Rift

Rain has fallen since New Year’s Day. Five sodden weeks – almost six. Forty days of needling. Forty nights watching these grey heaving bladders jostling above the rooftops like Zeppelins over Nuremberg. Full cover. I am one hundred percent sick of clouds. Sick. Wherever I look, clouds scuffing their bloated bellies along the ground, swallowing streets. Everything slick, glistening. I need a holiday. Please can we just grab our things and go? Please Oz, let’s go this weekend, just the two of us. Somewhere we can be together and talk about time. Somewhere with more space between the ground and sky. My lungs are full of water.

I looked at what I had written, then tore it up and went to work. Above the clouds the stars would be coming out.

At breakfast I found Stephie’s ripped note and threw it in the fire. She meant babies. Somewhere we can be together and talk about babies. I pulled on my boots and stepped outside. She would finish her shift soon. The sun shone from a pink-blue sky. That ought to cheer her. I stalked down the slope towards town. At the crossroads there was a gathering. People arranged in a long scar across the road, heads bowed as though in prayer. As I came closer I saw it, the rift. It was deep, like a crevasse in the tarmac – twenty metres at its shallowest point – and wide as a house. I stood apart and looked into its depths. Everyone agreed that the biblical rain had formed it. An underground aquifer had collapsed. At the bottom of the rift a raging river swept mightily beneath our town, stained blood red by our rusty soil. The walls magnified the sound of this diastolic rush – a sound like hell booming. As I looked I sensed a rising emptiness that seemed to seep up through the soles of my feet.

At the south end of the rift the back of a haulage container peeked above the rim. Three of the truck wheels still spun in the breeze, scraping the air for purchase. My neighbour stood, bent forward over the edge in his dressing gown and slippers.

“No way anyone could live through a fall like that,” he said. “But we should check.” Opposite him, across the void, a woman crossed herself.

A trestle table appeared in the road. Someone brought out an urn from the community centre and settled it on top. A gas-heated tureen joined it from the church. Soon the aroma of coffee and tomato soup rose above us. The crowd had coalesced now into loose clusters. Stephie would say this is the way of nature. I closed my eyes and allowed myself to be collected by the spiral arm of the nearest group. I swirled with them, one hand deep in my pocket, the other clutching a comforting mug. I shivered with them too though the February morning was warm. We began to think of ourselves as survivors.

My neighbour appeared in a frogman outfit, a rope coiled around his shoulders. I helped him secure an anchor point to a tree, tied him a harness. “Remember,” he said. “If I’m not back in 30 minutes I’m a dead man. Will you call my wife?” I nodded, though I don’t know his wife’s number, or even her name. It felt wrong to mention these things. He pulled down his mask and gave a thumbs up. I watched him descend into the gloom, face down like a skydiver, with a powerful torch gripped between his teeth.

We met at work, Stephie and I. She still nurses, though I gave up porting years ago and trained as a mechanic. The silence suited me. The maintenance. Half way between starting and stopping. Stephie wanted children even then. She has always been more at home with beginnings and ends, with life and death.

The sun turned the flowing water lava red. My neighbour flailing slowly silhouetted against the boiling rush. And this is how it is. I saw it clearly: we’re young until we’re not. Things don’t stay still. Time doesn’t stand still. It is an illusion. A comforting fiction. We’re here and then we’re gone. Flotsam tossed in a torrent. I felt an urge to shout to my neighbour, ask his name. To pin him in memory and fight the tyranny.

The rope went slack. An overhang obscured him. Looking up, I saw that Stephie stood opposite me on the other side of the rift, entangled in the crowd. Her head was bowed, hand near her perfect ear holding her blue-black hair away from her eyes. Her tears fell into the gap like a blessing. I wondered if she had seen something too.

The truck brake lights blinked rapidly, then three sharp tugs on the rope. I hoisted the driver and then my neighbour from the wreckage. The driver had a dislocated finger. As we celebrated beside the rift I looked for Stephie. I shook my neighbour’s hand. We breathed deeply together, bent over with our hands on our knees. I succumbed to the moment and told him that I wanted to be a father. He clasped my shoulder.

“That is good news Oscar,” he said. “Stephie will be over the moon.” I walked home as the ambulance arrived at the rift. In the house the silence opened like a void. On the kitchen table I found another note.


30 Responses to “Rift”

  • Tony Noland Says:

    How terribly sad. To be so close, and so far apart. This was beautifully written, and so laden with loss.

    Marvelous writing.

  • Marisa Birns Says:

    I agree with Tony. Terribly sad, amazingly beautiful writing.

  • marc nash Says:

    For me the best writing – and this is a matter of personal taste – has a central image or motif that recurs or at least runs through the story like a deep lying seam. The rift, the fissure is just such a motif. Standing also for the rift of incommunicability, of differing life aims, between the couple. I particularly liked that you conveyed other senses than the visual, such as the sense of sound.

    This was tight and hermetically sealed, almost as oxygenless as the guy going down into the crevasse itself. Excellent.

