Rain brings an unexpected friend

Gwen felt tired, so very tired.

She felt tired of her manager refusing to let her, a highly skilled software engineer, work on anything except menial tasks. Simply because she was a woman. According to him, girls can’t code.

Working long hours, and not having much of a social life left her feeling down. In building her career she had lost touch with many of her friends.

Living alone was becoming tiresome. Her loft apartment in the city centre felt cold and empty. Especially now that her roommate had moved out to pursue a career in the arts.

She missed her great-aunt Stacy terribly. The first year anniversary of her tragic death in a traffic accident was fast approaching.

Gwen’s feelings matched the cold, wet and overcast weather. The grey clouds felt oppressive. The watery light leached the colour from the world.

As a child Gwen would visit her great-aunt on days like this, listening to her fantastical stories while sipping hot chocolate next to the fire. Gwen felt a pang of loss for those simpler times.

Most of all, right at that very moment, the rain made her feel weary. It had rained all week. Gwen felt resignation as she walked home in the rain, getting wet and being cold once again. While her bright red umbrella kept the worst of the rain away, it did nothing to keep her suit pants dry or the mud from clinging to her shoes.

Reaching a pedestrian crossing, Gwen pressed the button and waited for the lights to change. She idly wondered if this was one of the sets of traffic lights that had placebo buttons. She’d been reading about them earlier in the day during her lunch break.

The crossing light stubbornly stayed red, and Gwen’s impatience grew. As she reached forward to press the button again, a city bus charged through the crossing. It belched black diesel fumes, as it splashed through a giant puddle. A wave of dirty water and mud splashed up at Gwen, forcing her to jump back with a muttered curse.

Finally, the lights changed and she was able to make her way across the road. She pushed her way through the cold and squeaky wrought iron gate, and into her favourite part of the city.

On any other day, walking through the park near her apartment building would lift her spirits. Throughout autumn, many of the trees had been a riot of colour as their leaves changed with the change in the seasons. A few late-blooming flowers could also be found if visitors to the park looked closely enough.

Now that it was winter, the leaves that were so colourful in autumn lay dead and brown on the ground. The flowers had gone, and many of the flower beds were fallow. In summer the big trees that gave welcome shade, now in winter made the path cold and gloomy.

The gloom matched Gwen’s mood.

As Gwen passed under one of the largest trees, a shower of heavy water drops splattered against her umbrella. Something was falling out of the tree, and crashing into branches on the way down. With a thump it hit her umbrella, and in her surprise she nearly dropped it. Whatever it was slid down the taut fabric of her umbrella with a scritching and scratching noise.

It fell off the edge of the umbrella and landed in a puddle at Gwen’s feet with a splash. Looking closely in the gloom, she was able to see that it was a small animal. Crouching down she saw a kitten with dirty white and grey fur matted to its body. Gwen suspected that when the fur was dry, the kitten would be a cute little bundle of fluff.

“Aren’t you a cute little thing”, she said as she reached out to the kitten. “What are you doing all the way out here in the cold and wet?”

The curious little kitten reached out and butted its head against her hand. It started purring loudly and rubbed itself against her hand. She picked up the wet and dirty kitten. It wriggled in her arms and left smears of dirty water all over her jacket. She checked it over carefully, looking for any injuries, and noticed that it wasn’t wearing a collar.

“Well” she said to the kitten, “You’d better come home with me and we’ll get you warm, clean and dry. What do you think?”

The kitten tilted its head, looked at her quizzically and meowed once softly. Happy with her decision Gwen resumed her walk home. She felt less gloomy, and walked with a spring in her step and a warmth in her heart.

Gwen was so focussed on the kitten that she didn’t see the spectral visage of her great-aunt in the deepest shadows in the trees. The ghost smiled sadly and blew her a kiss, before slowly fading away.

Story inspired by a prompt from Writers SA.