Eleanor Matthews

 

 

The Cleaving Rain

The rain tapped soft holes into Beth’s sleep and she awoke saturated with sweat. A dream slipped away beneath the dark surface. The sky had been falling all night, dropping like flakes of wet plaster. Beside her, Ben gave up clouds of damp breath to the air. She fought the urge to look at her phone and see the time.
She lay prone, on her back. Beth had long since ceased to hope that Ben would hold her through the night. He dreamed apart, curled towards the door, while she reconciled herself with the ceiling. Sometimes she turned towards the external wall for symmetry, but tonight she didn’t have the strength.
Instead, Beth pulled herself up and went to the open window. Drawing back her makeshift curtain, she could see the puddles shatter in the dim glow of light pollution exhaled by the city. Whatever the hour, London was quiet. Only the distant death rattle of a freight train marked time’s passing.
It was cold, but the downpour seemed too forceful to deny. She left the window gaping and returned to bed.
***
She met him at the point where the groyne gave out to waves. She stood on one post and he slightly further out, a sentry on a weed-lashed post. Although the sea frothed beneath, it gave up his plinth again and again, never once licking his toes. Her feet gripped the sharp studs of concrete, anxious for grip.
“So, you came back?” He smiled sadly at the grey ocean.
“Yes, I just needed to get some air.”
“But you forgot me, didn’t you. You love me now, but it can’t be sustained once you leave.”
“It can. I’ll try harder to remember. I’ll find a way to communicate when I’m not with you.”
“You’ll forget again.” He shrugged. “You can’t help it, you have another life.”
“It’ll change. It has to. We love each other and that’s all that matters. You’re the one who told me that.”
“It’s not enough, not when this isn’t real.”
She looked out beyond him, to where the mist staged a false horizon with the sea. He continued: “Too much waiting will petrify us. We’ll turn to barnacled statues – me looking to land and you forever fixed upon the sea.”
She repeated, fainter now: “But I love you. Without this constancy to return to, what do I have to dream of?”
“This isn’t constancy, it’s just a moment of parting repeating over and over. Our real lives are moving on.”
He was right, again. She remembered the ending now. The sea had already reached his knees and the lines of groynes seemed to tilt, plunging down below the skyline. As the shock of water braced her stomach, only his head and shoulders remained. Already a memorial bust, fragile as clay, drowned from view in a single wave.
***
Beth inhaled sharply and threw herself up the pillow, gasping for air. The rain felt cumulative, and she was sure it must now lap the windowsill of her basement room. Beside her, Ben coughed lightly and shifted in his sleep. She kept her eyes tight shut and listened to the cleaving rain, hard drops patterning earth into clay.
“Beth, what’s up – are you ok?”
She opened her eyes in surprise. Ben was sat up between her and the window, a soft black silhouette against the weather. Sleepily, he pulled her back down the bed and wrapped an arm around her. Its warm weight hardly exerted pressure. His other hand curved above her head, stroking strands of damp hair from her face.
The night ebbed and reality firmed beneath her. Filled with love for the man who could make such an uncomplicated gesture, she slipped into a dreamless sleep.

 

 

 

Eleanor Matthews (@efmatthews) lives in a large, ramshackle house in London with more people than the architect intended. She writes sparse and succinct copy for her day job, but has a secret predilection for big words and small fictions.

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