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  • by Janet St. John

Art & Soul Short #19

Lesley Howard. Sidewalk After the Storm.


It was early autumn. Not every tree had relinquished its green adornment for a yellow or brittle- brown coat. There was little red or orange to punctuate the iron-weighted clouds. You said it felt smothering. That was the afternoon we left the restaurant I loved and walked to your apartment.

I talked about the food, the atmosphere, how it felt like a real London pub. You said, “It’s lame. This is Portland, which has nothing in common with London but rain.” We had waited out the storm there, me downing a few IPAs with fish and chips, you sipping iced tea.

I didn’t mind rain. It made me relish the sun when it shone. It’s what I’d liked since I first arrived in the Pacific Northwest, the sense that the best things are enjoyed in small doses.

It was your glossy black hair that drew me, that mid-back-length river of darkness. I couldn’t get enough of dipping my fingers in, combing them downward. I couldn’t get enough of the giggle-laugh you always tried to suppress; your skin like the delicate white clay pieces from the potter whose work you loved to collect; your black-brown eyes, the ones I realized too late you averted when you didn’t agree with whatever I was saying. I had thought you were just easily distracted.

You stopped two blocks from your apartment to survey the damage. The storm had wind-tossed tree limbs, uprooted an old streetlight, stripped oaks and elms and maples almost bare and scattered teardrop red berries the birds would next day scavenge from the street. I reached for your hand. “What’s wrong?”

You pulled back from my grasp, folded manicured fingers clamshell shut. “Everything’s wrong. Look at this. It’s like us.” Then you started walking, fast.

I called, “Wait.”

You stopped and turned. “I’m done. And don’t follow or call me or text or anything.” You walked away. I followed, caught up.

“Hey, I deserve an explanation.”

You swept your arm out to hold a gaping space between us, a chasm I hadn’t seen in the half year we had been together. “All you do is talk, contest, argue, and never listen. Everything we do, wherever we go, it’s all about you. That’s it for my explanation.”

I thought my talking had kept the stream of our conversation flowing, thought we had lively debates, intellectual discussions. Had they been one-sided?

As I watched your back getting farther away, the black river of your hair swaying behind you, I started to follow, ready to fight, prepared to make my case. But then you rounded the corner and I wondered if I was the storming wind that unknowingly stripped you of whatever you wore, or whatever attire you had hoped to put on. I stopped, let you go, and stared at the asphalt street now pasted with twigs, leaves, and berries like a sloppy collage, or the meaningful mess of us.

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