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A gust of wind drove the rain into Tay’s face as she ran from the pub and out into the street. Heads turned at the slamming of the door, just in time to see her narrowly avoid getting run over by a delivery bike. A horn blared drawing more attention from the market. People pointed at Tay as she dodged around discarded boxes blown into the gutter, dragging her leg behind her like a lump of concrete.

With each step away from the Magdala she felt like she was leaving something behind as if a part of her had been ripped away. A piece of armour that she had hidden behind, now discarded and unidentifiable. She was vulnerable and weighed down with a sense of loss so great that she stopped and considered turning back, but a gust of wind nearly knocked her over and wobbling on her injured leg, she turned and hurried away.

Now that the black fog that had been creeping into the edges of her vision was gone, she could see the world in a definition that she couldn’t remember missing. The hard lines of the buildings cut the skyline, separating the heavens like a blade. A severed connection that left the earth to fall away. Tay didn’t like it; her senses were calibrated by a life bombarded with sound and sights that would blind and deafen a newborn child. She had closed the blinds against the reflected light of the sector, dimming the brutality until she could survive the onslaught. She didn’t want to see more, nor be able to hear the high-pitched shriek of a tuk-tuk as it raced past.

She turned the corner, taking the path that took her away from the market and from people, away from the traffic and the noise. Tall tenements funnelled the wind into her back, and she felt weightless, born aloft. The stiffness in her leg was easing but the feeling of otherness that pervaded her was refusing to budge. Her mind felt as if someone else had come in and rearranged everything. It was still her, Tay thought, but a different her. She dreamed of lying in water so cold that it would numb her and seep into every pore, drowning her cells and freeing her from the pain of flesh.

She turned another corner and stopped, stunned by the appearance of something so enormous, the most important object in all their lives, the wall. Clouds scudded over its rounded lip, water running down its smooth side to gather in the river that ran at its base. Tay crossed the road, barely paying any attention to the traffic. When she was a child she had snuck out at night and gone to the wall, she’d wanted to touch it, to place her ear to the slab. She imagined she would hear people talking on the other side and that they would tell her secrets, but the river was an impassable obstacle. A guardian that put an end to her dreams.

This was it, Tay thought, everything she would ever know was behind her and everything she thought she wanted was beyond it.

As she approached, the ground grew rough with weeds and stones. The bare soles of her feet feeling every sharp corner and different texture. The blades of grass a soft caress after the harshness of the road, and the gravel, sharp reminders that she still had a body, no matter how disconnected she might feel from it.

With some difficulty, Tay climbed up onto the low wall, wobbling as she got to her feet. The carrier bag twisting in the wind, bumping against her leg.

The river oozed black. All the sewage that originated from life and all the rainwater that fell on the sector ended up in the river. At various spots, greenhouses tapped in it with long roots that drifted in the flow and sifted for nutrients, food for the crops that in turn fed the sector.

She could float away on the water and become ensnared by those roots. Aware all the while as the tendrils worked under her skin and slowly picked her apart. Her body broken down and added to the nutrient broth. Becoming part of the cycle of life that went back to the dawn of time. She had been born and so she should die.

Tay knew there was something different in her head that morning. It wasn’t just her eyes that were seeing more, her mind was rolling along smoothly, not the shuddering calamity that normally propelled her life. This was something new. She heard the buzzing, but it wasn’t bees any longer; it had become a voice.

Tay craned her neck and stared up at the wall, at the enormous expanse of concrete, and wished with all her being that wings would sprout from her back and that she could soar over it. Break through the clouds and then... what? She struggled to imagine what was on the other side. More of this? Would she be exchanging one prison for another? Her ignorance of the world beyond such that even her dreams were stilted.

The sight of the black water filled her with thirst, and she had an urge to fall in and drink until her belly grew so large that she would sink to the bottom, where she could sit like a fat eel, living on the discarded life, sifting for memories in the detritus until all life would pass through her gills and she would have a part of everyone in her. She would know them all and they would know her.

Her phone rang as she teetered on the edge, eyes fixed on the waters below. The ridiculous ring tone severing the enchantment. Her feet settled flat on the ledge, and she rummaged through the carrier bag, finding her phone at the bottom. A government number flashed on the screen, but Tay answered it without hesitation.

“Hello?”

