City Lights

copyright Charlie McQuade, instagram @charlie_mac_


He climbs the steps (one at a time, these days – careful not to elicit creaks from the stairs, or his arthritic bones) to the rooftop on Saturday evening. Just like they used to do when they were younger.

            He knows she is not far behind

He wonders as he goes along at the memory-stained walls.
There’s the coffee she spilled in her excitement that time when the seeds had sprouted in the pot by the kitchen windowsill and she had rushed to let him in on the miracle of growth surrounded by concrete walls.

The odd strip of bright blue paint she’d splashed onto the wall before she changed her mind and decided she wanted yellow. It’s the colour of blanched bone now. But the bright blue stayed there.
Sticking out like a sore thumb.
Terribly incongruous. Rebelling against a city’s symmetry

He makes it to the terrace, gingerly sitting down at the edge, his feet dangling over a whole world spinning below him – a whirl of clicking heels and noisy buses and abandoned coffee cups on the sidewalk.

He listens for her dainty feet and he can the light thuds. He smiles.

He places the book down beside him, as well as the bowl of Fruit Loops (her favourite cereal – the one with the rainbow colours).
The wind is chilly against his cheek, but his feet are clad in wine-red socks with polka dots.
She’d knitted them for their thirtieth anniversary.
They had rainbow fruit loops for dessert that day.

He worries about her – her bones are brittle – her soul softer than his. He worries these weekly climbs up the staircase are getting too much for them

While he waits, he thumbs open the book with its tea-stained pages and taped spine and begins to read aloud, hoping she can hear him as she ascends the stairs.
They were in the middle of chapter twenty-three. She had that habit – of stopping in the middle of chapters.
She was all about breaking routine. Driving him so crazy he was always caught between faint exasperation and sheer delight.
But he didn’t mind all that much.

The city lights shine on the horizon. A thousand baby suns, stubborn and unrelenting. Harsh.
He squints at them trying to count to pass the time, as he pops a fruit loop into his mouth.
He weaves them into a chain fit for Juno.
He waits.

Her hair caresses his cheek gently, and he looks to the side, smiling.

Except she is not there – just the chilly air and the blaze of a thousand baby suns.
She is not there, and he has finished the chapter and stopped at its end.
His fingers reach into the bowl and he realizes there are no more fruit loop rings to slip onto his fingers.

And then he remembers something about his socks.
His socks were purple with gold stripes.
She’d knitted them on their thirtieth anniversary.
He stares at the wine encasing his feet, the polka dots like a spattering of citizens on a blood street.
Wine-red was her favourite colour.

How many times had they sat there, his purple and her wine-red resting gently on each other?
Except there was no purple now.

Below him, a woman rushes home with a potted plant in her arms – a miracle of growth surrounded by concrete walls.

He shuts the book at the end of chapter twenty-three, and the wind whistles around him.
He waits. He waits.
She does not come.
By Prerana Kumar 



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