No one knows why the immediate aftermath of running in the rain is laughter. Perhaps it’s that one small grab at childhood exuberance before we remember life still sucks and now we’re stuck in the rain. Still, Wendy and Jae Won filled the air in the sedan with childlike laughter till the windshield became sandwiched by foggy steam and watery iridescent sheets. The downpour grew torrential leading Wendy to prudently pull up to a fire plug till it passed.
“Oh, I needed that laugh. I bet that sobered you.”
Jae Won allowed himself another chuckle then took his handkerchief from his pocket and pressed her dampened curls.
“Wendy, aren’t you going to ask me why I’m not at the store, why I called you? Why I stink from soju?” Jae Won asked while he dried the rain on her forehead.
She didn’t take the bait. “I don’t know why the impressionists make rain look so beautiful on dirty city streets.” Instead, she took the cloth from him, blotted his slicked back hair, then turned away to watch the drenched cityscape playing out beyond the windshield.
“See the way the drops pop up off the gutter. They may seem like water sprites to artists like you, but to me they look like bubbling brew in a witch’s cauldron.” She handed back his handkerchief.
“There’s a rainbow in water. Do you know the painting Umbrellas in the Rain? it’s American.”
“Prendergast right? The rainy day in Venice?
“Whah. You’re very smart. One day you should look at it again, the vibrant reds, the mellow ochers, all his blues and greens brightening up the world below the rain. I don’t know what the artist thought, maybe he’s saying that since it rains on everyone, we should provide our own rainbows in the wake of the inevitable storms.
Wendy pulled at her jacket to shield her wet shirt from his eyes before disagreeing. “I don’t feel like it rains on everyone. Your paintings are beautiful. Perhaps when you look at them you see some flaws, things you might have changed, maybe you even tweak some you once considered finished. But, what if you couldn’t paint again and one day you came home to see all your work washed away in a deluge. Would you find beauty in the water? Or would you cease to find beauty anywhere.” She loosened her grip on her jacket, “I’ve created only one beautiful thing in my life. My daughter. I was supposed to give her a wonderful life, but she’ll never live the dreams of her friends. She’s stuck in a world of prescriptions and examinations, missing school and missed opportunities. You think I’m afraid of my cancer for my sake alone. I’m scared I won’t be around for Jane. All my energy is for living for her. So I can’t ask you why you’re sad. You’re already nuzzling your way into my heart. I can’t… I just don’t need this right now.”
They drove in silence to Jay’s house with the swip-swapping of the wipers keeping time with their thoughts.
The artist had feigned sleep during the drive securing Wendy’s decision to see him safely into his house. Inside, she kept her shoes on while he changed into slippers on the mudroom top step. Wendy held out his key ring but Jae Won kept his back to her as he removed his dampened jacket.
“Kah.” He turned to face her. “You said you don’t need this.” His right hand made a loose fist as he tapped his chest. “So go, you’re right, you don’t need anything.” He turned back without his keys.
Wendy cleared her throat. “Don’t turn around. I need to tell you something.”
“Then give me your hand. I won’t turn around. Just give me your hand.”
She kept her hands at her sides.
“You were going to hand me the keys anyway.” He coaxed.
Wendy took two steps towards his back and breathed in his musk. She hesitated before thrusting out her arm to offer his keys. He pulled her hand to the front of his flat abdomen leading her other hand to grab on to his. He held her arms around his middle.
“Mal sum hah seh yo”
His directive for her to speak was so soft, it calmed her as the day he massaged her palm in the store.
“You would have been right about me up until August.” She hadn’t stood with a man this way before. She never wrapped her arms around such a slender waist before either. She wanted to record everything; Uri playing in the fish bowl on the counter, the silence in the rest of the house, the clean smell of him.
“I didn’t dare need anything,” she began. “Because everybody else was so needy. Kids at school needed me, their parents needed me, my mother was widowed and sickly, my husband still doesn’t know where the washer’s start button is.” Her voice lowered, “…and Jane. When Jane got sick I finally had a need. I needed to be with Janie…always. She was hospitalized for weeks at a time, Christmas Day in a hospital, her birthday in a hospital. I’d sleep at the hospital, sneak a shower and rush off to work. On the days I thought she looked too sick to leave, I’d stay with her to brush her hair and wash her face.”
Jae Won rubbed his thumb over the back of her hand not sure where Wendy’s musings were headed.
“If you have a devastatingly ill child,” she continued. The doctors are very obliging when you ask for tranquilizers. I requested doses from Janie’s gastroenterologist, her pediatrician, my surgeon, even my cardiologist until I had four bottles of Xanax, each with 90 little pink ovals. I needed enough for an overdose. You see, my Janie is so beautiful, so lovely, I knew if the angels took her, they’d be good to her, but I’m the only one who knows how to untangle her hair and the way she likes her socks rolled, so if she died, I’d have to go with her. She’s my little girl. I’m her mommy.”
He guessed no one else had heard her confession.
Wendy pressed her temple into his back and sighed. “But now, even with everything that happened to me, I go to school because after, I can be with you. I write because I can read my work to you. I draw because it will be looked at by you. God forgive me, I need you. I can’t be your wife or your lover. I have nothing to offer you, so I know it’s shameless to say it.”
In one smooth move, he released her arms and turned to face her. He expected tears but her smile greeted him.
“I feel much better now. Thanks for letting me unload.” With two sentences, Wendy had formally ended the moment. Jae Won would have to savor her admission later. For now, he wasn’t sure how to let her leave.
“Are you sure you don’t want to try to be my wife or lover?” he teased.
“Then you shouldn’t hold me like that.” He kept his banter light. “I’m not one of your drama characters. I’m a man.”
“Ah rha yo.” She said, I know in Korean before leaving. Once outside, she stopped on his front steps and allowed herself to exhale.