on tongue, fragrances in the air. We poured over newspapers, looking for similar cases. The nights wore hazy with thick and spicy drinks. She wept, nostalgic, I offered her my ear.
We danced through the rest of the summer — hand in hand, on shoulder and on hip. We spun while the sun made its arc, we twirled under a motionless moon. We grew tired and collapsed on grassy hills, sharp blades bent at our weight, limp reeds tickled our necks like bugs. Rays shone bright in sweet-smelling kitchens, pierced thin curtains to illuminate wafting fragments of dust and flour. Lighter than the air, they rose in fine clouds and settled on aprons and shoulders. She wiped some on my nose with her finger and we laughed.
In the cold months we shared our heat, trapped our mutual warmth under thick sheets, sipped piping cups of broth while the end of the year approached. A bright day emerged, a reprieve from winter’s fury. We drove through dazzling snow-lined streets, up slick, gravely hills, around narrow country bends. We hiked through the symmetrical forest, looking for the perfect one, and when it appeared we saw it at exactly the same time. I brandished the saw, knelt, gripped the fir with my opposite hand, cut into the trunk.
The saw was almost through when I felt the tree wobble and give, the same way her husband wavered under my first blow. When the tree finally toppled it fell heavily, like he did, neither of them breaking their fall, both landing on their full dead weight. That night, she hadn’t seen it. She was walking a little ahead and it happened very quickly. I never meant to hit her, but she started to turn before I had his wallet, and I didn’t really have a choice. I caught her as she fell, though, and stayed and helped her when I should have just left. That must count for something, I thought, and I carried the heavy end of the tree.