writing exercise: “She began painting everything white.”

She began painting everything white. First the stapler, then the paper clips, finally, the thumbtacks. At that point, her bottle of Wite-Out ran dry. She shook it, hard, but no more goop adhered to the tiny brush. Sighing, she set it aside and turned back to the tax form. She picked up the pen, the one that announced, “Felice’s Hardware! Your building needs, our building!” Sighing again, she signed her new name over the now dried whited out rectangle covering her mistake.

Her new old name, she thought. Despite the divorce being nearly six months in her past, Angela still let the last “a” of her first name run straight to the first “A” of her married name. Angela Anderson. She’d liked it. Her maiden name was Tarkoff, not nearly as poetic, plus the stupid jokes from high school still annoyed her. “Angela Tarkoff your clothes” and other equally idiotic statements that provoked guffaws from the stupid football players. For a decade-and-a-half, she’d transcended that stupid name, let her new one, for she always thought of it as her “new” one even as she signed it away after her husband left her for a life unencumbered in a sunnier, busier city.

Max had never liked the Oregon coast, pronouncing it too boring, too wet, too foggy, too gray, too dull, too far from everything and anything he found interesting. Like sunshine. And late nights singing karaoke, a longing Angela had never understood. He’d want to drive the two hours to Portland just so he could leap up on stage and pretend to be David Lee Roth or Elton John for three minutes. One time he dragged her to “stripperoke,” which, she recalled, was exactly what it sounded like and a dream come true for Max. She’d drank four club sodas and fallen asleep in the car on the drive back. She did miss him, she thought. He made her laugh sometimes and they enjoyed the same movies, all subtitles and high stakes, but mostly she missed his name.

A loud smack against the skylight startled her. The cat sprung from nearly comatose by the woodstove to crouching and poised to spring. His ears swiveled forward, back, forward. Oh right, fat cat, Angela thought, you’re such the hunter. As if he knew her thoughts, he cocked his orange face at her, eyes narrowed, whiskers twitching. She laughed and scooped him up. He resisted at first, nipping her wrist hard enough to leave a mark, then collapsed into a fuzzy puddle of purr against her lap. Probably just a bird, Angela thought. The wind had picked up, after all. Another part of the weather Max had hated.

Stupid wind, he would grouse. It pushed in through the old windows of the beach house they’d bought cheap – a fixer-upper, but time proved Max’s interest in fixing-upping was more an artifact of how he imagined himself than actual interest in breaking out the tool kit he’d ordered online. The drafts spited him, she thought, reminded him of all he’d failed to do. That, and the wires still dangling from the ceiling where he’d ripped out the smoke detectors, annoyed by the beeping batteries he didn’t know how to replace. Death by smoke inhalation was infinitely preferable to admitting failure, she’d figured.

Another smack made her jump. The cat leaped from her lap, turned to gaze at her long enough to ensure his disapproval was noted, then slinked off to the cat door. The rubber rectangle banged against the plastic frame once, twice, a third time, as the wind rushed in, a blast of cold against her bare calves.

What was hitting the house? she wondered.  Small birds unable to make their way to the safety of their nests? Eucalyptus pods blown off their branches as the approaching storm racked the trees outside? A third clank against the skylight made her jump. Daylight was dwindling. If she was going to look, now was the time to go.

She shrugged into the fleece-lined raincoat he’d left behind. Max had called her, a month after leaving, asking about it. “No idea,” she’d lied. “Why do you need it, anyway?” He’d moved to Palm Springs, after all. She couldn’t imagine the weather there ever calling for a raincoat designed to withstand Arctic cold – a raincoat she’d bought him in hopes that by insulating him against the weather, his heart would remain open to her. It was a great coat.

Buried in it, she opened the door against the wind and plunged outside. A drop of rain pelted her, then, a moment later, another. Restraint, Angela thought, but soon the clouds would thicken to bursting, then let loose. The downpour would hammer her house, flood her driveway, uproot the tiny starts she’d planted optimistically – stupidly, she’d thought – during last week’s few days of warmth. She knew better, anyone who’d lived on the coast longer than a season, knew better, but still, the sunshine suckered her. At least they were only a few herbs, easy enough to replace, maybe even hardy enough to survive. Sometimes plants surprised her that way.

Something smacked above her, smacked again, caught and turned to a rattle. She stepped back on the deck, straining to see the roof in the waning light. The curve of a branch appeared silhouetted against the skylight’s curve and still attached by a thin strand of bark to the tree overhead. It must have been hitting as it broke, she thought, before becoming stuck. The leaves rattled against the plexiglass. Ignoring the noise would be impossible, so Angela opened the shed and pulled out the ladder.

This is when I could use another person, she thought, steadying the ladder against the wall. She checked it for stability, brushed her hair out of her face and behind her ears, and breathed in the moistness of the air swirling against her. One step, another step, a third. As she passed the halfway point, the ladder rocked. She grasped it, the metal cold against her hands. Stupid, this is stupid, she thought, but necessity drove her higher. As she reached the roof, her belly bumped the raingutter – overflowing with leaves, damn it, she noticed. Angela leaned against the shingles, hoisting herself toward the skylight, her body pressed as flat as possible as she inched her way toward the branch.

More drops splashed down. The wind whipped against her with a new fierceness. She imagined Max, content in the desert, the sunset orange and pink like the fruity cocktails he was so fond of. She reached the skylight and grabbed the branch, wood rough against her palm. She tugged. It stuck. She tugged again. It stuck. She shifted her weight, rising slightly from her knees and pulled hard. It gave. She lost her balance. As she slipped along the wet roof, her arms windmilled instinctively. The branch feel from her grasp and was lost to the wind.

She caught herself, pressed flat against the roof, as flat as she could considering her swollen belly. Her breathing raced. She caught it, too, calming down one breath at a time. OK, she thought. OK. She inched backward toward the ladder, found it, felt her way down rung by rung. By the time she put the ladder away and returned inside, the sun had disappeared and the dark gray of storm had given way to the true dark of night. But, she noted, now it was quiet inside, the peace interrupted only by the snoring of the cat, returned to his place by the fire.

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