Shelter

By Charles Etheridge-Nunn

At first, the rain looked like it would stop. Weighed down by her handbag, overstuffed carrier bags and broken umbrella, Emma wondered if she could get away with buying a coffee without being drenched or falling apart like a human version of Buckaroo. With her next step, the decision was made for her as the downpour doubled its’ efforts.

Most of the street’s water filled her shoes and as her umbrella half-way ripped from its’ spokes, Emma gave up all effort to continue and instead sought shelter.

The shop was closed and its’ doorway was large enough for Emma and her luggage to enter. It was the travel agents that always opened late, so she would be safe for a while. Only once she was inside did she notice the man already hiding there.

“Oh, hello,” she said.

“Good morning,” he replied. Very polite. If she were to be drowned, at least it was with someone who had manners.

“Lovely weather.”

The man looked off into the distance. Or, where the distance once was, replaced by thick curtains of liquid, blocking the rest of the world off from the doorway.

Emma faced in a different direction. If he wasn’t going to make the effort, neither was she. Instead Emma hoped to be able to cool down the two pints of milk in her bag with the power of her mind. All her focus went there. To the bag, and the satisfaction of brewing a fresh coffee when she got to work. Sod going to Starbucks just for convenience. It was all the way over there, back through the storm.

The man finally spoke, “Do you know what day it is?”

Emma almost jumped, she’d forgotten he was there.

“The summer solstice,” he answered his own question, “June twenty-first. Mid-bloody-summer.”

“That’s nice,” Emma said, then, “well, not really, I guess.”

“I was in shorts yesterday.”

Emma looked at the man, a dark blue mack pulled tightly around his body and thick glasses where large drops of rain collected and were yet to succumb to gravity.

“That’s nice,” Emma realised she had used her automatic retort already.

“I drive a motorbike.”

They both looked at the space between them where a motorbike was implied, but nowhere to be seen. He added, “I was going into town to pick it up.”

There was a swoosh as a bus kicked up all the gutter-water, it hit the man’s coat and Emma’s bare legs making her regret the short skirt for the twelfth time since leaving the flat.

“I’m a lawyer,” she blurted out, feeling that if he could lie about being exciting enough to have a motorbike, she could easily be a lawyer.

The man grunted a semi-positive reply. Then they were silent, the harsh whisper of the rain the only noise. Ozone was in their noses and ahead of them nothing but grey oblivion.

Things were moving behind the rain, Emma and the man could both see them, but were not sure if they were people, cars or animals. Phantoms from another world, for all they knew. Two figures broke through the wall of rain and into the doorway. Two men, both in suits and soaked through. One bald, the other with long hair pressed to his head by the rain.

“Alright?” the bald man asked.

“Mind if we wait here?” the one with hair added.

The man and Emma exchanged a look, neither had power over the doorway or could even justify kicking them out, so they nodded.

“We should declare this doorway closed,” Emma said, “in case anyone else comes along.”

“What if they had kids?” The first of the besuited men asked.

“Maybe we could charge for space. It’s not like there’s much room left.” Emma gestured at the four people’s feet, all nearly touching and leaving only inches of dry ground. The small step was all that kept the group from wading on the spot.

Watching the rainfall intently, the bespectacled man said “My mum always told me that if I didn’t behave, the rain would come down and wash everything away, like it did in the bible.”

He could have been right. Beyond the barrier of rain it was no longer possible to make out shapes, just endless grey motion and white noise. The world’s largest broken television. Emma pictured people, animals, cars, houses, all floating out to sea. And this time no one had built an ark. If they did, you’d have seen it on the news. Maybe the doorstep was their ark, but a bit smaller, stationary and without the animals.

“Look, it’s not going to change any time soon and we really need to be at the bank.” The bald man in the suit looked irritated.

“Just calm down,” his partner said, “something’s bound to happen soon enough.”

In her imagination, Emma saw this punctuated by the bank floating past. The rain was still getting heavier, and they were all starting to dry in their small shelter. It would be worse to go back out there now.

They could start their own society on the doorstep. At least, until the shop opened. Then they would have to move.

She looked at the inside of the shop, she had forgotten it was a travel agents. Photos of sunny beaches and distant lands. Exotic places Emma would never go because she was trapped here. She was lost in the blues and reds of the skies, kept in reality only by the sound of rain and cars splashing past.

“I’m only saying you can’t change the rain by standing still and hoping indefinitely.” The bald man said.

“It’s different here, there are four of us.”

The glasses man chimed in “And probably people like us all down the street, especially since we’re full in here.”

Emma looked out into the grey abyss. She thought she could make out a large object nearby. Was it her bus? Maybe everything hadn’t washed away. But it could equally be a boat to rescue survivors of the flood. Or a shark.

“Why don’t we all go on three?” She asked.

There was a collective shrug of “Why not?”

“It is just rain.” The man in the glasses added “I always used to play in it as a kid.”

They all had, Emma was sure. It was only when they grew up that the rain became something annoying, instead of fun. Somewhere out there, Emma could almost see herself as a child, chubby in a bright pink coat and wellies. She thought the man in the glasses must have been imagining something similar, although he probably didn’t wear pink as a child.

After agreeing to all escape their little doorstep sanctuary, they counted to three slowly. Emma clutched her shopping and the bald man’s friend put his coat over his head. There was an air of anticipation, like they were all about to run a race.

On “three” they ran away in different directions, giggling, blinded by the rain.

One Response to Shelter

  1. Sue Nunn says:

    Charlie, really good insight into a small moment. Like a Japanese Haiku verse, but in long prose. More please!

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