Rain thrashes against the window of Kay’s office. Her phone vibrates, clattering on the polished wood of the desk.
Text from Brett.
“Survive the rain?”
The corner of her mouth twitches. She looks out towards the window, trying to remember the gray blur that was her commute that morning, then back down at the phone to respond, but her fingers freeze as she notices a detail missed upon first read — a pink umbrella emoji punctuating the message.
She grows light-headed, a strange tension running through her body.
“Bone dry,” she responds.
During Kay’s presentation that morning, the Director of Operations bursts into the room, startling her. He apologizes for his tardiness, seats himself at the end of the conference table, opens his briefcase, and pulls out an abused pink umbrella still wet with rain.
The umbrella has soaked the miscellany inside his briefcase. He peels off heavy translucent pages from a stack of handouts and attempts to slide the sticky things across the table to nodding, appreciative colleagues.
They tear apart in people’s hands.
Kay’s manager, Daniel, coughs, shoots her a questioning look, and she realizes she’s trailed off, has been staring at the pulpy mess the umbrella made.
She turns back to the slides and, despite the pounding of blood in her ears, manages to save the presentation.
At lunch she pecks at a salmon salad, then shuts her eyes, focusing on the texture of the cold fish—
She opens her eyes to find her manager standing in the doorway.
“What happened earlier?”
“I’m not sure, I—”
“Eyes on the road, Kay. Can’t let yourself get intimidated by upper levels.” He knocks on her desk. “Good recovery, though.”
She smiles, the first time since breakfast, when she’d kissed Brett goodbye. “Thanks, Daniel.”
His eyes stray beyond her, to a Michael Kenna print hanging on the wall — a wire fence twisting across an empty white expanse. He furrows his brow. “Redecorating?”
“Hmm?” She spins her chair to follow his gaze and nearly gasps.
She’s about to respond, to deny the existence of the thing, but Daniel has already wandered to the door, reiterating, “Eyes on the road.”
When he’s gone, she springs up and peels the sticker from the print, where it seems to have tangled itself in the metal wires of the fence — a tiny pink umbrella.
She folds it in half again and again, until it’s so minuscule it might never have even existed. She swallows the speck, falls back into her chair, breathes.
Midafternoon the CEO’s weekly spirit-boost email arrives.
“Don’t forget: 3PM, Rain Day. Bring your umbrella!”
She checks the time on her phone. Fifteen to three.
She goes to the door, scrutinizes the heads in late Friday repose. Everyone, it seems, has brought their umbrellas — automatic, hook-handled, bubble, primary-colored — hanging on coatracks, leaning against cubicle walls.
Every pair of eyes suddenly turns to her. She did indeed forget her umbrella. Can’t remember the last time she brought an umbrella with her anywhere she went.
An image dashes through her mind: an umbrella tumbling upward through the rain.
What’s happening to me? I need air, need to think, need to escape.
She hurries down the hall, which curves around toward the central elevator tower — had to go home early, feeling under the weather — the excuses she’ll tell Daniel cycle through her mind, more fine-tuned with each iteration — then rides the elevator down to the parking garage.
The elevator door dings open, the parking garage spread out before her — a maze of columns, spandrels, and waist-high walls, infested with — no no no — closed pink umbrellas, child’s size, battered, grainy with raindrops.
The elevator doors close, shielding her from the sea of Pepto-Bismol pink. She stares at the vague reflection of herself, split down the centerline by the door seam, before realizing there’s nothing to do but continue forward, get into her car, drive home.
She presses the door open button and steps out, BCBG pumps click-clacking, and wades through them, the umbrellas grazing the hem of her pencil skirt, rustling, shaking themselves in restive slumber. Canvas stippled with raindrops. In each she can see herself, wide-eyed, tense.
The walk is an endless shiver, every subtle movement of the things causing her to jump, her heart lurching. They perch on the walls, dangle down from the parking structure’s ribcage.
It takes several minutes for her to reach her car, creeping along carefully, breath tight and shallow. When she reaches it, something draws her towards the front, where she inspects the hood, finding a large dent there. The sight stirs something inchoate in her memory, triggers something in the air, beginning at the farthest reaches of the parking garage.
One of the umbrellas explodes open, upsetting a shimmering cloud of raindrops.
Another one opens.
Nausea bubbling up inside her, she scrambles into the car.
Her reflection is greenish, lips blue beneath the red lipstick.
Some unseen energy branches out, passing through each umbrella sprout, bursting them open, each one as violent and sudden as the next. Each one lopsided and broken. The wildfire waves out — Whomp! Whomp! — till the crashing open of umbrellas blurs to a roar, the spray of water like hissing surf.
Eyes on the road, Kay.
She closes her eyes, and the shreds of memory coalesce into the pink umbrella from her morning commute, knocked into the windshield and tossed into the air, the small figure holding it crushed beneath the tires of Kay’s car.
When she opens her eyes, breathing out, she sees the thousands of opened umbrellas waiting for her to act. To either run them over on her way out of the garage or….
Kay pulls out her phone, dials the number, and says, “I need to… to report a hit-and-run.”
Tim Boiteau lives in Michigan with his wife and son. He is a Writers of the Future winner and author of The Drummer Girl, a dark fantasy novel. He is currently looking for a publisher for his second novel. The Michael Kenna work referenced in “Pink Umbrella” is from Hillside Fence, Study I – Study XII.