Episode 212: Selling Home by Tina Connolly


Selling Home

by Tina Connolly

 

Sharp metal nicked Penny’s shoulder and she stumbled, hand clasping her baby brother’s leg.  Home giggled as her knees hit the asphalt. Penny felt for the bit of metal scrap as the cars inched past, above, below, up and down all the decks of the Bridge.

     “Mo, mo,” demanded Home, and she absently tickled his foot as she stood.  It was a rusting bit of hubcap, sharp and warm. The day was dusk now, the sun vanishing in smog, but she didn’t need to see perfectly to gauge its value.

     “That’s a bottle’s worth for you,” she said to the baby as she tucked the metal in her scrap bag.

     Dusk meant the end of scrapping for the day.  Penny hung her elbows on the rail of deck 127, rubbing her shoulder.  The Bridge decks soared above her, criss-crossing the sky in streaks of grey, disappearing into night and smog.  Through the smog shone the bobbing lights of floats. Shimmery bubbles encased girls in tiny bikinis, laughing and waving at boys on air-scooters, eating ice creams or apples like they were nothing.  Penny’s hand tightened on the hubcap, her chest clutched all hollow.

     “Mo!” demanded Home, and she tickled him absently.  She could look just as pretty as that girl in green, just as smart, just as sparkly.

     The girl in the green waved.  Penny looked around, but except for a pack of kids the other side of gridlock, she and Home were the only peds on the Bridge deck.  Yet the pretty girl couldn’t possibly be waving to a greasy scrap rat. “Me?” she mouthed.

     The girl dropped her float to the railing.  “Hey,” she said. “I’m Clare. I’ve seen you hanging out.  Couple decks down.”

     “I’m Penny.  I scrap 125 to 127.”  Three decks was an impressive territory to hold; maybe that would show this girl she was a somebody.

     “I know,” said Clare.  “I watch you. You look really strong.”

     Penny didn’t understand why Clare would watch her, so she just said, “I carried a whole fender down to 120 once.”

     “Oh yeah?” said Clare.  “But I mean your lungs. It’s a Code Red day and you’re not wheezing.”

     Code Red was another thing Penny didn’t understand.  She said, “Aren’t we breathing the same air?”

     Clare shook her head.  “See how my globe shimmers?  That’s the edge of my air, good air.”  Behind her the other globes pressed in, like a bobbing pile of headlights, the bikini girls watching.

     “I thought you all just sparkled,” Penny said, and then grimaced at her own eager words.

     The girl laughed.  “I sparkle to you and you’re like strong Bridge steel to me.  It’s funny.”

     Penny flushed.  “I got to go.”

     “No, wait.  I’m sorry if I said anything wrong.  Come back and talk to me again, will you?  You could come on my float.” Clare gestured at the floating globes of sparkling girls.  They billowed up, moving over Penny’s head. 

     “Pem, Pem,” said Home, pulling on her neck.  Penny unhooked his chubby fingers, turned to see where the globed girls were clustering around the gang of kids.  One girl in blue was as low as Clare was, reaching out to the gang.

     “You’re so lucky to have him,” said Clare.  “We don’t have any more of them, except the bought ones.  Do you love him?”

     “‘Course,” said Penny.  “What do you mean, the bought ones?”  The girl in blue’s hands thrust through the lit globe.  She seemed to carry the light with her.

     “You have more brothers?  Are there lots of you at home?”

     “I got one named Lark who’s seven or so.  Dilys says we have an older brother who’s a Bridge cop up in the 400s,” Penny said.  “But he left when I was four and I dunno which of my memories is Jack and which were her boyfriends.”  She turned back to Clare, who was staring hungrily at little Home. “Is that what they’re doing? Are they selling themselves?”

     “Not them, they’re too old,” said Clare.  “Under-fours only. Is that something you’d ever consider?  To get a way out?”

     “No!”  Penny backed away.  “How can they do that?” 

     “Just fine, long as that Bridge cop doesn’t get there first,” said Clare.  A broad figure in black synthetics zigzagged through gridlock, yelling. The glowing girls shot away, except for the girl in blue, who was leaning off her float, reaching for a small bundle. 

