It was the sort of late spring morning that the soul in February aches for; the sun shining through new leaves, birds shouting love and defiance at each other, and the air full of soft humidity moving in a zephyr with only enough strength to ruffle hair. He paused just outside the front door, breathing deep the smells of life renewed, smiling with uncomplicated happiness at it all. A stronger puff pressed gently on his face, as if to urge him not to carry on with this trip to the air conditioned confinement of work. A tinge of regret entering the smile, he began to move down the steps.
A bird swooped between him and the driveway, a mere light grey streak as it passed, and he followed its flight into the neighbour’s pine. As if the bird had startled the tree, a yellow-green cloud puffed out of it, borne on the gentle wind. The tree’s indiscriminate love passed over him, his yard, his house and the street, seeking a receptive cone. He looked at the fine dust on his blue sleeve, and laughed a little at this reminder that he was, however domesticated, still in and of nature.
There were drifts of pollen on the hood and windshield of his SUV, which stood in driveway before him. He laughed again; he had always thought the shape of the headlights and grille formed a discontented expression, and now with yellow dust spread across its dark paint it seemed to be quite put out. This wouldn’t last, of course, since his route to work saw him driving against today’s wind, and even if there hadn’t been a breeze, the vehicle’s motion would clear off the pollen in a couple of blocks.
He slung his briefcase in the back seat, sat behind the wheel, poked the key into the ignition, and was about to turn it when he looked through the windshield. Another laugh changed shape in his throat, emerging as a quizzical, “Huh?”
Right in the middle of the glass was a handprint, picked out in yellow. The wrist end was almost hidden by the rearview mirror, four slim fingers pointing toward the SUV’s hood and the thumb toward the driver’s side fender. The pollen wasn’t fine enough to show the prints, but the creases in the palm and at the joints were clear. A small hand, more like a woman’s than a child’s.
Just one. Dead centre.
He sat for a moment, the oddness of this print arresting him. He had a quick look at the glass in the door beside him, and on the far side. A little pollen, more on his side where the back-eddy of that gentle breeze had been able to dwell upon the task, but no other prints. He shrugged, and began to turn the key.
He let it go before he overcame the pressure of the spring and actually got the engine running. Curiosity sufficient for a dozen cats quivered in his head. He got out of the vehicle, to look at the print from the outside. He found he wasn’t able to get as close to it as he had been when in his seat, the vehicle’s high suspension raising the hood to above his waist level. There was no similar print on the paint of the hood. He stood on the doorsill to examine the roof, and found nothing there but the random dusting of pollen.
He could not put his own hand over the print, quite, standing in the door, able to reach but not to turn his hand so it was so precisely aligned with the edge of the windshield. He was not a large man, but the relative size of his hand and the print suggested whoever had left it was petite. When he stretched out, trying to contort his hand into the same position, he found he was unwilling to touch that hand-print. He told himself it was just a disinclination to get dirty with pollen, even though he was aware of having cleared a space of roof with his sleeve during his experiments.
He let himself down into the driver’s seat again. He became fully aware of the bonging of the car, telling him he had left the key in the ignition while the door was open, then he became annoyed. He slammed the door. The bonging stopped. The handprint remained.
He frowned at it for a few more seconds, trying to imagine how just that one hand had come to touch his windshield. A few possible methods began to take shape, but each called for enough labour that the attached question of why someone would bother rendered them unacceptable.
He started the engine. He held down the wash button, letting the wipers work while he got his belt on. The print was obliterated… almost. There was a vague haze left behind, and craning to look behind the rear-view he saw a crescent of yellow still in place, partially transected by the crease of the ball of the thumb, the palmist’s life-life. When pollen from the hood blew back as he has foreseen, fuzzily redefining the print, he shoved in the wash button once again.
Emerging from work, into a day that had gone from bright to cloudy, he discovered that there was still a ghost of the handprint on the windshield. He drove to a car wash, paid for the most extravagant cycle it offered, and entered it as the first drops of a downpour began.
The rain stopped before he got home, the sun reasserting itself. The wash and the working of the wipers on the way home appeared to have completely removed the print. He switched on the radio, cycling through presets until he found something with a good beat and happy lyrics.
The house sparkled with the dampness left by the rain as he pulled into the driveway. Birdsong, even more manic than the morning’s, flooded in with the petrichor when he pulled the door handle. He paused a second, peering under the rearview mirror once more to make sure the handprint was entirely gone. He noticed, for the first time on the whole trip home, that the back window had become filmed with the spray his SUV had kicked up. He shook his head, considering without much reproach his own foolishness, both in failing to attend to the mirror and in washing the car just before a rain. He thought of running the rear wiper to clear the window, but the ignition was off and the key already out. He shrugged and slid out of the seat.
He reached behind to pull out his briefcase. His mind was primarily on which of his supper options would go into the oven, so when his gaze ran across the rear window, he did not register the view through it until he had already closed the door and turned toward the house.
He paused in mid-stride. He turned back, looking at the SUV. From this vantage, the tinting of the back windows made it impossible to see anything in them but a reflection of the neighbour’s yard and the sky above it. Slowly, he walked around the vehicle to look directly at the rear window.
Dead centre of the glass, two footprints in the pale gray grime, as if someone had stood there barefoot in defiance of gravity, looking at the driveway, back to the clouds. A butterfly passed between him and the glass, right through where a shin would be if the feet had still been in place.
He closed his eyes, pivoted, and without opening them until his elbow tapped the side mirror, walked to the house. He paused a moment on the steps once the door was unlocked, breathing deeply, tasting as much as smelling the exuberance of young plants in the wake of the rain, listening to the birds and to the dripping of the eaves. Then he stepped into the house, closing the door behind him without looking back.
Long before sunset, he drew the blinds.
“A Reaction to Pollen” ©2016 Dirck de Lint