The Hours of the Day
On a small table he had a half-drunk cup of tea, but it wasn’t hot anymore. He had forgotten about it. He shook himself and took a sip of the cold liquid and puckered his mouth and swallowed it reluctantly. The sun had already disappeared behind the greying clouds. The light within the little cabin was dying, though it was mid-afternoon.
His cabin wasn’t far from the Maine coastline, and it was as though he could taste the salt in the air that came through the open window beside him. He preferred low light where he could get lost. He wasn’t very old, barely thirty, yet his face was saddened, weathered, as if twice that age. He had a despondent mien that clung to him perpetually. He peered out the window at the grey sky—the leaves of the trees were turned from the wind—and he could smell the rain that had not yet started. Rain. Low light and rain: these were the things he liked.
He stood up and went into the small living room and put his hands in his trouser pockets and looked out another larger window. He wanted the rain to start. He wanted to hear it patter against the glass and against the trees. The smell of rain was so familiar…
There had been a time when he would always walk in the rain. It never mattered the time of the day. He remembered the first time he had gone for a walk in the rain after dark. All the world seemed asleep. The streets were all abandoned. Rainwater collected in little puddles along the sidewalk and glistened from the light of the street lamps. All the little shops were closed, and if he passed down certain streets he couldn’t see a thing. The night air had been cool but not cold. He had held a black umbrella over his head and had wandered.
Those walks were always the only time in which his jumbled thoughts ever calmed themselves and allowed him to think clearly—or as clearly as he would ever be able. There was something about the pitter-patter of falling rain against tree leaves, or against the ground, or against window panes, which lulled him into a focused state. He liked that. He liked the cooler air when it rained that touched his face. He liked when he would close the umbrella and feel the little drops of rain trickle down his skin.
He would think of many things. He would think of his future. He would think of all the things he had not yet done: a career, a love, a home. But he would also think of his past and all the decisions he had made that he wished he had not. He would think of Tom. He would think of what could have been had events played out differently, and these myriad dark recollections always dulled him and made him focus more on the rain falling than the thought itself because it was a far better thing, he believed, to not think of untoward thoughts.
The rain had not yet started though. He wanted to go for a walk. It cleared my mind once so it can still do it now. He did not move from his spot by the window. He would wait. He had nowhere to be and no one to talk to.
His life had not taken the pathway he had wanted it to. He had blamed Tom for a while, but he realized he could not blame Tom for his own inability to put himself on the line, to risk rejection, to risk criticisms of any kind. He played it safe, and he hated himself for that. He had never imagined himself living in a small cabin in Maine, nor did he see himself as a single man whose only friend lived clear on the other side of the country and with whom he rarely spoke. He never saw himself as someone who preferred the comfortable, empty melancholic void of darkness; and this worried him because Tom had preferred the darkness, too. He didn’t want to be like his brother. He wanted to be someone different.
Sometimes he didn’t even want to be himself. He would dream about a time before he was born as if, somehow, had he been alive then, he would have been someone different, someone he wanted to be. If he thought about a time in which he hadn’t existed then maybe he could change what came after—but time never stops. It never decides to pause. It cannot be rewritten. The hours of the day just continue to move forward. Take the second hand off the clock’s face and it doesn’t move any slower. The past doesn’t change; it only gets farther away until the day comes when no one can remember it anymore.
He had asked his brother, just once, what was in his mind. He did not know beforehand that he would ask it—it had just happened. Tom had been sitting on the front stoop. He had just started college and flicked stones into the driveway.
—Wanna go down to the lake? George had asked.
But Tom didn’t say anything. He didn’t even look at him. It was as though he hadn’t heard him.
—Tom? he said. Tom?
—What? What did you say?
—I asked if you wanted to go to the lake. Dad said we could use his fishing rod if we wanted.
—I don’t wanna go.
—But we might catch somethin’.
—I said I don’t want to.
Tom had stopped looking at him. He went back to flicking the little pebbles into the driveway, and George sat on the grass looking at his brother. He couldn’t understand why he wouldn’t want to go to the lake. He had never declined before. He couldn’t just leave it at that. He was younger. He was supposed to annoy his older brother.
—You could flick stones across the water, then. Skip ’em.
—The hell don’t you get about me sayin’ no? Tom said. I ain’t goin’.
—What’s wrong with you?
—Why does somethin’ always gotta be wrong? Why can’t I just not want to go? Why can’t I just be quiet and not say anythin’ and not have people buggin’ me? People are always buggin’ me. They wanna know what’s wrong with me. I don’t get it. All I know is I just wanna sit here and for you to quit buggin’ me.
Tom took up a small rock and chucked it against a tree trunk and walked away and didn’t say another word to George for several days. He remembered that. The several days. Quiet. Silence. Tom didn’t say more than three words to their parents either. But could I have known? George thought. Just thought he was ticked about something. A girl. A bad grade. Woke up on the wrong side. Something like that. How was I to know…
He looked at his wristwatch. The little second hand ticked quietly across its circumference. He saw time wasted. What was he doing? Thinking? He wasn’t a philosopher. What was he doing? Waiting for the rain? Thinking? So bogged down by thinking of the past, by waiting for something to happen, that he never really did anything. He went to work. He came home. He thought. There wasn’t much to that at all. He looked at the little watch again. It had been his brother’s: silver with a weathered-brown leather band. He took it off his wrist and flipped it over. TMW was engraved on the bottom. Tom’s initials. He put it back on his wrist and sighed.
