She’d hoped if she bought an expensive umbrella, she might keep closer track of it. It wasn’t one of her usual folding umbrellas. It was full-sized with a curved wood handle. Oversized even, inconvenient in restaurants, where she didn’t know how to store it at the table and didn’t want to leave it at the door, afraid it would be stolen. It was an enviable umbrella, the kind of umbrella that anyone would covet. The outside was black, but the inside showed a bright blue sky with puffy white clouds.
When she’d seen it at the SFMOMA gift shop for the Magritte exhibition, she’d immediately wanted it, but it cost $55, she didn’t need another umbrella, and she didn’t want to seem extravagant in front of Paul, who’d complained about his ex-wife’s spending. So she didn’t purchase the umbrella until later, months after she and Paul had broken up, when she made a special trip to the museum just to buy it. The umbrella reminded her of Paul, who’d also cost her a lot, and it didn’t, because she’d purchased it herself, after all. She was taking care of herself, providing her own shelter from the elements, making her own fair weather, or trying to.
They’d had fun that day, posing in front of the mirrored exhibit that landed them inside one of Magritte’s paintings. Mysterious landscapes, dark streets under daytime skies. Ordinary objects—an apple, a bowler hat, a glass of water balancing on an umbrella—imbued with the extraordinary. They joked about the pipe with the caption “Ceci n’est pas une pipe.” “Ceci n’est pas une robe,” he said later, as he unzipped her black dress and they fell onto his bed.
Nothing was what it appeared, not their relationship either, since she’d been so sure he loved her, and that things were over between him and his wife, when they weren’t, not at all, and now he’d moved back in with her. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m sorry.” They were sitting outdoors at a café on Valencia when he told her, not a cloud in the sky. She’d been thinking he was impossibly handsome in his rumpled blue shirt and leather jacket, only half-listening, and then he’d said it, “I’m sorry.” It was chilly, she was shivering in her thin sweater, and there was nothing she could say. She laughed. “San Francisco is always so fucking cold.” She gulped her espresso and stood, knees trembling, steadying herself for a moment on the metal table. There was no point in begging him to change his mind. She could tell by the shuttered look on his face that it was too late for that. Better to leave with a brave smile and an airy wave. It was a role she’d learned to play. The independent woman less needy and neurotic than his wife.
She hasn’t seen him since, but she’s always afraid she’s going to run into him at a movie or museum or restaurant. “Ceci n’est pas une girlfriend,” he might say to his wife, who’d be clinging to his arm. Even though she’s exactly what she looks like—thirty-something and perpetually single, younger than his wife but not so young, the jilted girlfriend who cried for weeks, the one who couldn’t get out of bed, who still covets another woman’s husband, and his wife will know without being told, and stare with narrowed eyes.
There was a painting of a wooden door with a large black hole in it that she stood in front of for a long time at the exhibit. She’s having a hard time remembering exactly what it looked like, since it unlocked frightening images in her dreams, proliferating doors that opened into utter darkness, thresholds she’s afraid to cross into rooms where she’s alone and lost, groping her way in the dark. And behind one of those doors, lost like she knew it would be, is her fucking blue-sky umbrella.
Jacqueline Doyle lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her award-winning flash fiction chapbook The Missing Girl was published by Black Lawrence Press, and she has recent flash in Wigleaf, Post Road, New Flash Fiction Review, Juked, and The Collagist. Her work has earned six Pushcart nominations, two Finalist listings in Best Small Fictions, and five Notable Essay citations in Best American Essays. Find her online at www.jacquelinedoyle.com and on twitter @doylejacq.