"What's the world for you if you can't make it up the way you want."

-Jazz, Toni Morrison


Susanna

Susanna slips into dreams without struggle. She sees herself as a child at her grandmother’s feet. The room churns with the smell of the citrus candles and peppermint perfume as the little girl collapses into the side of her leg. Her grandmother’s long nails twist around her mop of dark hair and she whispers something she cannot understand. Something comforting and sad. 

  “Where are you now?”

Her eyes open to a haze and the sound of steady rain against the window. She raises her hand to her face and squints to sharpen her vision. Slowly, she begins to close her hand, counting each finger as it falls. She repeats this with both hands until she counts ten unbroken fingers. 

Susanna turns her head on the couch and sees the ruins of the living room. The shattered television screen, flipped coffee table, and smashed laptop. Her gaze goes to the destroyed clay pots which once held thyme, basil, and parsley, now strewn across the floor. She crawls over to the plants in the corner, touching them with her thumb before she realizes that something is missing. 

“Cleito?” she whispers at first, then raises her voice. “Cleito, where are you?”

She continues to crawl on her hands, searching for her friend under every surface in the house. With each failure, every passing moment of silence, panic sets in and tears cloud her eyes. 

Susanna rises to her feet and goes to the kitchen. As she walks through the hallway, she catches a glimpse of her reflection in the mirror. She takes note of her cheeks, once defined and narrow, now swollen and uneven; and her nose, once upturned and small, now crooked and jagged. Her brown eyes are sunken into her sallow skin. It seemed as though all the bones in her face had shifted. Beneath her jaw, there are long red marks wrapped around her neck, and she is instantly reminded of the tightness of her throat. 

A high-pitched sound rings out from the kitchen. 

Susanna freezes, the hair on her arms standing up. She begins searching for a weapon in the hall, as if by instinct. 

  “Hello?”

Out of the dark kitchen comes a small tabby, staring up at her with her big green eyes. 

“Cleito,” she exhales, wiping a trail of tears from her face before bending down to pet her. The cat’s ears prick as she is examined by her owner, continuing to meow. She appears to be unharmed. 

She picks her up and holds her close, burying her face into her dappled fur. 

The cat goes quiet. 

Their peace is disturbed by the rattle of a key into the front lock and subsequent jiggling of the door knob. Instinctively, she races up the stairs and into her bedroom, closing the door behind her. She twists the lock and drops the squirming cat, who slips under the bed for safety.

“Susanna?”

She clasps a hand over her mouth at the sound, trying to discern his movements from the shifts and sounds beneath her. 

“Susanna, come out here. I’ve got something to say.” 

Pressing her back against the door, she slowly collapses to her knees.

“I want to say I’m sorry.” 

She hears his footsteps coming up the staircase. 

“But I think you know that you’ve got stuff to apologize for too.”

She says nothing. 

“Right, Susanna?” 

The knob begins to jolt. 

“What is this? What, are you hiding from me?”

The knob jolts harder, and Susanna moves towards the bathroom on her hands and knees. 

“Can’t we talk about this like adults?” 

She reaches under the bed for her cat. “Come on, sweet girl.”

Cleito freezes. 

“Please come,” she begs, but the cat refuses to move.  

Susanna searches around the bed for any of her toys or treats, instead finding her husband’s unlocked gun safe shoved between the headboard and wall. She pulls it out, keeping her eyes fastened to the jostling door. He must know she has the gun, she thinks to herself, but he thinks she doesn’t know how to use it.

“I am calling the police,” she says, hoping that that will be the last thing she ever has to say to him. Her throat is tight and foul. She feels phantom hands on her throat, fingernails cutting deep into her skin. 

“You really think someone’s going to come out in a fucking hurricane?” 

She removes the pistol from the case, looking it over. 

“You really want to throw me under the bus, you stupid bitch?” 

She raises the loaded gun it to the door. 

“You’re in my house. You’ve got my baby in your belly. You’re mine.” 

His voice fades like fog into the sea. All she can feel is her hands shaking in her lap and all she sees is the barrel of the pistol pointed forward. She knew what awaited her at the other end of that door. He would kill her—he may decide not do it today, but it was inevitable. Even before she met him, she knew this; as a teenager, she had watched her mother disappear. It was all she could do not to follow her into the smoke. 

But the alternative was worse. If Susanna shot him she’d get life in prison and her husband’s face would paint her mind like a bleeding mural. Her baby would grow up a lonely shadow of broken parents. She begins to turn the gun around. 

“Don’t do it.” 

She finds herself in the company of someone she has seen before. He is seated across from her on the scratched-up hardwood floor. His body jolts against the locked bedroom door in steady rhythm with the pounding of the man on the other side. 