Through the open window he could feel a breeze and could smell a fire off in the distance. It smelled like a campfire carried in the arms of the wind to his nose. He found peace in the smell of rain and the smell of campfire. There was something ancient about those smells to him. Something timeless. Something universal that he knew everyone, no matter who they were, recognized those scents, too.
He couldn’t have known because Tom never said anything. He would just sit there, or he would say he was fine; and why would anyone not believe him? George had been the one who found him floating silently above the earth, creaking like the rope swing. There hadn’t been a note. There hadn’t been anything. Silence. Inferred guilt. The feeling that it could have all been different had he (George) just paid a little more attention. He had taken the knife to stop that levitation act and cradled his brother when gravity took over. There is no greater despair than despair that is not understood. There is no beginning and there is no end: there is only an eternal center that carries on into the ether of existence and colors everything with its darkness.
He could not wait any longer. He got his coat and flat cap and went outside. The wind was constant and brushed his face. Around him were thin trees and conifers. There was a dirt path behind his cabin that led down to the ocean, and he walked that way. The light of the day was a soft grey despite the hour. Pebbles crunched beneath his shoes. His brother had never seen this path, nor had he ever seen the cabin. There was a lot his brother did not see. Yet I see them, he thought. I still breathe and see what he cannot, and is this what poisoned him? Is it within me, too? The trees swayed in the wind around him. The temperature was falling quickly. It didn’t feel like September. It felt like November.
As he walked toward the ocean he knew, perhaps, that the wound on his soul still hadn’t healed. A decade wasn’t enough time for that. Or perhaps the scar would never go away. He didn’t know. He just knew he wanted it to rain.
The smell of the ocean was getting stronger. The path turned into gravely pavement and wrapped through a grass field down to the rocks that fell deep into the tempestuous depths of the Atlantic. The rocks were sharp and jagged and glistened with ocean water. There was a mist that seemed to float above the waters and the shoreline, and he could feel it against his face when a solitary drop of rain hit his forehead and rolled down beneath his eye and pooled on his upper lip. He walked along the path that hugged the coastline and looked at the violence of the water as it crashed into the rocks.
There was a figure sitting on a bench in the rain some fifty feet away from him that he had not seen before. He had thought he would be alone. It was an old woman. He had never seen her before. She was a small old woman with short, dove-white hair. Her face was time wrinkled, yet there was still a sense of youthfulness about her. It was an uncanny feeling George had when he saw her. He could see the young woman she once was in her face behind the wrinkles. Time seemed confused in her countenance. With her she had no umbrella. All she had was an old, green raincoat without a hood. Her hands were folded on her lap, and she bore a childlike smile upon her face.
—Ma’am? he said.
She looked at him but said nothing.
—Ma’am? he said. You should find shelter.
—It’s all right, she said.
She turned her head forward again to look at the ocean and the mist and the rain as it hit the green-blue surface.
—It’s going to rain, he said. Best to find shelter.
—Looks like it’ll be a steady rain, I think. You’ll get soaked sitting there.
—The ocean looks beautiful, doesn’t it? she said.
She chuckled under her breath. There was an inflection of wonder in her voice that he had never heard in an adult before.
—Did you hear me? he said.
—I might be old, but I am not deaf, she said.
He put his hands in his pockets and turned to look at the ocean, too. In the distance he could see the edge of the rain. His coat got speckled with drops of water. I don’t understand this woman, he thought, because what old woman wants to sit out in the rain?
—Why are you out here? he said.
—Because I like seeing the storms. When I was little girl I always came out here. There’s something about the rain and the ocean that has never lost its mystery to me. It still looks the way it did eighty years ago. It still feels the same. People say you have to grow up, but people lie.
There was no emptiness to her, no sadness at all, at least none that he could discern. Yet, she must have experienced loss. Why, then, did she seem younger than him who was close to sixty years younger than her?
—May I ask you a question, then? he said.
—Do you often think of the past? Your past, I mean.
—Then how do you look so calm? Maybe you haven’t experience tragedy or…
—The past, no matter what has happened, is gone, she said. I’ve known tragedy…dark moments that’d make you shudder. But we each have two options: to wallow in the negativity of the past and wait to die, or we can live. That is all, though not as simple as it seems. The past shapes us, you know. No reason to forget it. It’s how we let it live within us that can hurt us.
It was then that the rain began to fall steadily. Their tête-à-tête had concluded, it seemed, and George simply looked at her. Her white hair slowly twitched with each drop of water. He wiped the rainwater from his face. The sound of the rain against the earth silenced his thoughts of the past. He didn’t know why he did it, but he sat down beside the old woman. It was as if she knew something about him that even he did not know. To live. To be. To feel. The words she had spoken almost didn’t seem real, yet they repeated themselves to him over and over. How would he let his past—the darkness and the unanswered questions—live within him? He hadn’t thought of them as living at all.
She put her hand on his and squeezed it in a grandmotherly way. Together they sat in the midst of the rain and were washed with its baptismal waters.
G.R. Rapoza is a writer who lives in Massachusetts. He also works as a content writer. He holds an M.F.A. from New England College and is currently working on a novel.