     A red hoodie flashed in the middle of the gang and Penny gaped.  “That’s Lark!” She darted through gridlock, banging against fenders, one hand twisted to steady Home in his harness.

     The gang scattered.  Somehow the girl had got herself all onto the railing, her float suspended at her shoulder.  Both she and Lark had their hands on the bundle; both looked terrified. The girl was gasping, loud and shallow.

     “Lark, be careful with him!” shrieked Penny over the engine roar.

     “Steady there, no one’s going to hurt you,” shouted the Bridge cop.  “Any of you.”

     The girl yanked the bundle from Lark’s arms.  She shoved it inside her float, overbalanced, and the float lurched away as she scrabbled for it, wheezing.  The cop reached for her just as her fingers slipped off the edge. In her fall she was as dark and shadowy as any ped.  The float bounded up.

     “Look what you’ve done, Lark,” said the cop. 

     Lark’s fist pressed to his mouth.  He ran for the west stairs, red hoodie flashing.

     Penny clutched Home’s hand.  “That poor girl….”

     “And you,” said the cop.  “Kick Lark out now if you know what’s good for you.  Else he’ll be selling that one in the night.” His finger jabbed at Home, who chuckled.

     “He wouldn’t,” said Penny.  “If you hadn’t butted in, that girl wouldn’t a fell.”

     “Lot you know,” said the cop.  “That boy’s ruined.”

     “Pig,” muttered Penny.  She turned with Home, jogged towards the west stairs.  The hot rubber stink of stopped cars filled her nose. By the time she clattered two decks down it was fully dark and gridlock was easing.  But she didn’t have to cross now; her home was on the north face. She ducked the rail and clambered down the jutting rebar to her home tucked in the concrete struts under deck 125.

     Lark was swinging his legs off the wooden platform, trying to look unconcerned.

     “What the hell was that?” said Penny.  She set Home down, tied his overalls to the struts.  “You’re not even supposed to leave home.”

     “Mom says I’m old enough to make cash.”

     “Pick up scrap then,” Penny said.  “Mom would have my ass if you got ‘pounded.  And that poor girl!”

     Lark hunched away.

     “You can’t go ganging, Lark.  I want you to learn your letters and numbers so you’re not stuck scrapping.  So you and me can get Home up and off the Bridge one day. They say from 410 up you can see the ocean.”  Maybe she could barter with Clare to drift up and see it.

     “What’s so great about an ocean.”

     “Water.  Shiny like an oil slick, bigger than all 604 decks put together.  Water you could cover your whole body with.” Lark kicked the platform.  “Well then, Jack. Jack’s up there. He’s got a job in the 400’s. Maybe somehow we could make it that high.”  She touched his shoulder and he shrugged her away. “Did you practice reading with my book?”

     By answer, Lark flicked a paper airplane towards her.  Home clapped.

     “Lark!  That was mine.”  She spotted the shine of its cover under his blanket, clutched its torn pages.  “That was a real book. I was going to read it again.”

     “Too many made-up words,” said Lark.

     “They aren’t,” said Penny.  “Just words they use up high.  Not down here in the 100s.” She touched the girl on the cover, barely visible in the night shadows of their home.  “Julie Malone, Head-Girl of the Air. It tells about their life.”

     “It’s lies,” said Lark.  “Schools don’t use books, they use lectros and holos, like my game holo I found.”

     “And how’d you like it if I took that?” said Penny.  She pushed his shoulder aside, tore at his blanket to find it.  “If I destroyed it? Your precious toy, your only friend.”

     “Give back!”  He pummeled her.  “Just cause you wanna be a made-up girl with a pretty air life, away from us….”

     “Don’t you say that!”  She threw the game holo past his head.  She meant it to scare him, land on his blanket, but it slicked onto metal, skidded out past tied-up Home, and off 125 onto the zooming cars below.

     Lark ran to the edge.

     “I’m sorry,” gasped Penny.  “I didn’t mean for it to do that.  I’ll look for a new one, I will.”

     He whirled.  “I hate this deck.  Mom says you’re an idiot to tell me we can get higher.  I hate you!” He clambered up the strut to 125. She swung up behind him, but his blinking red hoodie vanished among a thousand white and red lights, into the night smog.  Below, Home wailed.

