Playing Stories — Chapter 13: Another Day of Sun

Chapter 13: Another Day of Sun
from the 2016 movie “La La Land”
posted 01:12, 21 February 2019

And when they let you down, you’ll get up off the ground
Cause morning rolls around, and it’s another day of sun

It took me hours, but finally I found Isabelle whacking commuters in the head with a rolled-up newspaper.

“There’s an art to doing this,” she said as I climbed up on the clock face beside her, rolling my eyes. “You can’t just pick up a newspaper and smack them in the head. People will talk about levitating objects and freak and then we’ll be found out.” She scanned the concourse, looking for her ideal sucker. “You’ve got to position it so that it looks like these things just came out of nowhere. And then… ooh look, there’s one…”

I sighed as she leapt off the clock face and crept up behind a particularly bald commuter. Imitating his footsteps, she lifted the newspaper and whacked him solidly on the head. The man jumped and turned to see who’d struck him, but he saw nobody there. Only the weightless form of Isabelle, who was now already disappearing into the walls. Within seconds, she had shimmied her way back up on top of the clock.

“WHEEEEEEEEE.” She was grinning from ear to ear.

“Yes, yes, what fun,” I deadpanned. “What’s next, are you gonna give him diarrhea and lock him in a toilet stall for ten minutes?”

“Ooh, I hadn’t thought of that, but if you insist… “ she said, jumping up in excitement. “Want to come?”

Crap. “No, do NOT do that, Isabelle, you’ve already made Wrengate more chaotic than it needs to be…”

“Oh come off it, Liam, you’re exaggerating again, it’s not THAT big a deal…” She jumped off the clock again and disappeared into the crowd. In the distance, I could see the man she’d just bonked on the head suddenly clutching his stomach. I sighed and sat down to read the evening papers.

Rush hour came and went. I walked around Wrengate, trying my hardest to minimise any long-lasting damage that Isabelle had inflicted upon the bustling metro station. Upset buckets of water, buskers suddenly blowing a raspberry in the middle of their songs. A few of them were ingenious: the installation of lightbulbs in the concourse that she’d unscrewed in places and now spelt out “shit” in large, hovering incandescent letters. Isabelle was endlessly inspired like that, and she had boundless energy to match. Occasionally I’d catch a glimpse of her as she ran around the corridors holding all sorts of dangerous things — corrosives, lightbulbs, even a few oranges. (It was a piece of clementine peel that led to me falling onto the tracks in 1981 just as a southbound train arrived on platform 4. She had a dark sense of humour, that girl.)

Finally, the last train of the day disappeared into the tunnel. I walked along the station and onto the Mariner Line platforms, feeling the rustling of papers in the cold draughts, gazing at the architecture which, after almost forty years, still managed to make me stop and stare. Then I saw her: Isabelle sat on the southbound tracks, her head in her hands, her long hair falling over her white dress.

“Hey,” I said, sitting down on the platform edge. “What’s up?”

She gave a great big sniff and lifted her head. Her face was all streaked with tears, glistening in the shadows, and she hastily wiped her eyes. “Nothing.”

“Doesn’t look like nothing to me,” I said, hopping down onto the track and crouching down next to her. I had never seen her sad before — hyperactive, cheerful, frustrated, yes. But never like this. She’d never seemed to allow herself sadness.

“I said it’s FINE,” she burst out, sweeping an arm out to shoo me away. When I said nothing, she gave up and buried her head in her hands, trying to calm herself down.

We sat there in silence, listening to the echoes of the trains rumbling down the tunnel. We’d never done this before — she always came and found me on the bridges that criss-crossed Wrengate, and when she did it was only to say hi before disappearing back into the nooks and crannies of the station. It was sort of the one thing that you could depend on her doing.

At last, she looked at me. “It was six months ago today.”

“Oh damn.” That explained everything. She was even on the same spot where the train had hit her. “Is it the memories?”

“No, it’s not…” she started. “Well. Kind of.” She fell silent for a while. “You know, when I first woke up here, I thought that I was here for some time only. That, you know, this was just some sort of purgatory where I was gonna be punished before, I don’t know, I left Earth for good.”

“You know that’s not true, I’ve been here for almost forty years and…”

“Yeah, but I thought you were different, Liam,” she said, looking at me askance. “It wasn’t your fault that you had to stay here. But I jumped, remember?”

I nodded warily. Truth is, I remembered that scene all too well. It still gave me the shivers. “So… you’re regretting jumping?”

She shook her head. “Not really… it’s at least not worse here,” she said, wiping her nose. “But it’s just that — well, I never knew it would be this tough, being a ghost. It’s alright being here for two weeks, or a month, but eternity? While the world rolls on without you? It’s just stupid.

