“I’ll never understand why you have to isolate yourself on the other side of the world,” she said, smoothing dripping hair away from her face. His hands clenched in his lap, reacting with a frustration of their own at not being able to touch her. Rain beat an erratic rhythm on the roof of her rusty green Nova.
“You could get a job anywhere. You don’t have to go to China.” She blinked once. Twice. Tiny drops of water sparkled on her lashes, her cheeks and he saw her as a constellation that he’d made wishes on, pinned hopes on, but couldn’t be reached.
He turned away from her and fixed his eyes on the reflection of the rippling streetlight in the water surrounding the car. “And I’ll never understand why you turned down this street when you could see it was flooded. Now we’re stuck.”
She sniffed and rubbed her nose. “I called for a tow truck. What else do you want?”
“We should get out. We should try to push again.”
“No way. I’m soaked.”
“Okay,” he said. “So, we’ll wait.”
Tonight was supposed to be a soft, easy goodbye. Dinner. A movie. A few more laughs. One more pleasant night before everything changed forever. One night of pretending no one had been wounded, of telling themselves that they would still be friends.
“August is always like this,” she said. “Ever since I was a kid, I’ve always hated August.”
“August is that last flicker of fun and heat before everything fades and dies. The final moments of fun before the freeze. In the winter, everything changes.”
He reached over and patted her on the thigh. “Summer always comes again.”
“Yeah.” She nodded. “But everyone’s evolved into someone new by then. August is the last glimpse of what you’ll never be again.”
He squeezed her hand. She squeezed back.
“I need to stop being here,” he said.
“I’m sorry.” A lock of wet hair fell down over her forehead. “I’m sorry I broke us. I let you spend two years investing in a future with me that was all nothing.”
He tried to smile, hoping she would believe it to be sincere. “Well, hey… it happens. As we go on, the future we imagine is never the same. What we thought we wanted, it changes.”
“I thought we’d be best friends forever,” she said.
“We will be.” Whether or not that was a lie, he didn’t know. He didn’t care. He lifted her hand and kissed it. They sat in silence, in the middle of the flooded street, watching as the sheets of rain splattered on the water’s surface. He wondered how lonely his new life in China was going to be. He considered the possibility that he might end up being so lonely that he’d waste what was left of his future on sad, impossible attempts to go back in time in his mind.
But no one would ever remember him there. That’s the problem with things dying. They’re stuck being dead forever while everything else evolves and makes new stories.
What hurt him the most was the thought of a day in the future, when he would look back on his memories with her and only be able to recall this night, sad, wet and unable to move, knowing he’d lost the joy of the last days of summer.
“I suppose August is always going to be like this,” he said as the headlights of the tow truck appeared, illuminating the traces of guilt on her face. He let go of her hand.
He stepped out of the car. Water came up to the middle of his shins, squishing and soaking into his shoes. Trudging toward the truck, he looked up at the dispersing rain clouds. Patches of black sky were now exposed, along with millions of twinkling lights that were indifferent to the wishes being made upon them.
Rasmenia Massoud is from Colorado but lives in France where she spends time confusing the natives by speaking French poorly and writing about what she struggles most to understand: human beings. She is the author of the short story collection Human Detritus, and her writing has appeared in various places, including Metazen, The Lowestoft Chronicle, Full of Crow and Underground Voices.