By Jacky Lui
Ausmerica — 100 years after being Founded.
Every person that I knew growing up imagined that their life will be filled with adventure. They had a lust that permeated through their rapid beating hearts, and a grand purpose that swept them from the dreariness of mundane modern day life and sent them running, tumbling, and soaring into the outstretched arms of a shining goddess that brought all who sought it eternal fame.
I was under no illusions that life would be an endless journey of fun and exploration. From an early age I already knew that life would be an almost endless pit of struggle and sacrifice before we could achieve the things that made it sweet and beautiful. Everyone says that good things don’t come easy, and it’s very true. You see my parents were both tailors who struggled to get us through college. When they had us, they had set up shop on Main Street in Central living out of a shoebox apartment on the floor above hoping to make it big. They had plenty of customers and even had several pieces written about Hudson Designerware in Vogue Ausmerica. I watched their meteoric rise as they opened more and more stores around Ausmerica. We moved from the shoebox apartment into a full sized apartment on the 87th floor, and from there my parents even had their eyes on a townhouse in East Side. But my parents grew complacent, they popped out a few more kids to the detriment of their business. When I was eight years old, they shut down their business, gave up their high hopes for a great life, and we moved back to a small 5th floor apartment in Midtown, perhaps the worst district to live in SouthSide City, thus losing all of our old friends.
I was watching a children’s programme when a commercial man wearing a blue suit and aviator glasses popped up in front of us for the first time. If he showed up now in front of me, I might have seen him as a comical or even satirical figure, a by-gone vision of a nostalgic world but to the lens of the younger me, he was simply amazing.
With the charm and flair of a traditional advertising man of the past, he would sing this jingle. A jingle that never left your mind, and stayed with you all day.
“Looking for a place to buy? Then why not try the sky? Sky City is where it’s at. If you don’t see it, you’re blind as a bat! Adventure, dreams, and magnificence all year round. Up high in the sky! The greatest buy! With only a 10% downpayment, you could be setting yourself up to fly!”
He would leap up onto one of those ancient biplanes that they used in some forgotten war in the past, singing with the roaring baritone of a man truly successful, golden fireworks roaring, against a backdrop of the Ausmerican flag, and a full symphony orchestra of scantily clad women playing him off.
“Up high in the sky! The fuuuuunnnn neeeevvveeer stoooppppps!!!!”
A true paradise where in the towering busyness of Central, you were able to live in one of fifty most prestigious private residences reminiscent of the old suburban houses that used to exist in the olden days that you’d see in old American movies before everyone started living in high rises. The ones which came with living rooms that had a real fireplace, a white picket fence, and a small lawn to watch your children play. Where you head back to in your Packard car after a long day’s work, yell out “honey, I’m home!” and dance your night away to Elvis. All this on top of a hundred story tower column platform that rose above the most of the city. You didn’t even need to worry about the surrounding buildings, because it had a holographic dome that hid the surrounding builds in a mirage of an open sky. It was an eternal bliss. A sanctuary from normal life. Only on the edges right by the protective fence would a resident been able to watch all the people down below running around like ants.
As an eight year old, this imagery burnt into my mind, and I would climb onto everything just so that I could have a higher vantage point. I always felt calm whenever I was up high. On a tree, on a plane, on the observation deck of a tall building. It didn’t matter where, it just had to be high. It was on the rooftop of our apartment building that my parents had found me. Standing on the edge. My front toes dangling above a fifty story drop. I wasn’t going to jump off or anything, I wasn’t stupid. But they took one look at where I was standing, picked me up and started to cry.
It took ten years for the builders to fully finish the entire project. I was at the beginning of my working career when the red velvet ribbon was cut by the Mayor allowing all to have access into this magnificent project. I was one among many in the crowd that day, having taken the day off from my new job as newly minted structural building consultant specialising in magical integrity, and stared up at the glistening stone coloured tower that held the giant grass covered platform of which sat little mansions that glowed like raw jewels on a platter. I made a promise that day that I would one day be an owner of one of those houses, and I meant it with every fibre of my being. I would one day live in Sky City.