“You’re alive then,” Wyn said.

“Who’s this?”

“You don’t remember? I hit you with my car.”

“Wyn?”

“That’s it. How are you feeling? I wanted to be there when you woke up, but I was called away.”

Tay stared at the wall and then the water. “I feel strange.”

“I think you’ll find you actually feel normal,” Wyn said over the sounds of traffic. “I think the machine got high just from cleaning your blood. I didn’t even recognise some of the residual narcotics in your bloodstream. The closest match I could find to one of them was plant food. What your feeling is probably the best natural high anyone in the sector has ever known.”

“The machine?” Tay said, picturing the steel tube opposite the pool table. “The tanning bed?”

“I guess that’s what it looks like. It took care of your leg, but then it gave me the option for a full tune-up. Hope you don’t mind, but I pressed yes.”

“Thanks.” Tay struggled to find the proper words. “Thanks?”

“You’re welcome, Tay. Listen, I’m on my way to the pub, you could come back, and we could talk.”

“About what? I haven’t got any money,” Tay said. She hated to think how much a machine that could scrub clean someone as damaged as her was worth. “Shit, how much do I owe you?”

“Nothing. I’m glad I bumped into you. Sorry, unintended pun.”

“What?”

“Tay, just come back to the pub or I can come and find you?”

“I can’t.”

“Where are you, Tay?”

“I’m at the river. There’s something in the water, I can feel it pulling me in.”

“The river, did you go to the end of the road? I can be there in a few minutes, just stay where you are.”

“No, you don’t understand, I don’t think I do, I just...” Tay felt a pit opening in her stomach. “I don’t want to think. I spent my life trying to shut my mind down and now it’s back, and I can hear it calling to me.” A tear slid down her cheek. “I should be in the river.”

“No, Tay, turn around and go back to the pub. Mr Wilkin is there, you’ll like him,” Wyn said, laying on the horn and cursing under her breath.

“Who’s Mr Wilkin?” Tay asked. She felt her eyes drifting back to the black. “There’s a voice I had forgotten about. When I was a child, it spoke to me when I slept. I came here to find it, and then my father...”

“Tay, you’re having a reaction to the treatment. Just turn around and go back to the pub. Mr Wilkin will look after you.”

“The giant?”

“Yes, Tay, the giant is Boris. He doesn’t say much, but he’s nice. Mr Wilkin has been wanting to meet you for a long time.”

“How, I only met you yesterday?”

“Sunday. I can explain if you’ll let me.” Wyn muttered something out of range and the phone rustled. “Gren, tell me who Gren is?”

“Oh shit, Gren.” Tay tore her eyes from the water. “Fuck, I left her in the square.”

“You did. Let me pick you up and I’ll take you wherever you want to go.”

“I’ve got to go. Thanks again.”

Tay ended the call and dropped the phone in the carrier bag.

A police siren spooled up briefly and a blue light bounced off the wall. Tay twisted her head and saw the police car creeping along the road twenty metres away, a door-mounted spotlight flicked on and hit her in the eyes. She wavered on the wall, teetering on the edge before sitting down and putting a foot in the weeds. The light flicked off.

The phone rang again, the ringtone muffled by the bag. She limped to the crossing, wincing at the pain in her leg. The lights changed, and she crossed with her head down, slightly turned from the policemen watching her, making it to the other side before picking up her pace. When she was clear she ducked into an alleyway, pushing open a gate and entering a courtyard. A red light above a doorway. Tay glanced through the gap in time to see the police car drive past, heads on a swivel. She didn’t wait before opening the door and entering a red-tiled corridor. A booth on the left, a couple deep in conversation, and then a waitress coming out from behind a bar looking at her in disgust. Tay blew past them all and limped out the front door and into the next street. A bus arrived at a stop, and she grabbed the bar pulling herself up, her leg stiff and sweat running down her cheeks.

The boy came along, his hand held out. Tay fished about in the carrier bag and found a clump of loose change at the bottom. She handed a coin over.

“You going to answer that?” the boy asked, but Tay ignored him and stared out the window, clutching the bag to her chest, while her free hand worked at the knots in her hair. She caught a girl looking at her, Tay turned away. She rested her head on the glass, letting the drone of the engine drown out the insistent voice, the promise of love, of family, if only she would sink to the bottom.


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