Madeleine Rain

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It happened because she was edgy and bursting. It was the first day you could really feel Spring approaching. It was that brief time in between seasons that she could feel something new happening, and it made her anxious and excited. It was like new air, or sweeping cobwebs. There was a light rain outside and Madeleine wanted to throw open her two little windows to her small apartment space and let the warm mist fill the room. But the noise from the traffic would've been too much, and she was worried for the bird. As it was, the hiss of the scratchy needle was barely audible. She crouched down beside the heating vent to listen. The music was low and tired. Something like Billie Holiday. It was Billie Holiday, but for the two weeks she had looked, she hadn't been able to find it in any of the record shops. She leaned against her raggedy old reading chair and stared at the stack of books and odd art supplies next to her. Too much time spent inside reading and dreaming, she worried.

     She looked up at the small, blue-green bird in the cage next to her bed, and then picked up a blue crayon. The bird was quiet. Quite still and beautiful. Every once in a while she would turn her head slightly to observe her new surroundings. She was calm. Even when Madeleine had brought her home a week ago and taken a polaroid of her, she had fluttered her wings, but in a gentle way. The softly blurred movement was a moment of perfect grace, Madeleine thought, as she ran her fingers along the edge of the picture which now hung on the wall beside the chair. She looked like the sea. As she put down the crayon for another, it started. She wondered how long Maggie had lived down there. How long she had been there. She rested her head against the wall and began to slowly peel away the old crayon's paper label. She reached for a jar of rubber cement and twisted off the top. The music mixed with the sound of Maggie, as if the sobs were a part of the song. Not like an instrument - not an accompanying sound - but interior, as if growing from within the music. A ghost. Madeleine brushed a streak of glue next to the polaroid and stuck the green paper to the wall. "Seafoam," she whispered.

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     Typically, she had only gone on Wednesday afternoons. It was the one day that they ran a bargain matinee and it only cost her $3. Besides the price, she liked the fact that the theatre was empty then. It was an old movie house where they played revivals and art films. Madeleine liked the musty smell inside, and the worn crushed burgundy of the seats. She liked the warm glow of colors that were muted by the darkness, like the old Hopper painting that hung above her chair. Occasionally, she would bring her little reading light and a sketch pad and work on a face from the film.

     It was on a Sunday night that she had met her. One of those odd times when she had to pay full price, because the film she wanted to see was only a weekend run. It was Stardust Memories, by Woody Allen. He had been one of her favorites before the awful thing with his wife's daughter. Before the fear of age and death had become too overwhelming for him. She had seen one or two of his newer movies, and it made her feel embarrassed. Like finding out a close friend has been lying to you.

     "Do you ever draw birds?"

     Madeleine looked up from her wallet. "I'm sorry..."

     "The drawing pad. You're a painter?"

     "Um, I sketch."

     Madeleine was startled to realize it was the woman from her building. She had seen her in the basement laundry room that first day she had been down there. One of the woman's laundry baskets was overturned and used as a step, so that she could climb up onto the washing machine and then again to nestled herself in a window above the machines. She had pried open the dingy window frame and was quietly feeding a few small birds through the security bars. Madeleine watched as they hoped in and out, pecking crackers straight from her hands. It was three days later that she first heard her through the vent and realized she lived in 3c, directly below her. She had seen her one other time out her window one evening. She had been exiting the building, alone. Madeleine remembered the way that her hair had lifted softly, caught by the wind as she walked off out of view.

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