“Belonging” by Tanya X. Short
We’d like to present a new Feature Story here at Metro Fiction. Please check the Metro Fiction page for more information about us.
This week, a talented financier considers her familiar surroundings.
Please enjoy our Feature Story: “Belonging” by Tanya X. Short
On the way to work this morning, Audra saw a man Taken.
She sits at her desk, smiling vacantly at clients filing in and out, their indignation far away. She does her job today with less attention than most days, but even without effort, she’s still above average. Bank work comes naturally to her.
A customer sits down across the desk, fidgeting. She looks so tired. The tiny baby in the stroller is silent. The new mother’s eyes are heavy and gestures muted as she begins to discuss mortgage strategies, suppositions and calculations. She’s been reading the website.
Half-listening, Audra notices that the plastic-fiber chair she sits in is shaped for a spine just like hers, fitted to every angle. She notices the desk is at the exact height for her personal comfort. The papers are arranged for her specific, orderly tastes. She fits this place perfectly. Tailor-made, new, expensive. This place is made better by her being here, or someone very much like her.
The Taken man was a cyclist and didn’t look much older than 40, though it was hard to tell from across the street. She didn’t notice until he was a meter in the air over the bike lane, drifting upwards so slowly she thought it was a prank. Audra wondered if he worked at the bank. He was silent as he struggled against his ascent, his face puttied with terror. Cars honked in the intersection behind him, oblivious to the man rising slowly. He’d lost. He was Taken.
The Taking happened so much faster in the movies, where the Taken ascend as quickly and gracefully as bubbles in a fish tank. The cyclist seemed to only move a few centimeters a second, agonisingly slow, his dignity sapped a bit at a time. He wouldn’t let go of his bicycle handlebars, clutching them tighter towards his chest, as if he would somehow become heavy enough to settle back down to earth, as if his bicycle would let him continue his life as he had planned it. His upward momentum gained speed lazily as he floated up and up, an unwilling balloon. A dozen people on the sidewalk recorded the ascent, shifting to refocus as Audra tried to walk past.
A few seconds later he dropped the bicycle. Audra looked away quickly, but not soon enough. She saw a few spokes from the front wheel snapped, pointing grotesquely out towards morning traffic.
Her grandfather had been more graceful about it, when it was his time. His was an easier age. He had sat calmly, waiting, breathing, letting himself get lighter and lighter on the porch of her mother’s house. He had announced over dinner that he thought he had a few hours or days left, but that they should say goodbye.
Audra had been an inquisitive girl, once. Children are supposed to do their homework, dislike vegetables and ask blunt questions. She was always conscientious, if nothing else.
“Why now?” she’d asked him.
“Easier to fly than walk.”
Scientists said that the mites humans carried with them when they settled here had adapted unexpectedly. That they couldn’t process the native minerals and excreted a lighter-than-air product that the human body absorbed through the skin. The exo-biologists named the stuff after whoever discovered it and everyone else called it Mite Dust. Like helium, junior high school teachers said, though of course it wasn’t like helium at all, not even a little bit. Over the course of 60 to 90 years, usually, the body would absorb enough of the Dust to become light enough to float away. If you were lucky enough to avoid death by heart disease, violence, and cancer, you won the prize of asphyxiating in the atmosphere and being skimmed by satellites for processing.
Some priests denied the Dust existed, some said it was a tool for divine communication, some said it was raw godstuffs, transforming men and women into angels as they lived. Some condemned ceilings, others strongly recommended short, shallow breaths. All said that you were only Taken when the time was right, and that it was a great blessing to live long enough to be Taken. Good job, they seemed to say, your god likes you more than your friend killed in the independence riots.
Audra’s grandfather was probably asleep when he was Taken, at least when it started. Looking back, she knew he must have been terrified, but her child-self had heard no fear when he said goodbye to her that night. When she woke up the next morning and he wasn’t there, she climbed up and sat in his chair. It was made of a hard, smooth wood without a cushion, and for a child, the arms were too wide to use comfortably. Even so, the chair seemed more purposeful with someone in it.
The chair that she sits in every day at the bank is sculpted to suit her spine and is comfortable, but it does not improve her. The desk’s height is logical, but she does her best thinking at home. The arrangement of her papers is pleasing, but her tastes have not changed in many years. She fits integrally, a perfect shape for the space she fills. If she has a purpose here, its meaning is lost to her. This place is made better by her. She is not made better by this place.
Across the desk, the young woman continues to talk circles around her mortgage percentages and payment schedules. She is visibly startled when Audra stands, suddenly tall, taller than she’s ever stood, her face alive with Amazonian purpose.
The young mother scoots back, eyes darting to the other financial advisers and their clients.
“I will not be Taken here,” Audra says into the lobby, and walks out and away.
Tanya X. Short is a video game designer by day, short fiction author by night. She lives with her husband and cat in Montreal, Canada. You can read her interactive fiction at her website.
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