A thunderstorm brewed over the city skyline. I stood among trees in a park by the lake — wearing a little red jacket and some kind of striped leggings — a fair distance from the city core, but the winds had picked and I needed to find shelter before the rain came down.
A woman sat on a park bench with her legs bared as though she were bronzing them in the sun. Indeed the sun lay buried in a whorl of crackling black clouds. She read from a thick white tome. Her blonde hair struck me as the oddest thing about her, tied up in little knots that lacked any order or style and did not flatter her appearance.
As I walked by her, I couldn’t help but notice her bleeding from the mouth.
“Are you okay?” I asked.
“What do you mean?” she said, her tone odd, somewhat garbled.
I touched my own mouth to mirror the area of concern; she touched her mouth, looked at her bloody fingers, and looked at me.
“This is silly,” she said. “I bit my tongue eating a hot dog at lunch and the damn thing is bleeding. I feel like an idiot.”
“Don’t be so hard on yourself.”
“Ever bite your tongue?”
“Well, can’t think of an occasion, top of my head, but I’m sure I have. Hasn’t everyone at some point in their life bitten their tongue? Seems like that would be true.”
“What’s your story, anyway?”
Thick blue paste as if applied by spatula coloured her eyes. An odd choice, but I had no context to object to it. Indeed, I lacked context altogether.
“I think I came out for a walk and maybe got a little lost.”
My brain throbbed; I gripped my forehead and squeezed it.
“Did you hit your head or something?” she asked.
“You know, maybe I did. I feel messed up.”
“Do you belong to one of those ethnic dance troupes?”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Your clothes, they’re — I don’t know. A bit strange.”
I glanced at my outfit. She wasn’t wrong. I could not recall wearing leggings before.
An emaciated monumental figure of a man, with a pitted face and textured black clothes, walked by, scarcely acknowledging us. He moved as though his skeleton were made of metal. A thunderclap startled the woman and intensified my escalating head pain. I had never suffered migraines, but I thought this might be the first one. The pain buckled my legs.
“We better move before we get caught in a downpour,” she said.
“I’ll duck under a tree.”
“That’s the worst thing you can do.”
“I don’t where else to go,” I said, with complete sincerity. The light bulb in my skull flickered weakly.
“Follow me,” she said, bending.
Rain suddenly fell in white, waving sheets. We scurried to a vacant kiosk and stood under its green tin eaves. My jacket was soaked dark at the shoulders. The woman’s fingers holding the book dripped and her blonde knots dripped. Somehow the silvery garment she wore had gone unmolested by the rain.
“We might be here for a while,” she said.
“Yeah, looks like. Hey, if you don’t mind me asking, what’s it made of, that thing you’re wearing? Looks like it repelled the rain pretty good.”
“Let me ask you something . . .”
But she had to stop talking because her mouth started bleeding profusely. She tried to stop it with her hand, but it just kept coming.
“How can I help you?” I asked.
She rolled her eyes and glanced at me as if to say nothing could help her. Her complexion went from pale to pale blue. Now blood dripped from her hands and from the book she still carried. But somehow her garment went unscathed. It was remarkable.
I suddenly felt very emotional, on the verge of tears. “Is there anything I can do?”
She shook her head.
Lightning streaked the sky and after a few seconds thunder clapped and shook the kiosk.
“We have to get you to a hospital,” I said, my voice muffled by the whooshing rain.
She shook her head. Blood streamed from her mouth, but somehow the garment continued to look pristine. I had to know.
“Please, I understand you’re going through a bad thing here, but tell me what it’s made of, that thing you’re wearing. Not only that, what is it?”
She shook her head again but this time turned and bolted away from the kiosk, her shoes slapping the wet ground.
“Wait!” I cried. “Wait!”
But she was gone.
Moments later, the rain stopped. I stood there under the eaves with my head full of questions. Rather than bring communion, the rain had brought confusion and despair. Was that woman okay? She would bleed out in no time at that rate. The people you run into in this life. Where I was going next, I had no idea. Maybe I needed to get to a hospital. My head was fucked up. It must have been one of those things that happen now and then. People forget shit, they forget where they live; they forget who they are. The strange, emaciated man we saw earlier lurched by the kiosk, water dripping off his crooked elbows.
“Hey,” I said, “did you see a lady with a bleeding mouth and a book?”
His head turned to me without his shoulders moving and his mouth opened before any sound emerged. It took a beat, but finally he said, “No.”
I moved my jaws in a slow rotary motion and sighed.
As the man moved on, a shiny green garter snake eased its way along the sopping ground at my feet. I froze. I watched the snake squiggle its way into a dripping bush and disappear. This made me so sad I burst into tears.
Sal Difalco’s short prose has appeared in print and online.