After the rain cleared, she put her book down, left the empty mug on the window sill and stepped outside. The last of the rain was falling in drips and drabs, the late arrivals, splashing her face, her feet tingling with the cold that greeted her bare feet when she stepped onto the porch.
As she stood on the porch she pondered what it felt like to be a raindrop. Did it hurt bursting on the cold concrete after all the time spent evaporating and condensing? Was there some raindrop mother weeping for the small child that was about to be dashed on the window pane? One foot over another, she gingerly walked down the stairs and stepped onto the lawn, squishy with the rain that had just doused it.
It was a good thing that she had finished the last cup of hot chocolate; it was her tenth cup of the day. She was quite sure that the previous nine had gone somewhere unflattering like her hips.
Padding – yes, that was a good way to describe it – around the hips was not a good thing for someone in her position. What she really had to do was watch a television channel that paraded skinny models and copy a diet invented by some vegetarian who’d spent a year discovering the spirituality of her belly button in India. The diet would have to be unfit for rabbits as a bare minimum. That would make it a sure weight killer if you were human.
She smiled to herself. All of those romantic comedies had it all wrong. The thing to do after a break-up was not to lie in bed, sniffling and contributing to the obesity statistics. What you had to do was hit the gym five times a week and keep busy, maybe party a bit. The exercise kept the body appealing to those species of life that had not dumped you. Keeping busy preoccupied the wandering mind, which almost always tended to ponder one useless question: What did I do wrong?
The partying was the hardest thing to start up again. That required some guts. It was preferably done without girlfriends who spent most of the time worrying about whether you were fine. The last time they had been out, Marissa had spent the larger part of the evening Dr Phil-ing her to death. All she wanted to do was assassinate some shots and party. No girlfriends next time.
She had to start partying soon though. She had to meet new people – new men more specifically. Alice was in the post-break-up stage knows as Replace Him First Before He Replaces You. It was childish, she knew. But still. She did not want to lose this game. Not to him.
As the last of the raindrops splashed on her cheek, she smiled again, a small shy smile – a selfish smile. It was one of those that drew men in, kept the guys out and scared the boys. It was her smile.
She walked around the garden – her garden – smelling the fresh earth, looking at the raindrops that hung on the stems and petals. It felt fresh, new. Most normal people would have said it felt as though the rain had washed away all the drama that had surrounded her the past few days – but not Alice. She was not that kind of romantic. She liked to think of herself as a practical romantic, the type that wondered if Prince Charming and the Damsel-in-Distress still lived happily ever after if he had erectile dysfunction.
Alice could invent a hundred different ways to end most fairy tales, none of them included couples riding into the sunset.
She passed the washing line and stopped to look at the small raindrops that punctuated its length. The water flowed along the line, building into small tear drops that wept onto the wet ground when they were heavy enough.
No tear would escape here eye though. Alice rarely cried. Not because she was insensitive but simply because it was not on the schedule. Alice would willingly have cried if there were no prior engagements on her BlackBerry. That was the thing about being corporate; everything had to be on a timetable. Work, play, food, friends, shopping, love, sex, laundry, gossiping, movie marathons and now recently, time to feel sad about the break-up.
She surprised herself by how little she had actually thought about it, she really was getting over him sooner than she had expected. Probably all the exercise and work, she thought. She had not thought of it in capital letters, as an event worthy of any grammatical significance. What she had thought of as The Break-Up to End All Break Ups was turning out to be just another simple break-up – fleeting, without any hyphens or exclamations to distinguish it from any other separation that she had gone through. She smiled to herself again.
She continued to look at the raindrops until their numbers started decreasing as the moisture on the line began to run dry. There were only five raindrops on the line now.
A fresh breeze blew through the garden, tickling her ankles and tugging at her loose hair. Four of the five drops fell under the pressure of their own weight. Only one remained, clinging on, defying the pull of gravity. She drew up closer to it and looked at it intently. It was a feisty drop, small and insignificant, but defiant up to the last. She looked on as the last of the rivulets on the line flowed into it, enlarging it. It grew – a small ball of moisture, pregnant. It hung suspended in mid-air, unwilling to loosen its grip on the line. A small breeze tempted to tease it off the line, but the drop resisted and after the last waft passed, the small teardrop of water was still on the line.
