he stars were invisible, blanched out by the towering neons and the lights that shone indifferently into every corner of Show City.
She turned her gaze down again, wary of being noticed. The day had finished at 8pm, and offices were disgorging men and women whose dour faces and regularity of step turned the sidewalks into little more than conveyor belts. Across the street there were a few outsiders—their hair long or their faces dark—but on the whole, there was little to tell one from the other.
Natasha took every stride as though she were in a Western. ‘Flinty’ was the adjective she was trying to embody. She thought verbally; always had. So it was inevitable that she used words as her armor, that she projected them outward to hold the lights and the glass and the people at bay.
They moved in near-silence until a small group of them peeled off toward the right. Fog lights burned in the alleys between the towers, and blinded Natasha as they neared the elevator. There was no way she could know if he was here. The faces of her companions were whited out in a halogen glow. The elevator, waiting stoically, swallowed them and took them to the shuttle above.
She did as instructed and held back while the others crowded in. Still no sign…
Then, as the shuttle doors kissed shut, a man’s face peered from the other end of the platform and caught her gaze. He turned away from the shuttle so that the people inside could not see his face. Deep wrinkles contrasted with pitch black hair, and Natasha realized why they had christened him ‘Reagan’.
In two steps he had looped his arm around hers and drawn her away from the shuttle. Some of the faces inside fizzled into life, and fingers pressed against the glass as they noticed the couple who had remained on the platform.
They had already pushed through an emergency exit, were listening to their footsteps echo against the concrete stairwell, when he said: “Natasha?”
“Yes”, she replied, and fumbled the piece of paper out of her pants pocket. Reagan glanced at it and released her. He said something; something her brain interpreted as ‘hurry‘.
Soon, the regulated air of Show City hit their cheeks, and they began pushing their way against the tide of people on the sidewalk. The neons blurred, and crowds parted. A low, rumbling siren summoned black-clad security officers, but Natasha focused only on Reagan’s box-shaped outline. They reached a sign that read ‘South Station’, and he helped her vault a rusted gate. Descending toward a half-buried turnstile, they climbed further away from the blinding lights above. They were underground. Beneath the city.
A train waited; one Natasha remembered from her childhood. As she and Reagan tumbled inside, she finally exhaled.
he pool was still full, and a handful of the underwater lights still burned, backlighting the water so that it glowed invitingly.
Reagan and the others were inside, but she felt alone. Comparatively, she was. Close to seven million people lived within the walls of Show City, but here, on the outskirts, there were mere hundreds. She gazed into the water and wondered why there were no pools in the city. No lakes or oceans, no bathtubs even.
The small house he had brought her to was a constellation of rotten wooden beams and red bricks. Pipes had tumbled from the ceilings, but the hearth that been built in one corner of the first floor kept them warm with tree branches and old newspapers. Soon she would have to relocate but for now, at least, she was free.
‘Free’, Natasha thought. She projected the word outward.
Stepping closer, she pulled her shirt over her head and slipped her shoes and pants off, tossing them to the ground. The aquamarine glow, interrupted only by the occasional leaf, was too hard to resist. She crouched and slipped easily into the pool, a rush of water cocooning her.
The stars looked very different out here. Their light shone brilliantly. Light from thousands, even millions of years ago, still visible in the dark charcoal sky. Closing her eyes, she sculled softly with her hands, staying afloat by instinct .
* * * * *
This week, we’re featuring a new collaboration between photographer Naama Sarid, whose work we’ve featured in the past. Naama has been kind enough to share her work with some of our other contributors, and they have been writing and creating based on her wonderful photography. This piece is inspired by Exposure № 070: Floating Memories. See Naama Sarid’s other Snake-Oil Cure contrubutions here.