by Claudia Wair
The Night Watchman lights a cigarette at the sametime on the samespot everynight as he makes his rounds. He stops in front of my building, strikes a match, and inhales slowly. Then he strolls away down the street. I watch him everynight. I don’t sleep very well.
When his shift ends, my day begins. I leave my room and try to do something constructive. Shopping, if I have the money, and I only buy things I need: watches, rulers, measuring spoons, maybe an hourglass or two.
If I can’t shop, I walk. The woman who gave birth to me lives five miles and three quarters from my front door. Exactly. It takes me twohours sevenminutes to get there, on a clear day. I’ll sit with her and the man she married and listen to them count the ways I have disappointed them. I sit very still so they can measure my flaws with precision. I stay until they tell me I can leave. I go back to my room and bathe. I always ruin my watch in the shower. I don’t visit them very often.
Once I had a position as a lady in waiting for a queen of finance. Good money. I made no friends. Success at court means clawing through the masses of fellow creatures in order to reach the top. Just to get a breath of air, I had to crush the others beneath me. They suffocated with failure.
I was unhappy there in the golden palace, so I resigned and started my own business: painting signs for marches and protests. Lost causes were my specialty. Not much money, though. Well, there wouldn’t be.
Now I work as a counter of beans. You’d think it would be the perfect job. Quantify! “How many beans are in the jar?” (the only interview question). The ghosts of my ancestors whispered the answer: 1619. Wonder what the Employer would say if I stopped counting. I think I will stop counting. I’m going to stop counting for him.
I pulled myself together and went to the man who sells wings. His prices are far too high. I asked if he would rent me a pair, just for the day. He told me no; he once rented wings by the hour, but too many people were so enthralled by the freedom, the silence, the peace that comes with flight, that they simply flew off, following dreams. They kept the wings, forgot the rest of us.
Maybe I should save to buy my own pair oneday. It would make work tolerable if I had wings as a longtermgoal.
About a weekago, the Employer caught me reading a book on wings and their maintenance. The nextday I was transferred to the Penal Zone, where subversives such as myself are sent for rehabilitation. All my belongings were taken from me; stopwatch, measuring tape, book. I was clothed in a luxurious white coat and taken to a windowless cube to hug myself.
The Night Watchman visits from timetotime. He said this is now my home. That it's best not to think about wings.
At night, I'm given three pieces of candy and a cup of water. Swallow, don't chew! Then I sleep. I have a recurring dream that I find a mountain worth climbing. I see the top, that’s easy enough, but I can’t figure out how to get started. There’s a sort of rocky path, a regular pilgrim’s progression, but I’m too tired to make my way up. Something is behind me. I can’t turn around to see it, but it’s sharp and poking at my back, somehow pushing me along. I always wake up as I round the corner. I never find out what’s on the other side. Maybe a pair of wings or an hourglass with still sand. Maybe sunlight.
Claudia Wair is a Virginia-based writer and editor whose work has appeared in Fudoki Magazine, Writers Resist, Dread Naught but Time, and Fantasia Fairy Tales.