Summer Storm

It’s a heavy day, the kind that hangs about one’s shoulders and crawls down one’s spine, an itchy kind of day. The clouds grumble to themselves overhead, threatening rain but never brave enough to follow through. Instead, they hold tight to their burden as they sink lower over the city, squeeeeeeeezing the air, down and down and down, the sky folding.

It’s a sharp kind of day, the air humming with static so that one almost crackles when one walks, waiting with tense shoulders and bated breath for the shock that never comes until one is almost ready… to… snap.

“You didn’t say anything.”

It’s not a shock, but another grumbling threat overhead. Not sharp, but low and ominous. Nauseous.

Xyr shoulders twitch.

“There’s no point with them.”

A lightning rod thrust into the lowering sky, tempting danger, a lone figure standing atop the tallest tower, watching the storm approach.

Her lips twist.

“What do you mean, there’s no point?”

Closer now, the sound rolling around the horizon, chasing the words, hunting them down.

Xyr stomach clenches.

“You know what I mean.”

When it hits, the storm is so loud it is silent. The thunder roars soundlessly overhead, the lightning throwing jagged shadows against the wall, the systematic demolition of that daring figure shown in stark relief, one frame at a time. The rain falls in a flat sheet. It assaults the earth below, washes away filth and top soil and new growth and next season’s seeds in a single second of silent, inevitable violence.

Her voice stops.

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Text and Image: All Rights Reserved to Cambrey Payne 2017.

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Confessions

Neither of them expected it, yet it didn’t take them by surprise. It was one of those mild nights where the wind held off the frost, and the promise of spring was in their blood, making them feel wild and restless. They walked again, down her streets this time, the stars almost invisible above the orange glow of street lights. Xe wore her old leather jacket, the shoulders slightly too big, the arms slightly too long, the warmth smelling of her making it fit just right.

It was still early, the Market still humming with activity as they wandered from shop to shop, pausing to buy their favourite snacks, spending too much money on sweets. They meandered arm in arm up and down each long, brick-paved aisle, the sound of the other shoppers fading into insignificance compared to the warmth of the body next to them, the gentle bump of shoulder against shoulder, the squeeze of a hand as the crowd jostled against them.

They didn’t talk much. Words spun around them like a waft of perfume, the scent of a flowering daphne being warmed by the sun, hovering on the edge of the senses. If you chased it, it would be lost. You didn’t force it, you waited, let it come to you with the breeze. Xe bought her a baby mint plant in a pretty pot, and she bought xem their favourite hazelnut coffee. They debated over which stall sold the best fruit for the best price, and compromised by purchasing bananas at her favourite, and strawberries at xyrs.

When they emerged, the wind pushed them toward the river, the crowds thinning from the main streets, funneled into the clubs and pubs, or heading home with their late night shopping. They wandered, slowly, their destination only half formed in their minds, their purpose still unspoken. They ate the strawberries and shared one of the chocolate cakes she’d bought, licking the melted chocolate from their fingers, laughing at the icing sugar on her nose.

There were always people by the river, but their unspoken words wrapped them in a cocoon of quiet, the strangers passing no more than shadows, insignificant and irrelevant. The words were stronger now, their scent enveloping them, drawing them closer as they sat on the bank, their jeans damp from the grass.

The words would be said later. For now there was only fingers tangling, breath mingling, lips meeting. At last. At last. It wasn’t expected, but it wasn’t a surprise.

Text: All Rights Reserved to Cambrey Payne 2017

Image from: http://www.phuket.com/shopping/banzaan-market.htm

Like Rain

The cafe was stifling after the biting cold of a winter morning, the air thick with the scent of coffee and soup and baking bread and wet jackets. The tumbling wave of sound made of milk steamers and dishwashers and clattering plates, and of forty people all talking at once, hung thick in the air, as thick and warm as the odour of cooking. Xe threaded xyr way through the cluttered tables to their usual corner, miraculously empty, despite the hour. Xe shrugged out of xyr coat, hanging it on the back of xyr chair to dry, and glanced at xyr watch. Early, for once.

They had found this place together on a day like this, the kind of bitingly cold winter’s morning that pinched your cheeks until they glowed and ran icy fingers through your hair, the wind finding its way into every warm place and disregarding the sturdiest of coats. They had just been becoming friends then, and they sat and talked for hours, week after week, shamelessly sacrificing study time for this warm refuge that smelled of comfort. There had been no routine to it, no plan, just the slow tumbling into familiarity and intimacy that was so natural they hardly even noticed it. Xe had been in love with her after less than a month. To have the friendship, the trust, the affection, of someone so extraordinary still seemed to xem to be the greatest miracle life could offer.

She blew into the cafe like a gust of rain, moisture glistening in her hair, smelling of fresh, cold air. For a moment, xe could just watch her, this warm, bright light shining brighter than anything else in the room, everything fading into shades of grey around her. It had been the same every time since the first moment they had met. She had looked so different then, but her warmth, her smile, the way her eyes lit up whenever they encountered someone she knew, the way she stood so tall and proud, daring the world to judge her. Xe found xemself smiling before she even noticed xem.

Xe couldn’t help it. Xe loved her as easily as breathing, as unquestionably as the sun’s path from east to west. She was everything xe admired—kind and courageous, determined, strong, and soft. She was laughter and ridiculous conversations that no one could remember the start of. She was blunt honest, and blustery storms of fiery temper followed by the gentle rain of sorrow. She was a million things that would take a million years to list, tiny things, like the way her lip trembled when she watched a sad movie, the way she said “indubitably” far more often than necessary, the way she cosplayed white characters and made them better. She was a miracle.

