Sister, they always said we were the bright ones, the ones who were going to go so far, but here we are, only twenty-five miles from the house that wasn’t a home, twenty-five miles from the man who’s staticy voice taught us that we were much less worthy than what we ever were.
The punishment for minor infractions during Athary’s twice-yearly voyage was to spend a night confined to the smallest wooden lifeboat, being towed on a line let far, far out behind the armor-bottomed ship. With the Great Serpents in the depths, visible by day as a mass of shifting shadow and by night as a writhing bioluminescence, most people feared a night in the rowboat.
“Feels like being bait on a hook,” Ponna, one of the girls in Athary’s year, said. Her face was green and her voice faint.
All that after enduring a night in the boat only one time, Athary thought with scorn.
The studio was too bright, dazzling with a hundred stage lights so intense they felt like white hot blades flying in every direction. If Madison were Madison, she wouldn’t have come here. Not to this manufactured menagerie of bleached smiles, skin-tight dresses, and tanning oil slathered pecs, where the people were large and their egos were larger. No, Madison would have been terrified.
But Madison hadn’t been Madison in a very long time. Gone was the chubby face packed with baby fat, as well as the faint freckles sprayed across her nose. In their place were the high cheekbones and sharp-edged eyeliner of a huntress on the prowl. Soft, stuttering words had been replaced by poison-tongued barbs and unforgiving proclamations, all courtesy of the woman who had taken her place: Bella.
In my mother’s house, she asks me when I’m going to have a child, her eyes veiled with a sadness she’ll never fully admit to.
She asks all the time, but now it’s different. The question seems to carry a different weight and it rests heavy on my shoulders.
From the sofa, I sip my tea. It’s gone cold.
The grey squirrel is big. Too large for its species; almost too large for trees. Strapped around its chest is a great deal of what looks to be white cookie dough. The stuff is wrapped in translucent plastic, beads of moisture pick at the daylight. Wires spread out from these unstable packages, a drunken web hung all over the room, touching windows, touching the doors, wrapped around chairs. At the centre of this snare sits the eloquent rodent who, with a calculated and easy arrogance is smoking a big cigar.
‘No, absolutely not, no. No, I am not doing this story,’ said the reporter.
When I imagined our new life, I saw green. Swathes of blades in life giving green. The reflected sky almost aquamarine. Shoes discarded, not needed, soles of feet pressed into earth. Unplugging myself from the simulation; reconnecting to Gaia. Some transference would take place that I could not fully comprehend, because I had lost that primal piece, the language of plants scraped clean from my tongue. But like a child I would relearn it, throw myself down, make grass angels with naked limbs while osmosis occurred.
So I indulged in my contemporaries’ warnings and apprehensions with faraway smiles, certain of their jealousy; their existence ten levels deeper in the game.
They were standing in the kitchen by their mugs, waiting to pour hot water onto tea bags, even though as the poster above the sink reminded them, ‘A watched kettle never boils!’ There had been a flurry of stuff to get sent away that morning, and now the pair of them were enjoying the sudden calm of a post-deadline lull.
Behind them, Muriel was discussing the security protocols of online sign-up pages with someone.
‘I’m not a robot!’ she giggled. ‘To prove it, they always ask you to “select all the images that contain a bridge or road sign” or something. But I always find that at least one or two of these pics are a fuzzy area for me. Is that a road sign there in the background in that square, or doesn’t that one count? Which means I could get locked out if I get it wrong – but surely actually proves I’m all too human!!’
Come here at night to drink,
Madame Simone Dorléac noted with mild indifference that the English still dressed appallingly for summer. For a brief second she idly scratched the back of her head and pondered the true degree of this disinterest, then concluded that it did not especially matter. The important point here was that she was correct.
Simone fanned herself with her bonnet as she peered at the train carriage. It was as though it had been decorated with a fluid wallpaper of obscene floral prints. Worse still, the men had uniformly crowbarred themselves into jean shorts, the poor buttons of which threatened to become projectiles. Were it not for the protection of the sliding glass door, Simone would surely soon lose an eye.