     Penny swung down and picked up her brother, rocking him.  A burst of wind rattled the wooden platform and she held him close.  “Lah?” he said.

     “Ssh,” she said.  “We’ll go find him.  Soon as Mom gets home.  Oh, damn, you ruined your diapers.”

     Feet dropped into view.  “Lark?” 

     It was Dilys.  “Where’s Lark?”

     “He ran off.  If you watch Home I’ll go look for him.”

     “What’d you do to my boy?” 

     “Nothing!” said Penny.  “I knocked his holo game off, on accident.  He was with that gang, Mom.”

     “It’s hard having nothing to do.  You get to get out and work.” Dilys was jittery, shifting her feet.  Bad day, looked like. She shrugged at Home. “Why’s he crying?”

     “I didn’t get the diaper off him soon enough,” Penny said.  “You lift any?”

     “Two,” said Dilys.  “You better get him trained.  Or remember to pull them off when you get home.  You eaten?”

     “Traded a knife for a can of peanut butter.  Juice packet for Lark.”

     “That’ll have to hold you.  Coulda gotten more for a knife.”

     “The cheap stuff.  It’ll rust out in a month.”

     Dilys rummaged under her blanket.  “Where the hell’s my whiskey?”

     “Didn’t touch it.”

     “You’ll regret it….”

     “Musta been Lark!”

     Dilys nodded.  “He’s a handful.”  But she said it with pride.

     “Why don’t you anger at Lark then, huh?” said Penny.  “I never touch your damn stuff, too busy out all day with Home, not that you care.”  She kicked a strut. “Don’t care for me none.”

     Dilys stowed her blanket in her pack.  “You never understood your mother, Penny.  Some children is like that, born old and cold as Bridge steel.  If I can’t mother you, you can’t expect I’d die for you.”

     Penny didn’t feel like steel, not cold like Dilys said nor strong like Clare said.  “He don’t even treat you nice, so what’s you all over him for?”

     Dilys slapped her.  “Stop resenting him.  He needs us, don’t you see that?  He needs help to be a man.” She stretched her calf against a strut, shook her arms.  “Bundle your stuff, we’re moving on.”

     “Why we packing everything, just to find Lark?”

     “Never you mind.  It’s time to find a different deck.  Can’t hang around here all your life.”

     “Something higher?”  

     Snort.  “Bats in your brain?”  Dilys shouldered the pack of the boys’ blankets, the hubcaps and fan blades they used for cooking.  “Get your bag then. I hear there’s work down on 62.” She untied Home and lifted him up the struts. 

     “62!”  But that’s double digits!  We’ve never gone that low.”

     “I said move.”

     Penny hated to spill out the metal she’d collected all day, but she couldn’t carry it and her stuff, little as it was.  She dumped it out and shoved her blanket, trinkets, peanut butter and the half-book in. If Lark hadn’t destroyed the chapter on Julie’s midnight feast, she could read that again.  “Each girl dipped her shortbread in the blackberry jam,” she recited. “They shared out golden pineapple from the tin, each ring as big as their hand….”

     She swung up behind her mother, strapped Home into her shoulder harness.  “Gridlock’s clearing,” she said over roaring traffic. “We’ll never get across now.”

     “West stairs,” signed Dilys, her fingers picked out by headlight glow.

     A throw of metal streaked past her ear and Home protested, but he wasn’t a fussy kid, not like Lark had been.  Penny gave him a fingerful of peanut butter to suck. “What’s pineapple, Mom?”

     “Pineapple…” said Dilys.  “I had that once. Back when I lived on 201.  When I was a kid.”

     “Was it like apples?”

     “No, it’s hollow.  And yellow like the color of slow.  You ever find some, you share it, won’t you?”  She turned back to smile at Penny and Home. “You’ll be a good mom, you know.  That’s something you got I don’t.”

     Penny warmed at that.  Eagerness to show that skill made her say, “Where do you think Lark’s gone?”  Which ruined the moment.

     “Dunno,” said Dilys.  She hunched away.

     “Down four I bet,” said Penny.  “Where that gang he loves huddles around the copter stop.  You gotta stop him, Mom, you gotta….”

