By Jon Moray
This story was published online in March 2014 for With Painted Words, a photo prompt themed website. A man is concerned over a woman’s mental health after he learns of her reason to brave the elements with her most unusual umbrella.
Ralph was a newcomer to the retirement village when he came to know Isabel. She was a lady, well on in her years, with a wrinkled face that showed the effects of the sting of sorrow the past few years. One by one, loved ones and dear friends surrendered to the hands of death; her husband died of natural causes a month prior.
From his back porch that overlooked the greens, he saw on several occasions, Isabel walking to a park bench during a rainstorm, and clutching a red umbrella that sheltered her from unrelenting precipitation. What was odd to him was that the only time he saw Isabel outdoors was when it rained. She always wore a gray raincoat and multi-colored galoshes that tickled her kneecaps.
One day during such a storm, Ralph ventured out and introduced himself to Isabel as she headed back to her ground floor condo. They exchanged pleasantries, as Ralph prefaced his nosy inquisition and asked about her wet wanderings.
“The rain allows me the opportunity to see my departed loved ones,” she said, with blue marble eyes that sparkled when she smiled.
Ralph nodded out of politeness but was bewildered by the cryptic answer. Isabel excused herself giving housekeeping chores as her alibi.
The next day, the rat-tat-tat of rain hitting the bedroom window roused him from his midday nap. He shook off the cobwebs, stretched his arms and open the vertical blinds to reveal the red umbrella covering Isabel on the park bench. He quickly threw on his trench coat and ball cap and hurried out his back door that led to the park. As he neared, he could hear her humming an unfamiliar tune, gently laughing and exerting a satisfied sigh. He passed her and sat on a bench opposite, getting drenched and cursing himself for forgetting his umbrella.
The rain subsided and the sun began to peek through rapid, departing clouds. Isabel rose from the seat, shook the dampness off her umbrella and closed it up with a snap strap.
“Oh hi, Ralph. I didn’t know you were there.”
“Hi, Isabel. Sorry to startle you. I was wondering if you could elaborate on what the rain has to do with your loved ones?”
“I don’t think I should tell you. You might have me put away in the loony bin.”
“Try me. I’m known to be gullible.”
“Ok, this beautiful red umbrella I hold is quite unusual. It was given to me recently from an antique store owner who sympathized with my string of sadness. He instructed me to sit in the rain and the umbrella would serve as a window into a truly heavenly experience. He told me it worked by fusing the energy from my hand holding the handle with the energy the drops of rain brought from heaven, and therefore reuniting the living with the dead. I tested his odd theory three weeks ago and have prayed for rain ever since. The first time I tried it, I saw my husband laughing with my son. Today, I saw my best friend singing and playing with one of her hound dogs.”
“That is an unusual umbrella,” said Ralph, nodding in patronizing fashion, while veiled behind a massive curtain of doubt. Isabel further compared her paranormal experience with the sweet harmony of perfect pitched birds as she punctuated her point by whistling their cadence. They strolled back to their homes, making idle chatter and then bid each other good day.
Ralph’s rainy day spies continued, seeing the familiar red umbrella completely shielding Isabel and a part of him felt pity for her imaginary desires. He felt the notion to tell the other residents but reconsidered for fear they would petition to have her committed.
One day during a steady rain, Ralph peeped out his window and saw the bench where Isabel always sat was vacant. He rushed outside into the Autumn, leaf littered terrain and saw her umbrella opened and lying on its top by his doorway path. He scurried to the community center where Isabel spent much of her time playing board games and learned she had passed away in her sleep the night before.
Ralph slowly headed back to his condo in a dazed mournful fog. His thoughts volleyed from her rainy day experiences to how she was so afraid to meet her dying day. As he neared his entrance, he stood over the umbrella and studied the rosy handle. He reluctantly picked it up and stepped cautiously toward the bench, skeptical but curious of its shower assisted attributes. The rain was still productive as he sat on the drenched seat, dampening his pants.
He held the handle tightly and watched the rain pelt the top. Suddenly a soft white glow emanated the inside of the umbrella as large drops cascaded the outside, emitting blurred visions of figures moving about amidst an emerging spectrum of earth tone hues. As the image cleared, Ralph saw Isabel, vibrant and youthful, dancing gracefully with her husband as subtle harps provided a soothing soundtrack. Her smile beamed of supreme elation, as Ralph shuddered, basking in the overwhelming aura of peaceful rapture. Moments later, the rain ceased and his journey into the unknown came to a disappointing end. Ralph rendered a satisfied grin and headed back to his home.
On his way, he met a neighbor that was headed out to walk the park.
“So sad about Isabel’s passing. She was such a nice lady,” said the neighbor.
Ralph rubbed his whiskered chin and pondered the comment before offering his response. “It might seem sad, but I’ve never seen her happier,” he said, and turned away, playfully twirling the fantastic red umbrella in a Ferris wheel-like motion.