This City Isn’t Mars

Illustration by Jeannie Priscila, Fashion Design '15.

Illustration by Jeannie Priscila, Fashion Design ’15.

[S]he writes her name at the top, on the right corner.

Mud decorates her rug, the dried dirt clinging to the purple fabric. She calls it cheap décor. The empty mug sits on the table to her right, brown residue lying on the bottom. Crisp air fills her nostrils, as the opened window lets in the cries of a child. The wind tangles in her hair and loose strands tickle her nose. Dreams escape from the wooden dream catcher above her bed, to dance with the curtains that billow in the wind.  Eyes fixate on the sight and she cocks her head to the side.

“Tell them our story,” they whisper, the raspy sounds clinging to the air. They are ghosts, waving hello and goodbye. Their words dance across her face, sticking to her skin where the summer heat has touched. She inhales sharply, the aroma of cigarette and mildew filling her nostrils. She misses the smell of rain.

She writes.

The curtains part, their ends caressing her cheek. She glances out the window to see the street vendor on the corner pack his cart and move south. His shadow stretches across the pavement, disappearing as he turns the corner. The Chinese Take-Out across the street blinds with its red neon sign. There are two customers, sharing a conversation over dumplings and rice. City buildings in the distance stand upright, worshipping the moon. Street lights flicker on and off, as if the Milky Way has fallen onto Earth. The scene reminds her of the lightning bugs that roamed over her garden in a city she once called Mars. She sighs. That city is gone now.

She writes.

Sirens wail down the road, the blue and red lights flashing off the walls. They dance across her ceiling, with the sound of tires reaching a crescendo then fading into pianissimo. The lights vanish. City cement can’t compare to red dust roads, where cacti line the streets and where crickets sing their chorus. She misses the nightly ritual of her coronation as a queen, to the fireflies and cicadas that always came to play. She misses the nightly ritual of crowns weaved with weeds and thrones made of rock.

She writes.

She shifts left and right in her seat, the cool feeling of faded oak grazing the underside of her thigh. Moonbeams tiptoe across her page in a mad frenzy, skipping over the edge to disappear into the cracks of the floor.  Shadows play tricks against the wall, putting on a play of tragedy and love. Silhouettes of faces smile back at her, as they circle around her room. She waves. A moth catches her eye. It flutters around, its white wings suspended in the dark. She catches it with her mouth. It stays stuck inside. It squirms, shifts, and fidgets. She feels it take its final breath. She swallows.

She writes.

Her neighbours’ voices carry from above, their movements creating a beat that only their bodies can mimic. Creaking and screaming, echo their dance. Small bits from the ceiling fall into her lap, like miniature hail. Piano chords travel from a room down the hall. The player repeats the note over again, pressing down hard as if stabbing the keys with his fist. A garbage can lid slams against a surface. A man grumbles and a woman nags.  Vibrations run through the room and she wonders if the dragon is awake.

She writes.

A horn honks. A car speeds. A dog barks. A child cries. A toilet flushes. A man whistles. These sounds repeat each night. They are the constant melody put on replay for her ears and her ears only. She exhales. She sits in the centre of a cocoon of noise and murmurs. It suffocates her in comfort and anxiety. But she’s been in here too long and she will never be a butterfly.

“How much longer before we get a new story?” the curtains whisper.

She writes.

Faint echoes of chatter bounce off the brick walls. She ties her hair in a ponytail, letting some disobedient strands stick to her neck. A throb pulsates through her palm. The ache stretches out into her wrist, where a rusted bracelet hangs off. Her arm grows numb. She stares down at her pale fingers that curl around the pencil. It has grown dull and her fingers are red and calloused.  She rests her elbow on the table, leaning her head into her palm. She inhales, she exhales. The warm air rubs her skin.

She hears a key turn in a lock. A door creaks open. The tiny screech fills the air, the tension rising as she stares out into the empty hallway.

“Mama?” she cries out. No one answers. The curtains stop dancing. Her dreams have returned home.

She looks down.

Her page is blank.


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