Jillian Markowitz is an improviser and stand up comic living in Philadelphia. She is currently producing a podcast called, “Getting Intimate with Jillian Markowitz,” wherein she interviews artists about their fears, secrets, and most embarrassing stories. For more links to her creative projects, you can follow her on Twitter.
I blame the rain. When it’s dark out, the brain produces an excess of melatonin, and your body thinks it’s time to sleep. This was no drizzle either. This was the type of rain that hits your windshield in giant globs. Even with the wipers going full speed, everything I saw was filtered through this thick layer of water. The streetlights merged into this glowing mess of red and green. For all I knew, I could have been staring at fireworks or a damn Christmas tree.
It was coming down so hard, I barely heard the buzzing. The caller ID flashed Dana’s name. I put the phone back on the passenger seat. Odds were I’d forgotten to take the trash out or buy Lizzy’s pull-ups. If I answered, I knew that after she’d confronted me with whatever domestic responsibilities I’d forsaken, she would lecture me on the dangers of answering the phone while driving. Particularly in the rain.
Drew was supposed to sleep at his friend’s house that night, but I figured Dana would never let him drive in that storm. She might have been calling about that. Rod, tell your son he’s too inexperienced to go out in this weather. At which point I’d parrot: Son, you’re too inexperienced to go out in this weather. Whatever Dana was calling about, it could probably wait ten minutes.
I saw the umbrella first. Solid white. An enormous lone molar about to chomp down. If there was a scream, it was inaudible over my screeching brakes. The rain pounding against my car overwhelmed what might have been the sound of 206 bones cracking under my tires. Next, I remember standing there, in the middle of the road. A liquid stream running past my feet. Getting back in the car.
It was fine. I was tired, stressed, overworked. I’d go home, and Dana would kiss me. We’d put Lizzy to bed. We would have muted, mechanical, autopilot sex. Things would be normal. An exhausted brain can play awful tricks on you. A glance in my rearview mirror revealed the umbrella, still open. Laying on the side of the road completely intact, buckets of rain collecting in its dome. That’s right, the umbrella made it through without a goddamn scratch.
My shoes squeaked when I stepped out of the car. My drenched socks had acquired a pinkish tint. I would have to throw them away. Dana hated when I wore white socks with black shoes.
“You’re drenched!” Dana kissed my forehead and led me into the bedroom. “I didn’t know when you’d be back, so I put Lizzy to bed.” She loosened my tie. “I dropped Drew at Simon’s; he couldn’t drive himself in this. You can pick him up tomorrow? Here, start getting changed; I’ll grab a towel.” Dana came out of our bathroom holding a white towel. I took it out of her hand and laid it on the bed. “You okay?”
When I looked up at her, she was changed or I was. I shoved her against the wall. The ends of her collarbone jutted out from her bony shoulders and dug into my grip. She looked startled, but she let me kiss her. One stroke from my clammy hands left her dark hair matted and snarled. My teeth clenched her lower lip until I tasted blood. Her ribcage rose and pressed into me with each shallow breath. Her clumsy, knuckly hands fiddled with my belt buckle until my pants were at my ankles. I cupped the crevice beneath her left knee and drew the leg up around my waist, then pinned her hands above her head while I pushed myself into her. When she made a shushing sound, I grunted more and thrust harder.
Her pelvic floor contracted around me. Her eyes rolled back and she let out a tiny moan. Sweat oozed from her scalp, where it mixed with the blood that had spread around her mouth and chin. I thrust faster, as her bloody mouth morphed into a misshapen oval, her face contorted feature by feature. I closed my eyes as my final thrust lifted her off the ground. The umbrella grinned behind my eyelids, pristinely white. I blinked, and Dana collapsed into my arms. The friction from the wall had left her back raw. After a few seconds she looked up at me, crooked and drained.
The faint lines around her mouth and eyes deepened. I watched her age. As she did, I stared at her pupils, which had turned into tiny projector screens. I saw Drew graduate from high school, then from a small liberal arts college somewhere in the mountains. Dana blinked, and I broke away from her. I stepped out of my pants and sat on the bed. She stayed by the wall.
She slid into her nightgown, then turned and threw a pair of flannel pajama bottoms in my direction.
“Can you set the alarm?” I set the alarm clock on the nightstand to 6:30 AM. Dana removed her earrings and laid them in the cardboard jewelry box Lizzy had made at daycare. “What happened?” She motioned to my feet. Pink socks. As she waited for an answer, her eyes traced my features. I didn’t know if they were searching for something familiar, or trying to pinpoint what was strange.
“You must have thrown them in with the colored load.”
“No.” She sat on her side of the bed. “I didn’t do that.” She waited. When I couldn’t offer her anything, she shook her head and turned away from me. She flicked the light switch. In the darkness, rain splashed against the window to the rhythm of her breath. I closed my eyes, and there was no white umbrella.