She bent forward a little, leaning away from the other patrons so she could brush the rain from her hair, pushing the thick, kinky curls back from her face as she stood. One stubborn curl immediately fell back over her face, refusing, as usual, to be ordered around. Xe smiled again, imagining her “tsk” of annoyance, as she pulled the thin scarf from her neck and tied it around her hair. Only then did she look up, her face expectant as she scanned the array of grey, featureless nobodies. Her smile when she found xem was like sunshine.

Text: All Rights Reserved to Cambrey Payne 2017

Image from: https://www.theodysseyonline.com/the-best-things-rainy-day

The Dangers of Internet Stalking

Written while listening to ‘Bad Liar’, by Selena Gomez. Because reasons.
There is a lot of sarcasm in this piece. I have marked it using / for those who struggle to identify it.

I didn’t plan any of it. I didn’t even want it. And yet, there I was, sending him a friend request, like a twit. /Of course it was because he probably posted interesting things, that I would be interested in, and not because I was being a creepy stalker. Of course./ I was angry with myself, even as I clicked on his name. For Hades’ sake, I barely knew the man. One semester in the same tutorial did not a friendship make, and yet here I was, apparently reverting to teenage behaviour. Thirty years apparently hadn’t taught me as much self-control as I would have hoped.

I’d been single for a while, and I liked it that way. Dating was a nightmare, people were generally awful, and I already had too many things to fill my time without having to worry about spending time with another human being. I wasn’t exactly swamped with offers—to be more accurate, I had precisely zero—but even if I had been, I would have been single by choice. /Which was, of course, why I was scrolling down his Timeline at 3pm on a Thursday afternoon, wondering if he was involved with any of the people in his profile picture./

“Oh for fuck’s sake,” I muttered to myself, turning off my phone with unwonted force. “Stop it.” The person sitting next to me on the bus looked at me strangely. I ran my hand through my hair, wincing as my fingers caught on the tangles, and nodded sharply to myself. That was it, I would let it drop. I was a mature adult.

I was not a mature adult. /When he accepted my friend request two minutes after I’d sent it, my stomach definitely hadn’t flipped itself over three times, and I definitely hadn’t smiled so broadly I felt like the top of my head would fall off. Definitely not. And I hadn’t dressed more carefully than usual the next day on the off chance that I’d see him on campus somewhere. Of course I hadn’t./

It’s situations like this that make self-awareness a thorough-going pain in the arse.

I firmly refused to scroll through his Timeline and see what he’d posted, or to check his relationship status. Instead, I pulled out my reader and forced myself to concentrate on Foucault’s thoughts on power all the way into uni, my highlighter squeaking in protest when I marked the important passages with more violence than was strictly necessary. I stubbornly opened the Action Music playlist on my phone as I walked to campus from the bus stop, not even looking at the Luuuurve playlist. I kept my eyes on the ground as I navigated my way through the people heading to work and school and shops, determined not to see him even if he did happen to walk by. /Which wasn’t why I kept my eyes down, of course, I wasn’t thinking about him at all, I was concentrating firmly on the panopticon and the ways in which it applied to feminist theory. Of course./

I couldn’t maintain that level of determined detachment forever, unfortunately, and I forgot myself so far as to start listening to Ed Sheeran on my way to lunch. I was feeling so good that I forgot I was supposed to be keeping my eyes down, and instead I strode along with my head up, observing the people flowing around me with a writer’s interest (although still avoiding eye contact at all costs).
The first time I saw him, I actually flinched. A second later, I realised it wasn’t him at all, just another tall guy with a neat beard. (/Curse him for having a currently popular hair-style./) I swore at myself under my breath, scaring the poor woman walking towards me as my usual /Resting Murder Face descended into Actual Murder Face/ due to my momentary irritation with myself. The second time I saw him, I managed not to react outwardly, and settled for being astonished that I could have mistaken someone with such bland eyes for him. By the fifth time, I had to physically restrain myself from slapping myself in the face. Fortunately for me, Resting Murder Face is a very good cover for this kind of nonsense.

I was definitely not a mature adult. But, by the time we were four weeks into semester, I got very good at faking it.

Well, I thought I was good at faking it.

I was wrong. All my friends noticed and laughed at me for it. I treated them to a dignified silence and determined not to look at his Timeline again. I reminded myself why I liked being single and wrote a blog post about why modern concepts of heteronormative romance were problematic.

At the beginning of week four, I found myself fighting temptation once again, seconded in a quiet corner of the library and trying to bully my brain into finishing an essay. It wasn’t a particularly scintillating topic, and 500 words in, I found myself searching for any distraction. As always, Facebook was attempting to come to my aid, and I was getting annoyed with myself about it. I managed to write two more sentences, both of which I immediately deleted, before I caved and opened my News Feed. I absolutely did not open his page. No, really! I scrolled down my News Feed, looking for his picture.

The moment I realised what I was doing I swore out loud and closed my browser.

“That bad, huh?”

I looked up into brown eyes and almost cursed again. This him was actually him.

“Maybe not that bad,” I said. By some miracle, I managed not to sound like I was being strangled.

“Mind if I join you?”

I really, really wasn’t a mature adult. It was okay, though. Turned out he wasn’t either.

Image and text: All Rights Reserved to Cambrey Payne 2017. Acknowledge sources when sharing and do not repost without original source.