I used to feel secure with the blue pin head hovering over my town: you are here, until I realised how absolutely it eclipsed me and felt at stuck as that pin. I started to think that if my town is no more than a pinprick on a map then what must I be, and I travelled as though the threads shooting off across the map might tether me to the world, stop me floating away with this feeling. But staring at it now I know that however many pins assure me that I have been here; however tangled the tapestry of thread becomes; I will have made no lasting mark outside of the worn-out map in my room.
Strangely the first thing she thinks of is the art gallery in her old town. The one she went to with him, early on, all nervous smiles and nervous silences, and the exhibit they wandered through. Dodging car parts suspended on strings at eye and hand and knee level, laying bare the mechanisms of a car in mid-air. It is as though someone has walked into that memory; into her life and cut those strings. Everything crashing to the floor.
The nights are the worst.
Even now with the generators going in the main streets, casting harsh fluorescent light around as though this is all a film set. It feels like one sometimes, with the myriad of candles flickering in apartment windows like some gothic drama displaced in time. It’s as though the clock has been turned back on our world. Beyond the reach of the lights is a darkness so deep it seems to have seeped into the people, the ones who had to hide in the old world. We try not to walk alone now.
I wake early, just as the first slither of light appears above the cityscape and floods the store fronts with light, their broken windows casting shadows like mountains against the barren shelves. A city I grew up in but hardly recognise. One week. If the flare had happened one week later it would have been no more than an afterthought, something scientists might look at some time later and remark that we dodged a bullet. One week. A flap of a butterfly’s wings. A different world.
It feels like I never get to see the sun, waking up in the dark and walking home when it’s even darker. A swan drifting past is my guiding light today, tranquil among the waking sounds of the city, the yawn of machinery. It is the cleanest thing I can see, its arched neck the only thing not covered in grime or grease, or a thick layer of smog that hovers just over the water on a misty morning.
I prefer the grease on my hands, though, to the pallid skin of the canary girls that work in the other warehouse. Everything they touch seems to turn yellow too. It is a reminder of what we are doing, I suppose, proof that we are helping in some way. Not that I need a reminder. I’m still sorting through shallow trays of bullets when I close my eyes some nights, watching them roll endlessly by on infinite rows of worktops or piecing together shell after shell in my dreams. I can’t imagine what they dream of on the front.