Residential

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Alli was in the attic of her house. She came up there to study, to read the articles in the green leather-bound encyclopedias, with gold letters on their binding. She was a freshman in high school. Her dream was to go to Cambridge and stroll across the fiery, green lawns, which only graduates could walk across.

The sky groaned under the weight of the rain, morose and the color of graphite. The attic had a wide semi-circle window that gave her a panoramic view of the town, its squat little apartments lining streets, that went downhill. The attic had no carpeting. The wooden boards were soft from years of damp weather. Other than the light from the window, the attic was quite dim, almost foreboding, but Alli was used to that. What she wasn’t used to, was the red-haired girl now curled up in her perch.

“Hey,” Alli said, “What are you doing up here?” She tried to hide that she was startled. Hardly anyone ever came up here. Alli’s voice seemed to have awoken the girl. She jumped and then struggled to get up. “How did you get in here?” Alli asked again. How had she gotten in? Perhaps, she was homeless or a petty thief. The back of Alli’s neck tensed; she was ready to run back down the stairs if the intruder lunged at her.

The girl looked frightened too. She was dressed in ancient jeans and a jacket frayed at the shoulders. “Hey, don’t rat me out,” she whispered, “It was just so cold out there last night. I was going to catch pneumonia out there.”  Her voice was more delicate than Alli thought it would be, soft and immaterial, like satin curtains, trimmed with lace.

Alli lowered her shoulders a little and came in, off the landing. “Alright, come down with me later and no one will suspect anything.” The girl nodded and sat back down, her face a little calmer. She couldn’t have been more than a year older than Alli. The girl went over to Alli’s pile of books. “Are these your books?” the girl ventured, with a light smile.

“Yes, they were my cousins’ and now they’re mine,” Alli plopped down cross-legged and picked up the ‘R’ volume.

The girl nodded. She turned back to the window, glazed with rainwater.

Curious, Alli looked up from the book and asked, “What’s your name?”

“Nealy,” the girl said. Alli later found out her real name was Elizabeth, but she didn’t ask then.

“I’m Alli,” she said. “Hey, if you want something to eat, I have some odds and ends that I can throw together.” Alli didn’t feel too bad about offering, since they both looked about the same age.

Alli took Nealy downstairs and made her a sandwich. The linoleum was a shade of pea green, the table old, its wooden legs pockmarked. Nealy tried not to wolf down the rye and salami.

“Where are you headed?” Alli asked.

“My aunt’s place in Rochester,” Nealy replied

Alli wanted to fix Nealy some lemonade, but she didn’t have any lemons, so she just gave Nealy a soda. Nealy turned the can around, on the faded tablecloth, with her long, thin fingers, before opening it.

hello

Rain Shadow

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Ran rolled the small amount of water around in her flask. What if she were to chug the whole thing down, right now, and feel refreshed, only to feel greater thirst later? Instead, she took the smallest of sips. Ran was lost.

It was only supposed to be a two-hour hike to Riverside, but it seemed like her navigation skills were not what they used to be. Using the position of the sun, she had continued to journey in what she had hoped was the direction of Riverside, but the wooden shacks at the edge of town had never materialized.

She slung the flask back over her tingling shoulders. The sun could mummify her skin.

She tried not to think about the pain in her feet. Sharp burning has subsided into an ongoing ache, that was beginning to give way to numbness.

If only she could sit down, like the Buddha, cross-legged in the sand, and dream herself back to where she wanted to be, back to New York City, back to the stuffy, creaky sitting room of her old girlfriend, Karen. She could see Karen sitting in the splotchy red-violet armchair, watching the news on an old set. What wouldn’t Ran give for Karen’s rickety, old Jeep? She would go back to New York, after a short cruise, in the Caribbean.

The orange desert dwarfed her. It was a slow rolling plain, ringed by distant crags. Above, various black-winged birds screeched, wheeling in the white sunlight. They hung like stationary planetary mobiles, in a quivering blue sky that was painful to look at.

The night would be cold and brittle. She could dig for water then. Right now, she could find some shade and rest in it. But only shrubs sat along the orange expanse. Rocky outcroppings were far away and off in the direction she would be going.

It was a trade-off: take some time to rest or perhaps even stay there, under a cliff, or in a cave, until someone came by, or use what little, time, water and nutrient bars she had left to keep trekking in the direction of where she was supposed to be. Ran didn’t recognize any landmarks. She could be travelling deeper into this desert, deep down in the heart of the United States.

Four days ago, she had been to the sea. Ran had come here from the West Coast, from her surf shop in Los Angeles. Visiting San Bernardino had been a holiday. It was strange how the simplest of things could get so radically overturned, spun in the wrong direction. Ran tried not to let things get her down. She cleared her mind; it was a blank plaster wall, as flat as the land in front of her churning feet.

She puffed out her cheeks and exhaled slowly. Every time she did that, the pain moved farther away, but every time it was pushed back, it would flow back from where it had receded, like ocean waves.

She moved as fast as she dared, hobbling on her throbbing feet. Why couldn’t she move any faster? She had forgotten her camera in the desert.

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