by Kinneson Lalor and Nancy Freund
A WOMAN APPROACHES him with umbrella electric hair. He looks twice, thinks he knows her. Her nose glows red under the half-moon halo, a shine about her like love. He doesn’t know her. That’s not her. But he makes a moany tsk. His heart beats fast. Tsk tsk. He remembers the red inflatable dinghy. They’re not supposed to burst. Even if they skim sharp-edged river rock. You’re not supposed to need a captain’s skills, no matter the state of water. This is awkward, she had said. Last thing she’d said to him.
The red Van der Graaff friction makes a sound like a night bird. Shee-sho. Shee-sho. The woman, who isn’t her, also isn’t tall. As she passes, she lifts her umbrella above his head. Her hair follows, blonde threads of charge making cracks in every shadow. The hairs thread together, bifurcate, then bifurcate again. She has split ends and they bifurcate too. He watches her bifurcation and wonders if she’ll split into the other one, the awkward one, spawned from a single hair.
He’d said: dress for adventure, dress for weather. But she wore a brand new straight-stretch mini skirt, beige and burgundy. Herringbone, she told him later, as if the pattern mattered a great deal for a first date. She had bought it thinking of a different sort of adventure. It showed her muscled thighs. Was there a different sort of weather? He couldn’t look at her. He pulled up at her house with the boat on the trailer and the neighbours were all watching. Not a single word, but she frowned at the boat with her chin nestled down against her neck. She got in the truck. He looked at her lovely leg and wished he could have strapped her in the boat for the journey to the launch. Buckled in, inflated, safe. He hasn’t thought of her for years. Tonight’s umbrella brought her. Soaked through. Waterproof nylon clinging to whatever surface it touches, Rorschach blotches spreading across the fabric.
The wind gusts and drops the umbrella at his feet. Abandoned. He sees lungs. The pleura. A sea creature. What he thinks is: don’t leave me. Upside down on the pavement, half snapped over. The aluminium thins bent back, hoping for modesty. Even as he steps on its arm. Even as it bends it around his shoe. The woman descends on her umbrella, pressing her heel against the wet skin to keep it still. It flutters.
When they climbed out, wet, not wounded, from the river, he had laughed. She was silent. But she went back to his apartment to clean up. Her skirt’s silky lining clung to her thighs, the colour of heart. He ordered pizza. Both of them in dry pairs of his pajamas. Still, she shivered.
The woman snaps the umbrella up and hurries away. He should have picked it up, wishes he’d gathered up those boat shreds long ago, wrapped her in them, warm, when he’d had the chance. Wishes he’d made her soup, waited for her to soften into his sleepy cottons. He shouldn’t have tried to kiss her with his garlic-bread breath. But he couldn’t come up for air around the thought: they’re not supposed to burst.
Kinneson Lalor is a mathematician and writer living in the UK. Her work has appeared in various places including Best Microfiction 2022. You can find her, her dog, and her chickens on Twitter @KinnesonLalor, Instagram @kinneson.lalor, or www.kinnesonlalor.com.
An American-Brit in Switzerland, Nancy Freund writes novels, essays, and flash. She has pieces in Jellyfish Review, Hobart, Largehearted Boy, Splonk, and Takahe, among others. She has Creative Writing degrees from UCLA and Cambridge. Twitter @nancyfreund.