There are of course other great and wonderful districts in this city inhabited by the wealthy and powerful alike. But for us, it was the feeling of achievement that spoke to who we were as people. It’s like those people who as kids salivated over the neatest Lamborghinis or DI Rs, and grew up working their asses off to finally get the car of their dreams. Whoever said that marketing to children doesn’t work has never seen the Sky City commercials. But marketing has to be both deceitful and true to work. While it builds the yearning to attain or accomplish something, that yearning must previously have existed for it to work. So marketing tells something about us as a society, as a people, and as a people we strive for good neighbourhoods and luxurious lifestyles.
It took me 20 years, hardly any time in a country of essentially eternally youthful people to achieve my dream. Along the way, I married my beautiful sweetheart Sally whom I had met in college studying to be a magician. And just like our parents, and I suppose like all our ancestors, we too had children. I love my two children deeply, and would do everything for them.
Sally worked in her chosen profession as a doctor, but after having children she chose to only work part-time. We live in a technological future, a magical utopia compared to even people who lived 50 years prior, so I thought it was unjust for her to take out time to raise and care for our children just because her biological instincts told her to. Still, she was a very determined woman and she did that for 10 years before reentering the workforce.
I on the other hand could proudly say that I worked. I worked. I worked. Proudly could say that I never took a day off again. I started off gaining an associates position in the Department of Magic. Two years later, I was a Managing Magician. The youngest Managing Magician in a decade. Five years later I was fully Chartered and specialised in Structural Magical Mechanics. I was on the way to be a Director, but on the ten year mark I stepped away, and started my own firm after hearing about how much money a consultant made compared to a public servant. I never cared about status that much, my heart was always centered on the end goal. A neighbourhood in the clouds. Sky City, and so for the past ten years I managed clients, consulted on many different types of projects. Many of them small initially, but they grew. Most recently I even managed to get my foot in the door with BNP. The largest magic company in Ausmerica.
On the same day of making that first tender, I also made a purchase in Sky City. The down payment took a big chunk of our savings, and we are now carrying a large mortgage to pay for it, but 80 million dollars to start a new life, a better life up, high in this stratosphere among other well-to-do successful and proper families was a bargain in my eyes.
We met our neighbours on the day that we moved in. On the right side of our home lived the Virgil couple. Mr and Mrs Virgil were both tall people that wore polo shirts, white trousers and smelt like expensive perfume that you could only find in the backrooms of high end shops after flashing platinum cards in front of the salespeople. Thomas Virgil was muscular and sinewy, as though he had once fought in a war and itched to go back in to battle at any time. He looked almost out of place in this orderly world. His wife was slender and strong except for her bosoms which bulged like ripe tomatoes in her tight red T-shirt. She had dark eyes and high cheekbones. Her smokey black hair fell over her toned shoulders. She could have been a model with her figure and her looks. But I reminded myself that my wife was much more attractive than her.
“Copy that! I was in the 45th squadron in the Ausmerican Air Force. Served 10 years. Fought off the Americans until my plane was shot down in 87’. Landed in a war hospital in Colorado, where they kept me imprisoned. Never did see a key to a lock in that place! Then fought in the Battle of Kauai one last time before the war ended. After that met my missus five years ago, and got hitched… I mean married…” He roared with laughter. “Our parents gave us a bit of money and we settled up here in Sky City.”
“You were a pilot? That’s amazing! Thank you for your bravery.”
“Copy that! It’s nothing mate! You might be a bit young for that Jim, but back when I was a young wide eyed man, all the guys would enlist in the military. It was just something that everyone did. Flying is the most amazing feeling ever, and it really helps with the ladies if you know what I mean.” He joked.
Mrs Virgil nudged her husband in the ribs.
