This story is by Jeff Haws and was part of our 2020 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The damp concrete of the church steps was turning my dress from white to dusty grey, but I didn’t care. One last smoke as a single woman, watching the rain spit dirty on the ground, was worth the looks I’d get later. Fuck ‘em all. I get to have this.
I blew smoke into the cool January breeze, bumps forming on the skin of my arms as I held them close to my body. Bracing against a concrete pillar to filter a bit of the wind, I stared out over the church’s courtyard, an unkempt patch of dandelion-choked grass and gathering pools of mud. An old concrete fountain sat in the middle, green mold encroaching upon a dirty cherub whose wings had broken off years before.
Beyond the courtyard sat a black wrought-iron fence, with sharp spikes pointing toward the sky. I wasn’t sure if it was to keep miscreants out or the faithful in. Behind me, I could just hear a cacophony of sound leaking out from inside the church, a collection of what was supposed to be my friends and family waiting for the music to start. Most of them were his anyway. At least my Mom showed up, wearing a low-cut black sequin dress meant to either show me up or land her one of the groomsmen. Maybe both. Neither would surprise me.
I just needed another minute, everyone’s lack of patience be damned. Just take in these last few moments of peace. They say rain on your wedding day is bad luck, but I didn’t think so. At least it washed all the shit away, draining it into the sewer where it belonged. What was left was wet and glistening, rinsed clean, or at least a close proximity. That’s what I needed. Wash it all away. Start again. That’s what I hoped this could be, this whole day. Bring the fucking rain.
Flicking ashes into a growing puddle at my feet, I brought the cigarette to my lips and took a long, slow drag, swallowing the cancer deep into my lungs, allowing it to be part of me. My shoes were starting to take on water, cold dampness tickling my toes.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw someone walking down the sidewalk, beyond the fence. It was a man, shoulders slumped against the rain and cold, back hunched, hands stuffed tightly into the pockets of a gray bomber jacket glistening from the rain. I looked up and my heart skipped a beat at the bird’s nest curl of his black hair, matted and untamed atop his sallow head.
He turned, and our eyes met. He paused, and I was immediately back a dozen years. New York. Taxis shuttling me down Broadway. A drink at the neighborhood bar. Shivering and sharing a drag in the cold. Biting his lip. A hand on my thigh. Interlocking fingers in Bryant Park. Huddling in a subway car at 3 a.m., the only people in the world. Clutching a bedsheet, knuckles white. That move Uptown. A coffee mug smashed against the wall. A suitcase on the front stoop.
It flooded my consciousness, a tidal wave swamping everything around me. My past and future approaching impossibly close. It couldn’t be happening. But those turquoise eyes didn’t lie. Everything and everyone else might, but not those. They bore into me from a hundred feet away, the rain falling harder now, flashing sheets between us. We didn’t dare move, though. Some moments have to be acknowledged, experienced. No matter what comes next.
It was all there. All of him. After all this time, I could feel his arms, thin and wild, on fire around my waist. His fingers dancing across my skin. Electric. Chills. Ecstasy. My body shivering in a twin bed in a Queens efficiency the dimensions of a moderately sized walk-in closet. Sitting there outside the church, a thousand miles away, I swore I could smell the Baba Ganoush wafting up from that deli on the street. The creak of the cracked wooden floor when you stepped out of the hall. The whistling of the hookers on the corner beneath the window.
In front of that church, we were both different people. We’d changed our skin so many times. It all happened to someone else; our brains just didn’t know it. So we stared, and tried to grasp at something we never really held in the first place.
I flicked my cigarette into a puddle at my feet as he lowered his head and continued walking through the rain. I opened the door behind me and stepped inside.