The bus from the village is due at midday, and we’ve promised his sister that we will absolutely, without fail, meet it on time. Our niece and nephew are expecting us.
Traffic is snarled up at our end of town. “Come on, we can walk,” I insist. “It’s only a couple of miles.”
As we stride downhill, the sky darkens and rain begins to fall with such ferocity that drops bounce like gravity has reversed.
“I’m drenched,” Hamish barks, blame clawing outwards from his words.
I recoil, breathing hard. Accept it, I remind myself. He’s allowed to be unhappy. But before I can stop myself I snap, “Good grief, stop fussing!”
We subside into silence while grimy streets transform to grimier rivers.
“It’s just that I’m better at bad weather than you,” I say, unsure if I’m trying to fix things or annoy him further. A satisfying sting akin to picking at a scab runs beneath my declaration. “Rain doesn’t bother me like it does you.”
Hamish sniffs audibly, though whether in response or because of the deluge, I can’t tell.
He’s too busy looking up the road for the bus to spot the notice that catches my eye. According to the poster, a missing dog named Angelique suffers from generalized anxiety and should not be chased. Angelique is a stunningly beautiful bearded mutt.
I opt not to point her photo out on the off-chance her vulnerability depresses Hamish further.
The village bus arrives, our niece and nephew’s faces looming through steamed-up windows.
“Hope you remembered your snorkels,” Hamish greets them, and to their credit they manage not to roll their eyes.
I beam up at the gigantic teens, recalling when I was still taller and cuddly toys took precedence over technology.
Our niece’s doll frayed to decapitation a while back anyway, thanks to years of excessive love.
We feed them fried chicken and bottomless sodas. They remain welded to their phones.
My sodden feet are blocks of ice. I wriggle my toes, determined not to own up to my discomfort.
The shop our niece insists we visit sells socks with individual toe-holes knitted in. The sight of them makes me feel squeamish, so I slide them back onto the shelf, smiling at my niece as she picks up a plush manatee and squeezes it in her arms.
I’ve started to limp.
We emerge into thin sunshine. A woman sings her heart out, indistinct but melodious lyrics rolling through the damp air. Our nephew laughs, but quietens as Hamish praises her courage for performing in public.
Our niece watches, wide eyed, as I pass a homeless man a cereal bar from my bag.
“Come on,” Hamish says, holding out his hands to me. “I’ll dry your socks in the public restroom.”
I wait on a nearby flight of steps, trying to project the sense that sitting in the center of town with exposed feet is perfectly normal behavior.
Pulling the warmed woolens on over my bare toes and heels is so pleasing that I accept Hamish’s arm for balance as I stand.
Our niece and nephew board their bus back to the village. Later, my sister-in-law sends a text: Thank you! The kids had a wonderful time.
In the gleam of my phone’s social media feed I see that Angelique, the bearded mutt, is home and safe with her family.
Judy Darley lives and writes in Bristol, UK. She has been widely published, including by The Mechanics’ Institute Review, Spelk, and The Cabinet of Heed. She’s Flash Fiction Editor at Reflex Press. Her collections are Sky Light Rain (Valley Press) and Remember Me To The Bees (Tangent Books). http://www.skylightrain.com; https://twitter.com/JudyDarley.