Saturday, June 16, 2012

Walking (from a work in progress)

There was something going on in the park but whatever it was she wasn't in the mood. She walked slowly around the square, barely glancing at shop windows, smoking and blocking out everything but the taste of the smoke. Everyone in her family smoked and nobody had ever quit; she had picked it up from her cousins when she was thirteen and it was now as much a part of her as her skin.

She turned her back on the square and entered a block of quiet townhouses, all well-maintained but not too freshly scrubbed and polished, and so probably mostly occupied by longtime residents. There were sparrows hopping around on the sidewalk, looking for crumbs and seeds among the debris in the cracks, and someone was walking a huge, slow-moving basset hound that turned its head towards her inquisitively as she passed. She wasn't fond of dogs; they smelled and ate disgusting things and spread diseases, and back home they threw stones at them. It was different here but the attitude was engrained. Cats were better, if other people owned them, though she wouldn't want the bother herself.

She thought this was a block she wouldn't mind living on, someday. Money was the issue; whatever inheritance her parents would split up among her and her siblings would never pay for this. In fact she wasn't sure who could afford to live here: plastic surgeons? bankers? She didn't think the university faculty would be able to swing it, unless they had family money. Blue bloods, old money, she guessed, the ones who hadn't dissipated it all or made so much of it that they had moved on to crass palaces on the shore or ranches in Montana. There were house numbers but no signs, no Tot-Finder stickers on the upper storeys, just tidy planters with geraniums and pansies on the lower windows and fanlights over the doors.

She knew what her parents would think: they would disapprove because the houses were too narrow and the rooms too cramped for a family, and at the same time they would be intimidated by what they imagined was the exclusiveness of it all, those rich white people who will never accept you. They didn't understand that here it didn’t matter if they accepted you or made jokes about you behind your back because of what you looked like. If you had the money you were home free. You cut your ties, you kept your door locked, and someone would always sell you whatever it was you needed. The city was just a set of geographical coordinates. It didn't define who you were or determine where you belonged. Family, nation, social class — all of those loyalties were precisely what she wanted to leave behind. You slipped through the city like a ghost and no one saw you unless you wanted them to. The other people — they were all ghosts too. They turned back into flesh and blood when they returned to their houses, to their boyfriends or wives, but when you passed them in the street you could see right through them, and they could see through you as well. That's why nobody ever made eye contact, unless they wanted something from you, usually, in her case, because they wanted sex. You didn't stare at people, you didn't even look them in the eye, because to do so was an affront — or an invitation. You kept your sunglasses on, even in the rain.

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