     “Shut it,” said Dilys.

     They walked in roaring silence to the west stairs.  Home wrapped his arms around Penny’s neck, and Penny held his hand.  Maybe she could train Home up better, get him learned at the things Lark wouldn’t.  Maybe Home could be the one to help them get up and off.

     An aeriocop swooped past them, its headlights flooding the pedwalk.  “Hurry!” said Dilys, and she bolted for the stairs.

     Penny kept to a walk.  Aeriocars were for real criminals, not bridgers, and she was tired from carrying Home.

     “I told you hurry,” said Dilys when Penny reached the partial shelter of the stairs. 

     “Was Jack cold like me?” said Penny.

     “What’s you on about now?”

     “You said once that Jack grew up to be a cop in the 400s.  Was he like me when he was little?”

     Dilys rounded on Penny, rage visible in the bridgeglow.  “Don’t you ever talk about Jack to me! You’re two of a kind.  Concerned with getting yourself ahead, never-you-mind about the rest of us –“

     “If that was true, I’d run off like Lark, run off and leave you –“

     “Dilys Bridger?”

     “Who wants to know?” said Penny in the sneer you used for cops, expecting Dilys to jeer it right along with her.  She turned to see the Bridge cop from earlier in the day. “Shit,” said Penny. “I don’t know where Lark is. Leave us alone.”

     “Looks like Dilys already did that,” said the cop.  They were alone on the gridded stairs. His aeriocar hung by his side, blunt and dark.  Penny could almost hop it, if she knew how to drive. Home wailed.

     “Shh, shh,” said Penny.  “Whose death you gonna cause now?”

     “That was an accident,” said the cop.  He sagged against the rail. “I’ve kept an eye on you all.  Kept Lark out of impoundment more than once. Impoundment’s one-way when you’re under four, you know.  Just a funnel for rich folk to get healthy kids.”

     “That’s sick,” said Penny.  The cop smelled of the grease of food, cooked food.  Her stomach gurgled. “And why you watch us?”

     “I’m Jack, don’t you remember me?  There’s some hard folk looking to slice her tonight.  She pissed off the wrong people.”

     “But you could help us!”  Hope flared. “Is that why you’re here?”

     His gloved hand slammed against the metal railing.  “Now you look. In a perfect world, sure. But you can’t expect anything more from me.  A Bridge policeman’s salary barely covers my flat on the cliffs. I got a girl and a life, by the skin of my teeth.  You’ve got to do that too, on your own.”

     The weight of her little brother seemed to be crushing her to the stairs.  Her lip trembled.

     Jack touched Home’s foot.  “I’d have done anything for just one chance….  Look. I’ll make a deal with you. You leave those toxic people right now.  Bring Home to me on my beat, the 430’s. I’ll take him. For you, I’ll get your papers squared away, get you a cleaners job there.  You’d be up high, and you could work up to better things.”

     Breath.  “I hear the food shops start in the 430’s.”

     “Right that.  And up in the 520’s there’s summer festivals.  They close eight decks off and airfolk fill the streets.”

     “But I want Lark to have a chance, too.”

     He stood up.  “Can’t do anything about Lark.  He’ll live. Airfolk don’t want anyone cracking too hard on the baby trade.  What kind of life is that, shitting off the Bridge? Use your head.” He jumped into his aeriocar and was gone.

     Penny choked on silence.  She started to clang down the stairs, and Dilys rose up from shadows. 

     “Well?  You gonna sell him Home to get you a better life?”

     Penny rubbed her eyes.  “‘Course I wouldn’t. We stick together.”

     “Most valuable thing we own, aren’t you?” Dilys touched Home’s chin.  “Jack knows what’s best for everyone. He wanted to adopt Lark when he was a baby.”  She sneered. “Wanted to ‘train him up right.’ As his own. Didn’t want to take you, who was already spoiled.”

     “I didn’t know.”

     “Why would I tell you and hurt you?  I got too much class.” Sirens wailed as they neared 121.  “Where’s my boy, do you see my boy?”

     There were cops and lights below them, covering the copter stop.  Penny hung over the handrail, searched for Lark’s hoodie beneath copter blades.  “But Jack said they wouldn’t crack down on Lark’s gang!”