“So what do you do now?” I asked them.
“Well, I’m a painter, and my husband works as a head insurer at the Rock Family Company.” Mrs Virgil said.
“Don’t be so modest dear.” Mr Virgil laughed. “My wife Veronica is the best painter in Ausmerica. She has an exhibition at the Ausmerican Gallery of Art opening in two months time. It’s on scarcity and love!”
“So much hassle and work to do.” She shuddered. “But you should totally come see it! I’ll make sure you get tickets!”
Thomas Virgil kissed her on the cheek.
“You’re the best sexy-pie. I believe in nothing but you.”
She turned away from us and whispered something in his ear.
“Oh yes, out in public…” Thomas playfully touched her cheek as she giggled.
We noticed truck after truck pulling into the street with our belongings. So we bid them farewell, despite their insistence on helping us unpack.
“Anytime you want to come over, just give us a ring!” My wife called out to them.
“Actually…” Thomas Virgil started.
“Here in Sky City, we don’t ring people. We just knock on the front door. That’s the great thing about life here. We’re all friendly people.” Their smiles were larger than a hot summer day at a pool, but they must have noticed something wrong with my expression because they followed it up with.
“But if you are working on something important, we’ll give you a ring first.” They smiled mischievously.
The rest of the move was uneventful as the trucks unloaded all of our belongings.
“I bags the bigger room!” Jay shouted at Daisy as he rushed the stairs.
“Not if I get there first!” She huffed taking stairs three at a time.
“Be careful going up those stairs!” My wife cried out to them. “I don’t want to be taking you down to the hospital before everything arrives.”
Unlike the dream that I had always harboured in my heart, we didn’t have neighbours on our left side. Instead, the left side of our house led to a large park. From the study room that I had acquired for myself to be my home office, I could see a large expanse of green grass dotted ever so often with tall conifers, shiny playground and outdoor gym equipment and people taking their pet woofers out on walks.
This small compromise, one of many that I had already made in my life, was an unexpected benefit. Whenever I worked, I put all of my focus into the topic at hand, to the detriment of my family sometimes. I become so focussed that I get lost in my own thoughts and I wouldn’t want a neighbour to break that train of thought. Not that it really mattered though, because I expected to be working from the Central office with this new BNP project.
Jay bounded into the room.
“Dad! Dad! Can I get my own hoverpod on my 18th birthday?” Jay asked me.
“What’s wrong with using the family hoverpod?” I asked him.
“It’s just that we have so much space in the garage, I was thinking that we could get another hoverpod, and so you and mum wouldn’t need to worry so much about me and Daisy catching a public cab.”
“I’ll have to talk to it with your mother.”
The young boy looked crestfallen that his divide and conquer tactic had not worked on me.
“If you want, I could get you a baseball bat. People in the old days would play ball with their kids. I saw it in a documentary.” I offered him.
“Nobody plays baseball anymore dad. Plus, you’re always busy with work. You wouldn’t have time with stuff like that.”
“This new project is only for a couple of months. Then I will be semi-retired for a while. I promise.” I meant it.
I woke up the next morning to a bright and sunny day. A perfect day. A slight breeze blew in through the open window as the wooden blinds slowly opened to the light. I leaned over and kissed my wife on the cheek.
“It’s the big day today honey.” She smiled at me.
We both got dressed and hurried downstairs.
As my wife woke the kids up, I made my morning coffee and mentally prepared for the day.
“Okay, so I’m going to BNP tower today. No big deal. I’ve met the Director before. Or maybe it was one his VPs.” I muttered to myself.
“Shoot, I hope they got the contract cleared with the Director.”
My wife led Jay and Daisy downstairs.
“I’m sure that John Anderson has cleared it all up with his boss.” Sally said to me.
“I’m really worried about this.” I frowned.
“Don’t be honey. You’ll do great as you always do. Trust in yourself, and we don’t really need this money. We could always call my parents if things don’t work out as planned.” She smiled.
