Episode #37: “The Little Dream” by Robin M. Eames

May 3, 2017

The Little Dream

by Robin M. Eames

She feels the pain before she fully wakes up, stuck in that half-space between slumber and cold daylight. For a moment she doesn't understand. Pain. A bone-deep ache—no, deeper than her bones. Soul-deep. Her eyes crack open.

Fuck, it's freezing.

Sylvia closes her eyes again, opens them, glares balefully at the open window. She waves a hand, hoping for a little miracle, for everything to fall into place, but the window-frame barely twitches. Might have been telekinesis, might have been her vision blurring from the pain. Her fucking useless powers are all the more fucking useless on bad pain days. She doesn't want to move, because she knows if she moves it'll get worse. She has to get out of bed. The cat needs feeding. For a moment her head is swimming, and she can't remember the cat's name.

[Full transcript after the cut]

Hello! Welcome to GlitterShip episode 37! This is your host Keffy, and I'm super excited to be sharing this story with you.

We're currently running a little behind again, but should be caught up soon. Our Spring 2017 issue is now out, and that's available at glittership.com/buy for anyone who would like to read all of the stories before they come out on the podcast. Our issues are also available as a patron reward, so if you support GlitterShip via Patreon (patreon.com/keffy), you can check out the issue there.

First, we'll have a poem by Joanne Rixon and a story by Robin M. Eames.

Joanne Rixon lives in the Pacific Northwest with her rescue chihuahua. She mostly writes speculative fiction; this is her first published poem. You can follow her on twitter @JoanneRixon.

Robin MEames is a 23 year old freelance writer and artist living in Sydney, Australia. They graduated in 2016 with a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Sydney, majoring in History and Gender Studies. Their work has been published in Luna Station QuarterlyGlitterwolfARNAHermes, and in the anthology Broken Worlds edited by Jack Burgos. Robin uses they/them/their pronouns. Their interests include comparative mythology, queer and disability theory & activism, cats, black tea, and tattoos. You can find their twitter at @robinmarceline and their website at robinmeames.org.

 


 

I stayed up all night waiting for the election results and then...

by Joanne Rixon

 

the morning after my skin began to peel.
But I haven’t been in the sun, I said.
It’s November and also I’m afraid the cancer will return.
But still my fingerprints came off whole, skin curled
off my biceps in sheets.
It broke at the wrinkles of my elbows, and
where my skin was thin and dry it flaked: the tips of my hipbones,
my collarbones, stretching.

 

My hair also fell out but that had been happening
for weeks so it wasn’t surprising. Only the speed of it.
Giant handfuls of hair clogged the drain.
My scalp turned blotchy as a piebald horse,
paler than new cheese, and then began to split.
As more layers unloosened, detached—
they got damp and rubbery the deeper they went—
underneath something began to be visible:

 

gray-brown and nubbled surface;
antler-hard to the touch, and I couldn’t stop
touching. It itched.
My sister looked at me sideways, poking my shoulder
to see for herself.
Don’t be afraid, I told her. I’m not.
I’m not afraid at all, I said.
I didn’t say it. I tried to say it but I couldn’t make it words
or anything else but small stones falling from my lips.
My teeth, little diamonds, ached for something
to bite.

 

END


 

The Little Dream

by Robin M. Eames

 

 

She feels the pain before she fully wakes up, stuck in that half-space between slumber and cold daylight. For a moment she doesn't understand. Pain. A bone-deep ache—no, deeper than her bones. Soul-deep. Her eyes crack open.

Fuck, it's freezing.

Sylvia closes her eyes again, opens them, glares balefully at the open window. She waves a hand, hoping for a little miracle, for everything to fall into place, but the window-frame barely twitches. Might have been telekinesis, might have been her vision blurring from the pain. Her fucking useless powers are all the more fucking useless on bad pain days. She doesn't want to move, because she knows if she moves it'll get worse. She has to get out of bed. The cat needs feeding. For a moment her head is swimming, and she can't remember the cat's name.

Moth. The cat's name is Moth.

