I love my town. I love the smell of gasoline, the dark clouds of smoke casting their shadows on the streets, the cacophony of rattling cars, newsboys shouting out the headlines, pocket typewriters clacking away, and the ceaseless bang and clang of the factories churning out products every day. It’s the soundtrack to my world, the only world I’ve ever known or wanted. Occasionally, a few people that I recognize wave to me, and I wave back, smiling. I twirl my umbrella a few times in my hand, careful not to hit any passerbys. Safely twirling these big metal umbrellas is an unofficial art form, and I’ve been perfecting it ever since I could remember. In my other hand, I heave along a couple bags of groceries.
I stop myself in front of a general store and step inside. A lively swing record washes over my ears as I scan the aisles.
“Mirai!” A familiar voice calls.
“Darius!” I wave back, spotting a round man who seems to be in the process of restocking mouth masks in the essentials aisle. I walk toward him with a smile on my face.
“What brings you here, doll?”
“My roommate banged up her umbrella again. I was going to make her buy a new one herself, but since she’s in no hurry to remember to and the rain’s coming in and all…” My roommate, Alvera, has always been the absent-minded, clumsy oaf sort of person. It’s because of her shenanigans that I come here so often. I suppose it’s also her fault that I’ve befriended Darius, since I’m one of the more regular faces he sees around here.
“Oh, that girl again? Shouldn’t have even asked. You know where to find them, doll. Is this, what, the third time this year?”
“Fourth. I suspect that by the time we part ways, at least a quarter of our savings will have gone into umbrellas and typewriters.”
Darius chuckles and continues his work. “She’s a peculiar one, that girl. Always off about “trees” and “whales” and all that old-age nonsense. Where does she even get those ideas from?”
“She collects books about that stuff. I have no idea where she gets them, but every few months there’s a new stack on our coffee table.”
I’ll admit it, Alvera’s got strange tastes. In fact, I don’t even have to admit it. The whole town knows about Vera’s obsession with the world before machinery. It’s a bit unnerving, and more people know me as “the crazy girl’s roommate” than Mirai. Darius was no exception before we became friends. I’ve been living with her for a little over a year now, but I still can’t understand any part of her fascination with what she calls “Mother Nature.” I can’t imagine the horrors that would occur if there were no specially engineered metals to keep us from dissolving in the rain, or water purifiers that gave us water we could drink without growing a tail. I can’t imagine how anyone would have survived without such necessary inventions. Alvera says those things weren’t always necessary, that rain wasn’t always made of acid and unfiltered water wasn’t always glowing with radiation, but I still think she’s just making these things up just to get me on board.
Darius and I chat a little more about the news and neighborhood gossip, meaningless stuff, really, before I remember that I’d forgotten to feed my cats and there’s only a very small chance that Alvera would have done it herself. I buy the umbrella and some snacks for good measure, and rush out the door.
I get home a little out of breath, and fiddle with the lock and key until the door to my flat pops open. There are no lights on, but I can hear a record of “nature sounds” that indicate that Vera’s home after all. To me, her nature sounds don’t even sound real, but she insists that they help her focus. Nonetheless, I’ve gotten quite used to the white noise over the years. I flip on the light switch and am greeted by a muddled hissing noise, not from my cats, but from my roommate, cowering in her office chair.
“Give me a warning next time-” she groaned.
“I’m home!” I cut her off with fake cheer. “Did you feed the girls?”
Vera sucks in a deep breath as the realization of her mistake hits her. “Okay, I promise this is the last time-”
I grab a can of cat food and begin cranking it open with a can opener. “Too late. This is fourteenth time this year you’ve lost my trust in this task alone. You owe me dinner for two weeks, one day for each betrayal.”
Vera sighs and I can almost imagine her cradling her head in her arms. Ignoring her pain, I dump the cat food evenly into two bowls, one with ‘Sugar’ and the other with ‘Spice’ painted on it. Before I can even call for them, an orange figure jumps out from behind the sofa and scurries into view. I giggle and rub each head of the one body, cooing at my little girls. Sugar and Spice are connected from the neck down, but they’re as different as, well, sugar and spice.
“I’m sorry I forgot to feed you, sweeties, but I was counting on big sister to give you a meal today! Goes to show what a horrible, untrustworthy person she is! Absolutely appalling.”
“Please do not smear my name in front of the cats.”
“Maybe if you wanted them to like you, you would feed them.”
Vera doesn’t answer, but I can feel her exasperation. “By the way, Mirai, I needed to talk to you about something.”
My eyes narrow. That is not good. That is never good. When Alvera wants to ‘talk to me’ about something, she’s usually going to present to me her latest grand scheme of reverting the world back to the time before machines, and I always end up having to break my back helping her out until, ultimately, her plan fails and we both pretend it never happened until she comes up with another scheme. Each time she tells me she wants to ‘talk,’ I hope with all my heart that it’ll just be about taxes or bills or something mundane but each and every time I’m painfully disappointed.
