By the time we were twelve, the four of us were already ghosts, invisible in the back of our homerooms, at the cafeteria, at the pep-rallies where the girls all wore spirit ribbons the boys were supposed to buy. There was Alex in his cousin’s handed-down clothes — his cousin in the sixth grade with us — Rodge, who insisted that d was actually in his name; Melanie, hiding behind the hair her mother wouldn’t let her cut; and me with my laminated list of allergies and the inhaler my mother had written my phone number on in black marker.
You’ve been here before, but not day after day after day in some karmic trap set by an unseen screenwriter who wants you to achieve inner growth and redemption. You’re here because you always fly American and the nearest hub to your house is Miami. The hub and spoke system of airline travel sucks. Only the rich fly direct. The rest of us shuffle endlessly toward our connections, zombie passengers lost amid acres of gleaming glass, soulless architecture, uncomfortable chairs, synthetic plants, incessant television, and expansive views of horizons we’ll never reach.
When writing a recipe, you have to be linear. This, then that, then this. You can’t jump ahead of yourself; you have to follow the logical progression from ingredient, to action, to end result. Meanwhile you keep things on the boil and prepare for the next step. I sometimes feel Temptation Tor wrote my recipe template, everything leading to this moment; an episode of my cooking show, in the place where the idea for Motorbike Munchies was born.
Nukeboxxx sat back from the keyboard and ran his hands through his long sweaty hair. He was trembling from the caffeine and the familiar electric thrum that jolted his stomach every time his barbs elicited a response from another troll. And yes, he considered himself a troll. Keyboard warriors believed no more in solipsism than they did empathy. They couldn’t. For there to be any degree of satisfaction in this game, one depended on psychological REACTION and the full awareness of the hurt his words were likely to cause.
Grief had taken hold of her long ago. Long before the cataclysm. Long before everything had disintegrated: the planet, its people, her life. Hope for the future. She crouched at the top of the hill, turning her head slowly from side to side, seeing only what the UV aviator goggles allowed her to view, scanning 180 degrees of verdant landscape, watching. Always watching.
When Lucas walked in and nodded toward the Ice Bus, I thought for a fleeting moment he was finally going to make a move. Not that there was much of a dating scene in the small research station, but sometimes I would walk a short way away from camp and lie on my back and watch the stars and imagine that I could feel the Antarctic ice streams moving beneath me. And every time I would wish someone else was there with me, to let the sound of their breathing tether me to the Earth while my mind wandered among the distant lights.
They whispered: Parveen is in love with the shakarkandi vendor. Figures, said the shocked neighborhood women. Fitting that the girl with polio, this seventeen-year-old with the face of an angel and the leg of a hobbled horse, who stood at her window every night staring into the ghostly depth of Narrow Alley would steal glances at the bright-eyed boy with muscles sharp and confident in his back and a perpetual smile on his face.
I was five when we moved to the island. Mommy and Daddy knew that the end was near. There were harbingers, omens, and dire events: poisoned apples, collapsing buildings, broken sidewalks, and the ever-present idiot boxes, a parade of heathens that prayed in tongues. A riot over papayas and saddle shoes broke out in the fifth quarter, and half the city burned. In a far-off desert, our soldiers fought the sand worms.
The burned house stood at the back of a scrubby lot. If a house could be said to glower, then glower it did: rising from the ashes which were all that was left of its south face, sitting back on its haunches, its wooden front porch inexplicably wrapped in chicken wire (to keep out trespassers? to keep something in?), its second floor rearing up and threatening to topple. The For Sale sign had been there forever.
“I have something I want to show you,” said Nancy. She stared at Jazmine from Jazmine’s front porch, wet and bedraggled. Nancy was a petite white woman with long hair the way teenage boys had long hair: tangled and perpetually in need of a good shampoo. Jazmine sighed and reached out to rest her hand on Nancy’s shoulder, then pulled back.