And the Rain Poured Down
by Jon Vreeland
Greg was reading the paper, waiting for the large hand on the clock to hit the 6. This is when Caryl drove to work in her black Mercedes while Greg stayed home writing, fishing at the Santa Barbara pier where the seagulls sang off key, and a sea lion named Richard did his habitual backstroke and waved to the people who watched from above.
Greg married Caryl last year at the Little White Chapel in Las Vegas; Elvis gave a lovely sermon. Greg was a writer, Caryl was a nurse. They lived in a blue, one story house on the cliffs in Santa Barbara—no kids, no pets, no distractions. Their house had a good size master, a nice guest room, a study Greg built himself with the tools he kept from when he was a carpenter, and a beautiful living room with a full sized grand piano and a big screen TV mounted above the fireplace and its custom mantle.
After Caryl left for work, Greg, instead of writing, headed for the pier on foot with his pole, his canteen filled with whisky, a cooler for the dead fish, and a fresh pack of Camels, the same brand he’d been smoking since he was a kid.
When he arrived to the pier, only a ten minute walk from their “perfect” home, an Old Man wearing a black hat and jacket was sitting in Greg’s spot, whistling Debussy’s, Clair de Lune. Greg had known the Old Man for years. The Old Man joked with Greg; he called him Ernie, or The Young Man and the Sea because Greg rarely caught a fish. But when Greg did, his smile was bigger than a Cheshire cat’s. He never knew what to do with his catch and had a tough time using a knife on the poor thing. But when the Old Man was there, Greg enjoyed decapitating the suffering fish right there on the wooden planks of the pier with no remorse, watching the dismembered body flop and dance minutes after the beheading.
And that morning, almost surprisingly, Greg’s pole meandered towards the water as two mackerel fought for their lives just below the surface, battling with all of their strength, trying to escape a public decapitation in the light of the sallow sun—a stomping by a larger creature’s foot, and the members of his or her, aqueous militia.
“Pull them up Ernie!” he said laughing a whiskey laugh. Greg had a big smile, like a small child fishing for his first time…that is, until Richard showed.
“Oh shit no ya don’t you son of a—.”
But it was too late. Just when Greg was about to pull the two fish from the water, Richard snatched them like they were served on a plate just for him. His thievery so natural. He smiled and waved at Greg, and only Greg.
And Greg waved back like always—with one, long, calloused middle finger.
It was 6:30 on Friday evening. Caryl was just getting home from work. Greg was in his study. He was writing a story—a vile woman who has spontaneous sex with complete strangers in public places. His stories gave him temporary closure, something he constantly yearned for.
“Hey mama, how was your day? Greg asked the minute she came in.
“Good babe, how about yours?”
“I didn’t catch anything.”
“That’s nice,” she said. “You hungry?”
“Okay what do you want?”
“I don’t know,” he said with vexation. “I don’t care.”
“Which one babe?”
“Surprise me dammit. Just, surprise me.”
They had Salmon, green beans, mashed potatoes, green salad. He asked for a glass of milk but there was none. He had whisky instead.
“Did you write today?”
“A stupid lady who has sex in public places.”
She laughed almost nervously. “Well…that, sounds…interesting?”
“Yep, there was never a dull moment,” he replied.
He finished his meal and thanked Caryl. He kissed her on the cheek and went back to his story he was so eager to finish. But after dinner, all he could do was sit and stare at the streetlights that ran uphill, and the cars passing by.
The next weekend Greg was in his usual spot on the pier. This time Caryl was with him, laughing, smiling, doing most of the fishing. He just sat and smoked cigarettes, drinking his whisky. Caryl took a break and went to the bathroom, and Greg took a giant pull from his canteen. The clouds in the distance headed towards the pier, shadowing the sky an ominous black. The Old Man walked up and took a seat next to Greg and his canteen.
“How’s it going? Haven’t seen you in a while.”
“Pretty good Old Timer. How about yourself?”
“Can’t complain, can’t complain one bit.”
“I love the hat Old Timer. Reminds me of Tom Waits.”
It started to rain, and the Old Man disappeared into the dark.
Everyone but Greg and Caryl packed up their poles and fish and trudged to Broadway and State Street. Greg stood in the rain. He had no intent of leaving. Caryl decided to leave and take the car home. “Call me when you’re done and I will come and pick you up,” she said. After she left Greg took another enormous pull from his canteen. The Old Man returned and took a seat next to Greg.
“I don’t get it,” Greg said. “I don’t understand.”
“Nobody does my friend. I mean nobody, and as soon as you accept that, you will be much better off. Keep your expectations low, expect to be left in the rain, or, under a huge dark cloud…like this one,” the Old Man said as he pointed to the collapsing sky. Greg walked home in the growing storm. When he got home, Caryl was gone.
The storm continued into the early morning. Greg sat at his typewriter, writing, taking small breaks to stare out the window, and the fleeting flashes of light that bellowed in the wet sky. The house itself was quiet, just the clicking and clacking of Greg’s machine, and the detonations of the lingering squall. At 4 a.m. Caryl came home and crawled into bed. Neither of them spoke. She smelled like a men’s basketball team.
