“Morning Traffic”  by Phyllis Green


George showers and shaves.Chooses the gray suit, white shirt, blue tie. What would it be like to work casual he wonders. Lucky bastards. He turns on Sirius-XM and hears Jeri Southern doing “The very thought of you…” He still has her record. “I was born after my time,” he muses. He has lots of big records. No stereo. Gone, tossed out sometime. He might see if the antique shop wants to buy them back.  Hope they aren’t warped he thinks as he hums with Jeri.

As he passes Julie’s photograph in the sterling silver frame that he’s forgotten to polish, he puts his second finger on her dark wavy Welsh hair, that huge soft mass you could lose yourself in. “I know you couldn’t take it,” he murmurs. “I understand.”

In the kitchen he swallows a doughnut in two bites. Looks out the window. “A day for my main man.” He grabs his big black bumbershoot. 

Bumbershoots are also called umbrellas or brollys. In the old days, they were mainly reserved for royalty with a servant holding the umbrella over the king (for example) to keep him dry.

At the bus stop on 85th Avenue George spots Avis Sailer with her walker getting her aqua pant suit rain spotted.

“Hey, Avis!”

“It was sunny when I left,” she says. “Now I’m soaked and ready for Ugly Umbrella.” They laugh and banter about neighborhood things—Alice the barking dog, the change in the garbage pick-up day. When the bus arrives, the driver stores Avis’ walker and George rests Bumbershoot against the bus and carries Avis up into a seat.  God, she’s all wire and little bones. There is nothing to her. Like lifting soapsuds.

In Greece, parasols (umbrellas to keep the sun out) were fashionable for ladies in the 5th Century BC. 

A boy with a Justin Beiber haircut leans against the black iron fence of St. Sebastian’s. “She’s going to kill me,” the boy cries, his tears flying sideways, his nose all snotty. His school paper has blown through the fence. NO ADMITTANCE it says at the gate. Churches have to be careful now. Too many arsons.

Bumbershoot to the rescue, spears the homework and retrieves it, leaving a big hole in the paper. “The teacher will give me holy hell!  She’s super strict on penmanship and neatness!” George hands the boy his business card. “Have her call me and we’ll put the entire blame on Bumbershoot.”

“Where did you get such a big umbrella?”

“It was my grandfather’s and then my father’s and now its mine.”

It was good to be friends with the King of Siam because his friends could have umbrellas.  In Europe’s middle ages, cloaks, not umbrellas, were used to protect ones self from the rain.

Passing Lake Sylvan, George watches parent Mallards with their young brood of seven trailing behind like well-behaved toddlers.  But then he spots the eighth, all by itself, eyes closed and head lolled to one side. The parent ducks are calling. “Shape up! Get over here!”  But the little one simply floats.

Bumbershoot uses its curved wooden handle to reach and cradle the lame duckling and gently pulls it to shore. The mother and father squeak and prod at it. George walks on so he won’t see them abandon the little fellow.

In ancient Rome Umbraculums (umbrellas) were used by women and fanciful men. A man’s man would not be seen under one.

At the intersection where Starbucks competes with Peet’s Coffee, a woman with a blond ponytail wearing a blue halter, short-shorts and five-inch Jimmy Choo’s screams loud enough to make eagles weep and points to a man running with a large red purse.  George chases and Bumbershoot pins the purse snatcher with his steel snout, then swiftly turns the other way and whacks the guy’s head with the thick wooden handle until he is down and begging, then George stands on the thief’s back until the cop arrives.  The crowd takes his picture with their cell phones.

“The victim is back a block.” George says to the cop.

“I’ll need your name.”

“George. Bumbershoot. We’ve got to go to the office.”

Umbrellas are part of the Catholic regalia for the Pope. Usually red and gold.  Featured on basilicas and in religious pageants.

He heads into the construction zone where a new Wal Mart is being built.  George walks under the protected sidewalk but he hears a shout, “HEADS UP!” and boards tumble around him and a bag of cement lands on Bumbershoot, crushing his veins until he is bent quite out of shape and looking like printed W’s all around. W W W W W. Or is it V’s?  V for vanquished.

Almost everyone today owns one or two umbrellas. They come in all shapes, sizes and colors. Men, women, and children carry them for protection from the rain. You no longer have to be royalty to own an umbrella.

When he reaches his office, George rocks the busted, crumpled Bumbershoot in the deluxe executive highest quality contoured multi-functional ergonomic Italian maroon leather office chair. It rocks, it swivels; it has adjustable arms and a headrest.  It’s the cat’s meow. He gets into a rhythm, forwards and backwards again and again and soon he is at the rhythm very much like when he rocked and cuddled his and Julie’s stillborn, Geoffrey Winston, Geoffrey the beautiful. How can he be dead when he looks so healthy?

When he completes the rocking he carefully lays Bumbershoot and his mangled ribs in a corner of the desk where he will be comfortable. Then George gets on with his work.

* Some umbrella facts from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

A Pushcart prize nominee and Micro Award nominee, Phyllis Green’s stories have been published in Epiphany, Parting Gifts, Prick of the Spindle, Poydras Review, The Blue Lake Review, Bluestem, The Sheepshead Review, The Chaffin Journal, Paper Darts, apt, ShatterColors, The Cossack Review, Rougarou, Belle Reve Journal, The Examined Life, Hospital Drive, Orion Headless, Apeiron Review, Empirical Magazine, Bitterzoet, and a drama in Mason’s Road; upcoming stories in Edwin E. Smith’s Quarterly, and The Milo Review. This story originally appeared in print in BLUESTEM.