So. The trouble I’ve found with this 30 stories in 30 days challenge is that I can’t shut up. I had in mind the idea of writing 30 super-short stories. Instead, I’ve been starting pieces that refuse to let themselves be tiny. I have several that have grown well beyond the scope of what I’d post — one of them is pages and pages long at this point and still not nearing its conclusion.
What to do? On the train this morning, I realized I should just post excerpts from the long ones, find places that work as stopping points and hit “publish.” So that’s what today’s piece is, an excerpt from a longer piece.
Michael loved listening to rain. The beat of a heavy storm or the whisper of a summer shower, it all pleased him, soothed him. He sat by the window in the kitchen, eyes closed, listening to the drops hitting the garden shed. The sound was as close as he could get to his favorite — rain on a tin roof. It had been years since his mother had lost the beach house, since he’d last slept under the high tin roof of the annex bedroom, but it was still the sound he craved over all others.
He had water heating on the stove and a rose-oil-scented, petal-strewn tub steaming up the bathroom mirror. Claudia would be home soon, her walk cut short, her clothes soaked. He listened for her hurried steps. He would take the baby, warm and dry him while Claudia took a cup of tea into the bath. He dreamed the scene through to the baby’s deep sleep and Claudia’s damp, perfumed skin under his hands.
He heard her stamping and shaking off rain as he poured water into the teapot to steep her favorite blend.
“I ran you a bath,” he said, reaching for Anthony.
“We’re ridiculous. I don’t think there’s anything dry on me.” She stopped peeling her sweater from her arms. “You ran a bath?”
He nodded, unwrapping Anthony from his sodden blanket. “And there’s a pot of tea steeping.” He stripped the drenched jumpsuit and wrapped the tiny wet body in a thick, warmed towel. “That funky one you bought from the witch’s shop.”
Claudia left her wet clothes in a heap at the back door and went to the kitchen. “She’s a card reader, not a witch.” She pulled a mug from the rack and lifted the lid on the pot. “And she makes wonderful tea.”
Michael continued to rub Anthony down with the towel. “Witch, fortune teller … whatever. He’s surprisingly calm. The storm didn’t bother him at all?”
She filled her mug and headed for the bathroom. “I think he liked it. Definitely gets that from you.”
He smiled at the idea of that being true, brought Anthony into his room, gave him a quick massage with the shea butter cream Claudia mixed for him then buttoned him into flannel pajamas, put him in his crib and sang him to sleep. He wondered what other things his son had “gotten” from him, wondered what things he would want to pass on. Claudia was dominant — her coloring, her hair meant she never had to explain her relationship to Anthony when they were out alone. And he’d noticed that Anthony’s smile and laugh were more hers. Claudia didn’t seem to think about it at all, which made him wonder what that meant, wonder if he was wrong to worry over it.
But he couldn’t let it go. What had he shared with his son, other than a love of rain? What had he taken from his own father, the man who had walked away from him years before, who had resisted Michael’s attempt to reforge a relationship as an adult? He knew from his mother’s photos that he looked like his father, had taken at least that much. Part of him wanted to think he had taken only that much, afraid that anything more would damn him for a bad father.
“I will be a real father to you,” he whispered to Anthony. “I will be here. I will always be here.”
Anthony shifted, pulling one tiny fist under his chin and smiling softly.
“You do that,” Claudia said, coming up behind Michael, her bath-fresh warmth radiating against his back. “I think of it like you pulling your world in and snuggling it close as you sleep. That’s so cute that he does it, too.”
I wrote a response to Raivenne’s comment on an earlier story, mentioning that this challenge is my attempt to follow in Yasunari Kawabata’s footsteps and write some Palm of the Hand Stories of my own. And that’s sort of true. I’ve loved that collection for years, loved the grace and ease of Kawabata’s writing, the way he slipped whole worlds into such tiny, tiny pieces. I don’t flatter myself that anything I’m writing (here or ever) approaches the masterpiece that is that collection, but I love the trying. Yes, I do a fair amount of “dumb and divine stumbling” to mash a quote from Dylan Thomas, but it’s pleasing the mess out of me, so I’ll keep at it.