Part two of three.
Dave is taking some time off from Catharsis to focus on other projects, but will return soon. This weeks header image is the same one he put together for the first part of the story last week.
She watched him pick his way down another road, negotiating familiar patterns. Bobbing in and out of streetlight, turning inside out.
She caught him sneaking a glance back at her, and he smiled, broad and hopeful. She returned the gaze, and tightened her jacket.
They thread their way through corridors of towering buildings. It was all like this, for miles and miles up and down the coast. One single, cluttered expanse of metal and concrete, people piled on top of each other like precarious wooden game pieces. Holding their breath as they prepared to fall across the ground and wait to get picked back up.
The light was mostly electric, even in the day. Now that night was upon them, the small glimmer of sunlight that forced its way through the blanket of smog was lost, and all that was left was a wash of green and blue. Laura both loved and hated the sprawl, felt lost and at home. She was a tiny piece of a giant, finished puzzle. All that was left was to fuse together with the pieces pressed up against her.
Ahead, Garret waited at a corner for Laura to catch up. She shuffled towards him quickly in the cold.
“Should we get some food before we go home?”
Laura nodded. “Tofer’s again?”
“Didn’t we go there on Wednesday?”
Garret shook his head, grinning. “You’d eat burgers every single meal if you could wouldn’t you?”
Laura watched him, defiant, as he tumbled ahead down Seventh Street, overbalanced by alcohol. It was quiet. Even in this endless metropolis, parts of the world still found a way to sleep amongst the fog.
The engagement party had been nice enough. Full of noise and warm colour. Laura had wrapped herself in it, and when Garret had plucked her out of it for home, she’d felt the pull of the nicety weigh down her ankles as they walked away from the apartment. Out here, it was easy to forget that kind of amber glow existed.
Up ahead, Garret had stopped, standing unsteadily by the sidewalk. Laura smiled softly, thought about him, his arms, his breath. The months they’d spent together. The shapes of the days ahead, still forming. Somewhat grey. Poised like smoke to dissipate. She shouldn’t think like that, shook her head at the thought.
But she did think like that. Searched casually, constantly, for an escape route. She approached Garret’s trembling back, and thought about where and when she’d find a way to leave it behind.
“What are you doing, alco? Had a few too many spritzers at the soiree, no?”
Garret’s head turned back, his feet fixed in spot. He looked at Laura, his eyes hollow and faltering. Laura shook her head, confused, trying to smile.
He knew? She was busted, exposed in the late night darkness. How could he know, how could –
But that wasn’t it.
“I think you should call the police, or an ambulance, or –”
“What? What’s happened?”
Garret turned and stepped forward, grabbed Laura’s arms. She tried to look around him. Something on the side of the road, red and thick and –
“Don’t look. Please don’t look.”
“Garret – Garret what –”
“Somebody’s, I think – I think somebody’s had an accident. Just call somebody, okay?”
Laura nodded, and wished she was back in the warm glow of the party. She made the call.
Overhead, the air was thick and still. Unfaltering.
“They’re on their way.”
“Don’t look. Don’t look, babe, please.” Garret fell onto the curb. He let his head sink into his hands and waited.
Behind Garret, half in the gutter, fingers gripping the curb like a rock climber, was a young man. Couldn’t be more than twenty years old. His eyes searched the night sky, fleeting. He looked happy.
Below his shoulders, a mess. Tumbling out, a wreck. Red and thick. His body was torn apart, by someone or something. Laura closed her eyes, and thought of the party.
This was truly a terrible town, full of uncanny waste. A terrible town that stretched over every square mile of earth, a town that connected them all, and left them all daringly to their own devices.
Laura sat down next to Garret and waited for the ambulance, and the police.
Her mind remained restless.
“Maybe we should talk to him. Until somebody gets here. Let him know everything’s going to be okay?”
Garret looked up at Laura, and said nothing. He wrapped his arms around his legs, buried his eyes, hid from it all and shook uncontrollably.
Laura watched Garret fall apart on the side of Seventh Street, and slowly stood.
She kept her gaze level, looking at a neon sign on the other side of the street. An advertisement for something. It simply said, ‘Jettison!’
She let the word burn into her retinas as she stepped over by the young man in red.
“Um… sir? Sir, we’ve called someone. Someone will be here soon.”
Nothing. Laura’s eyes fought with her brain, threatening to creep their aim downward to check what was happening. It was unclear who was winning, her reason or her instinct, but the neon filled her gaze.
“Someone will be here soon. Someone will be here and everything will be alright. I promise.”
She listened for a response. Realised how loud the city was, even now. Full of distant traffic and the hum of electricity. The neon across from her flickered, and she thought she could hear that too.
And she heard a whimper, a soft sob.
She looked down. The young man, who had been attacked or hit by a car or fallen from a great height – who had something unreal happen to him – was still. His eyes were closed.
It was Garret, sobbing a few metres away. Laura ripped her gaze from the dying young man, and hurried down next to Garret.
In the distance, the sounds of sirens approached. Laura grabbed Garret’s head, pulled it up out of his lap. He stared at her, willing her to let him go so he could hide again. But she held firm, and kissed him deeply. He relented.
But as she kissed Garret, Laura thought only of neon, and realised that she didn’t really mean it.
And he didn’t know.
Words copyright Matt Vesely. Image copyright David Keen.