“Jay! What are you doing with your sister’s lunchbox!”
“Thanks honey. You always say the right things at the right time.” I helped finish making the kid’s sandwiches as my wife chased the little terror around the room, and packed it into their bags.
“Jim?” My wife said to me. “Take this.”
She dropped a sandwich into my bag.
“I really don’t need it honey.” I said to her. “When I was working at the Department, consultants from BNP would always talk about how much better the food was at their head office.”
I passed the sandwich back to her.
“You’re taking it Jim. I don’t want you to get hungry.”
“Thanks sweetie.” I said to her reluctantly.
I made another coffee and skipped out my front door with glee. The air smelled crisp and new.
Along the way, I noticed that my hoverpod had been slightly dented at the rear.
“No…. That won’t do.” I muttered as I hopped inside and set the course to the BNP office in Business District.
The Underground Transport System, or the UTS in short was a large number of tunnels and open spaces under the ground. My hoverpod zipped along throughout the UTS, sometimes through huge caverns and sometimes through single file tunnels. Nobody knew how these tunnels worked exactly, it was too big, too complex, but we all trusted in the system, and it led us to the places to that we needed to be and always on time.
The BNP executive floor was covered with mounds of office workspaces. In the centre was the head of the company himself, Bilgy Beagle, who directed executives that scurried off in all manner of directions. The assistant told me to wait a few more minutes for the department director. I looked at my watch.
A couple minutes later, someone who obviously wasn’t the department director sat down in the chair next to me. He was curious, and asked me who I was waiting for. I told him, to which he seemed surprised to hear that I was running my own consultancy.
“And how big is your consultancy’s account, may I ask?” He asked in a way that tried to hide his obvious judgement.
I told him the approximate figure.
“Hmmm.” He replied.
We talked for a little more after that, but he had become disinterested in what I had to say, and with a pounce he jumped to his feet and clicked his polished shoes down the room. I gritted my teeth.
The day dragged on, and the sun started falling. Its rays striking against the elongated skyscrapers of the peninsula. Birds soared over the lazy rolling waves. My stomach ached from hunger, so much so that I asked where the dining halls were.
“It’s down the elevator and on the 130th floor Mr Hudson.” The assistant told me sympathetically. “Try the chocolate donuts from Gray Seal’s Icecream Shop. They are delicious!”
In a large hall spanning the length of the entire building were rows and rows of tables. On top of the tables were a cacophony of food. Bread rolls roared out at me, the salads tooted, oysters sung, the pasta and pizzas danced, and the chocolate dipping fountains crooned. They overflowed the dishes. I felt my mouth salivate with a drive more primal than I was used to. I reached for the door handle but found that it had declined my visitor card.
“Sorry sir.” One the workers said to me. “This place is only for people registered BNP employees. No contractors allowed.”
“Please, can you let me in?”
“I’m afraid not. I don’t make the rules here sir.” He shrugged and made his way into the delectable paradise.
My stomach growled at me. Urging me to eat something. I imagined myself standing up to that guy, saying that I was an important consultant to BNP. But I didn’t say a word, the day was getting me down, and I made my way back up to the top floor.
I remembered that Sally had packed me a sandwich roll in my briefcase. The roll satisfied my starving stomach, but it tasted plain and dull. The water from the lettuce had soaked through the bread making it moist and soggy. What would I give to be downstairs in that food hall!
The assistant came back to me and told me that the director was still too busy to receive me. She apologised for both the wait and for the mishap with the dining hall.
“Let me wait,” I told her. “This is the biggest account in my company.”
