An Undergraduate Literary Journal from UW-Milwaukee

Going Up The Drainpipe

Fiction by Molly Harris

It had never stopped raining.

Amelia walked through the rain to old haunts and to friends’ houses. She walked on the wet concrete, dressed in rain boots and looking up to the sky. It dripped rain into her mouth and eyes and blurred her vision.

It had been raining for months now. At first, the weather man on the news called it a temporary deluge, something caused by car emissions, something global-warming related.

He had said, “Don’t worry, folks! It will be over soon. Next week, the high will be in the 60s with spotted showers.”

Months went by and the high in the 60s with the spotted showers never came. The newscasters eventually stopped talking about it. They held their tongues as they spoke of more rain over Amelia’s grainy television screen.

The rain hung off Amelia like a second rubber coat. It covered her thickly, uncomfortably. She felt like she would never be dry again.

She walked down the row of once colorful houses. The once abundant flower gardens was now just withered stems, dead from overwatering. The blues and yellows of the houses were stripped from their vinyl siding. Her raincoat kept the droplets from her clothes, but she could still feel the rain soaking through the coat and through her clothes, penetrating her skin and making it feel as if she would never be dry again.

A car drove up, splashing Amelia with dirty water and exhaust. She coughed. She imagined that with every cough, the black sickness and harsh rainfall would be replaced by muggy summer days drinking beer on Justin’s porch or winter coats layered with salt and melting snow.

Amelia kept walking down the rows of houses. She had somewhere to be. She had driven down to Dwight, Illinois, where her family lived, to visit. There was something left unsaid, and she was going to say it. Eventually. She passed the old park, its grass playground now too muddy for anyone to play in, much less even step in.

She stopped on the corner of James and St. Louis Street. In front of her stood a peeling, pale blue house. It used to belong to her mother. She would play in the yard and chase rabbits with her older sister when she was younger. They would hide from her mother’s yells for dinner, climbing trees, running to the park, anything to not go back inside and be forced to take a seat at the kitchen table. Now, she just wanted to go inside again. She wanted to apologize to the floral wallpaper that was yellowed from years of smoking, her mother’s old Marlboro Reds in a drawer in the foyer, for missed phone calls and nights spent in another’s company.

Amelia knew that the cigarettes were long gone. Now, the rain was likely seeping through the wallpaper, turning the printed flowers into wet smears that looked like the charcoal smudges she had made in grade school.

She heard the pit-put of her cousin’s car up the street. When he pulled up with his girlfriend in tow, Amelia got in the back. The leather of the car was cold and peeling. She shivered against the plastic, broken side of her door, laughing at every joke her cousin said and agreeing to all of his girlfriend’s complaints.

 

The rain had been falling for three months straight.

School continued despite the flooded streets, and the commuter trains to the city never slowed down or stopped their routes.

Amelia sat underneath the waiting area for the next train. She pulled on her hair, squeezing it in her hands and watching the water drops leave dark spots on the wood bench she sat on. She wasn’t about to go back to Chicago today. She was just killing time. She watched men in their business suits walk in and out of the trains, typing on their Blackberries and muttering angry, minute details into their headsets.

She remembered the time when she had taken a commuter train to the city for a day. She had snuck off with her older sister under the summer sun. They snuck through security, and in a little over an hour, they were away from their red farmhouses and small town video rental shops and their mother’s heavy cigarette smoke.

It was there that they were introduced to the shadows of the skyscrapers. When they had wandered too far onto Wacker Drive, her older sister had noticed the heavy, dark lines from the Sears Tower profiling Amelia’s face. She had looked like a monochromatic Picasso in motion. The dark shadows had looked like someone had pulled a thick, industry Sharpie down her face, sectioning off her features. Her mother’s nose and her father’s eyes were separated by the shadows, but she was still smiling and waving and tugging her older sister along.

This was before the rain, when they had both ran barefoot on the hot concrete, joining the tourists by Lake Michigan to cool off and bum some ice-cream from generous vendors.

Amelia remembered when her older sister had left her alone on Michigan Avenue. She had ran off, trying to catch a bus, and she had lost sight of her sister and had nowhere to go.

Amelia had wandered down to the lakeshore, down to the beaches, but she was afraid to go in. The mild current looked like it was just enough to sweep her out, drag her under, its watery tendrils grabbing her ankles to show her the old fisherman’s boats that she did not want to see just yet.