  • David G Shrock Says:

    Another beautiful story perfectly paced. “Her tears fell into the gap like a blessing.” -wonderful.

  • DJ Young Says:

    Talk about too late – this is such a perfect little piece, the relationship divided, the rift, the rescue, the letter – learning what it means just before it ends. Loved this, so haunting and beautiful.

    DJ

  • Amy Taylor Says:

    “We’re young until we’re not” – too true, time does not wait. Very sad little tale, and wonderfully affecting, beautifully poetic.

  • Jane & Nathan Says:

    We both sat at the screen in silence, pulled into the amazing imagery you have created in this sad, poignant story. How tragic that he came to his decision too late – As you mentioned the note, I could picture him looking at his wife from across the rift… Fantastic writing

  • Cascade Lily Says:

    Great layering in this piece and some very beautiful writing. You must be beloved by literary editors 🙂

  • ~Tim Says:

    This is the saddest thing I have read in some time. Beautiful, but sad.

  • Dana Says:

    Your writing is so lovely! The sad, slow pacing was perfect.

  • Linda Says:

    Perfect.

    Can’t think of anything else to say except thank you. Peace, Linda

  • Jim Dempsey Says:

    Great story and very well written. Like marc, above, I like the running themes, difficult to do in such a short piece. I like that line in the middle: She has always been more at home with beginnings and ends, with life and death. It fits in so well with the fact she started the story with her note, and ended it too. very impressive.

  • Deb Says:

    I love the flood allegory. He can/should go after her! He should not just let her leave. It is very telling though, that he doesn’t even know his neighbor’s name — yet the neighbor knows him; and his wife’s concerns so intimately. It like a sign that says “Everyone on earth knows your marital problems but you, buddy! Time to Wake Up!”

    But, I guess that is the way it goes, sometimes it takes an act of god to break through a person’s illusions on life.

  • mazzz_in_Leeds Says:

    Heartbreaking! Very beautifully done. The absurdity of the frogman in suburbia only serves to underpin how fragile everything is.

  • Lou Says:

    I didn’t find this sad, just real. You write with such authenticity and grace. I remain a total fan, and I would love to read some of your longer work.

  • Maria Kelly Says:

    Beautiful story and very realistic. Sometimes there are no happy endings. I like that you captured that so achingly.

  • GP Ching Says:

    Vivid imagery of this emotional world within a world. The part about coffee and tomato soup made me giggle- maybe a warped sense of humor on my part. I think that intense situations can cause people to jump into things that might not be right for them in the long run. In a way, I don’t see this as a sad story because the timing and relationship isn’t right and because life is so fleeting, those things are important.

  • Melissa Says:

    Absolutely beautiful writing full of psychological, existential insight. So many pregnant images. Of course, the rift itself, which others have commented on, but I also love the truck spinning its tires, the clouds heavy despite continual rain, the casual drinking of coffee and eating of soup in the midst of disaster. There are so many beautiful lines here–too many to list–but the first that popped out at me was “Wherever I look, clouds scuffing their bloated bellies along the ground, swallowing streets.”

  • Christian Bell Says:

    The tone and the voice of this story are convincing and make this story an excellent read. Lots of great details throughout. The images just accumulate and produce something beautiful if sad.

  • Anne Tyler Lord Says:

    Simon,

    What an intensely beautiful and sad story. I agree with the comments about the imagery in this story. There are so many analogies and themes here.

    I have told you many times, and I will say it again, your writing is so lyrical, beautiful, and deeply touching.

  • Laura Eno Says:

    There are many kinds of rifts. How sad to be so close to reaching an agreement, then life propels you in opposite directions. Your story was beautifully written, so full of symbolisms.

  • CJ Says:

    Do you see me applauding? You’ve done it again – Bravissimo!

  • Michelle Says:

    Great writing – such a sad story.

  • Jen B Says:

    By writing the entire thing where they only converse via notes, it’s heartbreakingly distant– and saying he doesn’t know his neighbour’s wife’s name, whereas his neighbour knows his… more distance. I feel sad for this MC. This story is beautiful and wonderfully pivoted around this strange and simple event. Well done. I’ll definitely come back and read more of what you write.

  • Deanna Schrayer Says:

    Unsurprisingly gorgeous Simon. I’m always anxious to read your stories because they’re so beautifully told. I can only echo what everyone else has said – lovely lines throughout but I believe, if I had to choose, my favorite is “..her tears fell into the gap like a blessing…” So telling.
    Bravo!

  • Cathy Olliffe Says:

    There’s so much I want to say about this story. But no words will come close to describing how it makes me feel.
    The story is so Real.
    The writing, Perfect.

  • Teresa Says:

    Wowee, what another incredibly evocative picture of humanity you paint with your words… makes me reflect on the depth I miss in those near to me. Thankyou for this epiphany story.

  • Cecilia Dominic Says:

    Wow. Rifts and births and deaths… What a powerful piece!

    CD

  • Eric J. Krause Says:

    Excellent story. Very well written.

  • Laurita Says:

    I am in awe of your ability to create such beautiful and haunting works. Each new story from you becomes a favourite.

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