The next evening Greg was sitting on the pier with his line in the water, the rain hitting the back of his neck and slithering down his shirt into his pants, his canteen close by his side.
“I don’t know what to do anymore; one day she is fine then the next she is completely nuts.”
“Take care of it then.”
“I do take of—.”
“How!? By letting your wife talk to you and treat you like that?”
“By letting her go out all night and coming home smelling like a man’s nutsac?”
“I mean I—“
“And when you do go out together she throws a glass of beer in your face?”
“Okay okay shut up!! I will take care of it I guess…”
“You guess? Figures, you damn fool.”
“You’ll see I’ll handle it! She’s not gonna, she’s not—!”
“Okay Okay, calm down, calm down,” the Old Man said…“keep your cool man….whatever happens, keep your cool…”
Greg gathered his crusty bucket and box, his old backpack, his now empty canteen, his fishing knife, then headed home to his wife. It was dark. It was wet. The rain unremitting. Greg got home and her black Mercedes was parked in the driveway. He could see a light flickering in the living room, bouncing off the walls and glass, smoke crawling out of the chimney into the black falling sky—no moon, no stars, no light. Greg walked inside and Caryl was lying on her back on the couch with her eyes closed, a black silk robe draped around her olive skin.
“Did you catch any fish?”
“Why didn’t you call me for a ride?”
“I wanted to walk.”
“Well you’re soaking wet. Can you take off your shoes and clothes; I just cleaned.”
Greg took off his shoes, his clothes, but not his underwear. He went to the kitchen to get a glass of milk but still there was none; instead, he makes a stiff drink, walks to the shower and turns on the steaming hot water—his skin defrosting as the soft water gently smothers his bump strewed flesh—his eyes close and the hot water soothes his face; Greg lowers his gaze, letting the warm shower hit the top of his head and run down his back, the storm serenading his sleepless reverie, it was just about midnight…
…he swore it was her, there was no doubt in his mind, so he followed her through the noisy night, past the army of clowns and The Zipper, and headed for the tent with The World’s Largest Horse and The Bearded Lady; but before he reached the tent, she was gone, disappeared into the cold night. The boy stopped and stared at the hasty mob—children with their own cotton candy, the dads holding large beers which only costed a buck—then walked away from the fair. His head down, the tears slithered down his cheeks, landing on his upper lip, the salt in his mouth inadvertently guided him to the New York shore where he sat and waited for anything, for anyone, because his mother had split for the night…and this wasn’t the first time.
Then a voice came from the dark. “Hey kid you okay?”
“Who is there?”
“Over here youngster, over here.”
But he couldn’t see anything, it was too dark. “Who is there? I don’t see you,” he said.
“Down here son, over here by the trashcan,” the voice said.
He still couldn’t see anyone. The boy thought about running away, he was lost and turned around and realized that might only make things worse. Then he saw him, he was sitting in the dark, his legs stretched out in front with a black hat and black jacket. He couldn’t see the man’s face. The man’s chin on his chest, focusing on rolling his cigarette.
“Oh…he..llo,” the boy stuttered with acute fear.
“What’s the problem son? You look like you’re lost,” he said not looking up.
“I am. My mom left me at the fair,” the boy said crying.
“I’m sorry son, have a seat. You hungry?”
“I’m starving,” the boy said. “I haven’t eaten all day and I’m freezing too.”
“Pop a squat junior, have a bite, have a drink, put this jacket over your legs and get warm. Don’t worry you can hang with me until you find your mama,” he said setting his black hat on the boy’s head.
The boy sat down and got warm, ate some bread, drank some water, and even tried his first cigarette. He didn’t know how to inhale, but it made him feel like a grown up, and smoking that cigarette took his mind off his well-oiled mother, the town slut, killing a few of the butterflies in his nine year old stomach as the clouds rumbled and moved rapidly through the sodden sky, but this time moving away from the boy and his new friend until the moon and stars appeared, the wind howling like a fat lady in mid-orgasm. But the boy didn’t cry, he grinned, and lay on his back, staring up at the giant statue he had heard someone call, Our Lady Liberty.
And with his new friend he watched the rain dry, waiting for nothing but a good night’s sleep, which he got right then and there under an old, burned up marquee, next to the swirling North Atlantic…
The water had grown cold. Greg could hear the wind outside, hurling the rain against the glass, twisting the trees and their branches until they broke off and hit the ground. He reached for the handle and turned off the cold shower. He thought he heard a knock on the bathroom door, but it was just the wind and the rain throwing stuff around.
It was almost 3 a.m. He got dressed and poured a stiff drink, lit a smoke, walked to the piano and sat down; his right hand sank softly into an E minor, his left thumb ensued, finding the low E, letting it rumble through the house, moving the chandelier that hung above the piano into a diminutive sway.
A Rotting Serenade; she will love this; I really think she will for once.