     “Stupid.  They will if the other gang pays them better.  Lark!” Dilys clattered down the stairs, ran out in front of a screeching copwagon.  “Lark!”

     Penny sidled in shadow, keeping Home close.  Lights. Cops. Shouting. 

     “…complicit in the death of….”

     “No you don’t!” shrieked Dilys.  She flung herself at the Bridge cop holding Lark, but Jack tackled her and she went down.  Lark bit and then he was free. The Bridge cop grabbed another kid, older, and Lark ran.

     Dilys took off after him and then Penny and Jack were running too, the length of the deck, leaving the fight behind.  “You’re coming with me, Dilys Bridger,” shouted Jack. He fired a warning shot over the side of the Bridge. Lark stumbled and stood and stumbled onto the east stairs, going up. 

     Dilys flung herself across the east stairs like a roadblock.  Jack grabbed her and then she had a gun and then Jack, yelling, “Don’t, don’t!” tried to shoot Dilys’ arm. 

     Mom moved into the path, Penny saw that.  Moved in and went down with a bullet in her neck.  Jack knelt.

     Above her footsteps started pounding again, up the east stairs.  Lark’s red hoodie flashed between the metal, thin sobs whipping away.

     “Lark!” cried Penny.  She climbed after him, running, Home echoing “La, La.”  Her legs strained. No one seemed to be chasing them now.

  1. 128. 134.  “Lark!” Penny cried, again and again.  “Lark!” Home wailed. Her chest shook under his weight.  She clung to the handrail so she wouldn’t stumble and drop him.  At 139 her feet slowed, even though she didn’t want them to. “Lark!”

     “Penny,” said a voice.  “Penny. Are you all right?”

     A float, glowing in the night.  Clare.

     “My brother’s run off,” said Penny, panting.  The sparkling girl was dressed in striped pyjama pants like Julie wore in her book.  “My mom…fell. Shot.”

     Clare glanced at Home.  “But you two are all right?”  Penny nodded. “Come home with me.”

     Clare put her hands through the lit air curtain and for the first time in her life, Penny stepped off the Bridge and onto a float. 

     The sudden absence of smog was startling.  “The air’s so strange,” she said. “Skinny-sweet.  And warmer.” She lowered Home from her shoulders to the spongy floor, her legs quivering.  Her thoughts seemed to whisk away as they rose, like they were left sodden and clinging to the metal deck.

     “What’s his name?”

     “Homicide,” said Penny, and swallowed hard.  At Clare’s expression she explained, “Dilys said we kept her tied to the Bridge life, you know.  She named me Penny cause I cost her money. Then Larceny, but I call him Lark. I used to call him Hommy, but now he’s big and it’s just Home.”

     “They’ll have to change that,” muttered Clare.

     Penny plopped down next to Home.  “Damn. Do you have any diapers?”

     “No, I’ve been out of those for awhile,” Clare said.  Penny stared. “Joke.”

     “Oh.  I’ve got one left, anyway.”  Penny pulled it from her bag.

     “What’re you going to do?  With your mum…you know?”

     “Dead?  You can say it, I guess.”  She pulled Home toward her and he clapped his hands.  “Go back to 125 and pick up scrap, I guess. Long as no one’s taken our home already.”

     “Won’t that be hard to support both of you?  And what if Lark comes back?”

     “Guess he’ll have to beg on the 110 trains.  He won’t, though. He’ll gang first. I guess he really is ruined.”

     Clare sunk down next to them.  “Penny, listen to me. Let us adopt your brother.”

     “You mean Home?”  She scrambled to her feet, unsteady against the moving float.  “Are you stealing us?”

     “‘Course not,” said Clare.  “Just a friendly transaction.”

     “He’s all the family I got now.”

     “But what if you fall or get hit?  Or someone fights you for your home or your scrap.  They do that, don’t they?”

     “Yeah.”

     “Give him to us, and you only have yourself to worry about.  We’d give you money. Enough to get off the Bridge and go to school.”  She clasped Home’s hand as he started toddling around the golden floor.  “He could go to school too. Good air schools. He’d be taken care of forever.”

