The Woman in the Rain
August 30, 2010
Beneath a roof half burned out by a long since gaoled arsonist, the product of two broken legs, an eye lost fighting or fucking- it was difficult to tell which-, twenty kicks to the head a week after Christmas, an impounded bitch and a lost mutt, lay down to sleep between warm falling rain and a half-eaten dog.
Madeleine had her face pressed up against the windows of the bus so hard that she wasn’t even noticing the slime-sweated teenage boy two seats back who was, however, definitely noticing her. Between the contrast of the electric lights with the starless night outside, and the mural of scratch-mark tags obscuring the windows, to see for certain any outline of the uselessly dark suburban streets had become a struggle occupying the extent of her mental resources. Even her imagination, vivid with panic and loss, had to fight to see traces of her lost, little dog.
And as usual she was losing. Pathetically.
She heaved a sigh of what would have been impatient frustration had it not been fatally weakened by an entire evening spent holding her breath. She slumped back away from the glass, took out her phone, and called her father.
She watched the phone ring out, and then she hung up on the answering machine and dialled again. Somehow no one ever answered that phone on the first call.
She waited as the phone rang on and on. The bus arrived at the end of the line. The boy, again unnoticed, took one last look at Madeleine and hurried off home before the image could fade. The driver changed the line numbers on the head of his almost empty vehicle, and after having a smoke under a shelter that didn’t really keep out the rain, drove them off again.
At last her father picked.
“Hello,” the voice scratched through to Madeleine, the signal damaged by the storm between them.
“Hi dad,” she answered, closing her eyes.
For a moment, silence. Madeleine had long since forgotten what she had wanted to say.
Eventually dad guessed what Madeleine was forgetting. “No sign of your dog?”
Her head fell down into her hands.
She answered, “no,” but could not tell if he had heard her, as his response came back totally garbled, and then the line cut out altogether.
She got off at the next stop. She had no idea where she was, or how she would get home from there, because she had long since lost track of which line the bus was running and where it had come to. Between the rain and the night, she couldn’t see anything anyway.
Madeleine jogged to the end of the street where there was a cluster of lights and what looked like a post-office. The post-office was closed, but beneath the veranda around it, it was still dry. She leant against the closed doors, out of the rain but still drenched, and she had no idea what to do.
Lost, cold, and out of contact with everyone, she decided that none of this would have happened if she had got off work an hour earlier. On the face of it, there was no reason for her to have been home early. She was in perfect health, lived entirely alone, and had no family waiting for her anywhere. But during her lunch break, she now remembered, she had thought of going home early. True, it was fragment of a thought, one of the millions of infinitesimal flickers that dance across the mind daily, almost invariably to be forgotten. But now she seized on it and fed it until it swelled into a transcendental premonition of disaster.
First she decided that it must have been in the last hour of being at work that Frix had been kidnapped. (By this stage of the evening it had become a definite kidnap.) It was still impossible for Madeleine to believe that the safety of her pet was not somehow celestially bound to her own happiness, and so she refused to entertain the notion that she had passed an entire day at work with her dog gone, feeling normal. Consequently, had she been home just half an hour earlier, less even, she thought, her dog would still be with her (she shuddered, as she had just caught herself before thinking the word ‘alive’).
From here it was a pretty narrow leap of neurosis to remember her passing whim from earlier that day, and to start building it into the voice of Cassandra. What was once a flourish of mounting exhaustion, virtuously denied and ignored, changed slowly into a warning sent down from the heavens, and ignored out of an unforgivable moral weakness.
She took out her phone again and tried to call her father. It rang for a few seconds, before a voice came through telling Madeleine that she was out of range of her service-provider.
She slid squelchingly onto the concrete beneath her. She was out of ideas. The mania that had kept her running around in the rain began to dissolve. She was waiting to cry.
A newspaper lay a few feet before her, and wanting anything but misery to occupy her mind she reached out and took. Most of the pages were missing, so she began flicking through it starting at page 36.
On 41 Madeleine’s eyes fell on an ad by a clairvoyant. Madeleine didn’t actually believe in astrology, and even in the deepest moment of her despair, would not, if asked, had actually said that she believed that it works. But in world of pain she was prepared to abdicate her spirit. She was ready, craving even, to give up her will for the promise of anything.