From inside the house, the telephone rang. That would be him, Alice thought to herself. She decided to let the telephone ring itself hoarse. It was not the time for apologies or desperate hormone-driven pleas for her to come back.
The first few days were the worst. That was when the loneliness played tricks on you, when you’d find yourself lying in bed touching the “other side of the bed where he used to lay”. Most women never got over that stage – they would wallow, enjoying the pity phone calls from friends and using food and Grey’s Anatomy as an excuse to stay in bed all day.
Not Alice though. That afternoon – thank God he’d ended it in the morning, which left her with a full day to make a contingency plan – she had gone to the gym with a vengeance, her pores leaking moisture that her eyes would not. In the evening, she had packed his things in three Tuffy bags and left them in the hallway for him to collect. He’d come for the bags the next day.
The next three days had been full of activity: exercise, shopping, work and a day at the beach. She avoided anything that kept her rooted to the spot. Stationary feet were the quickest way to engage in deep thought. Deep thought would lead to him. She did not want to think about him right now. Her feet hadn’t stopped moving.
Until today. Trust the rain to kill a good hike. Alice would have to write a strongly worded letter to Cape Town’s weathermen. They had promised sunshine, she had gotten rain. She had wanted to make hay while the sun shone, but since she could not do that today, she had settled for trying to finish the five-thousand-piece Victorian-style puzzle she’d been planning to get through these past two years. She’d made fair headway until her feet delayed two seconds too long and hotwired the Deep Thought centre of her brain that was exceptionally good at generating Thoughts of Him.
While most people would have tried to avoid such thoughts, Alice bided her time and let them wash over her. Three days without thinking of him was a record. Today was one of those win-some-lose-some days when everything was conspiring to make her depressed. Instead of fighting the thoughts, she opened the door for them, welcomed them in and sat them down. And then she started serving the hot chocolate: one cup for each guest.
But Alice was a special kind of host – the kind that laced each cup of hot chocolate with a healthy serving of cyanide. Ten cups, ten memories. Dead.
When he had come over to say hello to her the first time, the way his smile just teased a response from her: dead. The nervous kiss when he first worked up the guts: dead. The Terry Pratchett books he’d bought her – her favourite nonetheless: dead. The ridiculous Spiderman lingerie he’d bought her as a joke: dead. The Garden Route escapade: dead. The kissing: dead. The holding hands: dead. The day they’d almost crashed because it was hard to steer while doing the other thing: dead. Christmas: dead. Birthday sex: dead.
Ten cups. Ten memories. All dead.
Systematically, she’d sifted through all of her most painful memories and laid them to rest, one at a time. Most people would have avoided the thoughts, but Alice just sat with them, offering each of them a mug of hot chocolate. Dogs that licked you looking for attention and nostalgia had one thing in common: if you ignored them, they got bored and left you alone. After they’d left, she’d picked up her book and carried on reading. She’d never really finished Catcher in the Rye. Why not today? It was raining outside.
So she’d read until the rain eased. But now the rain had passed and Alice stood in her garden, looking at all of the raindrops that clung to the greenery. She turned back to the washing line.
The small raindrop quivered as it felt Alice’s stare on it – it seemed that stare worked on men, raindrops, and rude receptions alike. Alice averted her gaze lest she distract it from hanging onto the washing line. She decided to head back into the house, pretty sure that the phone would ring at least three more times in the evening. Thank God, there was that party she had been invited to. The phone would have its own ringtone for company tonight.
She walked slowly back to the house, savouring the sweet smell of the passing rain. After a few steps, she stopped and turned around, looking back at the washing line. The small raindrop was still there. She stalked up close to the line, silently, and came face to face with the last of the raindrops. She felt strangely sorry for it, the way it clung so tightly to the line, the last of its brothers and sisters, the millions of raindrops that had fallen that afternoon. It was fat and stuck in gravitational limbo, not having any adventures or committing suicide like most normal raindrops. This raindrop was no kamikaze – it didn’t believe in dying for the cause.
Raindrop and Alice looked at each other for a while, each realising how ridiculous they were at this very moment. “You’re a coward, little raindrop” Alice said.
“I think I will wear my red dress tonight,” she said. And then she strummed the washing line.
Author’s note: I came across this story in my old blog archives back when The Quill was hosted on Blogger. I reworked it, added a little more bite and decided to repost it. Enjoy.