But Caryl was now standing there in her nighty, half-awake, her long blonde hair a mess, her brown eyes red. “Umm, what are you doing?” Greg did not reply. “Hello!? Can you hear me?” She said, but he kept playing. Ignoring Caryl. His smile getting bigger. The notes getting louder. The storm still thrashing the neighborhood. “What the fuck Greg it’s three in the morning!” Caryl screamed. But Greg heard nothing, he could only see her peripheral-ably, her nighty hanging low on her breasts and high on the thighs, showing her Dali tattoo, the seven naked women forming a skull, making the music louder, his grin larger. Caryl was fuming, yelling at him to “STOP!!” But still, he heard nothing. Greg was impervious to Caryl’s voice—it was the storm, the piano, himself, and that was all. She stomped out of the room and slammed their bedroom door. Greg continued to bang beautifully on the ivory keys, alongside the thriving storm—a solemnized duet played impeccably, in the midst of the witching hour. .
Then, there was a knock on the front door. Greg opened the door and there stood the Old Man, soaking wet, his black hat he always wore was dripping on his matching black jacket. Greg let him in, took his coat and hat, poured him a drink, lit him a smoke…nobody said a word.
The Old Man sat down at the piano. He started slowly, B minor and a B flat, back and forth until the melody stuck in Greg’s head. Greg walked to the kitchen and grabbed his fishing knife from the counter, then walked to the bedroom and opened the door. He could hear the rain as the Old Man played Clair De Lune, which evolved into something loud and hard. Caryl now slept inertly on top of her silk covers as the Old Man played luridly, her nighty up above her waist, Salvador Dali’s naked women laughing at Greg, like Richard and Caryl had done so many times before.
He stood above her with his fishing knife, an eight inch blade in his right hand, and watched her breathe while he listened to the storm and the music—B minor and B flat back and forth, the wind a howling choir of banshees. Then Greg raised his right hand and came down vehemently, a perfect stab in the middle of her throat, blood shooting from her mouth, a red geyser splattering his face and shirt as her eyes bugged out of her head. He pulled it out and stabbed again, right next to the first wound. This time the blood reached the ceiling. The storm and piano remained violent as he stabbed her sixteen more times until the head was completely severed from her body—her body lying dead like the decapitated fish while the Old Man played gracefully with the wind crying in a seamless high tenor.
Then, as blood dripped from the ceiling, Greg lay next to Caryl, and in the warmth of the scarlet stained sheets, he easily fell asleep.
Greg waltzed on the pier. His smile a crescent moon. He began whistling Debussy through his whiskey flavored lips as he proudly carried a new bucket in his left hand, a new pole in his right, wearing a shiny new backpack which looked full to its capacity. When he got to the pier, a kid was sitting in his spot, like he knew Greg was coming.
Then the kid spoke, enthusiastically:
“The aftermath of the storm is beautiful isn’t it? It’s the best part! I walked all the way here, stepping over tree parts, street signs, trash cans, luckily they were empty because the trash men did their rounds yesterday; I know that because my uncle is a trash man. But isn’t it beautiful? People don’t appreciate the real things in life because everyone thinks, ‘the more money they have, the happier they will be!’
“You’re a smart kid; you know that?”
Greg opened his backpack. One of Dali’s naked women smiled impishly at him. He winked at her, cut a little piece next to her grin and put some on his hook.
“I hope these fish aren’t picky, looks like the bait is going bad,” the kid said, picking up a piece of fallen bait with a big black spot. Greg grabbed the bait from the kid, threw it in his pack and closed it up.
He then flipped over the spindle on his reel, ignoring the No Overhead Casting sign on the bench he rested his foot on, brought his pole behind him, and threw his line and bait twenty yards off the pier, as far away from Richard as possible, who Greg heard chortling down below, but for the first time, was impervious to.
The sun was starting to go down and there were no clouds—the storm had hidden the moon and stars until the storm was over—the clouds gone for good, there was nothing in the sky but fading violet, and the moon already looked like a giant grapefruit.
“I like your hat mister.”
“Where did you get it?”
“I found it on the ground when I was a kid one night at some fair in New York,” he said, slowly reeling in his line. “And I agree kid, it is a mighty fine hat.”
Then he put the hat on the kid’s head, and waited for the fish to come, smiling in the aftermath of the Santa Barbara rain.
Jon Vreeland is a writer, poet, journalist, and musician, born in Long Beach California and raised in Huntington Beach by his birth parents. Vreeland’s writing appears on journals such as Rebelle Society, East Fork, Sun and Sandstone, Plain Brown Wrapper, and Painted Cave. He has two poetry chapbooks: “Laughing in Your Sleep” and “Poems about Delicious Embryos and Such.” This is Vreeland’s third year at Santa Barbara City College where he is president of the Writer’s/Poet’s Club. His major influences are Charles Bukowski, Jim Morrison, Darby Crash, God, his parents, and his two beautiful daughters, Mayzee and Scarlett. Vreeland is married to artist Alycia Vreeland, who is also his illustrator.