“So I keep myself busy — I pulled pranks on the passengers, I tried to explore as much of the station as possible. I figured that I’d get used to it soon enough, or maybe that I could still be part of that world I’d left. That, I don’t know, people would notice me and I’d still be in somebody’s mind. And yet…” She flung her arms out. “Nothing. Just absolutely nothing. And I couldn’t take it. I just couldn’t take it any longer, being cooped up in here with nobody but another dorky ghost to talk to for Christ knows how long — oh, I’m sorry,” she gulped, looking at me.

“Go on,” I said.

“Right, so… I don’t know… when I realized today was six months, I genuinely thought this would be it. Yeah, I know I’ve got no proof,” she said, cutting off the question forming in my mouth. “But I just thought it’d be some sort of milestone. And then I decided to come back here, to the place where it happened. Maybe the train would hit me again, and maybe I’d be kicked out of this world. And it did, just now. The train rolled across me, but nothing happened. My head was just stuck there, hovering on its own on the floor of the carriage, just… hanging there, on the handrails. Nobody even screamed when they saw me. And then I realized it: I’m stuck here forever. I’m not gonna get out. EVER. So what’s the point of everything?” she said, throwing the tissue in her hands to the other side of the tracks. “This is WORSE than Hell, Liam — at least there, you’re too busy screaming and being blinded with pain to notice how it’s the same thing every day. Wrengate, though? It’s the same life. Day after day. Year after year. And this time I can’t jump my way out of this.”

I sat there, stunned. “You know what, Isabelle? I hadn’t thought of it that way but… you’re right,” I said, leaning back against the sides. “I’ve been here 40 years —”

“As you keep telling me,” she muttered under her breath.

“Yeah, but it didn’t get any easier for me, you know?” I said, swinging around to face her. “I was here, by myself. I had nobody to talk to before you came along. And it’s really painful just to see here and watch the world go by without being part of it anymore. I thought things would change when you came, that you’d somehow mix things up or something… but no. Still this.”

“Did you really think I was gonna change things when I came along?” she said, her voice muffled within the fabric of her clothes.

“Yeah, I know I shouldn’t. Sorry.”

She snorted despite herself, but said nothing. We sat there, quiet for awhile.

“So what do we do now?” she said at last.

I thought for a very long time. “I don’t know,” I said at last. Then, almost impulsively, “but… if I’m honest, I don’t really care, anyway.”

“You’re telling me,” she said, looking up at me. Her brows were arched, puzzling.

“No, really. Maybe it’s just cause I haven’t cared for a while, but… I don’t think we really ARE a hopeless case. Sure, we’re stuck here forever,” I said, “but honestly, what can we do? It’s not like we can change any of this with a snap of the fingers. We tried. And we both failed. So why not let things lie, at least for a while?” I edged slightly closer to her, and thank God she didn’t try to move away. “And besides, you’re not completely alone in this. We’ve got each other, you know,” I continued, in the softest voice I could muster. “And we’ve got lots to teach each other to pass the time. You know this place better than I do, and I…” I trailed off. What DID I know that she didn’t? “Well, I’ll think of something. But we’re here, and we can make the best of it.”

She looked at me. Narrowed her eyes — she really did have a scary gaze. I waited for judgment to fall,.. but after a while, she simply sighed. “I don’t know,” she said. “It just feels so much, the idea that infinity still lies ahead and there’s never gonna be any change…”

“Oh, screw infinity,” I said, clambering awkwardly back onto the platform. “We’ve got enough on our plate already. We can take it one day at a time.”

I offered her my hand. She hesitated ever so slightly. And then — she smiled, slapped me gently on the hand, and climbed up onto the platform herself. I sheepishly started brushing myself off. I didn’t need to, but I felt like a fool dangling my hand awkwardly in front of a girl.

“Liam,” I heard a voice behind me. I turned around — just in time to be caught in a bone-crushing hug. “Life experience,” she whispered.

“What?”

“You’ve got more life experience than I have,” she said quietly. “And you’re kinder than I am. Don’t forget that. That’s what makes you nice to hang around with.”

“That’s the warmest thing somebody said to me in forty years,” I murmured.

“Yup, and that’s all you’re getting for the next forty.” I rolled my eyes, but I could feel the smile creeping across my face. She started up the stairs. “Coming?”

I shook my head and motioned for her to sit down. Then with a flick of the wrist, I turned the power off, and then the only things we could see were the lights of the signal boxes, reflecting off the ceiling. The colours — red, white, green, blue — shot off the crystal tiles, looking like fireflies in the night sky, glowing in the darkness.

“You know, I’ve been here like every day, and yet I’ve never seen the station like this before,” breathed Isabelle, breaking the silence at last.

“You just rush along too much… there’s plenty where that came from.”

“As do I,” she said, her gaze still fixed on the sparkling dots far above us. “Not sure they’ll be as good as this though, really.”

“Well, you don’t have to show them all tonight. We have time,” I said, looking at her.

She looked over at me and smiled, her eyes crinkling in a way that, somehow, made me smile too. “Yes. Yes we do.”


Yeah, no, it’s fine. It’s just that I’m not ready yet? I like you as a friend, of course, but. You know. Maybe not yet.

Q

 

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