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  • Writer's pictureNicole Jorge

Writetober prompt #16 - city

She adjusts to the city easily enough. She even likes it, at first. Libraries, museums, theaters, plenty to keep her entertained. Even when the money starts to run low, there’s still so much to do. And that’s not even the best part. The best part is that it’s delightfully easy for her to lose herself in the masses. She’s no one special here, just another face in the crowd. She moves into an apartment in a building full of many apartments and finds a job at a coffee chain where she wears a uniform. She appreciates the anonymity of it all.

It takes a while for her to burn out. School lets out for the summer, and the streets are swarming 24/7. It becomes impossible for her to feel truly alone. When she’s at home she can hear her neighbors on either side through the thin walls, so she takes to going to bed early with earbuds in and ASMR lulling her to sleep. She understands what it’s like to feel isolated and overwhelmed all at once.

She’s taking the train home one day when it happens. She’s in uniform, half-asleep as she sways on her feet against one of the support poles. There’s a man next to her and by the time she realizes he’s peering closely at her face, it’s too late.

“Didn’t you save the world once?” he asks without preamble.

For a moment, she’s genuinely confused. “What?”

“Yeah,” he insists. “You were all over the news. Kid hero. I remember.”

She stares at him. She’s aware of the shadows beneath her eyes, the limp way her hair hangs to her shoulders. “Do I look like a hero?” she asks, finally.

He frowns. “No way. I swear I recognize you. What happened?”

She’s too tired for this shit. “I’m not a hero,” she insists. “I sell coffee.”

He doesn’t believe her. He knows better. But he must figure he isn’t going to get anywhere, because he turns from her at last. She doesn’t even have the energy to be relieved. She lets her eyes slide shut and rests them from the harsh fluorescent lights until the announcement for her stop comes. When she opens her eyes again, the man is gone.

Later, she’ll wonder if it was an omen.

Sleep evades her that night. She gives up on her earbuds and sits out on her narrow little balcony. The sounds of the city have become a kind of muted hum to her. The lights in the tall commercial buildings burn late into the evening. The traffic in the street below never seems to end. The neighbor to her right is blasting his TV, some laugh track loud in her ears. The baby to her left is crying again. Tires squeal, and two cars heading in and out respectively to her building’s garage crash into each other. Their drivers climb out and begin shouting at each other. She lights a cigarette, the smoke drowning out the various smells of metal, trash, and ozone.

Tobin shows up first thing the next morning. She’s getting ready to have her coffee before work - she serves the stuff, but she’d never drink it - when he steps out through her mirror easy as can be. He doesn’t seem fazed by the fact that she’s in her bra and smiles at her.

“There you are! I’ve been trying to figure out where you’d crawled off to.”

“I have work.”

He frowns. “Yes. You do. Have you heard, then?”

She sighs. She picks her uniform shirt up and starts to button herself into it. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“The apocalypse, of course,” he tells her, matter-of-factly. “Should be starting up any day now. Your services are needed once again.”

“My services earn me a couple bucks above minimum wage, which is barely enough to live off of,” she replies. “But that’s better than nothing.”

“Nothing?” Tobin repeats, puzzled. “We’re talking about the fate of the world. Lives at stake. All of them depending on you.”

“Is this a salaried position?”

Tobin has never been great at understanding human humor, even if he manages to pass for human these days. He tilts his head at her curiously. “I’m sorry?”

“I’m retired, Tobin,” she tells him. “For fuck’s sake, I’m 34 years old. Too old for this shit.”

“I don’t understand how your age is relevant to the matter. You’re safely beyond the age of maturity, but still fairly young by your species’ reckoning.

Tobin is unconcerned by her answering scowl. “I’m not a kid,” she says. “I’m tired. And I’m broke.”

He smiles. “Broke, but not broken. Won’t you come along with me to hear the details, at least? I’m sure it’ll be worth your while. And you’ll have a new uniform! Much nicer than the one you’re wearing now.”

The baby to her left starts to cry. Someone to her right drops something, and a man shouts angrily. She finds herself running her fingers thoughtfully along the bright white sleeve of her stiffly starched uniform blouse. “A new uniform?” she repeats.

She sighs again. “They’ll have to pay me this time. I can’t keep doing this for free.”

Tobin nods. “I’m sure we can negotiate something reasonable. After all, you’re a professional now.”

Tires squeal. Car horns blare. Tobin offers her his arm and she takes it grudgingly.

“Fuck it. I hate this place, anyway.”

They step back into the mirror together. She leaves the city as she found it, none the wiser for her time there. Exactly how she wanted it.

"city"by barnyz is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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