     Penny pulled Home into her arms, where he squirmed.  “You can’t have my brother,” she said. “Why do you want him anyway?”  Home went rigid, fighting her, and she reluctantly released him.

     “Because I’m dying,” Clare said bluntly.  “All my friends are, too. All the air-families marrying each other made a bunch of children with lungs that can’t repair themselves. When the air got so bad with smog storms twenty years ago they put a bunch of stuff in the air to clean it.  But that was just as bad on us….” She looked at Penny. “It’s bridgers that are the future, you with your lungs that can breathe anything. Bet you’ve never been sick. And him neither.”

     Penny shook her head.

     “I thought so.”  Clare almost spat.  “And we’re stuck on bubbled floats, can’t go to school, can’t do anything while we sit here and die….”  She breathed out. “We’re here.” The float bounced under the dock of a large floathouse, tethered to the 184.  Penny’s stomach lurched. “Come meet my parents.”

     “You can’t make me give him up.”

     Clare sighed.  “I know. Just come meet them.  I’ll feed you breakfast.”

     Penny hoisted Home, trailed Clare into a real house.  There was wood and carpet everywhere — like some sort of dream van, multiplied a hundred times.  And quiet — the shocking absence of Bridge sound put her on edge, eyes darting. She suddenly cried with laughter.  “That’s a kitchen! Like Julie in the book has.”

     Clare’s face lit for the first time.  “Did you read the Julie books too? Then her cough broke forth and her smile flattened out.  She turned away. “Brace yourself for my parents.” She banged on a thick door. “Mum, Dad, wake up!”

     A rounded woman in a shiny dressing gown emerged, blinking.  “Clare, what’s all this? Oh, hello. Hello!”

     “This is Penny, Mum.  I told you about her. And her little brother Homicide.” 

     “Goodness.  What a nickname.”  She smiled at Penny.  “I’m Stella.

     A bearded man behind her.  “What’s this?”

     “Ssh,” said Stella.  “This is Clare’s little friend.”  She dropped to her knees. “Your brother, is he hungry?”

     “He generally is,” said Penny.

     Stella’s eyes welled up at that, to Penny’s surprise.  “May I…May I hold him?”

     Penny nodded.

     Stella held out shaking arms.  Home beamed and toddled towards her.  “Oh, Roger. He’s so adorable. So…strong.  Does he talk much?”

     “Lah for Lark,” Penny said.  “And he calls me Pem.” She swallowed.  The floathouse moved less than the float but more than the sway of a deck.

     “You poor thing,” Stella said.  “Somehow we could let you see him, couldn’t we, Roger?”

     “C’mere, little guy,” said Roger.  “Let’s see you do your stuff. Back away, Clare.”  He lit a stick of incense, waved it under Home’s nose.  Home laughed. Down the hall, Clare coughed.

     “Oh, Clare,” said her mother.  She moved toward her, but Clare fended her off.

     “I’m fine, I’m fine.  Stay with the kid. I want to show Penny the house.”

     Clare dragged Penny past Stella, who wore an expression strangely similar to one Dilys had worn as she took a bullet.  “Look at the paintings,” Clare said. “Look at the gorgeous chandelier.”

     Hot tears were behind Penny’s eyes.  “Why show me?”

     “I hate when Mum’s weepy.  And they don’t really want to make the transaction with you, that’s my job.  Then they can pretend Home just showed up, right?” She waved at the walls. “That’s a vidfeed of the islands.  I’ve been there. Mum moves house every couple months.”

     Penny swallowed.  Clare looked down at her, forbidding the words that had to well out.  “Can’t I stay here too?”

     Clare shook her head.  Her stick arms crossed.  “You understand, they only want little ones,” she said.  “Ones they can really make their own.”

     “I could do that….”

     Clare was silent.  Then, “Come look at the playroom.  He’d like that.” Penny followed Clare into a room of bright colors, redder than stop lights, oranger than safety cones.  There were bright-painted structures like the struts Home adored, yet positioned over soft mats, not the streaming traffic of 124.  “I used to love this,” Clare said.

     “No,” Penny said.  The thought of a way off made her stomach weak.  “Family sticks together.”