He leans towards her, his elbow resting on his knee. “What’s going on?” 

“He’s angry with me.” 

“Why?”

“I don’t know. I don’t know what I did.”

He looks at her for a moment, at the tears brimming in the corners of her eyes, at her swollen face and ripped sweater, at the sweat beading down her forehead. His gaze lingers there, on her hair, where he had imagined his hands would be damp and netted if he tried to touch her. 

She senses his pity, and breaks his train of thought. “I don’t know what to do.” 

“I think you do, though. Probably better than anyone else.”

“You’re right.” She glances down at the gun in her lap. “This is all I know.” 

“So what do you want to do?” 

“What does it matter?” 

“It’s always mattered,” he says, leaning closer to her. “You’ve always mattered.”

“I can’t remember the last time I really wanted something.” 

“But do you remember what it was?” 

“I don’t know.”

“Do you remember anything before him?”

She shakes her head.

“What about when you were little?” 

“A little girl.” She struggles at the thoughts of a child on her grandmother’s farm. “I wanted to be a vet. I wanted to help animals, but now… animals won’t go near me.” She looks at Cleito hiding under the bed and starts to cry. “It’s like I’m diseased or something.”  

“Don’t say that.”

“It’s true though.” 

“Susanna.” 

“What?”

“Can you please look at me?” 

She raises her head.

“You know, all of this,” he speaks in a clear, even tone. “It’s all temporary.” 

Her eyes fasten to his. 

“Prove it.” 

The thrashing against the door quiets to a whisper, and then nothing at all. The shouts subside and give way to the sound of rushing water. Her husband’s voice is finally drowned out. 

“What is that?”

“It’s just rain,” he says, resting his hand on his knee. “It will stop soon.” 

She closes her eyes, a wave of relief flowing through her body. 

“My grandmother was a witch, you know? She used to tell me all women were made from rain.”

Water begins to slip into the bedroom through the door and the walls. Even the window sill, which had been boarded up long ago, shattered against the weight of the deluge. Combs, lipstick, and blouses flow through the apartment in the currents and brush their skin. Within seconds, the water rises to Susanna’s waist and the ends of her hair, but she remains seated and still, considering the man in front of her. “Can you believe that?” 

“I can,” he speaks assuredly but his eyes are soft and sad. This is a house of spirits, all different shapes, sexes, and sizes, but all visitors share the same pitying stare. A stare that, no matter how well intentioned, tears at her stomach. “I’ll believe anything you tell me.” 

“And why is that?”

“Because I believe you, Susanna.” 

They sink below the surface together. The lights flicker and shine through the water, illuminating the stranger’s face in the darkness. He makes no attempt to swim towards her or to safety; instead, he drifts between the furniture. Susanna rolls her head up towards the floating remains of the bedroom and touches her face, the gun slipping from her grasp. The throbbing pain on her cheek subsides and the lingering pressure on her throat lifts. 

She sweeps her arms above her head and drops lower, focusing back on the stranger. 

“Who are you?” she asks aloud, her mouth filling with water. 

He says nothing. 

“Am I going to drown?” 

Again, nothing.

She looks up to a light flare on the surface of the water and can just barely make out the silhouette of a cat safely seated on the dresser, staring down at her.  Cleito’s had transformed to the brightest blue. “Or have I already?”

“It’s just rain. It will stop soon.” He motions towards her, his voice clear through the echo of cold water. “And we will be waiting for you when you return to us.” 

“I can’t breathe.” She reaches for his shirt collar, for him to hold her into death, but he pulls away.  

“You said yourself, women are made from rain. You can be remade.” 

“Please,” she cries as the stranger fades into the blaze above. Her lungs fill with water and her body plunges deeper down. In a last fit of desperation, she stretches a hand out towards the light, her face burning with tears and saltwater, until she can feel some warmth. 

Light bursts across her eyes and the water suddenly evaporates from the room, forcing her to the floor on her hands and knees. Sound and sight return to her, as does the swelling and pain on her skull. The room is untouched. Her husband is thrashing and screaming at the door. 

“You’ve got nowhere to go!”

She turns toward the open window, at the pouring rain and trash flowing through the yard. The flood will continue to rise and soon no one will be able to wade the water. There will be driftwood and fishing boats on Washington Street and a strong current to carry her from the house. She only needs to throw herself into the tide.


Alexandra Masri is a writer based in Austin, Texas. She spends her days working as a family law associate and spends her nights writing novellas next to her cat on the couch. In the last year, she has published an article on domestic violence law in the Journal of Law & Sexuality as well as a short story in The Remembered Arts Journal. She has a BA in history and human rights from Southern Methodist University and a JD from Tulane University.

Cover photo by Viktor Juric on Unsplash

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