A Short Story
The man was trembling. For a second he felt as though he was somehow hovering above his own body, observing everything.
The street had been fairly quiet just two minutes ago. That was when the rain had set in, and the thunder. But never mind that. It was no use dwelling on the weather. What was really irksome was the traffic. Why, at this time of night, were there so many cars around? Why did these people have to be somewhere, to hurry even, when they were all supposed to be fast asleep? Granted, the man himself was not sleeping, either. But he was unhurried.
He walked on, looking for shelter. A bus stop would do. The stars overhead were hidden behind thick clouds. He observed the angry headlights coming toward him — passing him by. He glanced at a puddle as it was being hit by the wheels of a car. He wondered, rather surprised by his own train of thought, what the average lifespan of a puddle was.
He’d taken the number off of a small poster at the bus stop. The poster was attached to the glass wall shielding him against the rain, right next to the timetable. He skimmed the text, which was neatly written and embellished by a small drawing of an umbrella. Somebody must have hung this up today, the man thought. He wiped the screen of his cell phone with his sleeve, pressed “Call”, and raised the phone to his ear. A wet strand of hair was caught in between.
Beeping. At least twenty seconds of beeping. The wind was blowing harder now.
“Hullo?” the voice said. Something stirred in the man as that greeting sounded. He hadn’t thought about what to say.
“There’s an urgency,” he said after a while. He was almost whispering. “A terrible, terrible urgency.” Stella — she’d signed the poster with that name, “Stella” — did not seem to understand. “Listen,” she said, “if this is some sort of prank call–“
“Your umbrella,” the man said. “Why did your umbrella mean so much to you?”
“Did you find it? Are you calling because you found my umbrella?” Her voice had become warmer somehow, less frantic.
“I may have,” the man said. “I’m not quite sure. What does it look like again?”
“Uhm, it’s brown. Got a wooden handle. It says so on the poster. Listen, are you prank-calling me?”
“No, I just — it’s not something people spend a lot of time worrying about, an umbrella. I was wondering why it meant so much to you.”
She was starting to get suspicious; he could tell. “Is that… important?”
The girl did not give an immediate reply. No words, no human noises, all that was left was a quiet, monotonous hum, as of a heating vent running in the background. After a while, she said, “Well, if you must know, I bought it in Chicago. It was a souvenir.” Something was rustling at her end of the line. To the man it sounded like paper. She’s at home, he thought. Busy with paperwork. That is, not very busy. “So, did you find it?” she asked impatiently.
“Not yet. But I’ll keep an eye open, Ma’m. I promise.” The man paused to zip up his jacket; the wind was now getting unbearably cold. “I’ll get back to you.”
“Why, thank you. It’s nice to know there’re kind strangers out there looking out for me.” There was that warmth in her voice again. The man was aware, though, that she was faking her gratitude. After a moment she said, “Listen, I hope you don’t mind my asking, I really hope you don’t mind, but something tells me you aren’t really calling to ask about my umbrella. Is there anything that’s upsetting you, Sir? You sound, well, a little upset.”
“Chicago,” he mumbled. “I’ve been to Chicago. Bleak sorta place.”
“Sorry, I didn’t get that. You’ll have to speak up a little.”
The man was trembling again. “I said I’ve been there — Chicago,” he said, a little louder this time. “I can see why you’d be sad about your umbrella.” The girl did not respond. The connection was getting weaker. “Anyway,” the man said, “what I meant to ask you. I guess I meant to ask you if you dream about Chicago still. ‘Cause when I dream about some place, I mean some place different, I know that that means something.”
“Sorry? Sir, you’ll have to speak up.” Although she was enunciating clearly, her voice had become muffled and distant, as if she was holding a sheet of paper between her mouth and the speaker. The man was hesitant. “I’ve been having these dreams,” he said finally. “It’s just the one, actually. Gets repeated. It’s about this big ballroom, with hundreds of people in it, all dressed up y’know. And they’re having a ceremony, a really long and boring ceremony. But everybody’s all ears. Patient, y’know. ‘Cause they’re in mourning.” He paused. There was no response. “But nobody ever says whose funeral it actually is. I think they’re scared to say his name. Isn’t that peculiar?”
The humming at the other end of the line had stopped. The man noticed that the rain was slowly letting up. He tugged at his jacket, shaking off a few raindrops. “And the weirdest thing is, I’m just watching ’em from up above, from the ceiling almost, waiting for them to start dancing or something, ’cause everything’s so festive and all. But they never do. They just drone on about what a nice fella that guy was, the guy they’re doing the funeral for.” The man peered out from under the roof of the bus stop. For the first time that night, he could see a star shining through.
“I’m so sorry,” he said. “I got carried away. Guess what I meant to ask you is, do you ever dream about your funeral? What kinda eulogies you’d get, y’know, if everybody you ever met got a chance to say something. Even the people from Chicago.”
The line was dead by the time the man had asked this question. He was trembling all over now, feeling restless and distraught. He looked at the rain hitting the ground and carving puddles. At least, he thought, the call had drowned out the noise of the cars passing.
So, since this is the first piece of fiction I’ve published (like, ever), I would like to ask you — whoever you are — to leave a comment saying whether you liked it and which parts needed improving, even if it’s just punctuation. Thanks a lot for reading!