A Child’s Umbrella by Edward Lee

The wet kiss of the air, the possibility of rain. We huddle under a child’s umbrella in preparation, one found in the bottom of your backpack earlier, where you did not expect it to be; nor did either of us expect that it would be needed, the summer sky clear and blue all day, the chance of rain never seeming more remote. The sight of the umbrella nearly ended our stolen time just as it was beginning, the hotel room around us suddenly becoming both too big and too small. I remember watching you, seeing you frown as your hand closed around something unknown in your bag, your facial expression simultaneously falling and solidifying as you pulled it out. I felt my heart shift inside me in the moment before I saw the umbrella in your hand, concerned that you had cut yourself on something sharp, and then, seeing the umbrella, its rainbow colours, I experienced a stillness in my chest that seemed to last longer than possible. I witnessed the silent battle that was being waged throughout your entire being, before you shook yourself, a movement so slight I would have missed it if I had not been watching you so intently, and placed the umbrella back into your backpack, the hotel room expanding around us, like the world gaining previously unknown possibilities. The stillness passed from my chest, my heart regaining its beat.

Our bodies are alive in the coldness as we stand there under the umbrella, the hotel room ten minutes behind us, the sound of the door closing as we exited barely discernible as any more than a whisper, one composed of no words. The tingling of my skin after hours exploring each other is not entirely unpleasant, and I imagine it to be the same for you. I almost ask you, there and then, but my tongue remains motionless, to speak now seeming anticlimactic, or if not anticlimactic, needless.

The smell of cigarette smoke is in your hair, freshly so – if cigarette smoke could ever be called fresh – though I know you have not had a cigarette since before we met a few hours before. Nor do I recall the smell beings so strong when we were disappearing into each other in the hotel room, a week’s worth of distance that had nothing to do with location – we work in the same building after all – pushing our bodies on and on until our skins shone with sweat and our breaths came hard and heavy, tight satisfaction spreading itself loosely across us.

Funny that I can smell that cigarette smoke now, just as you are about to leave, as you should have left five minutes previously, bar the bus has yet to arrive, affording us those extra five minutes together. I imagine you will light a cigarette when the bus takes you where it must, that place that is your home and yet is not, that place where you must reinsert yourself into a marriage that does not suit the shape of your heart anymore; out of respect for me – perhaps even love, as I believe is growing between us, though I must admit my heart has held love for you since the first moment I saw you across the small pub where a work colleague was having their leaving party, but I have not spoken of it for fear that such words might frighten you away – you do not smoke when we are together, for I do not smoke, nor have ever liked the smell of cigarettes, though I never asked you to abstain from smoking, willing to endure it if that is the cost of spending time with you, for are you not risking a higher cost to be with me, your marriage, whether at its end or not, still a marriage after all.

The bus arrives just as the first drop of rain lands on the curve of the umbrella. Your eyes scan across the passengers in the windows we can see, ensuring you know none of them, before turning to me and kissing me deeply. I hold you tightly, and not for the first time I wonder if I will be able to let you go. But of course, I do, as I have done before, as I will do in the future, until perhaps there comes a time when you end your marriage and… and…

You board the bus, and it pulls away almost immediately. I see you take your seat. I raise my hand as you raise yours, and then you are out of sight, the bus all I can see until that is out of sight too. And it is only then that I realise that I am still holding the child’s umbrella, the one which had given you pause earlier, the one which belongs to your daughter, the daughter of you and your husband, the only reason, you have intimated across various conversations, that the two of you are still married, still together. I look up into its curve, the dark steel of the rungs which hold it in place. I see the bounce of the rain through its thin fabric, teardrops like shadows. I fold it up, place it into my pocket, telling myself I will give it to you when we next see each other, though not in work where too many eyes might see and discern something close to the truth. The rain is now free to fall upon me as I step away from the bus stop to make my way to my own bus stop so I might return to my small, empty apartment that is too close to where we work for us ever to go there.

Copyright ©2023 Edward Lee All rights reserved

Edward Lee‘s poetry, short stories, non-fiction, and photography have been published in magazines in Ireland, England, and America, including The Stinging Fly, Skylight 47, Acumen, The Blue Nib and Poetry Wales. His poetry collections are Playing Poohsticks On Ha’Penny Bridge, The Madness Of Qwerty, A Foetal Heart and Bones Speaking With Hard Tongues. He is currently working on a novel. He also makes musical noise under the names Ayahuasca Collective, Orson Carroll, Lego Figures Fighting, and Pale Blond Boy.

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