I wrote this story as a rough concept for an anthology a while back, but never sent it in. It’s been sitting in my Dropbox for a while now, ignored and needing attention. It’s still pretty rough, but I hope you’ll enjoy it.
She sits on the curb in the alleyway, knees to her chest. The rain pouring down plasters her short, bleached hair to her skin and ruins the drag of her cigarette in big soggy drops. She smokes anyway. Her skirt is full and short, coming to the middle of her thigh in ruffles of pink and beige, shades ranging from bright and clear to a dinge rougher than the cement she perches on. She wears leggings beneath, barely longer then her skirt, shining black and intense where they peak out, tight across her thighs. Her chest is wrapped in many layers, her sweater soaked and sagging heavy, a pale rose in color. It sticks to her skin as she brings her hand up once more, drawing the transparent paper of her smoke to the intense red of her lips.
She doesn’t look up as the people crowd the alley and surge past her, each in a hurry to get where they’re going, pushing past one another, nearly stepping on her without ever noting her presence. She shakes drops of water from her hair and presses her ruined cigarette into a tin on the curb beside her. She flicks her left wrist and uses her right hand to pull another smooth, perfectly white rolled cigarette from her left sleeve. With another flick she shakes a light from the same sleeve and strikes it, a tiny golden flame burning through the fresh paper. She inhales deeply and stretches her legs out into the street ahead of her, heedless of the traffic that courses around her. She twists her wrist again and her lighter seems to vanish. No one sees her tricks.
As the crowds hurry by, she watches the muck of alley puddles splash over the deep blue of her galoshes, droplets scattering over her bare legs. All mingled and run free by the rains that poured. A man trips across the alley from her, and she glances up, briefly making eye contact as she pulls another drag of smoke between her lips. His skin grows pale and she smiles at him, lazily releasing the smoke to drift out from between her parted teeth. Time slows for him as she watches. She sees into his mind and heart. Her colorless eyes pierce between the lines of his umber irises and she knows him. She knows that he’s been cheating on his wife. She knows that he’s on his way from work, calling it an early lunch. She knows that he will soon be wallowing drunk in the bar up the street. He has no intention of returning to work. His wife will pick him up later. He’ll weep onto her shoulder and beg forgiveness, he’ll confess his indiscretions, his wife will care for him tonight and tomorrow she’ll leave him. She knows him completely, and in this moment he knows her too.
She laughs at his frozen, terrified face and glances away, flicking at the end of her cigarette, the ash sticking to its damp body, refusing to fall. Across the alley he shakes himself, blinking in the rain, uncertain of his surroundings. He picks himself off the alley floor with a curse, retrieves his briefcase and stumbles off toward the bar. She listens to the people who stream around her, soon the rush will slow but until then she listens. She enjoys the rush of people. Enjoys watching their haste, and overhearing their fears, their triumphs. They shout and jest with their fellows as they cross paths, imagining themselves unheard, even as twenty others share their step and follow suit. They all believe that they’re the only ones. Battling against a clock, whose hands they set against their own throats, again and again. They all believe they are the only ones who feel and fight. Their individuality is their greatest weakness and their most beautiful trait. She loves them for it.
She always has.
She sighs and tucks her cigarette into the little tin, scooping it up and into her sweater sleeve, to vanish beneath her cuff. Pulling her knees back up to her chest she raises her eyes and watches the shapes that move around her. Soon the crowds would thin, but something kept her still. Something in the air today told her timing was everything. She cups her hands to catch the rain, thunder shaking the wall of clouds above. She smiles and pours the gathered rain over her face, feeling the cold rivulets race down her damp skin. She holds her hands out for more and drinks the rain out of the cup of her dirty palms. Contentment swells over her, and rightness. As the energy of the rain courses in and through her she opens her eyes again and sees a figure standing still at the entrance of the alley. She lifts her eyes and sees a young soul. Dressed all in grey, the figure stares back at her, mouth fallen open, hands slightly raised. She lets her eyes pierce into verdant globes that watch her back. She smiled as she knows them. They stand still, tall and slim in a long flowing skirt and tightly cinched raincoat. Their hood had slipped back from their head as they met her eyes, revealing shortly shaved black hair and beautifully shaped, dark features. She stares into their eyes and she knew them.
She saw them weeping in the restroom at the office. Constantly harassed by the people around them, ignorance barbed with brutal words and violent glares. She saw them praying at the windows in their bedroom, naked and shaking as the rain splatters through the lifted glass. They walked this way every day, hood low and pace harried.
She sees too, that they knew her.
She watches as they struggle for a name. A word to describe what was happening. She shakes another cigarette from her sleeve, not bothering with the lighter, she sucks at it, the tip bursting with golden flame and smoldering cheerfully as she puffs. She held out her hand and they took a hesitant step forward. Uncertain and afraid. She keeps her hand outstretched, smiling as she pulls another mouthful of smoke from damp paper and tobacco. They took a deep, full breath and walk into the alley with a stunted grace. Hesitating for only a moment, they bend and sit beside her on the curb as she lowers her hand to her lap. They shift uncomfortably beside her as the rainy cement soaks through their skirts. Neither speak.
After a few moments she closed her fist over the half-finished cigarette and lets it dissolve to rain and ash in her palm. Their eyes widen but they say nothing as she tilts her head, meeting their eyes.
“I -” their mouth clamps shut without finishing the statement as she smiles into their eyes.
“You.” Her voice was sweet and high, vibrating resonantly in their chest, shaking between their ribs. “What would you be called?”
“I – Don’t you already know?” She smiles at them, saying nothing. They blush under her gaze. “Kat. Call me Kat.”
“Kat.” Kat shivers at the name repeated, and the goddess laughs. “Are you ready to go, Kat?”
Kat was terrified. Never in any of their daydreams did they imagine something like this. This was real, it had to be real. Her smirk reminds Kat that she must be able to hear their every thought. She shrugs and stretches her legs into the alley.
“But why? Why me?”
She considers this. “Why not you?” Kat stares down at their lap in shame, every doubt and insecurity swelling in their eyes, streaking in tears down their face. “You are the one I was waiting for, Kat. Not her, or him, or even them.” She points at the people walking down the alley. Kat inhaled deeply, allowing her tears to fall as the rain fell around them. “Kat.” She brushes the tears from their face and gestures up at the rain and the clouds overhead. “You know me?” Kat nodded, knowing it wasn’t really a question, holding their trembling hands over their face as they wept. Praying, compulsively, as they did every night, the rain streaking over their coat. Wishing.
The goddess stood, the layers of her skirt plastered over her hips in shades of rose and wood. Like incense in a garden, the rain carried the taste of ozone, bright life, and dusty tomes. She reaches her hand down to Kat and smiles.
“Kat. Are you ready to go?”
Kat knew they would not get another chance. That the goddess knew them, though they had no name for this vision of rain drenched skin and delicate shades. Her red lips arched in perfect acceptance, and Kat the tears in dry in their eyes. They reached up and took her offered hand. Warm and comforting, and real. Just as they imagined every time they prayed. They stood hand in hand with the goddess and felt only surety. They were perfect and whole. They were loved and beautiful. Kat stood in union with their goddess, and as the golden light engulfed them both, they knew the goddess’ name.
The alley stretched empty as the rain streamed down, the light fading with the stretch of afternoon. Only the smell of tobacco and roses blended into the gravel and grime of the filthy alleyway spoke to the afternoons design.