She was walking with the others called to march up the stairs to sky-high blue seating, industrial and unapologetic in its upholstered shroud. Everything was the same dirty water shade of blue, and under her feet the hastily prepared metal steps sounded their alarm. This meeting was not normal. This day was not normal.
She moved with her friends, watching black jacket after black jacket filing noiselessly into their assigned seating and suddenly she was beckoned. With an urgent shout, an official with a clipboard – how archaic! – called her name and she dared not speak in response. Her ears were muddy as she heard further instructions from a far-off place come from that dark gaping mouth and cloud of frizzy blond hair. She forgot the woman’s name. It looked like she was supposed to forget her own, too.
The unsympathetic outstretched hand pointed to generous couches, replete in their sheer size, a cleaner, deeper sapphire than seating higher above. There was space, yet, and a table upon which silverware gleamed and champagne sparkled, while fresh eggs quivered, knowing their fate. She moved towards the insecure oasis, past the outstretched hand and clipboard, which turned abruptly away, pen swinging like the pendulum to which she was supposed to march. Somehow, her feet obeyed and she sat, feeling small against the expansive cushioning.
A large, tired man sat opposite, face shining, bald head reflecting the dimmer lighting. He was dusty, but not tired, and his size, she noted, was not due to overindulgence but a big frame and alarming musculature. She waited for him to speak, her own voice unclean with lack of use; she was suddenly ashamed of her state, in the standard-issue clothing. He looked as if he’d been far away, dressed in khaki. His accent surprised her: Texan, she surmised. The eggs shook, splattered with gunshots of black pepper and Tabasco bloodstains. No one asked how she liked her eggs. No one ever did.
She ignored the repast in front of her and tried to focus on his words, his directions, but the surrounding noise was a waterfall around her and she dully remembered the sense of hearing that had somehow evaporated as of late.
Suddenly, the table was clean and the noise stopped. The room was empty save her cushioned cocoon, which now consisted of four others, two couples with whom she was close. She knew that she was being asked to remember something important, but she couldn’t bring herself to think. Then everything faded into a grey fog and she remembered no more.
She was pushed into animation, this time wearing a greyblue jumpsuit and standing in a line, clutching a towel. The man in front of her bent to kiss the feet of a large Indian woman swathed in royal purple. She did not lift her eyes past the woman’s bulk to her face but caught a glimpse of a manicured, gold bejewelled hand and curl of black hair falling over her ample breast. Used to following, she crouched to the woman’s swollen feet in intricate dark leather sandals, paisley whorls cut into the garments. “She’s pregnant,” was her only thought, as her dry lips brushed the dark skin; she was whirled away before she could think anymore.
The man was there again, clean shaven, wearing a broad-brimmed hat that wasn’t a cowboy hat, but it wasn’t a detective’s hat either. His bluegray eyes stared deep into hers and she remembered that her eyes were blue too. He offered her a seat at the thin steel table and began to talk in his friendly, rolling accent. She suddenly came out of her stupor and started to listen, a part of her creative brain starting to whir and respond. Her body softened for the first time in years.
He ensured that a previously hidden cardboard box glided to her side of the table with an ease she thought had fallen into the mists. A rainbow of markers lurked under the dusty lid, and she saw the promise of a blank page peeking underneath. She felt her heart rate increase, and looked up imploringly; suddenly, she was at the table alone and the dim greyness started to fade in to her peripheral vision. From some inner source, the took out one of the shiny bright pens and a sheet of paper. Inspired by the vivid color, she took another, and another, letting them fall onto the stark whiteness.
“Come with me.” She jumped at the woman’s voice which materialized behind her into the form of long curly hair, slim frame and loose white garment. “You have to get on the line.”
She scrambled to grab the sticks of color, crumpling the first sheet of paper in the process. Trotting after the woman, she entered the beige-tinted corridor, and realised someone had helped her into grey felt slippers. She saw the line of greyblue suits move so rapidly head of her, she started to jog to catch up, even though she had no idea where she was going.
“You have to hurry – we’re leaving, we’re all leaving!”
“Sarah,” she exclaimed, her voice pouring forth in a torrent at her dear friend and her husband. Everything was clear and she stared. “What are – “
“Just go, run,” her friend cried, “You have to catch up with us but it’s ok, it’s really ok.” Sarah clasped hands with her husband, as the girl saw the dark-haired young man ahead of her in the dwindling line turn a corner out of sight.
She took small, rapid steps, the raindrop quality of which was lighter than the unwieldy jumpsuit she wore. An alarm blared, and somewhere under the incessant tone, she heard her friend encouraging her along. She slipped to a stop at the front and watched her friends enter the impossible elevator, with no back. “You can make it,” she heard Sarah shout, but her feel would no longer move, and she saw the doors slide shut to nothing. An alarm blared, a cool wind blew and she stood there, clutching her box, looking into the empty elevator.
“I didn’t need these things. I didn’t need them.”