Sylvia moves her shoulders experimentally, and is rewarded by a sharp cracking noise. She groans, swings her legs over the edge of the bed, gets stuck. Out of breath. Moth meows plaintively from outside her bedroom door. People say that only humans can develop supercapabilities but Sylvia swears that damn cat's psychic.

"Coming," she says. It's a lie. She still can't move. Fucking fibro, fucking cat, fucking Sydney winter weather, fucking rubbish excuse for telekinesis. She didn't wear pajamas to bed and there are goosebumps on her arms. She left her cane next to the front door last night. Yesterday was a 3, maybe a 4. A good day. Today's a 7. It'll be an 8 if she overexerts herself.

1 is painless. "Normal." 10, presumably, is dead.

Sylvia steels herself, and then rolls off the bed and lands on the floor with a thump. She can't quite muster the energy to stand up, so she shuffles out of her bedroom on her hands and knees, naked, quietly glad that she doesn't have a housemate to witness her total lack of dignity. On a good day Sylvia can hover. Only a little, about a foot or two above the ground. Fucking typical that her powers are only functional on the days she doesn't need them.

"Hello," she says to Moth. He meows at her and then licks her nose.

Cane. Cat. Meds. Breakfast. Cane's next to the front door. She tries not to think about how long it takes her to get there, but things are a little easier after that; she levers herself up and hobbles vaguely into the kitchen. Moth rubs against her legs and she startles, almost falls over. Cat. Sylvia cracks open a tin of tuna and he immediately starts purring. Her meds are all the way up on the high shelf, and her shoulders protest just looking at the stretch. That was a great idea, Sylvia-of-yesterday, just bloody brilliant, put your meds where you can't reach them.

Breakfast. Her mind stalls. There are eggs in the fridge but she's out of oil or butter to fry them in, there's cereal but no milk, there's bread. Toast. Toast is easy. Sylvia fumbles a knife out of the drawer, jam, the bread, and sinks to the floor, leaning against the kitchen counter. She concentrates, blinks, her eyes burn, and the toast begins to sizzle faintly. Technically it's laser vision, but Brian calls it her toast vision, because it isn't good for much else. Sometimes she can light cigarettes.

Knife, jam, bread. Don’t warp the knife. Sometimes Sylvia bends cutlery when she’s stressed, or leaves little fingerprint-shaped dents in metal doorknobs. A hand tremor makes her fumble the knife, but the metal stays intact. She blinks tiredly at her toast for a moment. Bites down and savors the sour-sweetness. Lid back on the jam, jam back up on the kitchen counter. Sylvia's still sitting on the floor. The cat, finished with the tuna, wanders nonchalantly over and sits on her outstretched legs.

Meds. Still on the shelf. Escitalopram, estradiol, progesterone, spironolactone, rabeprazole, riboflavin, propranolol, ibuprofen and paracetamol for moderately miserable days, tramadol for really fucking murderously miserable days. Missing a day of meds because she can't get up off the floor. It's sort of funny. Sylvia-of-yesterday was a useless bum and she's never putting her meds on the high shelf ever again.

It's a 7 day. Not yet an 8. If she really concentrates… She narrows her eyes at the shelf, flicks her fingers, and her pillbox starts to wobble precariously towards her. Sylvia doesn't dare to breathe. It moves closer—closer—and then twitches and flies right across the room, smacking hard into the opposite wall. Pills scatter everywhere. The cat pounces and starts batting them about the floor. Sylvia closes her eyes, and lets her head fall backwards with a thunk.

The day doesn’t really get better from there, but she manages to corral her meds, and get off the floor, eventually. Clothes. Jeans or skirt? How likely is it that she’ll get bashed today? Jeans. No energy to shave. Lydia down the road can shave by shapeshifting. Rude.

There are three rubber wristbands on her dresser. One of them says SHE/HER/HERS, the second THEY/THEM/THEIRS, and the third HE/HIM/HIS. Sylvia looks at them for a moment. Contemplates. Puts on the second one.

