By Chloe N. Clark
“I don’t understand the words,” someone said. They were behind Grace and she didn’t turn to look at them, assuming they were making some asinine joke. She didn’t want to look at them and give them that power, make them think they were oh so clever.
On the stage, a woman stood in the center, her arms at her side. She was so still that she could have been painted there—some optical illusion of color and angle and light. Every so often the woman would raise her arms and shape something with her hands. When she had finished shaping, a word would fall from the tips of her fingers. The words glistened like newborn skin and when they hit the floor, soft trembling gooshes of sound like dropped Jello, Grace almost could swear she heard them gasp.
The woman shaped a particularly large word, for the first time her face changed expression from blank to wince. The word in her hands shuddered, pink and raw, and the woman held it for a second before letting go. When it hit, Grace knew for certain that it let out a mewling cry. She’d seen enough, so she pushed through the gathered crowd and back out into the atrium.
She checked her silenced phone for messages. Nothing. Which was more than she expected. Sometimes she thought that she’d see her voicemails come up with a negative number. The calls she’d once received being taken back from her. She walked up to the window-panel wall. Outside, in the city, her now ex-lover was off somewhere without her. She was probably at home, brushing through her hair, still wet from the shower, singing under her breath. She sang these nonsense songs, the words never formed into anything important. Grace had liked it, though, lying in bed and hearing the songs. Her lover had a terrible voice, high when it should be low, smooth when it should’ve cracked with emotion.
“Tea?” A seller asked. He was pushing a cart with a silver teapot on its top.
Grace nodded. And the seller poured a steaming cup of amber liquid into a tiny cup. He handed it to her. “This one is made from the bark of trees who’ve stayed in place for too long,” he told her.
The tea burnt the tip of Grace’s tongue. It tasted of hay and humid barns, crowded with life and noise. She’d had better but she’d had worse, too.
She stared back out the window at the city. The lights of the high rises were flickering off. She liked the city best when it fell into darkness and she couldn’t see it. In the place she used to live, her lover who was no longer hers was probably settling into bed. She always stretched out her body when she first laid down, she thought it kept her muscles loose during the night. When Grace had left, her lover hadn’t tried to stop her. The city said it was best and so it was. People weren’t supposed to stay in one place for too long.
“You’re not supposed to touch the glass,” a woman said from behind her. Grace startled at the sound, realized she’d leaned her forehead against the window. It felt cool as bedsheets first thing at night.
Grace turned to the woman who’d spoke. It was the woman from the stage, but she looked shorter off of it. She’d tied her hair back and it made her face less severe.
Grace smiled in apology. Gestured to the window and shrugged, as if she was surprised at it being there and maybe she was.
“I forget where I am, too, sometimes,” the woman said. She looked Grace up and down for a moment. “Do you want something to say? You look like you could use it.”
Grace nodded, but she wasn’t so sure.
The woman clasped her hands together, cracked her knuckles—loud enough to startle birds—and pulled her hands slowly apart. The word was small and looked soft, shivering in the woman’s fingers. She let it drop and Grace reached out.
She caught it easily. It was warm as baby mice. Lighter than she’d imagined. She caressed it for a second. She looked to thank the woman but the woman was already walking away.
Grace lifted the word to her ear, gently as she could. It was whispering, but she couldn’t understand what it was trying to say.
Chloe N. Clark’s work appears in Apex, Glass, Uncanny, and more. She is Co-EIC of Cotton Xenomorph and her debut chapbook, The Science of Unvanishing Objects, is out from Finishing Line Press. Follow her on Twitter @PintsNCupcakes.