After a Storm

February 15, 2018
By mugdhaduorah BRONZE, Cupertino, California
mugdhaduorah BRONZE, Cupertino, California
1 article 0 photos 0 comments

Outside the café, the wind has evened off. Earlier it whooped and howled against the walls, and the windows, and thunder clapped and lightning seemed to split the sky. It seemed as though the wind would blow the light away, but for now it remains. Pale gray like the clouds filling the sky, it tints the light wooden floors and the cherrywood furniture. It soaks into the swirls of milk being stirred into the two cups of tea that sat upon a square table, waiting to be drunk by the lady and the gentleman seated on either side. His eyes are the color of dishwater, and her coat is dark green. They are the only patrons seated inside the café at this time, as few ever come to the place on a daily basis, and even less come after a storm.


“I’ve told you,” says the gentleman. “It won’t happen again. I love you too much.”


“I know,” the lady responds absently.


Outside, a straggling breeze blows the thin branches of a tree against the cafe window. They tap like impatient fingers. The gentleman finishes stirring his tea, the brief clinks of his spoon breaking the indistinct hum of the soft music playing around them. The lady’s eyes are downcast.


“Now. Don’t do that. It’s nothing. You’ll ruin your tea. There’s no need to do that, really.”


“Do you love me?” she asks him after a pause.


“Yes, of course. It’s nothing, really. Completely inconsequential. It will not happen again, I assure you. We’ll be more careful next time, yes?”


“Right. You love me, and I love you.”


“Yes. Of course, of course. Such odd flowers here on this table, I think. Now…now don’t you think so?” He can see the pale gray light seeping into the whites of her eyes.


“How so?” Her voice is small.


“Too red, I think.” He’s being honest. Their deep crimson color, somewhat heightened by the veil of light seeping in through the window, stains his vision with spots long after he drags his eyes away from them. He chuckles a bit when the spots form a small splotch around the lady’s face.


Perhaps it wasn’t really something to chuckle about, he thinks. How strange of him, chuckling over such trivial things.


“I understand if it’s hard to accept responsibility for these things,” he says after the lady remains silent. He begins to reach for her hand. “But…I think that with some time, and maturity, you can-“


“I don’t know if I want to talk about this,” she says quickly. For the first time, her eyes are locked with his. “I..I don’t know. I don’t know if I can talk about anything right now. Please.”


A girl in an apron outside the door sweeps wet leaves away from the storm drain. A car splashes through a puddle near her, the spray soaking her. She yells an ugly word at the car and keeps sweeping.


“I see,” the man says, without breaking his gaze. He slumps back tiredly in his chair and rolls a wilted rose petal in his fingers. The red spots continue to swim in his vision. He ignores the lady’s sigh and fiddles with his phone.


The lady sighs again. “Hey,” she says gently, placing her hand on his shoulder. “Hey. I’m sorry. Please, I want you to talk to me. I’m sorry.”


Her hand sits motionless on his shoulder. The red spots swim across her slender fingers. After a long moment, he meets her eyes again.


“I thought…that both of us might have been at risk. It was difficult to think straight, at that moment. I love you too much.”


“I’m sorry. I know,” the lady replies. “This was…my doing.”


“It’s quite alright. It was just a little blip, remember? You were just being careless. You’ll be more careful next time, yes?”


“Of course I will, yes.”


“And then something like this will not happen again, yes?”


“Of course.” They sit in companionable silence for a while. When she smiles up at him again, the color has returned to her face in spite of the light. He blinks rapidly to rid his vision of the red spots.


They stand up to leave, and he stacks their empty cups and plates.


“I’m sorry,” says the lady. “I’m sorry, for all of this. I love you.”


The gentleman looks up at her with a tight smile.


His hand is cold when she takes it in her own, and even colder when he squeezes hers tightly. As they step out, the wind whips around them.


The author's comments:

This piece was originally written for an American Literature assignment in which we had to write a short story emulating the style of either Steinbeck, Faulkner, or Hemingway. I selected Hemingway and incorporated his style of compressed, loaded dialogue with ambiguous details and extensive use of allegory in the setting. 

 

This story takes place in the aftermath of an instance of unspecified physical abuse, enacted by the man on the woman. During this particular interaction, a few of the tactics abusers often employ to confuse their victims can be seen. The scenario as a whole, with the man bringing the woman to a café and buying tea for the both of them immediately after acting violently, shows how abusers often give their partners mixed signals. Subtle changes in the man’s language throughout their conversation demonstrate how he begins to shift the blame on to the woman. At the beginning of the conversation, he dismisses the incident as “inconsequential” but never truly takes blame for his actions. By the end, he has shifted the blame to the victim, and she is the one apologizing. He closes himself off from her completely when she attempts to express her desire to not discuss the incident. This behavior eventually leads the woman to take the blame completely upon herself in order to salvage their relationship. It should also be noted that the man never explicitly accepts the woman’s apology, and wind is used as a motif that shows up at both the beginning and the end of the story as a metaphor for the instance of abuse. The title of the story in and of itself ("After Storm" as opposed to "After the Storm") implies that the man will likely not change his ways in the future. 


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