The ad itself was an unusual one. It seemed to have been designed to appeal to a very specific, and a very broad category of people. First came an appeal to scientism:
“Mama Prouche IS NOT just another psychic… she’s a clairvoyant!!!
That means her results can be scientifically tested BY YOU TODAY!!!”
Before this initial claim could be inspected too closely it was followed by the kind of multiculturalism that sells invariably and invariably to the most terminally isolated of Anglo-Saxons:
“Mama Prouche is the sixth in a venerable and respected line of Africa’s most widely recognised shamanistic tribes.
She has studied for many years under the gurus, or tribal elders, of many of the continent’s most mystical nations.
Now FOR THE FIRST TIME she brings her ancient secrets to Australia!!!”
True to form, the advert was completed by a picture of a woman dressed for a carnival in New Orleans.
It must have been the total, if not absolutely offensive absurdity of what she had read, combined suddenly onsetting nervous breakdown that produced Madeleine’s, an educated, avowedly atheist, and in fact eminently sensible woman’s, reaction to the message. As the storm lulled around her Madeleine took out her phone and called the number at the bottom of the page.
On the third ring her call was answered.
At first no voice came over the line. Only a faint music that appeared to be comprised of the jangling of wind-chimes and a band of gypsies enclosed in a packing crate over the exhaust vent of a hemp processing plant.
Then a deep woman’s voice rattled over the line, “I hear you.”
Madeleine was slightly taken aback, and took 11 cents of her time to respond.
“My dog’s been killed,” she blurted out before she could even think what she was saying. And then everything broke down and she was crying audibly over the phone, “something killed my dog, something killed my dog, my precious little, I loved him, I loved him – I LOVED HIM!”
The mystycal muzak continued indifferently over the line.
“I hear you,” came the voice again. “I must consult with the ancestors.”
Consulting with the ancestors took about another 35 cents. To her credit, Mama Pouche displayed not the barest hint of surprise when she returned after that time and there was still a signal coming over the line.
“Do you hear me, my child?” she asked sonorously.
“Yes,” Madeleine whimpered, “yes, I do.”
“The creature that has taken your love is curse put upon you by an evil spirit,” she pronounced. “It is a powerful demon. It will not leave you. There is only one thing you can do…”
6 cents elapsed.
“What?” whispered Madeleine. “What can I do?”
“Find the beast.”
“Eat its heart.”
The clairvoyant hung up.
Suddenly Madeleine was alone on the pavement by a post-office again. The storm had picked up, but she was not sure when. For a moment she was dull. Empty.
Then her despair turned to rage, and flooded back into her.
Beneath a roof half burned out by a long since gaoled arsonist she saw her demon and she hated it. It was that way. In front of her. She ran towards it. She charged.
She ran so hard that the rain stung her as it struck exposed flesh. She was insensitive to it. To the cold. To the surrounding traffic.
She had no idea where she was running to, but she was running so fast, stoked by so much rage, that she was insensitive to that fact to. Slowly a state overcame her, wherein the only sensations she felt were those of a fantasy.
In the rain a figure loomed. It haunted into view. It stood over the product of every misfortune and paralysed it with fear, exhaustion, and the certainty that there was nowhere to run.
The corpse behind it was ignored by all.
As the figure stood over him water slid off of its soaked skin and clothes. Now there was not even a dry patch of ground to die on.
Involuntarily, he tried to beg.
For a moment the figure stood unmoved. Then it crouched down over him, and his heart stopped of its own will.
Madeleine was caught in the headlights of an oncoming truck. It braked with futility in the storm, and its horn screamed at Madeleine.
She had just enough sense to jump out of the way as the vehicle careened past her.
Madeleine fell to mud and patches of wet weeds growing up around the curb as the truck finally came to a stop down the road. The driver got out and ran towards her shouting alternately “are you crazy?” and “are you alright?”
He got no response.
He looked Madeleine over and saw that she was unharmed. He tried talking to her for a little while more, but as she stonily ignored him, he finally gave up, went back to his truck and drove off, safe in the knowledge that she would not get his licence-plate number.
As the storm let up again Madeleine reached down and found her phone again. She repeated the rigmarole of calling her father. When at last he picked up all she could do was cry again.
“Where are you?” he asked her. He waited silently for her reply.
After a moment Madeleine looked up around her and found a street sign. She told him where she was.
“I’ll be there in a minute,” he told her, then put down the phone and left to pick her up.
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