The Girl with the Red Umbrella, by Steve Cain
Lorelei awoke to another dreary, rainy day. Every day was like that. Every day. It had been six months since her mother passed away. Her best friend and confidant. The person she admired most, who brought sunshine to the world. Now, there was only rain.
She got out of her black bed, went to her black bathroom, and sat on her black toilet. When she was finished, she dropped her black nightgown to the floor, got into her black shower, and turned on the cold, black water. She scrubbed herself from head to toe with black soap, rinsed off with the black water, and dried off with a black towel.
Lorelei slipped into a black dress and made herself a black coffee in a black mug. The coffee was hot, and as it went down her throat into her stomach, it felt like love. She wrinkled her nose and emptied the mug into the black sink.
Disgusted with herself, and with life itself, Lorelei put on her black shoes, picked up her black umbrella from the black stand in the corner, removed her black keys from the black hook on the black wall, and opened her black door, flipping the black lock as she left. She didn’t know why she had bothered to lock the door; she had no plans to come back to her black home. She was going out to say goodbye.
Outside, the sky was gray. Gray rain fell from gray clouds. As she walked, her shoes squeak-squeaked on the gray sidewalk. Gray cars passed her on the gray street. One car beeped its horn, and even that sounded gray. A gray cat crossed in front of her into a gray yard. It didn’t bother to look her way.
At an intersection, Lorelei stopped at a gray stop sign and crossed the road to the left when it was safe. That was ironic, considering, but that’s not how she wanted it done. She stepped onto the gray bridge and made her way to the top of its gray arc. There, she peered down into the gray, flowing river, watching as the gray raindrops pitter-pattered the surface and were swept downstream. Yes, this was right. This was the way, but not yet. She still had to say goodbye.
Lorelei continued across the bridge, and the other side was less populated as she had expected. There were no gray cars, no gray cats, just gray trees and gray grass. She made another left down a gray dirt road and passed between gray iron gates. She stepped around gray puddles, which also seemed ironic. Afraid to get wet? she asked herself, shaking her head. At the next gray puddle, Lorelei stomped, splashing gray water and gray mud onto her white gray skin. She stomped at the next puddle, too. And the next. Further down the road, at another puddle, she jumped with both feet, making a large sploosh, sending mud and water onto her dress, face, and hair. She almost smiled, then marched on, stoically. There were no more smiles, no more fun, no more happiness.
Here and there, off the gray dirt road, in the gray grass, beneath the gray trees, under the gray sky, were gray marbled headstones: Fullington, Monroe, Isley, Barlow. Lorelei passed them all. She didn’t know them. She stopped at the base of a short, gray hill and stepped into the wet, gray grass. She climbed slowly. There was no need to hurry.
At the top of the hill, beneath a gray oak tree stood two gray stones: Beloved Father, Beloved Mother. She had made peace with her father’s passing. It had been so long ago, and she hardly remembered his face. Gray moss grew on the front of his gray tombstone. She reached out but did not touch his stone.
Lorelei looked instead to her mother’s grave. The gray dirt still formed a slight gray mound, as it had not fully settled. The headstone was new and smooth. She ran a white hand across the top of the gray stone, across Beloved Mother, across her mother’s name: Julia.
The gray rain continued, but she the gray oak leaves kept her dry. Lorelei closed her black umbrella and set it against the trunk of the gray tree. She had thought about this moment, thought of what she wanted to say, had practiced her speech into her black mirror. Now, the words wouldn’t come. Black tears filled her black eyes, and she cleared her throat. “Mother…”
It didn’t matter, anyway. If her mother was in Heaven, she knew what Lorelei meant to say. She knew it was goodbye, at least for her here. Lorelei hoped God would grant her mercy and let her be with her mother soon. Her father, too.
Lorelei turned and took two steps away from the grave, two steps that left her unprotected by the gray leaves. Gray rain pelted her, and she turned back to retrieve her black umbrella. To her surprise, it was no longer standing at the base of the tree where she had placed it. She walked around the tree, but it wasn’t there. She looked down both sides of the gray hill, thinking perhaps it had fallen over and rolled down the hill. Nothing.
It doesn’t matter, Lorelei thought. I’m going to be very wet soon, anyway. With a sigh, she trudged down the hill without looking back at the graves. At the bottom, she turned and started back down the gray dirt road. She passed through the gray iron gates, towards the gray bridge. As she reached the bridge and ascended the arc, the place where she would say goodbye for the last time, the gray clouds separated, and a yellow sun peeked through. The rain slowed and stopped. There, against the gray railing, at the very spot where she intended to jump, Lorelei found an umbrella leaning against the gray steel. It was not her black umbrella. This one was red, her mother’s favorite color. Julia’s favorite color.
Lorelei lifted the umbrella, and it felt warm in her hands. That warmth spread up her arm, across her face, and down into her chest. It was like the coffee in her stomach, but it wasn’t black.
The rain had stopped, but Lorelei opened the umbrella anyway. The sun broke through the clouds then, the yellow orb filling the now blue skies. Lorelei looked down at her dress, watching as the black melted away, replaced by white, with yellow and brown sunflowers printed on the fabric. The black on her shoes faded to reveal mud-soaked, but otherwise white high-tops. She saw the bridge’s purple splendor, and the azure water in the river below rushed past as she watched, astounded. A trio of brown otters swam by, playing what looked to be a game of tag. A magnificent white duck with her orange bill and orange webbed feet waddled down the down the bank in the green grass, yellow ducklings following behind her, single file. Somewhere nearby, a baby laughed, and it was the sound of pure happiness, perhaps the greatest sound she had ever heard. The world had color again, and Lorelei was warm for the first time in six months. She allowed herself to smile, and her face regained its rosy-beige complexion.
Lorelei reached into her pocket to find a tissue. Her hand rested on her keys, which she realized she would need after all. With the umbrella open above her head, red and vibrant in the midday sun, Lorelei took her first steps out of her gray and black world into a world of color and hope. She could smile again. She could be happy again, and not feel ashamed. She wouldn’t look at her mother’s face today, but she knew her mother was looking down upon her. There would be many more rainy days, but Lorelei, the girl with the red umbrella, knew there would be more sunny days too.