Sylvie locks the door behind them, checks their pockets—keys, wallet, phone—and limps their way to the bus stop. On the bus on the way into uni there’s a businesswoman with huge, bright white wings, one of which is in a splint. The driver argues with her momentarily about whether she should have to buy an extra ticket or not. Sylvie rolls their eyes. The winged woman bumps into several passengers, apologizes, manages to swing her wings around so that they’re not in anyone’s way. When she gets off at the next stop she leaves a thin trail of shed feathers behind her.

Sylvie presses their head against the window, feels the shuddering of the bus beneath them.

When they get into the lecture theatre, Brian immediately waves them over and then presents his middle finger for inspection. Sylvie raises their eyebrows, and Brian pouts. “I’ve got a papercut.”

“Oh, come on—”

“Please?”

Sylvie grumbles under their breath, but puts their hand over Brian’s, brown over darker brown. They don’t glow, or hum, and their eyes don’t roll back into their head, but when they move their hand away Brian’s papercut is gone. Would be really fucking nice if their healing factor worked on anything worse than papercuts. Abracadabra, fibromyalgia away.

The lecture is on Mary Wollstonecraft, Olympe de Gouges, Rousseau, the right to property, the right to vote, the civil rights movement, women’s rights, trans rights, super rights. Sylvie falls asleep halfway through. In the tutorial afterwards someone says “transsexuals—I’m sorry, is that the right term?” and looks at Sylvie expectantly. Brian snickers under his breath and then someone uses the word “aborigine” and he stops laughing and starts cutting into them about it. Why are the Gadigal mob so angry and drunk all the time, the student wants to know. I’ll tell you fucking why says Brian.

Last week after class some fucker told Brian and Sylvie “go back to where you came from”. Brian laughed so hard that he cried, and then he yelled so much that his voice went hoarse and he sounded like Batman. Go back to where you came from, go home, get back on your boat. Sylvie used to work in a coffee shop in Surry Hills, before the fibro got so bad that they couldn’t stand for long periods. Sometimes white boys would try to flirt with them, always that expectant look, “where are you from, no, I mean where are you from”. Sylvie’s mum’s family were early settlers, Australian for four generations back, but the fifth generation were from the Pearl River Delta, so apparently that’s all that matters. Sylvie’s dad was mixed, Latino and something else, their mum wasn’t sure. His last name was Rodriguez. They met on their gap years. Where is Sylvie from? Hell if they know.

Brian’s rant winds down and the other student looks thoroughly cowed. Sylvie grins at him from the corner of their mouth. Brian sits back, legs splayed open, arms thrown over the seats beside him, owning the room.

“See you at the rally tomorrow?” Brian asks, when the tute finishes.

“Yeah,” says Sylvie.

It’s not far from the university to the hospital, but Sylvie’s back is aching, and their head is throbbing, so they catch the bus again. There’s an echoing in their ears that doesn’t bode well. Their ENT specialist isn’t sure if it’s superhearing or just hypersensitivity to light and sound, but either way it usually leads to a migraine. Most supercapabilities show up around puberty, or even earlier, but Sylvie’s powers have been popping up randomly for years. It would be fun if any of them were actually useful.

The woman at reception waves Sylvie through, and they trace their way over the memorised path, through the corridors, up two floors in the lift, tap lightly on the door.

“Oh, hi _________,” says Sylvie’s mum. Her voice is barely more than a whisper.

“It’s Sylvie,” Sylvie corrects gently. Their mother doesn’t seem to hear them.

Sylvie props their cane over the back of the visitor’s chair and sinks into it. “How are you feeling?”

No answer.

“Mum?”

“Hmm?” She startles, eyes wide, hands moving vaguely around. “Oh, same old. They’ve got a new jelly flavor. It’s blue.”

“That’s nice.”

Their mother blinks, slowly. “How’s uni going?”

Sylvie smiles. “It’s good. I got a distinction in my last assignment. There’s a super rights rally tomorrow.”

