Umbrella Siren

July 4, 2009

Phillip spent every weekday morning standing at the intersection of Stannard and Wilby, muted and unhappy English sky lending its tuppence to the surroundings. The old Savings and Loan Building’s harsh brown monolith of an exterior loomed large over the bus stop, and when the clouds and rain overtook, it devoured the view everywhere you looked. So Philip hid beneath a massive, well-worn black umbrella whenever the stop was too crowded for him to partake of the stop’s shelter. And the stop was basically always too crowded.

One August, precipitation wept down upon London consistently for almost four weeks. The wet pavement provided more than enough entertainment for him on those days, however. The fresh black asphalt collected water with even brightness, and refracted back a host of strange and lovely shapes and configurations. Buildings took on the ragged and menacing warped curvature of lumbering dinosaurs or shambling hirsute giants: People looked like aliens in the looking-glass of rain and dark paved sidewalk. Except for one.

Phil had never really seen her: He’d always clutched his bumbershoot so tightly that it was nearly jammed over his head, and all he saw was her abstract form reflected back at him. But she’d become a fixture that August, and he recognized the Siren every time she appeared. She stood at precisely the same spot every day waiting for the bus, holding her light-colored umbrella high, and at an angle in her slender right hand. She always swayed back and forth in a slight but buoyant manner, and frequently hummed classical pieces (Debussy seemed to be her favorite). Sometimes she spun like a leaf on a zephyr; always, she moved with grace. And Phil was so smitten with the reflection that he never lifted his umbrella high enough to see what the object of reflection really looked like before she disappeared onto the 8:27 shuttle every morning. The illusion, he surmised, would be shattered if he actually glimpsed her for real.

On the first Tuesday morning in September God stopped chucking the moisture down upon hapless England, and a cloudy but bright sky nudged transit riders into sheathing their umbrellas. Philip Miles walked out to the stop with his bumbershoot at mast, but then realized that the sky had dried out some. A few feet to his left where she’d always staked her space stood his Umbrella Siren.

Her form pirouetted gracefully as she whistled a facsimile of Arabesque #1 in high notes that sounded like a bluebird nesting in a tea kettle. The only difference from her usual stance: Her light-colored umbrella was folded inward and perched upon that shoulder like a foreign legionnaire’s lance. Phil folded his umbrella, tucking it under his raincoated arm and looking at the woman who owned the Umbrella Siren Silhouette.

He smiled. She smiled back. And somehow Philip Miles knew the rain would never alight on him or her again.

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