rathe

Today, another word picture.

rathe. [reɪð]. adverb. Quickly, rapidly, soon, early (as in the morning). From a Germanic etymon.

 

It’s so dark in the park, and the fountain so bright, you can’t see more than silhouettes. Silhouettes of the metal dogs vomiting water up into the tiers of the fountain. Silhouettes of trees coming into leaf. Silhouettes of three people: two standing together, facing the fountain, a tallish man and a shorter woman, she leaning slightly into him; a third one in profile, holding up his phone to take a picture of the same thing the couple are looking at. You can’t see what they’re focusing on. You can’t see a body face down in the water.

It’s late, too late, so late it’s early, too early. And yet not early enough. This couple knew they had to get here soon, but they would sooner be somewhere else. But there was another who was rathe, too rathe, who would rather be here, and was.

There are bars across the street from this park: a whiskey bar, a vodka bar, a Mexican bar, a swing bar, all open late for people to water their joy and drown their sorrow. There are no fences barring access to the park. From time to time an overwatered night drinker comes to freshen up in the fountain. A disappointed lover may sit on the water’s edge talking to God or one of the dogs. People come and people go but anyone may find undisturbed solitude in the wash of white noise from the fountain.

Let us imagine a party of three tipping shot after shot in the vodka bar. Near-indistinguishable editions of ethanol in solution, served in an assortment of ponies, souvenir jiggers, and maiden aunts’ cordial cups, sampled to solve and dissolve the divisions and remainders of the day. A man who has been given his freedom by his last lady, reeling and swinging and grasping, has called for help from two of his oldest friends. He is piqued, and his wrath brings him in rathe; he is rather peaking and peaked already when they peek in and take the ten-and-two positions at his table. He has decided: one of these old friends will leave with him. But when they sit down he is not so blind drunk as to miss their blossoming familiarity with each other, their casual touches, their knees in contact. They would just as soon have each other, he realizes, and they rather have.

And they are not so loveswept not to notice the amour rigor mortis that descends over his face. He has seen but won’t make a scene. They order a round, and another, and another. At each turn he gets tighter, and the more wound he is the more wounded he feels. He stands up, his legs quivering as they push the full weight of the planet away from him. “I think I’m done. I’m going to get some fresh air in the park.” He pulls out his wallet and lets a tree’s worth of green twenties fall on the table. He swims out the door. The couple look at each other.

Should they follow? No, not yet. Let him have some time.

Should they have told him sooner? He knew them both first, before they knew each other. But now they have gotten each other first. Well, he was taken. And then mistaken.

They get another round, and then they get around to it. They pay and come to the park.

And find what they have missed.

Now they are standing looking towards the fountain. Water has overflowed at one point and runs in an inland delta around their feet.

He came across the street, you see. He walked directly, roughly, to the water, to reflect. His knees met the stone and the fountain rose to meet him, and he tilted in and the water closed over the back of his head. Such bright lights in the bottom of this fountain, like the gate of heaven. So cool, this water. This is what he wanted after all. A conclusion, all too rathe and yet too late.

And now they are here, looking at that spot. The water is beginning to dry at the edge of the fountain. The man standing in profile is taking a picture of the body that’s not there, and his hands and shirt are still dripping as he holds his phone up. It’s still functioning because it was in his butt pocket. His reflexes are working well enough now. Amazing how quickly they come back when air starts to run out.

“You must have enjoyed your swim, if it’s worth a picture,” the man of the couple says.

He lowers his phone. “It’s just so I can remember where not to go next time.”

“Time to go home now,” the woman says. “It’s late.”

“It’s early, I rather think,” he says. “Good night. Good morning.”

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