Wednesday, 1 August 2018

Prologue: Dry Nurse


Neith scanned her surroundings before unzipping one of her many jacket pockets.  She gently retrieved her soft-leaded pencils from a pouch stowed there, along with a craft knife.  She carefully sharpened one pencil’s point, returned the unneeded extras to the pouch and pocket, then set her instrument to the precious paper balanced on her lap.

She sketched the City’s skyline, visible from her seat in The Green.  She angled the pencil to add obligatory smog as a shared crown to the tall buildings clustered around her.  She needed to draw today, even if she was running low on supplies.  She scratched and smudged in finer details – rows of windows, an El-track snaking through the urban labyrinth, vert gardens that had seen better days. She wished she could add colour.  Mama Cole said her grandmother had used sticks that came in colours, sticks that went onto old world papers as smooth as water.  Neith believed her.  She’d poured over the Intra’s artistic archives, expanding the framed, protected and inaccessible-in-person works again and again. 

Neith re-checked around her.  Many of the usuals were lurking; a trio doing yoga, someone whose steady gaze and flashing screen testified of speed-reading, and a woman arranging a collection of retired And pieces in rows on an exchange box.   This meant an unspoken agreement was in force – she would leave them to their park pastimes and they would leave her to hers, however peculiar and redundant they found each other’s to be. 

She lost herself in the rendering, wholly absorbed in deciding how best to catch the flares of light coming off the aero-sea of solar roofs with her single shade of grey.  She forgot everything that was wrong with her and less than two thousand other people her age. Engaged in creation’s spell, she left no mental space for the constant stifling burden she was born with.

Until Neith felt a body come down beside her on the bench. Neith knew the trance would soon be broken. Her eyes crushed and splayed her lashes erratically as she desperately attempted to cling to the mental silence for a few more moments.  She imagined locking out all sound too.  Briefly she succeeded, but she knew it was to be brief – her meditative escape; the quiet. 

It came; the whispering of wind, the crunch of synthetic something near her thigh. 

She released her eye’s gates. 

That was when she saw the Quin.  She had never liked them.  Suppressing her lips’ wont to curl, she instead harnessed her revulsion’s energy and twisted it into the tight lines of pleasantry.  She forced herself to look at the Quin, knowing many dries could become quite touchy when you failed to make eye contact with their little treasure.  The Quin’s brown eyes were open – surprising given its reclined position.  Uneven rouge was rubbed on its cheeks.  Its mouth formed a permanent pucker.  Neith turned to the woman and held a smile that was more of a wince if you looked at her eyes closely.  Neith knew this was where she should stretch herself a little and offer a compliment for this vestige of youth.  She repositioned her tongue behind her lips like a stopper instead.  No kindnesses came.  Although Neith had never seen a living baby, she failed to understand how someone could be driven to this hard and hollow alternative.  Weren’t babies soft?   Neith imagined they were.  The Quin’s perfectly unmoving lips alone made her uncomfortable. 

The drynurse initiated, “I think she must be teething.  See, she is redder on this side?”  Neith nodded and pointedly followed the dry’s gesture to the doll’s cheek.  Unable to ignore the desperate plea in the wishful mother’s gaze, she moved her tongue and blurted, “So it is.”  Hearing Neith release her voice for the grave pantomime, the dry sat a little taller.  She eased her arms deeper into the wrap encasing the acknowledged infant mannequin.  The pseudobaby had been seen, talked about; maybe it could be real.  

Neith’s mother also told her people were once institutionalised for delusional behaviour.  They needed treatment in response to what was wrong with them.  The delusions Neith saw around her were a socially reasonable lifestyle choice.  The delusions were a kind of treatment for what was wrong with them.  Neith was never tempted towards belittling those who found comfort in pretending, but she never enjoyed joining in the act either.  Was it pretend for them?  She wasn’t sure.  But she knew it helped them get by.  This wasn’t Neith’s coping mechanism.  It was interrupting one of her coping mechanisms, in fact.

With a nod in the dry’s direction, Neith pushed with her palm from the bench.  She looked back once at the scene.  As she did, another dry came and took the free space on the bench, sidling up to the first with another bundle of “joy.”  Neither of the dries were precious 2K’s like Neith – she put them at mid-40s – but both conspicuously and unfortunately reminded Neith of everything she was trying (and failing) to forget. 

There were no babies anymore. 

Neith was waiting to die.