“Supercapable,” corrects Sylvie’s mother, wrinkling her nose. Sylvie just shrugs, puts their hand over their mother’s. Lymphoma. Not much their shitty little healing factor can do about it. But maybe it helps in some small way.

Their mother smiles, faintly, and starts to hum. Sylvie doesn’t recognize the tune, but it follows them out of the hospital, back to their flat, and into their dreams that night.

The next day is a 6. Low-level aches all over, nausea, headache, sore throat. It’s a blessing after yesterday. Sylvie actually manages to shave and brush their teeth. Same wristband as yesterday: THEY/THEM/THEIRS. They hesitate at their wardrobe, mindful of the rally later today, but—fuck it. Skirt and leggings it is. Their shirt says IN SPACE NO ONE CAN HEAR YOU INSIST THERE ARE ONLY TWO GENDERS.

Their phone buzzes, and a picture of Brian pops up, tongue sticking out and green glitter on his eyelashes. The message reads: are u still coming to the rally

Yes, they type back.

It takes a moment for their phone to buzz again. good bring ur cane umbrella it’s going to rain later

Cane umbrella defeats the purpose of the cane, Sylvie replies. Can’t use it to walk when it’s up over my ears. Who thought that was a good idea smh

shut up it’s a miracle of fucking technoglogy, says Brian.

*technology, says Brian.

Sylvie smiles, puts their phone in their pocket, and brings a raincoat.

Sylvie and Brian meet at the coffee shop around the corner from Town Hall, where the rally’s going to start. These things always take forever to get going. Sylvie would rather skip the speeches and self-congratulation at the beginning, the harping on of various activist groups, the factional side-eyeing, the pointless circulating petitions.

Sylvie inhales. Coffee beans and chocolate. Scent memory to two years ago, scratchy uniform, ten hour workdays. They fumble their way into a booth seat, propping their cane up beside them, cursing when it slips and falls under the table.

“You’re too young to be such a crotchety old grandma,” says Brian, then glances at their wristband. Corrects himself. “Grandperson.”

“Grandparent,” says Sylvie, and flicks him on the ear.

“I went on a date last night,” says Brian, waggling his eyebrows.

“How’d it go?”

He smiles, long and slow. Sylvie cackles. At least someone’s getting laid. The last date they went on was a mess, months ago, some girl they met on OkCupid. The girl walked through the door and her face fell like a stone. Sylvie doesn’t even know what it was—the cane, the color of their skin, their lipsticked mouth surrounded by stubble. Hell, maybe it was the bright little “super in every sense” pin on their backpack. Maybe some combination of all of them. The girl fled like her heels were on fire.

They bum around in the café for a bit before they finally join the rally, a huge throng of people clutching banners and posters and shouting witty slogans about Turnbull, Baird, about the clusterfuck of the last year of Lib government, about how Tony Abbott is afraid of women, gays, supers, and people in boats. Abbott’s sister is a supercapable lesbian, Sylvie remembers. Must make for awkward family dinners.

The march begins like a living thing, moving forward in slow, lurching bursts. Sylvie doesn’t even remember what this one is about—some amendment to the super anti-discrimination bill. There’s a rally every weekend these days, it feels like. Which isn’t to say that they’re not important—even just marching, even if nothing comes of it, that’s something. Even the little victories are something.

It’s nice, to be surrounded like this, by people like them. People with wings and tails and weird hair and rainbow t-shirts. There’s a queer bloc marching a ways behind them, and a ways behind that there’s a group marching for supercapable refugee rights. There’s an energy in the air, something sparking and growing.

And suddenly Brian is clinging hard to Sylvie’s arm and muttering, “Shit, fuck, fuckshit, it’s my fucking ex, let’s get out of here.” Sylvie follows his gaze to a young white girl with an undercut and purple eyebrows.

“Your ex-girlfriend?” Sylvie asks, confused. Brian’s gay. Very, very gay. As gay as a—really very gay person.