     “Do you really think it’ll be best for Home to stay with you?  Or are you just jealous?” Her cheeks seemed to be sucking back inside of her.  “What would your mom have wanted? You and me, we can’t have what we want. But maybe our parents can.”

     Clare didn’t know that Dilys hadn’t cared about Home.  It was Penny who wanted the best for all three of them.  “Aren’t you going to tell me that we can still see each other?  That’s what your mom said.”

     “That’s what she said.”

     “But she’s a liar?”

     “Oh, Penny,” said Clare.  “I’ve seen twenty, thirty of these transactions now as my friends die one by one.  Seen dads steal kids, seen moms promise the old family the moon. Take the money and expect nothing; then you won’t be disappointed.”

     Penny roared.  “You’re bait, aren’t you, you and your sparkly friends, all beautiful and dying, dying….”  Tears broke forth.

     “I’ve told you the truth all along.  Come, look at the sunrise with me.” Clare pulled Penny back out to the dock, onto the float, and shoved off.  They bounded upward, buoyant as steam rising.

     Penny sniffled.  “It’s pink this morning.  Fills the sky.”

     “I suppose we watch the same sun.”  Clare held out thin arms to the rays.  The dying skin around her face was like glass.

     “Clare?” said Penny.  “What’s it like?”

     “Like graduating kindergarten to go to a slaughterhouse.”  Clare looked sidelong at Penny. “He really is healthy, isn’t he?”

     “‘Course.”

     “If you did say yes…and he wasn’t….”  She rubbed her thin chest. “I couldn’t stand it if Mum had to go through this twice.”

     Penny remembered Stella’s eyes and steel stiffened her.  “Take him,” she said.

     Clare almost smiled as they floated through the pink.  “Let’s go tell Mum and Dad. Over breakfast.”

     “No,” said Penny.  “You take me back there and I’ll change my mind.  This is best. Just set me down on the Bridge.” She looked across at the tangle of grey decks, its disappearing bottom, its disappearing top.  “Just…take me higher, won’t you? I hear you can see the ocean from 410.”

     “I can’t go above 350ish with the house parked at 184,” Clare said.  “The raft loses power.”

     “As high as you can.”

     The raft buoyed up, higher, higher, ears popping, watching as grey became white and the cars became sleeker and fewer.  Morning cleaners and cops started appearing in the 300s, scrubbing and kicking out bridgers. At 318 Penny clutched Clare’s arm.

     “What is it?”

     Penny pointed at a blinking red hoodie, in a viewing deck on the west end of 318.  “Lark.” A cop in black came towards him and Lark backed away. “Hurry.”

     Clare neared the deck.  “Take my card. Daddy’ll put cash on it for you.”

     Penny palmed it.

     “You can’t be up here without a parent,” the cop was saying.  “I’m going to impound you less I see someone in charge.”

     Lark’s face was red and tears were welling from his eyes, which Penny knew he’d hate.  “They’re all gone. Penny said Jack’s in the 400s, but I can’t climb anymore.”

     “I’m here.”  She pushed through the air, jumped to the Bridge deck.  “I’m in charge of him.”

     The cop relaxed at the sight of the hovering float.  “Morning, miss,” he said to Clare. To Penny: “You see he gets back safe to school.”

     “I will, officer,” said Penny.  She grabbed his hand and his fingers closed on hers.  “I’ll get him home.”

 

END

 

About the Author

Tina Connolly

Tina Connolly is the author of the Ironskin and Seriously Wicked series, and the collection On the Eyeball Floor. She has been a finalist for the Hugo, Nebula, Norton, and World Fantasy awards.

She co-hosts Escape Pod, narrates for Beneath Ceaseless Skies and all four Escape Artists podcasts, and runs Toasted Cake.

Find her at tinaconnolly.com.

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About the Narrator

Chloë Yates

Chloe Yates photo

As well as narrating, Chloë has written many short stories and some poetry. Her latest publication, ‘A Treacherous Thing’ can be found in the Fox Spirit Books’ Anthology The Jackal Who Came in From the Cold. She’s currently working on several projects, one of which might just send her down the rabbit hole. You can contact her through her website www.chloeyates.com while she wanders through Twitter under the sobriquet @shloobee. English born, she currently lives in the middle of Switzerland.

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Chloe Yates photo
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