Dark and stormy doesn’t even begin to describe the night. Water filled up the air, the street. It wasn’t coming down in sheets. Sheets have spaces between them.
I pounded down the pavement, each footfall creating fountains of water, defying gravity, falling upward, glistening. Up ahead a squeaky little man huddled under an umbrella as he folded himself into a taxi. The wind tore the umbrella from his grasp and threw it down the street, gutted. The taxi tossed up a curtain of water as it sped off.
I’d been running a while–blocks. My long hair was stuck to my face. I scraped it away from my eyes. The view didn’t change much. Rain obscured what my hair did not.
I ducked into a doorway to catch my breath, hoping I wouldn’t drown as I sucked in air. I looked back down the street. No sirens. As I leaned against the thickly painted door, panic started to seep out of my limbs. Icy cold rushed in to take its place. I started to shake violently.
Keep going. Have to keep walking. Look natural. Except how can you look natural in this deluge? Real people were in their homes, turning up their televisions to block out Mother Nature’s crying jag. People who hadn’t just killed someone.
I pushed the thought away and started to jog. I didn’t know where I was going, only away. Traffic lights reflected from the pavement, crystal colors blurred by the unrelenting rain. In the distance, windows of a few ground level shops that were still open cast white and yellow circles in the puddles. The pools of light pulled me forward to imagined warmth. An awning, washed clean of city grime by the downpour, offered a sheltered spot with less rain. I ducked beneath it. Chipped lettering on a painted window declared Chuck’s Barber Shop.
As soon as I stopped running, the scene I’d been running from exploded in my head with preternatural clarity. A hollow clang. Me, halted in my dash to beat the rain, peering. A man, burly, stocking cap. A woman pinned to the wall, knife at her throat. A half tipped dumpster, partially blocking them from view.
I remembered being drawn down the alley on an invisible thread and shouting something stupid, like, “Hey, you!” He had turned, snarling. We scuffled. I careened away from his knife hand and pulled hard on the leaning dumpster. The lid toppled backward. He fell, hard. Stillness. Fearfully, I had peered around the corner of the graffiti-covered metal. He lay, face upward, the knife protruding from his neck. Blood was everywhere. The woman was gone.
The sky opened up, and I had started to run. And run.
I pitched forward against the barber shop railing and retched.
Just as the door behind me swung open. “Move along, bud!” grumbled the abbreviated man. He had an impossibly shiny, bald pate and an amiable countenance, despite his gruff act. “Hey, are you all right?” I don’t know what made him change his tone. Maybe it was because I was dressed a bit better than your average thug. Maybe it was my boyish good looks. He opened the door wide and ushered me to a chair. He brought me hot coffee and a dry towel.
“What brings you out in this storm, son?” He looked like the first barber my dad had ever taken me to. Bald, short, solicitous, some undetermined age.
“I was just trying to get home before the rain. This-this- woman. . .”
“Ah, woman problems. They can break your heart, eh? But drinking isn’t the answer. Take it from me.”
“No, it’s not. . .”
“I know just what you need,” he said. He chuckled warmly. disappearing into a back room and returning with hot towels and a blanket. He leaned me back, draped the blanket over my sopping form, and wrapped the towels on my face. The warmth was heaven. After a few minutes, he said, “You know, you can’t mend a broken heart, but a good haircut is heaven’s band-aid.”
He removed the towels and started to shave my face, I looked in the mirror at the soaking wet locks that dripped onto the chair. I’d worn my hair long for as long as I’d been on my own. That’s how anyone who had seen me running would recall me.
Chuck flourished his scissors in the air. “What you need is a new start. What do you say we cut all that off? You’ll be so handsome, no one will even recognize you!”
Originally published on A Word with You Press site for contest.