He snorts. “No, you lemon, my ex-dealer. Shit let’s get out of here before she sees us—”

Too late. The girl’s eyes are widening with recognition, and she smiles, like a shark, raising her hand over her head to wave. Brian squeaks and pulls hard on Sylvie’s wrist, tugging them through the crowd, stepping on people’s feet and not bothering to apologize. There’s some sort of commotion at the side of the road, people yelling and shoving, and a kid with yellow eyes sends bright illusionary glimmers up into the air. A second later there’s a crack and a hiss and there’s white fog spreading around their legs, only the fog stings horribly, and Sylvie starts to cough, helplessly, tears streaming from their eyes.

“It’s tear gas,” chokes out Brian, covering his eyes with his sleeve.

“I—fucking—know,” says Sylvie, wheezing, pulling him to the side. Brian’s power is really quite formidable but not, actually, particularly useful—he can analyze the composition of substances, tell you their chemical makeup via touch. He makes a damn good cocktail.

“Come on,” says Brian, “let’s go, let’s—fuck—”

They stagger out of the crowd, coughing and crying, people shrieking around them. The riot police are wading in now, herding and shoving people fairly indiscriminately. Someone falls down and cries out, a high screech, as the convulsing mass of people around them heaves and moans. This happens every time. Usually the cane offers Sylvie some small measure of protection—it looks bad when the Sydney Morning Herald releases photos of cops beating on cripples.

For a moment Sylvie thinks they’re going to get out of this okay, but then Brian falls into a cop’s riot shield and everything goes to shit. The cop yells at him, and Brian yells back, and then the handcuffs are out, and everything sort of goes the way you’d expect.

Brian was right—it starts to rain.

Hours later, Sylvie has been arguing with the officer at the desk of the police station for longer than they care to admit, but the desk cop won’t budge. It’s bullshit, it’s all bullshit. Brian’s being charged with resisting arrest. Arrest for what? Arrest for resisting. Also, apparently, teetotaler Brian, Brian who’s been sober for more than six months now, Brian who went through screaming withdrawal and came out grinning on the other side, is being drunk and disorderly, so he’s “cooling off” in a cell. A breathalyser test “isn’t necessary”. Sylvie’s nerves are jangling, and the statistics of Aboriginal deaths in custody are parading relentlessly through their head.

It’s another two hours and a different officer at the desk before they let Brian be released into Sylvie’s custody. The new officer has flat, pale hair, and a dead-eyed look in her eyes. “___ ______, yes, she’s free to go. No bail.” Sylvie holds in their snarl.

Brian’s left eye is bruised and his hair is tousled when they let him out. He’s silent all the way out of the station, until they reach the sidewalk, and then he swears loudly and kicks a tree. His voice cracks. He stands there for a moment, panting hard, whole body shuddering with it.

“Let’s go,” he says, eventually. “I want to get the fuck out of here.”

He stays at Sylvie’s place that night. Neither of them want to be alone. When they get in the door Sylvie swaps out their pronoun wristband, ties his hair up in a knot. He doesn’t usually feel comfortable wearing masculinity—it’s a skin he was forced to live in for so long that it still, sometimes, hums hotly through his blood, makes his nerves feel like they’re on fire. But it’s a part of him nonetheless.

Brian disappears into the bathroom, and Sylvester hears the sound of water running. Moth starts to wind around his legs, purring, nudging his head against the hem of Sylvester’s skirt. Sylvester sinks to the floor, drops his cane with a clatter, and pulls Moth close. Buries his face in his fur. The cat meows indignantly, wriggling a little, and then settles.

Sylvester puts the kettle on. After a while Brian emerges from the shower, hair damp, shoulders bowed low.

It’s a long night for both of them. Brian sleeps in Sylvester’s bed, their legs tangled around each other, tossing and turning. Every hour or so Sylvester touches a hand lightly to Brian’s brow, and the bruise turns purple-blue, and then grey-green, and then faintly yellow. Irritation from tear gas doesn’t take too long for him to heal, but bruises are different, pressed deeper into flesh.