She had left the shore to a café on a side street. She sat alone in an alcove, the red leather settee sticking to her bare legs. It felt cold and comforting to her thighs, but when she went up to go get her iced coffee, the skin was stuck to the settee, and it had hurt. She had seen the barista—a timid woman with eyes too wide and hair that hung loose around her face. She reminded her of family. Amelia thought she could see her mother’s eyes in the eyes of the barista.

Amelia held her hands up, unknowingly. She remembered when she was younger, crying in the produce section of a supermarket. She had been sitting on the ground, and her sister had come up and noticed how scared she was. Her sister had grabbed her hand and had led her back to their mother. Amelia had wanted this barista to know how to do the same. She had wanted her to clasp back. She was scared and alone, and that was what she needed. The barista just stared at her instead, puzzled, and had asked her if she wanted another straw or something. Amelia had blinked, and when she opened her eyes, the barista no longer had her mother’s eyes. Amelia had said no, and she had left.

Amelia remembered calling out for her older sister, waiting for a return that never did come. She had spilled her iced coffee on her bare feet. She remembered wishing that the Great Lake would come back up and swallow her because the fisherman’s boats seemed better than the strangers on headsets and the cold, cold iced coffee that dripped through her toes. She walked down to the beach, feeling her feet sink into the sand unexpectedly, causing her to trip and drop her drink. There was a clap of thunder, and that was when the rain began.

 

Amelia was back on the train tracks, alone and older. She went inside the train depot to order a coffee.

She sipped on the bitter, watery taste of it carefully, feeling the heat with the tip of her tongue, letting the steam fog up her glasses and letting the warm, paper sleeve of the cup imprint its ridges on the inside of her palms.

The deluge hit the top of the tin roof, making the sound of white noise. She lifted the plastic lid from the cup. The lid made a small pop when it came off, and Amelia thought, absurdly, that everyone in the depot had heard it over the rain and that she was interrupting some important business phone calls. She tapped her cup, still hesitant and unsure.

Every breath that Amelia took was asked for in the eyes of the hustle of people moving in and out of her periphery. She stared down into the cup where the residue of the coffee grounds made little, wet mounds.

The grounds played out days on the lakeshore and sudden trips on the CTA and events that could have happened but didn’t. They scared Amelia. She covered them with her mouth, her lips, her tongue, and then left the cup on a table for a worker’s cleaning cloth to cover.

 

Amelia didn’t have a home to live in in Dwight anymore. The rain had washed it away in a pastel-colored haze. She had her father’s house and the homes of her cousins, but she felt intrusive there, and so she didn’t stay.

Instead, she stayed at Dwight Township High. She slept in classrooms that were left unlocked. She knew every janitor by name. The young woman Stacy who had a new daughter named Amber, the old war vet George who mumbled a lot under his breath, and Stanley who had just dropped out of Joliet Community College and smoked a bowl before every one of his shifts. They were her new family.

She loved every one of them. She felt their tragedy and lived their pain with them. None of them could ever recall her name, though. Amelia still wanted to invite them out for dinner one day, but every time she was about to ask, she felt like her voice had grown wings and flew from her mouth.

She thought maybe she could find it hiding with some pigeons in Wicker Park, that maybe she could take the commuter train to go find it, but she knew better than to leave Dwight yet. She had things to resolve, unfinished business she needed to settle.

 

Amelia resolved to take a walk down the state highway. She had learned to drive there with her mother in an Oldsmobile. The broken paved road was usually lined with corn, but that day the corn was withered. She was holding an umbrella, and from under it, she could hear a thousand tiny droplets echoing. When Amelia looked up to view the never-ending plains of the Midwest, she just saw thunder and lightning. What was special about Illinois was that it was so flat. The land went on forever. You could see what was coming from miles away.

But, that day, Amelia could only see rain clouds. She came to Dwight for answers, but she forgot that there was no one here to ask. Her mother was in the graveyard a town away. She was never close to anyone else. Her older sister is a rumor that now lives in Springfield miles, miles away. She could have asked the rain, but she was sick of its pervasiveness, of its constant dripping, of the feeling of never being able to be dry.

Amelia didn’t know why she was laughing and then crying. She wanted the rain to stop, but she knew that it had fallen for years, decades. It would be hitting her back still when she spoke to the yellowing wallpaper and the old train tickets.

She walked alone down Dwight’s flooded streets, towards the train depot. She was going back home to Chicago. The sky was an endless stream still, and when she looked up, it looked as if she was staring up a drain pipe.

 

Molly Harris a Missouri-native who is finishing up her BA in Creative Writing at UW-Milwaukee. Between attending classes and laboring at her two jobs, she enjoys writing stories about the landscapes that inspire her.