Becca’s leaving the city. She’s accepted this: after the fight, the crying, the insults neither really meant or believed, after all the ways in which they’ve hurt each other – it’s time. She’s leaving. It’s not just him. There is, after all, a whole city. She could avoid him if she wanted to. But it’s that, it’s the city: The city is the problem.
Lately, she suspects that the city is following her – the same placid towers, the same ageless fire hydrants, the same cheery, nondescript shops trailing her from block to block. Its serenity, its immutability, make her want to scream in her state of perilous irritation. She used to love the city.
She used to hum to herself as she walked through it. She used to smile at strangers on its streets.
Now, especially at night, it seems smug. Streetlights glow with calculated eeriness. Its inexplicable rustlings take on a self-important tone, as if to prove that industry and vigor will always exist in the city.
She had come here to feel that things were happening. Even when she herself was doing nothing, she could walk out onto the street and smoke a cigarette and watch the million odd goings-on passing her by and feel that the night was not wasted. Look, a man in a velour suit with an iguana on his wrist – pet or accessory? And over there, those two women, well-dressed, middle-aged, wearing a bit too much bronzer perhaps, that woman has just stuck her ice cream cone directly into the face of her friend.
She wanted to go to street markets, to art galleries, to neighbourhoods she’d never seen before, and partake in culture and romance and all of the borrowed nostalgia of other people’s lives.
She wanted to go out at midnight and get drunk on gin and tonics and revel in the sad, seen-it-all glamour.
It was her who had loved the city. Not him. They’d had an argument once: he’d told her that living in the city was like being a mite on the back of a great, eternal animal: You could drop right off and nothing would change. But you could also burrow your own tiny hole in the surface of the animal, and you would be free to do so. The city would continue in its forward momentum, unbothered by the specks living on its skin.
“That’s ludicrous,” she’d said. “We anthropomorphize cities, giving them entities, but they’re just made up of people. If we all disappeared, they wouldn’t keep going on their own.”
“How can you be so sure?”
“A city is not a tree with no one to hear it. Besides,” she’d added, “look at Detroit.”
Becca’s leaving the city. Every time she tries to picture being somewhere else, she can only see herself floating: Treading water, she watches its million winking points of light recede into the dark.
word by Charlotte Joyce Kidd
colour by Carlo Stanga