I sigh and gingerly sit down on the sofa. “What is it?”
“Aw, don’t sound so down, Mirri! I swear, I’ve got something awesome in store for you today.”
Vera pouts mockingly, then breaks into a grin. “Wait right here. I’ve prepared a graph that doesn’t actually relate to the topic at hand but helps prove my point by making me look smart!”
I sigh again, though no one can hear me but Sugar and Spice. They come and curl up in my lap after they finish their meal, and I stroke them gently, giving equal attention to each head as I wait for Alvera to return. She comes back soon afterwards, toting a big easel with what I can already see to be more than one page of drawings.
“Ta-da!” She exclaims with overflowing pride.
“Great. What is this supposed to be?”
“Hold your horses, Mirri! Who’d have expected you to be so interested in what I have to say?” Alvera beams ear to ear and leans in a little, just to intimidate me. I lean back an equal distance, my eyebrows raised.
“Well, since you asked so nicely, this is an easel.”
“All right, if you’re not going to say anything useful-” I cradle Sugar and Spice to my chest and get off the couch.
“Okay, okay! I’ll explain.” I plop back down, defeated. “So you know how ever since trees died out, we’ve been making paper using chemicals and whatnot?”
I nod. “Where are you going with this? Did you get a job at a paper manufacturing plant or something?”
“No, I got a paper manufacturing plant.” Vera’s said some pretty weird things before, but this is the cherry on the sundae. My eyebrows must be soaring, because Vera stops me before I can even start yelling at her. “It’s not like what you think! Let me explain.” I bunch my lips to one side of my mouth and glare.
“So, I was thinking, if paper used to be made of trees, and now we’re making paper out of alternate materials, couldn’t we make trees out of those same alternate materials?”
I take some time to process the idea, and get nowhere. “Vera, that makes literally no sense.”
“See, that’s what I was thinking, too! But then I was visiting my uncle and he showed me his paper plant, and it just hit me, you know? And he’s on vacation right now, so I asked him if I could borrow his plant, and I started making some modifications, and I totally think it could work now!”
My mouth drops open. “You did all of this without telling me?”
“Well…” Alvera’s smile fades, and she awkwardly scratches the back of her neck
“How long has this been going on?” I inquire suspiciously.
“A couple weeks, I guess…” Alvera mumbles.
“Oh my gosh, Vera! What in the world-”
“In my defense, I didn’t want to tell you about it unless I knew for sure I could do it… And to be honest you weren’t going to be of much help rewiring the plant…”
“I’m not angry that I couldn’t help you, Vera!” I’m raging at this point. “I’m annoyed because you’ve been doing this for weeks instead of job-hunting like you told me you’d do!”
“Did I say that?” Alvera asks blankly, touching her pointer finger to her bottom lip. Her eyes widened with recognition as she remembered. “Ohh… Oh my god, Mirai, I completely forgot.”
The only things keeping me from slapping Vera straight across the face are Sugar and Spice strewn across my lap like a cloth napkin.
“I cannot believe you right now.” I seethe.
Vera shrugs behind a veil of nonchalance, but I can sense the fear in her eyes. “If I extended my owing you food to two months would you believe me?”
Food beats fear.
“Fine. Are you sure this is going to work?”
Alvera lets out an earthshaking sigh of relief. “Yes, yes I am. I’ve run through every possible thing that could go wrong!” she flips the pages on her easel and stops at a colorful graph full of meaningless numbers and points wildly scribbled across it. “There’s only a 0.7235% chance that things could go horribly wrong!”
“By horribly wrong, you mean…”
“The plant could explode.”
“-But it’s a less than one percent chance! I wouldn’t count on it! Everything’s going to be fine!”
Sugar’s ears perk up, and Spice scans the room lazily before they curl back into my lap.
“They seem to be fine with it,” Alvera remarks.
“You’re lucky I trust my cats more than I trust you.”
Alvera stands up, validated and beaming. “All right! Let’s go!”
“Wait, right now?”
Vera cocks an eyebrow and shoots me a quizzical look. “Um, yeah, now. When else?”
“Well, it’s going to rain this evening…” I complained.
“Really?” Vera asks. I nod in reply. She slaps her hands onto both cheeks, her eyes wide. “Oh my goodness, I forgot to buy a new umbrella! What am I going to-”
“It’s fine. I bought you one when I went out today.”
Alvera clasps her hands together and looks like she’s going to fall at my feet in awe. “You’re an actual savior, Mirri. You amazing queen of being awesome, you wonderful human being, you-”
“Yes, I’ve heard it all before. Let’s get going so we can make it back before the rain comes.”
Published on 4/2/2020 - writetolead.com
Author: Shreya Kumar
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