Future Tastemakers of the Future
She lies floating in a state of grace, her doll-like head turned up to the heavens and meanwhile the world’s torn asunder.
I peer through the fence: watching, admiring. The pool is a brilliant blue, its shades and hues amplified by the rays of a sun that slowly decays. Her slender body stretches along the length of the lilo that fetches her gently round the pool, one arm trailing to steer. She wears a bikini, of the type I am not permitted to wear by my mother, who has ideas about that sort of thing. Instead, I wear a one-piece made of cheap fabric, that itches in all the worst places and retains moisture rather than repels it, so that I sag and sog as soon as I emerge from the water.
It should go without saying: I do not swim.
Although neither — it would seem — does she, apparently existing above the water like a lily, or on the poolside, either of which require her only to lie back and bask in the sunshine and my admiration. The chlorinated water would likely damage her silken hair and irritate her faultless skin. And so there she is, content and at peace; bobbing, bobbing along.
But a star shrieks hard and falls through the sky, crash-lands to the ground and burns up a-height. The inhabitants of the next town over are reduced to ashes and their stench is carried on the breeze, but all I can smell is the fresh-blooming japonicas and jacaranda in her garden.
To one side of the pool is a vacant sun-lounger with a towel spread across, and a small table with a pitcher of lemonade and iced tumblers. In our garden there is an old swing-set that doesn’t swing and in my hand I hold a plastic juice-cup that my mother has frozen; I can feel it slowly melting, turning into a watery orange, condensing along my fingers which are muck-ridden from the dirt. My knees sport the obligatory plasters and a toe pokes loose of my shoe. Behind the fence is a hiding-place as well as a viewing platform. She has never spoken to me, nor acknowledged my existence, but it’s hard to say if she knows of me or not, her eyes — which are blue, I imagine — being forever hidden behind her heart-shaped sunglasses. I exist in two states, both caring and not-caring that she might see me, either outcome being momentous and calamitous at once.
A flash lights up the horizon; the bomb has been dropped and another village is laid waste. The boom is certain to follow — there it is — and soon the south-west wind will bring radiation and cancer. Rockets fly to-and-fro across the sky, a-screaming and a-howling at each other, riposte after riposte flung forth from each faction. I wonder if she even knows about the war, the dead and the dying all around as she fingers the pages of her magazine, licking the tip of a tiny finger to make the paper stick. My own fingers are grimy and the nails bitten to the quick; when I chew, I can feel the grit between my teeth. Her own nails — I can’t tell, I imagine — are elegantly manicured and painted hot-pink.
I look up, without heart-shaped sunglasses — without sunglasses at all, because such things are for her, not me — into the light: my love, my world, my burning sun. At night I dream of a sky devoid of cloud, of bird and of rain, but one of sun and fire, of bright white-heat: a destructive mass that burns only for me. When the end comes (I have decided) I will stare into the sun directly until it hurts to even look away, until my eyes stream with water and I must eventually go blind, and to never see light like that again.
But for now I can only look so long and must soon enough close my eyes, because the sun is so very bright, and it hurts to look at it directly and it is not the end of the world just yet.
My mother is listening to the radio. News bulletins report that nation after nation is falling, that governments are collapsing, that countries everywhere are riven by war. The ice in the pitcher melts a little, clinks against the glass. I cough insuppressibly and she raises her shades. I duck down, like a frightened rabbit, but still peer through the gap in the fence. Sometimes I think she does see me, is absolutely aware of my existence, but fear — simple and true — prevents my doing anything other than observing, as she paddles and poses in her perfect world.
He comes along then, appearing from the side of nowhere, as though stepping from the wings onto the stage. He is as slim and slender as she, and wears tight-fitting trunks like shorts. His steps are marked and precise and make no noise as they tread across the tiles. An explosion high above makes a sound like a thousand demented firecrackers and he dives into the pool, slicing apart the water like a hot knife. There is no splash, his body simply blends into the fluid smoothly, and even her lightweight raft remains undisturbed. Overhead, fragments of metal fall to the ground and the florid scent from their garden mingles with the acrid smell of smoke and burning shrapnel. He stays underwater for an impossible length of time and then appears — effortlessly — at the other side, close to where I stand peeking through the fence, and pulls himself up and out, the water peeling from him. He stands tall and stretches, pulls his hands through his hair, practically preening, all glistening and smooth and lithe, and I think that he knows, that he sees me, that this is all a show, a put-on for my benefit. But then he bends to retrieve a towel, and where — if he were really in the know — he would look toward me and wink, instead he turns to her and smiles — presumably, for she waves — and sits down by the poolside — fragile feet dipping in the water — and towels his black hair dry.
A woman screams. Likely it is one neighbour tearing the other apart; they have being doing that of late. It hurts my ears so I cover them with dirty hands, but he and she seem not to have noticed. I imagine it is quite peaceful in their garden, can almost hear the chitter of the birds that are no longer there (there is little wildlife left), can feel the gentle warmth of the sun that irradiates everything else (already I can feel my skin ageing beyond its years, whilst theirs remains pink and soft).
My mother is calling me in. The storm is coming and there’s little time to spare. A suitcase each is all we have and I’ll take my careworn blanket too, a reminder of good times gone. I want to have one last look, to even say goodbye, but my father’s here now, he’s waiting with the car and my mother’s shooing me outside. As we pull away from our home it is pulverised by a shell, sent over from another world, and everything we’d ever worked so hard for is reduced to nothing. A plume of smoke rises where we used to live, grey and towering into the sky. I can’t see them now: not their house, nor the back garden with the swimming pool and the japonicas and the sweet-smelling jacaranda, but I know they are there and will always be there, and that is enough for me.
JL Bogenschneider is a writer of short fiction based in London, UK with work published in Smoke: a London Peculiar; Nutshell Magazine; The Journal; Spilling Ink and Litro, amongst others.