Sometime in the black morning, Sylvester gets out of bed and goes to sit out on the balcony. He sheds his pronoun wristbands to sleep, and sometimes it feels like a shedding of skin. Syl hates wearing pyjamas, even in winter. The clothes feel strangling. It feels like Syl is being reborn every morning, naked, cold, confused. Gender takes so much energy to maintain. To navigate. Sometimes Syl wishes it all just didn’t exist. It seems so much easier for other people.

It’s a cloudy night. A few stars wink through the scattered smears of sky. There’s no wind, but sometimes a shiver runs through Syl’s body. Skin open to the air. It feels like Syl can breathe in the universe.

It’s hours before the sun begins to rise. Sylvia can hear the birds. She sighs, stretches. Turns back into the apartment. Feeds the cat. Makes tea with honey, bends the spoon. A few tea leaves escape into her cup, and she concentrates, twists her fingers, pulls them out without even touching the liquid. She steps up into the air, just to see if she can, and stays there, hovering a few centimetres above the ground. Only a few centimetres, and she can only maintain it for a second. But for a second she felt like she could fly.

After a while Brian emerges with what looks like the contents of Sylvia’s entire bedroom wrapped around him. Bedspread, sheets, scarves, socks. There might be a pillow somewhere in there. “What are you doing up so fucking early.”

“Made you tea.”

“Thanks,” he says, grasping for the mug. He waves a hand awkwardly at his eye. “Thanks for this, too.”

Sylvia just shrugs. “It’s not much.” The guilt is going to eat her up from the inside, gnaw out her bones. She couldn’t do anything. All that time Brian spent in lockup, hours more than he should have, and she couldn’t do anything. Some supers can phase through walls, break iron with their bare hands. Sylvia can heal bruises and stubbed toes. Bend her spoons. And make toast.

Maybe Brian reads some of that in her eyes, because his next words are weirdly determined. “Don’t say that.” There’s a little wrinkle between his eyebrows. “It’s useful. It’s little, but it’s useful. Sometimes we need little things.”

Sylvia bites down on her tongue, tastes blood in her mouth. “Okay,” she says. “Okay.”

For the next few hours they stick by each other, never more than a few feet apart. They catch the bus into uni in silence. Sylvia doesn’t know what’s going to happen next. The police station hasn’t contacted them. They only have one class together, but neither wants to leave the other alone, so they go to Brian’s morning lecture and Sylvia streams hers online in their lunch break. Brian is quiet, listless.

The day is already so dull, so draining, that it’s almost not surprising when the girl from the rally yesterday sidles up to them at the campus food court. Her eyebrows are still purple but she’s not smiling this time.

“Hey,” she says. “Hey, Brian.”

Brian’s head is pillowed in his arms. He cracks an eye to look at her. “Go away, Liv. I got fucking nicked last night. I don’t need this right now.”

“That sucks, man,” she says. She seems genuine. “Look, I’ve just got this guy who wants to talk to you. Just one job. Nothing big. He’s so keen though, mate, and he’s got the money, he’s a real fucking big spender.”

“Not interested,” says Brian. He closes his eyes again.

“Come on, Bri, for old times’ sake? I know you went to druggie rehab or whatever, this isn’t about that, I’m not trying to sell you anything. This guy just wants to talk to you.”

“He said no,” says Sylvia.

Liv barely spares a glance at her, and tries to move closer to Brian, but Sylvia blocks her with her cane. The girl gets angry then. “Hey, what the fuck? Put that thing away, dude, I don’t even know you. Me and Brian go way back. Brian, listen—”

Sylvia concentrates, feels her eyes heat up, glow red, and Liv pales a bit and backs away. Hands raised. “Fine, fuck, no need to get all batshit on me,” she says. “I’ll see you later, Bri.”

She leaves, and Sylvia blinks, feels her eyes go back to normal. It was a bluff—the most she could have done is give the girl a spot of sunburn—but Liv didn’t know that.

“I’m sorry about that,” says Brian into his arms. “I’m really—I’m sorry. And I’m sorry she called you dude. You didn’t need to do that. Thanks.”

Sylvia doesn’t say anything, but she puts her arm around his shoulders, and some of the tension relaxes out of his spine.

