The Rain and an Actor’s Guide to Accents
Maggie found the book on sale seventy five percent off in the clearance bin at the bookstore. It wouldn't even cost her the five dollar bill in her pocket and the cover still had a shine like it was new. She bought the book, An Actor’s Guide to Accents, to take home with her and started to read on the bus.
It had a "USED" sticker on the front and the name Ted in orderly uppercase letters printed inside in black Sharpie. Maggie looked for other signs of Ted in the book as she flipped through the pages, but he had been neat. It hardly looked like he had opened the book at all, but for one dog ear on page 18, American (Southern).
On the way home, Maggie did not notice the dark knot of clouds bubbling at the horizon or the wind that picked up and gave the trees shivers. She only read and nearly missed her stop. The book came with a CD that she put in the player at home as soon as she came in. She listened to it while she made tea, the even voice explaining how to move her mouth to sound like she was from some place else. Maggie caught herself reflected in the kitchen window, mouth wide open and teeth on display like fish going for an hook. Maggie saw clearly her one and only filling shining in the back of her mouth.
She was only vaguely aware that several large clouds blew in front of the sun and that the apartment got dark and then bright again, back and forth.
Maggie sat on the floor with her legs crossed and the cat, a scrawny long haired tom, in her lap and she never noticed when the sun went away for good, even though it was hardly 2:00. She didn’t notice the noise of the rain, like an army entering the neighborhood. In her mind, she was in France.
"Maggie. What are you doing?" her boyfriend Felix asked when he came home. Maggie didn't notice the lightening and she didn't notice that Felix was soaked. She stared at herself in a full length mirror she had brought out from the bedroom, watching her lips and how her face moved with each syllable as she talked and trying to see if any accents made her more or less attractive. She studied the way they moved her face, the way she smiled when an accent made a word slip out in a charming way. The cat was asleep, now draped around her shoulders.
"Nothing," she said in her best Parisian. She gave herself a smile in the mirror for how the word had lifted her lips.
“Are you hungry?”
She threw her hair over one shoulder and the cat swiped at it.
Felix began dinner and turned on the news. Maggie turned the news off. She opened her mouth and stared deep into the back of her throat and she sang several vowels in different ways. “Felix, come here,” she called into the kitchen. He appeared in the door holding an onion.
“I'm going to try this again and I want you to tell me what my tonsils are doing.”
The cat woke up and pawed at her cheek. Felix returned to the kitchen. The house filled with the smell of food and as the rain got louder, Maggie turned up the volume on her CD so that she could hear.
“Dinner!” called Felix,
While they ate, she was many women, each with something to say.
At bedtime, she brushed her teeth while growling at herself in Scots and grinned when Felix popped his head into the bathroom to see what was going on, clearly unnerved by the husky ruckus. She pulled her hair from its bun in a quick movement and let it fall in front of her face while she said his name three times, like an ancient summons. Felix sighed.
“All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand!”
That night, there was a flood watch and later, strong wind and sirens that woke them. Felix stumbled for his glasses. Maggie cursed like a Bostonian as she pushed back the covers. They took blankets and pillows to the tiny bathroom. Maggie brought candles, the CD player, and the cat. They made a little bed in the tub and sat together while Maggie practiced.
"Repeat after me: controversy."
"Controversy," said Maggie.
Eventually, Felix fell asleep with his feet dangled over the edge of the tub. The power went out but the CD player had batteries so Maggie kept practicing. She lit several candles and soon the room smelled liked the ocean.
"That's my uncle, the saxophonist."
The cat paced the tub, jumping over Felix’s legs.
At 4 AM, the sirens stopped, and they went back to their room.
"April is lovely," Maggie said to Felix as she moved close to him in bed.
"Japanese?" he asked sleepily.
"I heard it in my sleep. I could smell that stupid candle, the ocean one. I dreamed I was on some beach with a Japanese woman."
"That's great!" said Maggie.
In the morning, she was Irish. She poured him a cup of coffee and leaned over his shoulder.
She whispered a limerick in his ear and let each jumping word tickle the skin there. A blush warmed his cheek and hers against it.
When Felix came home that evening, Maggie had cut her hair. It now rested against her ears and was brushed to one side. False eyelashes made shadows like spider webs on her face.
She was still in front of the mirror, but she stood when Felix came and went to him, putting her hands on his shoulders. She leaned close, as if going in for a kiss, and put her lips against his cheek.
"My uncle, the saxophonist."
"They’re evacuating," said Felix. "We should get some things together and go."
"April is lovely."
The waters rose. Felix packed their bags and got the cat into his carrier. Maggie recited a haiku and then a sonnet. She picked out a takeaway menu from the glove compartment and read that to him as well.
“Do you know that one, Felix?”
“Oh, you're good! Let me do the vegan options!”
They drove to the high school gym where cots were set up and people in reflective vests handed out blankets and cups of warm drinks.
Maggie had been Australian since they arrived.
They settled into their cots and read. The gym quieted as much a place with three hundred people trying to sleep at once could.
There was the constant beating of the rain against the building and the sound of wind racing as fast it could and smashing into things. The storm marched forward and the windows trembled. The cat in his carrier cried and Maggie brought him out to sit in her lap.
The power went out and the sudden silence and deep darkness that followed woke nearly everyone that had managed to fall asleep in the noise and the light. The emergency power kicked on in moments and people sat up, murmuring in ripples.
Maggie comforted a set of crying twins that had been sleeping next to them, watched over by their grandmother, who cut recipes from magazines and pasted them on pages in a binder.
"Your wife is lovely," said the grandmother. "What a nice girl."
Maggie sang to the twins, in a voice he hadn't remembered her having.
"That accent!" said the grandmother. "So warm. New Zealand?"
"Australia," said Felix. "Perth, to be precise."
Heather Whited graduated from Western Kentucky University in 2006 with a BA in creative writing. She now lives in Portland, Oregon. She has been published in many literary magazines. In 2015 she was an honorable mention in Gemini Magazine's annual short story contest. She is a contributor to The Drunken Odyssey podcast and Second Hand Stories podcast.