I live on a billboard floor, where a whole advertisement covers part of the building. That helps. I don’t have to see how the drops leave greasy coats across the window panes. It took some getting used to, living here. The sign glows, burning red into my rooms all night long, making me sick of a cola I don’t drink. But I've come to think of it as my sun. Provided I know when it’s day. I remember the old Sun, just not the last time I saw it.
The gutters clog about every three days and the streets flood. Whatever was making a break for it, down the sewers, comes back to haunt the pavement. I don’t walk the avenues of these Venice knockoffs. There’s nowhere to go.
The note arrived while I was sleeping. I thought it was part of a dream until I felt it in my hand. Paper. I didn’t think anyone used paper anymore. I remember paper. I still have a valentine from a sweetheart in eighth grade. She died when the rain changed. I didn’t know her then, so she ended up a tally keeping track: who you know you won’t get to see anymore, just another person, another mass, floating away with the water fall. This note, the new one, said somebody would be at my door in three hours. So I cleaned up a bit, as mother always taught -- "Company is coming, and it's best not to have a mess when there's guests." -- and sat down to wait.
I don’t have to see the rain, but I will have to hear it. Those ham fisted thuds slap against the outside, trying to get in, only to slime down the walls and panes in defeat. They keep on coming though there’s no chance of success. Yet, there’s always a mark to prove the attempt. So maybe it (the rain’s effort) isn’t all in vain.
Thunderous clamors for attention sound in the apartment, and the rain seems to quiet at the noise. I’m not certain I want to open the door, but I worry whoever is out there will simply bash a way through, what with the manner Whoever is knuckle dusting the door.
There’s no one there when I look out the peephole. Taking a chance, I open the door a crack and find a little girl. Soaked and streaked brown, she’s shivering in the hallway. The rain made a mess of her white dress. I suppose that’s why she looks like she’s going to cry.
“Are you my appointment?” It seems like a stupid question. She couldn’t have been pounding so savagely. But she nods. So I let her into my home. She heads right to the radiator. I’m not surprised. The mud raining outside can frost bones.
I wait till she looks settled before asking, “What can I do for you?”
Turning away from the heater, she coughs, hiccupping a bit as she does, and silently spills a stream of dirty dishwater. She gasps. I tell her it is okay. “Better on the floor than in your gut. You know that stuff is bad to swallow.” Kids do it all the time. I guess that’s why you don’t see too many of them around anymore. It just can’t be helped. Youngsters haven’t learned to keep their mouths shut all the time, although she spit up more than I’d expect a casual stroller to inhale.
Figuring she’s more nervous than when she arrived, I decide to make small talk to calm things down, “So, where did you get paper? Are your folks rich? I hope they don’t mind you scribbling a note with it.” She stares. Her eyelids slide shut, slide open.
“Did you know there used to be whole stores with all kinds of paper? Different colors. Emblems. Designs. Like an ice cream shop or a candy store but one that sells paper.”
Eyelids ease up and down. Her lips pat together softly, but she doesn’t make a sound.
“Not too many of any of those kinds of stores anymore. I guess I just dated myself there. How old are you?”
She sits down on the floor. The skirt rings her like a rusty halo.
“I was thinking about the paper I still have. When I saw your note, that’s when I started thinking. I don’t have much. I’ve got a valentine, and a birth certificate, and a few letters. Have you ever gotten a valentine?”
She folds her hands in lap. The sloppy plop of garbage flopping against the windows kills the quiet. I wonder if I should get something to clear the sick off the floor or at least wipe her chin clear.
“It’s funny. This is the most talking I think I’ve done all week. Maybe even all month. Are you always this quiet?” Something about her makes me want to cry.
“Where are you from?” Her parents must be worried about her. If they even know she’s gone. Or maybe they sent her. I don’t have much money, but I can see why they might. I look like one of those people: the ones with human house pets. I won’t mention it unless she does.
Looking over at the window I breathe a sigh of relief escaping from her eyes, “It’s really starting to come down.” The sky is falling by the sound of things. Whole chunks of above are being sheered off by lightning knives.
The lights in the apartment flicker. Another black out is on the way. Her eyes shine in the dark.
“Are you from this building? There’s a little girl in this building. You remind me of her.”
Her lids slither closed. I can hear the soggy scrape they make sliding over her eyes. They pop open with a schlop.
“She was playing in the basement, and it was flooded. As usual. She slipped in the muck. I watched her float for awhile which I thought was neat because the water wasn’t that deep. Then I went back to my room. It was nice to see something happen, but she got boring just floating there.”
There aren’t really faces on the streets anymore. The rain is a veil masking everyone. Pedestrians are just forms bumping into one another nowadays. I don’t go outside much. I don’t see the point. There’s nothing to enjoy colliding down the sidewalk, swimming from one stop to another.
She has the pale skin of every child now, more milky and translucent than any adults’. Grown-ups have all had some hint of the sun baking their skin. Even the most porcelain people are hardened ceramic. But when I look closer, the blue veins that should be etching her flesh are muddy colors matching the rain.
“That girl owned paper. It was a gift from her grandfather when he floated off. She used to slip scraps under people’s doors with random words printed on them. But she ran out before getting to my door. I don’t see why her parents let her waste it so. No sense on any of their parts I suppose. I always felt sort of left out, so I tried following her around to make her feel guilty. One time, before the basement, she saw me and started playing chase, so I ran after her, but like I said, she slipped and got boring.”
She hiccups another mouthful of sewage that dribbles down her chin, scarring the sad little white left on her dress. I can’t get her to speak, so we sit in silence, sharing a stare, while the rain remains steady and unwelcome.