Hail by Misty Urban
My husband told me to choose the restaurant though we’d never been to this town. He drove past every place I named and then, at the edge of civilization, jerked the car into the parking lot of a chain restaurant I hate because the cajun chicken I ate at one made me sick for days.
“This is what we get,” he said. “Since you couldn’t decide.”
I felt it gathering as I followed him into the restaurant, as he declined two booths the server offered and chose a table with a view of the car and the road and his back to the restrooms. The urge to say something. It was getting harder to choke down, and we weren’t home, where people knew us. His mother was at the hotel with our daughter. We were here to celebrate our anniversary.
I wanted to celebrate our anniversary.
He checked his phone while I looked at the menu. That smirk as he texted someone back.
“Work can’t let you go?” I stared at a page of bloody meat. Keep it light. Don’t ask if it’s her.
He laid the phone within reach, thumbed his menu, not answering me.
Marriage. This is what you get.
“I hope your mom gets Cassy out of the pool if it starts to lightning.” Storm clouds massed in the western sky, burly shoulders rumbling. Cassy hated storms. I loved them, once.
“You said we weren’t going to talk about the kid.” He slid the phone to him, texted again.
He looked at the server as she took our order. He looked around the restaurant. He looked at his phone. Not at me.
“Ok. Work, then. How is the new ranger doing?”
He fiddled with his silverware. “She’s young.”
“She calls you a lot.” It was rising inside of me, crackling, dangerous. I was drinking my wine too fast. I would have a headache before we left the restaurant.
His eyes slid away to the gathering clouds. “There’s a lot going on. She doesn’t know much.”
I ate my blackened salmon and it started to rain. I ate the kale chips and the trees bent over, flinging leaves. I put my fork in my rice and watched the rain hammer the parking lot, the street, the passing cars, wild and full of rage.
“I know how that feels,” I finally said. “To not know what’s going on.”
I lined my knife next to my fork, put the napkin beside my plate. So neat and orderly I’d become. Once I’d danced all night in other countries, held my liquor, boarded planes on a whim. Once I would have run out into the rushing wind, let it lift me.
The rain came so hard that the car was invisible. A silvery grey sheet hemmed us in. I waited for him to speak.
There was Cassy to think of. The vows we’d made ten years ago. I’d been stretching myself thinner and thinner, holding things together. I wanted him to pick up the hammer and finally break it. The silence. The façade.
I was still clinging to the promises we made. He had to break his first.
Metallic thuds ricocheted off the windows. The rain had turned to fist-sized hail. His phone buzzed and jumped.
“We need to get to the hotel,” he said.
Fear surged over me, lancing my breath. Cassy.
The hail beat against us as we fled to the car. It was impossible to see through the sheets of rain.
He wasn’t going to do it. Any shattering would be up to me.
In the shoddy hotel, the cheapest in town, my daughter somersaulted in the pool, shrieking with glee as water leaked under windowsills and flowed over the threshold of the door. The hail shot in as my husband slammed the door. His mother picked up a jagged chunk of ice, held it out to me.
She looked into my eyes. She knew everything.
I took it, this cold missile from the upper atmosphere, frozen into a weapon. It numbed my palm until I could no longer feel the weight of it. I knew my hand was attached, holding this deadly, destructive thing. And I knew even as I held it, it was melting away. In a while it would be as if it had never existed save in my memory, and in time even that would melt away, too.
Misty Urban is a CNF Editor for New Flash Fiction Review. Her recent nonfiction has appeared in Sad Girls Club, Past Ten, River Teeth, Cleaver Magazine, and My Caesarean (The Experiment, 2019). Her piece “On Reading the Letters of Sylvia Plath Vol. 2” was nominated by 3Elements Review for a Pushcart Prize and a Best of the Net Award. She is the author of two award-winning short story collections and assorted medieval scholarship, blogs about feminist literature at femmeliterate.net, and is a reviews editor for the Historical Novel Society. More at mistyurban.net.