Evie and I live on floor 43 of Tower Three on the south side of Central Square. We share our room with a couple called Amy and Graeme. Graeme used to be a fitness instructor and DJ. He still talks about football as if it exists.
‘You Arsenal then?’ he asks when we first move in.
‘Of course,’ I say.
I’m not Arsenal. I’m the opposite of Arsenal. Had Graham been the perceptive sort, he would have noticed a hint of a beat of a pause before my reply.
Our room faces Central Square, where KidSafe lurks in the shadows of the four monoliths that surround it. We’re lucky. Those who face outwards have a permanent reminder of the desolation beyond the city and get regular jumpers past their balconies. People don’t jump on our side. No one wants to land on a kid and have that on their conscience too.
Three weeks ago while walking a lap of our floor, I found a young boy about to jump. He was wearing his coat like a cape with the hood on his head and said he was ready to fly to freedom. I spent a few minutes talking to him, but that just seemed to make the situation worse, so I grabbed him and pulled him off the ledge. He spat in my face before the police cuffed him and dragged him away. Three days later he stabbed his parents and jumped anyway, so I guess the point of this story is that I don’t have a great deal of truck with people who say ‘everything happens for a reason.’
Evie flicks the lamp on as I walk in. Once upon a time, she found it cute how I sneezed when we turned the light on in the morning. Now, she resents it, calls it an affectation, a substitute for character, a fiction. I just think we’re lucky to have electricity.
‘But that’s your problem,’ she says, standing up, hands on hips. I’m pretty sure she’s a bona-fide mind-reader. ‘You think we’re ‘lucky’ to have electricity, as if everything happens by magic.’
I don’t say anything, my eyes just sort of dart around searching for something to hold on to because this is going to be a rocky ride.
‘The reason we still have electricity is because some people in this block have done something about it.’ I think she’s talking about herself now. ‘They have adapted, to help us survive.’ Yes, that’s definitely her. Evie used to work in a library, but is now a covert female self-defence instructor operating out of the basement of Tower Two. ‘They haven’t just carried on living in dreamland. The world doesn’t deal in abstract ideals anymore, Truman.’ I think she’s talking about me now. ‘You do anything for a quiet life, you always have.’ Told you. ‘But there is no quiet life now. The world is different. Look at Clive.’
Here we go. Clive comes up in conversation a lot more these days.
‘He’s adapted. He was a loser before The Fall. Look at him now.’
Yep, a real winner. Snitching on neighbours to Command. Evie sees my look.
‘I know what you’re thinking, but at least he’s got a house. A house with running water, Truman! It’s amazing.’
‘It might not be amazing,’ I say. ‘It might be a depressing two-up-two down with a damp problem.’
‘It’s not! It’s spacious and warm and safe.’
There is a short, charged silence as we look at each other, our breath held. I think of Derek and his tie dangling over his groin. Evie spins back towards the window and folds her arms.
‘Some of us are doing what we have to to survive.’
I walk towards her, my footsteps loud on the bare floorboards, but she stops me dead with a raise of her hand.
‘Don’t. Just go.’
In response to the Abstract Daily Prompt, I wrote this as a sort of companion to Clive Gets Crushed, which I’ve since worked on and is now called Mitigating Circumstances. You might recognise Graeme ;). There’s a chance it will all form part of the short story that I submit to my MA, so will have to take if offline if I do. Here’s Part 3 of the story.