“Summer Rain” is a short story that appears in the Summer Rain anthology. All proceeds from the volume will be donated to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (www.rainn.org), the largest anti-sexual violence organization in the United States.
Release Date: June 7, 2014
Publisher: Pink Kayak Press
ISBN: ebook 9781941361009; print 978-1941361009
Rain sparks self-awareness and allows a withdrawn barista to fall in love with a cafe patron — and with her own art.
Lisa Shirek is everyone’s favorite barista. She does more than get her customers’ orders right — she gets her customers. She can see the most painful moments of their lives like stormy weather around their bodies, and she does what she can to soothe that pain with the right smile, the right words, the perfect combination of coffee and foam. Except, then, there’s Mark — he’s a sunbeam, a mystery made of light. He breaks through the storm around her so she can see herself, for herself.
Jerry is telling me about his upcoming hearing-aid appointment when I see him coming.
Him not meaning Jerry, but him. Him-him.
I stop paying attention to Jerry.
It’s okay that I do, because I’ve been hearing about Jerry’s upcoming appointment at high volume for a few weeks now. What Jerry really wants is a way to fill the silence in his head, the silence of his quiet apartment above the shoe store, so much quieter since his cat went out one night and didn’t come back.
I like Jerry’s voice. He has a precise way of talking, and he was a university professor, so he’s smart, too. He’s worried he’s invested too much hope in hearing aids, that they won’t work. He’s worried if they do work, he’ll have no one to listen to.
I nod at something Jerry’s said, the tone of his voice telling me he wants me to, but what I’m doing is watching him walk the whole length of the shop through the glass front. His head is exactly level with the letters on the glass, so what I see is a torso — a red scarf, that brown-gold corduroy jacket he likes to wear. Those jeans that kill me, and the motorcycle boots that don’t go with any of it, but go with him
He doesn’t have a raincoat on. Only the shoulders of his coat are wet. When he reaches for the handle of the door, I have to look at Jerry again, because I can’t look at him.
Jerry nods at me and moves to his table. I see Jerry putting pink roses on a casket. I see the way he strokes the coffin before he turns away.
I think that later, I’ll take Jerry a cheese plate he didn’t order and tell him about the series of concerts they do at the musical instrument shop on the other side of the river. Tuesday afternoons, they have a chamber music thing in this small back-room space with a wood floor, paneled walls, and a low ceiling. The music is so loud, so everywhere, you can feel it racing over your skin.
If Jerry went, he won’t feel the quiet so much.
Him is at my counter, the rain sheeting against the glass behind his head. He’s unwinding his scarf, releasing rainwater and laundry smell.
“Rice,” he says.
“What?” I ask the espresso grinder.
“The daily trivia answer,” he says. “What common grain will stop a vampire? The answer’s rice. If you spill it in front of a vampire, they’re compelled to stop and pick up every grain.”
His voice is always hard to hear over the noise of the shop. One of those voices that is all husk and breaks.
“That’s twenty-five cents off your order.”
He always gets the trivia. It’s always twenty-five cents off his order.
He always says it’s sweet.
“What can I get you?
I ask this not because I can’t guess — when it rains or it’s windy, he gets hot apple ciders with extra caramel sauce — but because it means the conversation will last that much longer. He’ll give his order, and I’ll ask what size, and he’ll say “medium” even though “medium” isn’t a choice on the menu board, and I’ll think about teasing him about that but won’t, because I can’t even make eye contact, he’s so bright.
Brighter, today, it seems like.
I’m squinting at the register when I ring him up, resisting the urge to lift a hand to my face, shield my eyes.
“Does that hurt?” he asks.
“Does what hurt?”
I think he means my eyes, but he reaches across the counter, and his pointer finger is headed toward my forearm. I move it away.
“Sorry, I won’t poke. It just looks raw.”
I look at my forearm where I burned it getting muffins out of the oven early this morning. I want him to touch my burn with his brightness.
“I’ll live,” I say, and wince, because my voice sounds hard.
He hands me a five. I make change, and just like always, he puts all of the change into the tip jar, which for his rainy-and-windy-day drink is a sixty percent tip.
He sounds farther away, although he hasn’t moved from the counter, is in fact doing the thing he does where he balances the mug on top of his iPhone in its leather case, the scarf ends dangling down his legs, his messenger bag close to falling off his shoulder.
It never falls off, though. He never drops the drink, or spills on the phone, even though he should.
I’ve taken him in piecemeal, like looking for landmarks when driving into the sun. The white slash of an old scar through his eyebrow. His crooked and protruding eye-teeth. The cleft in his chin, the dark spot in his left iris, the pink flush around his neck where it’s obvious he’s allergic to the mohair in his scarf, although I guess it isn’t obvious to him.
In my daydreams, I knit him soft cotton scarves. One right after the other.
I’ve always seen things about people, noticed things, and lately I see more, their movies, their weather, but I don’t see in him any reasons, any sadness, any explanations. As far as I know, he gets apple ciders with caramel on rainy and windy days because he has a sweet tooth.
He is a guess.
So when he turns away, balancing, the brightest thing in the gloom and condensation of this shop, I do something I never have to do.
I ask him something.