copyright © 1996 Dennis Paul Himes

Sunday Afternoon

The morning had been a soft gray when she woke, and it had started raining not long after that. At first just a drizzle, it had slowly built up into a full fledged downpour, although it seemed to her that the raindrops were falling much slower than usual, as if the pull of gravity had decided to take it easy. She had put on her long skirt, so that she could keep her legs warm without the feeling of a tightly wrapped package that pants would give her. Since she was to be alone the whole day she would have just covered herself with blankets had she not thought it out of character.

She had spent the rest of the morning and the better part of the afternoon standing at the window watching the rain, moving away only to brew a new cup of tea whenever the last one ran out, and to fix herself a salad for lunch. But then on an impulse she decided to write a letter. She fetched her stationery, her envelopes, her pen, her sealing wax, and her seal. She arranged them on the dining room table, an old oaken table which faced a picture window so she could still watch the rain as she wrote, and stood staring at them wondering to whom she should write. She went back into her room and opened the too little box which bulged with the years' collected correspondence, to see if it contained any letters which wanted answering. She found none. She went back to the dining room and tried to think of someone that would be especially glad to hear from her, when it occurred to her that she had not written Roger in a long time. She had not seen or even thought of Roger in a long time. So she sat down, took up her pen, and started wondering what a letter to Roger should say.

She wondered if she should start it "Dear Roger," "My dear roger," "Roger my dear," or just "Roger." After considerable thought she remembered that she had always written, "Roger my sweet." Seeing no reason to break with tradition that was what she wrote. Still, she had no idea what should follow.

It was not strictly accurate to have said she was alone. Alexander, her longhaired gelded cat of three years, had spent the day curled up on top of the china closet. She asked him, "Alex, what am I going to tell Roger?" He looked at her for a while to see if her unexpected conversation had anything to do with food. When it became clear that it didn't he went back to doing nothing.

Looking down at her hand poised above all that blank paper she put down the date and then wrote, "It's been raining all day." Looking at that, she brushed some hair over her shoulder, bent down close to her work, and wrote, "It's been raining for weeks. I cannot remember what the sun once looked like on the now washed out garden. The bridge to Glaston is long gone and the power and phone haven't worked for days. I am alone, shut off by unrelenting sheets of water, trapped in this empty house." She stopped and thought, "But why wouldn't I be able to visit my friends in town?" Before the answer was completely formulated in her mind she began writing, "There is no gasoline anywhere to be found in the tiny world my universe has been reduced to. To attempt a trip on foot is to invite death, pinned to the ground by the..." she almost put "unrelenting," but she realized she had just used that word, "...insistent force of the sky's cruel river. The creek is by now unrecognizable, trees half submerged valiantly striving to resist the mighty current."

"Paragraph," she said aloud. "And why?" she continued, "Why am I sentenced to days of pacing these hollow rooms, to sleepless nights spent wondering if help will arrive before the food runs out completely? Did not the Lord promise Noah that the world would never again be destroyed by flood? Have we been that sinful that the almighty would renege on a promise?" She sat back and laughed. "What," she wondered, "will Roger think of this letter? He always thought I was a little crazy, I guess this will confirm it."

She noticed that her tea had cooled and went back to the kitchen to throw it out and make another cup. When the kettle started to whistle she did not turn off the heat right away. She waited until the water was boiling full force and the whistle became too high to belong in that house on that day. When she put the teabag in the water she did not move it around but waited until the tea seeped out of the bag of its own accord, twirling and curling through the water in imitation of the steam leaving the kettle.

Back in the dining room she watched the water run down the window's glass as she waited for the next thought to arise. Then she picked up her pen and after several false starts began to write. "The day before yesterday, or maybe the day before that, I was startled to hear a knock on the door. Hope swelled in my breast that relief had at last arrived. But when I rushed to the door and opened it," she started a new page, "I found instead a pitifully waterlogged man on the brink of exhaustion. His clothes were in tatters, his skin had been stripped of oil, and his eyes were..." "His eyes were what?" she thought. "...filled with the desperate look of the hunted animal. He began to sneeze violently, and fell at my feet, his legs unable to support him one moment longer.

"I relieved him of his wet clothing, dried him off, and put him to bed." She laughed again and thought, "I could never do that." "He looked so terrified, even in sleep. After what must have been an unimaginable journey through the cold deluge, he showed no awareness of his dryness, no recognition of the comfort the warm soft bed must have given him. His sleep was only restless to start with, but as the day turned into night his cold turned into fever, and with it came the delirium." She spent a little while wondering if she should paragraph there, and in the end decided in favor.

"At first only mumblings, before the clock struck ten they had evolved into shrieks of terror. Wails of anguish, heightened by the candlelight, riveting me to the chair by his bed. He would cry, 'Caroline! Caroline! My nights drenched in shadow fettered to the Caroline! Aberdeen! Shallow furrows churned my leg led in Caroline! Pram bloodied nightcrawler! For latch! For euphonic milkbath! Caroline!' His words carried no meaning, but his voice reached out to steal my breath, to chill my very bone. I prayed for him to stop, but still he would scream, "Caroline!' as if calling the devil himself. Finally I could stand it no longer, I fled to the farthest corner of the house and buried myself in pillows, hoping he would die before morning." She read that paragraph over again, wondering if mumblings was a real word, and asked herself once more, "What will Roger think of this letter?"

She knew already what she would write next, so after a little tea she went on, starting a new page, "But when I woke he was gone. There was no trace of him to be found anywhere. His clothes were gone and the bed I had thought he slept in was unruffled. Was he ever there at all, or was he born in my mind, tortured by the constant rain? Was I the one who had been in fever? I will never know."

She looked at Alexander for a long time after this, and asked him, "How to end it? How to end it?" She weighed several possibilities in her mind, and got up to stand at the window. The rain outside was not the rain of the letter. It seemed to be washing the world, to rid it of the dirt and grime of everyday living. She looked at Alexander and gave him a questioning look, as if he were also pondering the proper close to her missive. Alexander gave her a questioning look in return, as if she were also pondering how long it would be until supper. She sat back down and looked at, but did not read, what she had written so far. Then she picked up her pen and continued, "I do not know if or when this letter will reach you. Even were the post office still collecting mail I have no idea how they would manage to get it out of town. But if you are reading this, it must have reached you somehow. Remember that I am still thinking of you." She felt that that was as fitting an ending as she could manage, so she wrote, "Love, Katrina," with which she had closed every letter she could remember having written.

She folded the letter to fit the envelope and went into her room to find her address book. Returning to the dining room she decorated an envelope with Roger's last known address, inserted the letter, and sealed it first with her tongue and then with the wax. She held a butane lighter to the wax to make it rain on the back of the envelope, and then let her seal, an ornate K, sit in the puddle she had made.

Satisfied with what she had done and out of tea, she went into the kitchen to fix yet another cup. After it was made and sweetened she leaned against the stove to drink it. She noticed that the cat had followed her into the room and was settling himself down on the table. He was not allowed on the table and should have known it, but she was in a mood not to notice. She looked at him for a while and said, "Well, Alex, it's been a good day. It's been a constructive day, I haven't written to Roger in ages." He started licking his left paw. "Tomorrow will be Monday, and I'll have to go to work. Everybody will be complaining what a dreary day today was. I'll be abused, misused, confused,..." she sipped her tea, "perused, short fused." Alexander thought he heard a strange sound and lifted his head. After a moment he decided he hadn't and returned to his cleaning. "But today was a nice day. Just you and me and the rain." She looked out the kitchen window, watching as the back yard slowly turned into a lake.

- Dennis Paul Himes