The Umbrella – Kenneth Hickey

Kenneth Hickey

The umbrella. His umbrella. There was no way then to know the significance of that umbrella. The consequence of the thing. You could tell the weather by it. He never took it when it rained and when it did rain he was always caught without it. It was a present I think. From some friend or other. Back when we still had friends. I never liked it much.

She never liked the umbrella much. She said it was too dreary, too dark. She preferred colourful things. Things with colour to them. Had I not brought it that evening things might have turned out differently. Things might have turned out exactly the same. Who knows. Who knows for sure. There’s no way to know.

That’s how I knew he was in the apartment as soon as I stepped through the door. On dry days anyway. It would be lying there in the hall, propped up against the old hat stand I found at the flea market. Once I saw that I knew he’d arrived. He never rang. Never let me know in advance. It would just be there. Intruding. If it was a wet day he wouldn’t have it and there’d be no warning. He’d just be sitting there in the old leather armchair looking out through the big bay window at the soaked street. The crying trees. Lost in himself. Contemplating.

I don’t know why I brought it. It wasn’t even raining. I carried it all the way over there just to leave it in the hall. I fixed myself a drink. Scotch with a splash of water. I knew she wouldn’t mind that. She’d see the umbrella and know I was there. Waiting for her. There’d be no surprise.

It was a day like any other day.

That afternoon seemed different. Felt differently.

I wrote the note and left it where I knew he’d find it. I don’t know why I did that. I couldn’t explain it now. I should have known. I should have guessed. What use was there in pouring myself into meaningless words? What did I think it would achieve? I knew what we were doing. I understood what the rules dictated. I can’t pretend otherwise. Even if I want to. I despise myself for that weakness. I can forgive a lot of the other errors but such weakness is unforgivable.

I was surprised. I can admit that much. I didn’t think she’d ever do something like that. Something so bold. She knew I’d find it. I hadn’t understood she’d reached that point already. That inevitable junction where action must be taken. I thought we had longer. Her handwriting was so neat. Small and fragile. Almost childlike. The opposite to the way I thought of her. Like a child. It confused me. I didn’t know what to do. I read it. I read it several times. But what then? How does one move beyond that point once it has been reached. Once what needed to be said had been spoken.

I said it all. I said everything. I was tired. Tired of being the other one. The forgotten one. I think he knew all along. I think he had guessed anyway. Figured it out. He just ignored it for as long as possible. Chose to turn his face away. He left me no option. I had to write it then. But what was I wishing for? He was too cold for it to have any effect. It didn’t have any effect.

I was amazed. It took me by surprise. She had said everything. The things I already knew but had never heard her say. Not out loud. I remember some of the lines. I feel abandoned by you. Forsaken. Thrown to one side to be picked up when I’m wanted again. Or something like that. Something of that nature. I remember she used the word ‘abandoned’ and ‘forsaken’. I recall that. I’m sure of that. They were words I never thought she’d use. That stuck in my mind.

I found it in his wallet. One of those small portraits you get from machines in train stations. For passports and such. I had it enlarged so I could look at her more closely. To see what she had that I didn’t. What was there that wasn’t here. What kept him. Kept him going back. That’s all I wanted to know. What was the difference. I couldn’t see the difference. Was there a difference? She didn’t seem prettier? I don’t know. I don’t know what it was but he always went back. Again and again and again.

That was a happy day. The day the picture was taken. We’d been out all afternoon in the country. She liked that, going to the country. On the way back at the train station I convinced her to get it done. She hated having her photograph taken but I insisted. Something for my wallet I said. She agreed in the end. It was different then back before there was someone else. When it was just us. When it went missing I thought I’d lost it. The way you lose small things. Small insignificant things which just drop out of your life. Like old photographs. Like umbrellas.

I knew he’d be angry. He got angry easily. It wasn’t the first time for that. He wouldn’t have understood. He wouldn’t know. I hid it. Under the bed. With hindsight a poor choice. The one place we spent a lot of time together. It wasn’t as if he took me out for romantic dinners. We were not a public couple. But I knew that was the way of it. I knew what I was getting into. I can’t complain about that. All the other matters I can question but I’ve no excuses there. Not on that count.

It was a fight unlike any other. I’d never fought with her like that before. The usually coldness was gone. Replaced with something without name. She screamed. She screamed words without meaning. But nothing changed the facts of what she’d done. She’d still taken it. Committed the deed. She gave it back but the damage was already done. It was already dying then. I made her burn the copy. Threw it into the open fire she had lit because of the bad day. I was soaked to the skin. Caught in the rain. I had forgotten my umbrella. As expected.

Roses. That’s what he brought the time after. White roses. Bridal roses. Almost a bad joke. Almost. He wasn’t clever enough for it to be a conscious gesture. It was afterwards I heard about his thing for flowers. How he always used them to try to glue back together things that were already broken. Shattered. A mutual friend told me. An old friend. One who remained. He came in smiling and presented them as if it was all water under the bridge. Sins washed away. Absolution. I didn’t know what to say. I just shook my head and muttered. He seemed to take that as an acceptance. I never knew what he assumed I accepted.

I didn’t know what else to do. What other course was left to me. I wanted back what was gone. Returned to the way it was been. It hadn’t been my fault. I had tried. But the light had slipped out through the cracks we had put there. Through the cracks that had always been there. I thought it might work. Flowers sometimes work. Sometimes. I think she liked them. I hope she did. She didn’t say either way. She just twitched her face and murmured. I didn’t catch the words and couldn’t find the courage to ask for clarification.

I may have decided to do it then. Maybe I decided to do it later. Looking back through reflected time it’s hard to separate one incident from the other. But something had changed. After he’d walked in with a smile and roses I knew it was never going to go back together. The pieces didn’t fit anymore. All I could see were the thorns. Even as I got some water, found a cracked vase and put them next to the bay window to get some sun. That’s all I could see. Thorns.

She was quiet after that. Just sitting there looking out the window. Like I used to do when I was waiting for her to return to that place. There was something on her mind then. She was thinking. Now, I could probably guess what it was. But not then. Then I just thought she was quiet. That maybe it had been a tiring day.

I saw it as I came in. That same umbrella. And in that faction of an hour knew what I was going to do. It had been a difficult afternoon. I hadn’t expected him to call. It had been a while since he called. I pushed open the door into the dusk soaked room and he was sitting there like every time before looking out into the street. Bathed in dying sunlight. I called his name but he didn’t respond. I called his name again.

What are you doing here she said. I wasn’t expecting to see you. She’d never asked me that before. She’d always had just walked in. Maybe kissed me lightly on the cheek but never asked why I had come. Nice surprise I hope I said. She nodded and muttered. I see you brought your umbrella she said and not a cloud in the sky. You never know I said. Is that right she said. You never know.

He left it behind that night. He’d done that before. It would remain in the same spot during his absence and he’d take it the next time. Take it home. But not on this occasion. Not now. Once I was out in the falling twilight I opened it up and walked the few streets to his apartment. There was a small shower then but I didn’t get wet. I had shelter. She didn’t know who I was at first. I recognised her from the photograph. Here’s his umbrella I said. And I could see the truth in her eyes. Her eyes knew. I got wet on the way home.

I don’t understand why I had taken it that last time. It had been a nice spring evening. Weak dying sunshine. Why did I have it? But I did. If it was bucketing out I would have left it at home. But I didn’t. Maybe it was meant to happen. There was a plan to it all. Maybe it was meant to happen. It happened none the less.

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