“She’s a super too, you know?” he says absently. “Low-level empath. I guess it explains why she’s such a dick all the time. Having to feel everyone. Lying to you. Feeling their hatred. Or just—feeling that they don’t even care. It must be hard.”

“Are you going to be okay?” asks Sylvia softly.

Brian snorts. “I’m always okay.”

Sylvia doesn’t know the details, but Brian used to be mixed up in some bad shit. His power might make him a good bartender, but it also makes him a damn good dealer. He can touch something and know instantly if it’s pure, what it’s made up of, how strong it is, how good of a high it’ll give you. Brian grew up with nothing. Of course he used what he was given. And he helped people. There are kids out there cutting molly with bleach, mixing glass splinters into cocaine, taking risks because they can’t do anything else. Sylvia’s not going to judge—whatever makes people feel like life is worth living. But it got dark for Brian, got down to the core of him. He got out. And now this Liv person wants him to get back in.

“I’ll take you home tonight,” says Sylvia.

Brian laughs, and then looks at her face. “You’re not serious? I live two hours away. Your joints…”

“I’m taking you home,” she says.

She daydreams through their afternoon lectures, doodling in her notebook rather than taking any meaningful lecture notes. Brian is uncharacteristically quiet for the rest of the day, preferring to doze in his chair rather than make conversation. The lecturer scowls at them at one point, but Sylvia scowls right back.

Brian lives out in the western suburbs, all the way out past Blacktown. On the train Sylvia ties her hair up, rubs her lipstick off her mouth. Puts her wristband in her bag. She’s met Brian’s sister before—he lives with her and her kids. She’s a nice woman. Tired, but always smiling. She’s subcapable, and cishet, but one of her daughters is a super, and she’s good at listening.

“Ellie’s going to fucking kill me when she hears about the rally,” says Brian, drumming his fingers against his knee. “No, she’s not even going to be mad, she’s just going to be worried. That’s worse.”

Sylvia doesn’t say anything. She loves you. At least she cares. She’s your family. Family can be bad for you. Ellie’s a nice woman. But Sylvia’s only met her twice.

They get off at Brian’s stop, grab a kebab to share between them from the shop next to the train station. It’s dark already. Sylvia always forgets how early it gets dark in winter. It sneaks up on you. There’s a chill in the air, and Sylvia pulls her hoodie up over her ears.

Sylvia isn’t sure exactly when things start to go wrong again. The main street is emptier than usual, but it’s late. One of the streetlights is flickering, casting a ghostly, erratic glow over the street. Brian clutches at her hand and she feels her bones creak.

Brian clocks that they’re being followed before Sylvia does. He starts walking in a different direction to his home, back towards the shops, back towards somewhere well-lit. It doesn’t help. Couple minutes later there are three guys in front of them and one behind, all big guys, all muscle. And they’re all white.

“Brian, right?” says the guy in front. “Heard you’re the bloke to speak to about getting some lab tests done.” He laughs after he says lab tests. His laugh is normal, nice-sounding.

“Nope, that’s not me,” says Brian, pitching his voice a little higher. “Sorry. Hope you find him.”

The guy squints a little when he hears Brian’s voice, but then he laughs again. “Sorry, mate. Got your number from Liv. And Jimmy here’s good at finding people.” He nods towards one of his friends, a guy with heterochromic eyes, one purple and one orange. Just fucking great.

Brian drops the act. “I don’t know what Liv told you, but I don’t do that shit anymore. I can’t help you. Sorry.”

He grabs Sylvia’s arm and moves to pull her away from them, but the guy called Jimmy gets in their way, gets all up in their space. “Better hear him out,” Jimmy says.

Brian puffs up like an angry magpie. “I said I don’t fucking do that shit, okay? I don’t need to hear anyone out. I’m fucking leaving.”

He shoves the guy, and Jimmy shoves him back, and Sylvia hits Jimmy with her cane. He yelps, and turns a surprisingly wounded look at her. “The fuck?”

“We’re fucking leaving,” she parrots, heart in her throat.

