by Tess Makovesky
The red umbrella sprawls in the gutter, back broken, jazzy panels torn. Once he protected his owner from the rain and was proud. Now he’s fit for nothing, a reject amongst the other garbage, a relic of happier times.
Izzy, she was called. A happy, laughing woman who liked jumping in puddles and running through the park in the rain. She took him everywhere — work, the shops, a pub at night. Sometimes stuffed in her bag with the stale mint sweets and the lippy and her purse, but always glad of the excuse to have him in her hand. The red umbrella remembers. He has nothing better to do, lying here in a puddle himself. Leaking red into the water, or the water leaking into him, he’s not sure which. Crying in the rain.
Izzy bought the red umbrella from a market stall in town. The red umbrella remembers that too. He’d liked the look of her even then — the way she smiled, the way she joked with the stallholder about getting caught in a sudden shower. She pushed the wet hair out of her eyes. “My brolly’s just died,” she’d said. He always remembered that. As though she believed that umbrellas were a species of their own, living and breathing, with hopes and fears.
He’d had hope. The hope when Izzy first spotted him. The long-held breath while she wavered between him and a spotty one in green. The rush of joy when she put the green one down.
“I like the colour,” she’d said. “It looks so cheerful. Just what you need when it’s bucketing down.”
He’d felt wanted, useful. Alive. Now he wishes she’d taken the green one instead. At least then he might have gone to a different owner, and still been in use. Not lying on his side in the filth and wet. Not broken. Not sad because he couldn’t help.
He’d tried, of course. Tried to stiffen his resolve, when Izzy used him to fight the mugger off. Tried to be strong and tough. But it hadn’t worked. The mugger had a knife and reached past his outstretched spars, slashing his panels, twisting him in Izzy’s grasp. Throwing him to the ground. He’d watched, helpless, as the mugger took Izzy’s bag, as the mugger laughed in Izzy’s face and used the knife again. Just for the hell of it, or because she’d fought back. Izzy had gasped, once, a horrible sound, and folded to the street. Just out of reach. He couldn’t help, from where he lay. Couldn’t even break her fall.
He tried to get to her but it was impossible. Was she reaching out for him? One arm, stretching. One hand, fingers twitching for his handle. He ached for her familiar touch. But couldn’t move. Couldn’t feel a thing.
She was wrong. That’s what hurts the most. She should have known that umbrellas weren’t alive. Now he lies dead in the gutter. Torn, shattered, a wreck of his former self. And she lies next to him, and he thinks she’s dead as well. She’s motionless. Red liquid seeps from her side, trickles towards him to form the sticky puddle around his struts. A young woman in a pool of blood. A red umbrella that will never be used again.
Liverpool lass Tess is now settled in the far north of England where she roams the fells with a brolly, dreaming up new stories and startling the occasional sheep. Tess writes a distinctive brand of British comédie noir and her short stories have darkened the pages of various anthologies and magazines, including Shotgun Honey, Pulp Metal Magazine, Out of the Gutter Online, Betty Fedora, Exiles: An Outsider Anthology, Drag Noir (Fox Spirit), Rogue (Near to the Knuckle), and Locked and Loaded (One Eye Press). Her debut novella, Raise the Blade, a psychological noir tale involving a serial killer in Birmingham and a lot of Pink Floyd references, is available from Caffeine Nights Publishing now.