07 March 2014

New Ficlet of Doom

There is a particular blue sky which desert dwellers know. It is high, and hard, and covers everything from horizon to horizon in unforgiving glare. This sky appears when it is so hot that the crickets stop singing, so dry that even cactus wilt. Under a sky of this blue, two young women walked along an arroyo.

The tall one had hair that would be black silk if she took care of it; she didn’t. It was chopped unevenly at her jaw line, held out of her eyes with a violet Alice band. Her eyes were almond shaped and corner-tilted, suggesting Asian ancestry, though their dark blue color belied the suggestion. Her lips were dry, but not yet cracking. She wore high­-waisted jean shorts and a green tank top with a superhero’s logo.

The short one had burnished copper hair twisted up and held off her neck by a silver pin. Her eyes were hazel: green on the outside with a ring of brown at the center. Her lips were red, a perfect cupid’s bow, protected by gloss. She wore jeans and a coral camisole edged with lace; her black bra peeked out around the edges.

They reached the place they were seeking and scrambled up the side of the ditch to the corner of a chain link fence. The fencing was cut, and the tall one held the cut open, gingerly careful of the hot metal, while the short one scrambled through. She followed a moment later, holding the fence for herself.

Inside the fence, a carnival’s rides waited for a season that had not come in either woman’s memory. Silently, the young women walked past a tilt­-a-­whirl frozen in place; past a haunted house folded in on itself to travel as a trailer. In the desert rust is not the primary enemy; ultraviolet light is. Plastics become brittle and pigments colorless. Binding agents break down and paint flakes away in scales. All the rides showed bare metal and splintered plastic.

In the shadow of a dismasted Viking ship stood a carousel. Most of the animals were dismounted, leaning against the center pillar. A horse and a hen stood side by side, bolted in place. Behind them was a dragon, its broad back providing room for a bench seat. The pair stepped up to the carousel’s deck. The tall one sat on the horse, while the short one leaned against the hen.

They looked at each other, and then away.

“Are you really going, Ada?” the short one asked. Her voice was a pleasant alto, her accent heartland American.

“Are you really marrying Jack?” Ada asked. Her voice was surprising, a dramatic contralto. There was a hint of foreign pronunciation… a certain cast to the vowels, perhaps.

The short one grinned. “Well, duh,” she said. She held up her left hand, showing off the diamond in its golden band. “He paid for me,” she said, teasingly. “Now I have to make sure he gets his money’s worth.” She shook her head. “Is that why you’re going?”

Ada laughed. “Don’t flatter yourself, Molly,” she said.

“Then why?”

Ada sighed. “I don’t know,” she said, looking at the Viking ship. “I feel like I have to. I mean… I won’t die or anything if I don’t go, but… I’ll go on doing what I’m doing. Drifting. Playing open mic night down at Saint Elmo’s, stocking shelves for Mr. Brown.”

“Is that so bad?” Molly asked.

“It’s not bad,” Ada answered. “It’s just… boring. I feel like I could do more. I feel like I could be more.”

Molly ran her finger over the scaling paint on the hen’s beak. She pulled a flake off, held it between her fingers, examined the color. She tightened her grip, crumbling the flake, then blew the dust off her fingers. “Okay,” she said. “But why the moon?”

Ada shrugged. “Why not the moon?”

“It’s so far away… and there are pirates. That thing with the asteroid….”

Ada laughed. “’That thing with the asteroid’ was ten years ago. And it was in the main belt. I’m not going out past Mars; I’m just going to the moon. You can see it from here!”

“I thought Lunagrad was on the far side?” Molly asked.

“It is,” Ada admitted. “But the moon… you can see the moon from here.” She leaned over, looking under the edge of the carousel’s roof at the hard sky. “Well. Not right now. But you know… generally.”

Molly nodded. “What will you do?” she asked.

“I’ll play in clubs,” Ada said. “I’ll wear fabulous clothes that I buy in the Sunday market. I’ll impress some producer and become a star.”

“You’ll stack boxes for some little shop,” Molly countered.

Ada laughed. “Maybe at first,” she admitted.

Molly shook her head. She looked at the toes of her tennis shoes.

Ada looked at the Viking ship again. “Hey,” she said, when the silence had stretched too long. “I got you a wedding present.”

“Oh?” Molly asked, straightening up.

Ada dug in her pocket, pulled out a small box. “Well, when my guitarist gets married, I have to give her something,” she said. “It’s in the Big Golden Book of Unbreakable Rules.” She handed the box over.

Molly opened it. Inside was a triangular ebony guitar pick threaded on a fine silver chain. She laughed. “I do have other things I can do,” she said, the teasing tone back in her voice. She took the chain out, and opened the clasp. “Help me,” she said.

Ada slid off the horse, accepted the ends of the chain as Molly turned her back. “Of course you do,” she said, fastening the ends together. “You can do anything you want. You could… come to the moon with me.” She rested her hand at the base of Molly’s neck for a moment.

Molly shook her head, and stepped away. She held the ebony pick between her fingers, running her index finger lightly over the smooth wood. “I can’t,” she said. “Even if I weren’t marrying Jack, I couldn’t. I’m not that girl.” She shook her head. “That life you described, the quiet, boring one? That’s me. That’s what I want. To be in my place, and live my life with the people I know.”

Ada pushed herself back up onto the horse’s back. “That’s saying you don’t want to,” she countered. "It's not the same as not being able to.”

Molly leaned back against the hen, and looked at her friend. “You’ve always thought I was as big as you were,” she said with a smile. “And I’ve been glad of that; I have. But I’m not.” She grinned. “Besides… pirates!”

Ada shook her head, and snorted a laugh. “There’s always a risk of someone doing something to you,” she said. “Always someone willing to die for their beliefs… or kill for them. ‘Pick your nose, lose a finger!’”

“Is that in the Big Golden Book of Unbreakable Rules?” Molly asked. “Good job I use my thumb!”

“You can get your thumb in your nose?” Ada asked. “That’s some serious pickin’ right there, that is!”

“See?” Molly asked. “I better not go where the Enforcers of the Book live… what would I do without my thumbs?”

They laughed, and Ada looked at the Viking ship. “I’ll miss you,” she said, when the laughter died away.

“You’d better,” Molly answered.

1 comment:

Susan said...

What always draws me in is the detail. The rich, lovely detail. The things someone observing this pair, for instance, might notice, if she were watching closely. It gets me every time, makes me feel like your characters are real people, makes me care what comes next. Thank you for this. Don't stop here. =)