“You’re not fucking going anywhere,” says the guy in front. He still hasn’t introduced himself. There’s something shining in his hand—a knife? A gun. It’s a fucking gun. Where the fuck did he get a gun. Is it fake? It’s not fake. Shit.

Brian snorts. “What are you going to do, shoot me? Good luck getting your lab tests done then.”

The guy raises up the gun, trains it between Brian’s eyes, and then slowly, purposefully, lowers it to aim at Brian’s leg. “I can shoot you without killing you,” he says. His voice is terribly even, and his eyes are a very clear blue. “Heard you got arrested last night. Troublemaker, you are, hey? Wonder what the cops’ll think if you get admitted to emergency with a gunshot wound. That’s gang stuff, that is. Bet it wouldn’t look good. And then when you get out, well, Jimmy and me’ll still be here, and we’ll still have that job for you to do. I’ll pay you for it. We’re all gentlemen, right? But you don’t get to walk away.”

Brian is breathing hard, fast, like a bird, and Sylvia sees what’s going to happen before he does it. Brian lunges, but Sylvia moves first, and the gun goes off with a ringing bang that makes her ears go numb, and there’s a hot feeling against her hip. Brian is yelping, and pulling her away, and the other guys seem just as shocked as they are. They’re across the street, now, Sylvia propped up in Brian’s arms, splayed over him, and one of the guys says “the cops, Nick, the fucking cops,” frozen, like they don’t know what to do. The blue-eyed guy—Nick—curses, and then they scatter.

“Sylvia,” says Brian, gasping, “Sylvia, Sylvie, Syl—you—are you okay—”

Sylvia feels like she’s floating. She feels like she could fly. “I’m fine,” she says, and her voice is very far away. She reaches into her hoodie pocket, and pulls out a little crumpled piece of metal. The bullet. Dented and warped just like the contents of her cutlery drawer.

“Sylvie—you—what…” He’s patting frantically at her hip, her thigh, feeling for blood. There’s nothing. A high laugh bubbles up in her throat, and she slumps to the ground suddenly, all the adrenaline rushing out of her. She presses the broken little bullet into his hand, and he stares at it, uncomprehending, for a long moment.

“You’re… you’re bulletproof,” he breathes, after a long moment. “Sylvia, you’re fucking Wonder Woman!” He laughs then too, a deep belly laugh, and then he whoops, and presses a kiss against her head. “Holy shit, I can’t believe we’re alive. Holy shit, those fucking wankers, they probably pissed themselves when they saw—holy fuck…”

“He was right, though,” she says, with sudden clarity, “the cops, we should go—” There are no sirens yet, but that doesn’t mean anything. Maybe the cops got called, maybe they didn’t. Gunshots are loud, but it could have been—an illicit firework, or a car backfiring, or something. No one actually got injured. But Sylvia and Brian are Brown While Walking At Night, so there’s no sense in lingering.

Sylvia picks up her cane from where it’s lying beside her, and heaves herself to her feet. Arms around Brian’s shoulders. Brian is weaving around like he’s drunk, still letting out a strangled giggle every now and then, like he can’t quite believe what just happened. Sylvia can’t help but laugh with him.

The stars seem very large above them, even though out here with the city lights you can’t see many of them. The sky is cloudless. Everything seems huge, suddenly, like the whole world’s stretched out in front of them, like they can do anything.

It’s a cold night. The bullet is warm in her pocket. It’s so small in her hand. Such a little thing. They’re both little, her and Brian, little things under a big sky. That’s okay, though, she thinks. Sometimes you need the little things.

END


"I stayed up all night waiting for the election results and then..." is copyright Joanne Rixon 2017.

"The Little Dream" is copyright Robin M. Eames 2017.

This recording is a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives license which means you can share it with anyone you’d like, but please don’t change or sell it. Our theme is “Aurora Borealis” by Bird Creek, available through the Google Audio Library.

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Thanks for listening, and I’ll be back soon with a reprint of “Lessons From a Clockwork Queen” by Megan Arkenberg.

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