I paced the floor, overlooking the city. The BNP Tower was much taller than most of the buildings in the city. I looked through the numbers, answered a few emails, and eventually had arrived at the point where I had nothing else left to do. So I took out a pad of paper and sketched. I imagined myself having the same status as Bilgy Beagle commanding over the largest magic company in the world. My hand sketched myself standing alone on top of the BNP Tower watching over the rest of the city. I took inspiration from the view and imagined what I would do with that much power. These people would all listen to me. Whatever I say, they will snap their heels and do. I could go up to the terrace of the tower, stand on the ledge with my arms out just like I did when I was a kid and no one will stop me. My character looked a little lonely, so I drew him a companion.
I imagined her with dark hair and a thin strong torso. Yes, I admit, a little like my neighbour Veronica Virgil. A man can fantasize can he not? I redrew myself lifting her up and kissing her. Her dark green eyes burning deep into mine. I would hungrily pull her down onto the kitchen floor. We would fall deeply in love, like we did when we first met, and I would sing her name.
“You’re a very good artist Mr Hudson.” The nosy assistant was watching me.
“Thanks, I used to draw a lot but you know life and all got in the way.”
The assistant sighed. “I get the feeling.”
The assistant smiled at me and said. “You must really love your wife.”
I laughed awkwardly. “Thank you.”
“She is one lucky person.” She added.
“Have you ever been in love?” I asked her. “I apologise if I’m being intrusive.”
“Not at all. It breaks up the day.” She said. “Once… We were engaged until I found out that he had been cheating on me for the entire relationship. I walked in on my fiancee banging the physical therapist. She was wearing my wedding dress.”
“That’s horrible! I’m so sorry.” I said to her.
“It’s okay, it happened a long time ago. The bugger got what he deserved.”
“What was that?” I asked her.
“Died from testicular cancer before the first batch of the immortality serum was released. Thank goodness too! Otherwise I might have spent eternity hating his guts.”
I stayed until the office floor started emptying out, and the pattering feet of the executives left the space onto the elevator. The assistant helped set me up with a meeting on another day so that I could leave, but I insisted on staying for a bit longer. Even if it was just to soak in the views.
With the moon up high in the sky watching me with its sorrowful face, I decided to start packing up.
“It’s intoxicating isn’t it?” A voice called out from behind me.
I turned around. The CEO was huddled underneath a stack of papers.
“Yes, so it is.” I replied.
“You can stare at it forever you know. This life is an adventure. It’s go, go, go. All the time. It’ll consume you if you’re not careful.” He got up and made towards me.
“Whisky? I see you as a whisky man.” He waved his wand, and a glass appeared in my hand.
“I noticed you waiting all day for a meeting. What project are you working on?”
I told him. He took a sip from his glass and pulled up the file.
“Done, I’ve fast tracked your contract.” He took another sip.
“Thank you!” I gave my profuse thanks as he led me to the elevator. I felt an instant feeling of relief.
“Don’t worry about it. You don’t want to be up here for too long, you’ll never want to go back to the ground.”
As I made my way down, I could see the Sky City platform far away across the river. It was surrounded by tower blocks that rose above it like vertical knives and forks. It looked so small and insignificant compared to the buildings here in Business District. Every house glowed like a small topaz-coloured fairy light, and I wondered what my family were doing tonight.
The assistant sent me the files when I was heading back home. She congratulated me, and wished my wife and me well.
When I arrived home that night, the kids had already been tucked into bed, and my wife had left a night light on for me. She had tried staying up but had fallen asleep and was snoring and drooling on to her pillow.
“I did it.” I whispered to her. “I got the BNP contract. We finally made it.”
She gargled something in her sleep.
My wife was up before me the next day. She whooped with joy when she found that we had gotten the contract. I felt a pang of guilt at her happiness so I said that I needed a breather and slipped out throughout the backdoor. Veronica Virgil was at the back wearing an activewear top, exposing her toned midriff while watering her potted vegetables.
“Here try this.” She plucked a small tomato and placed it into my hand.
“I heard congratulations.” She smiled at me coyly. “Pray, what good news comes from the Hudson household?” Her silky voice was more suited for Shakespearean theatre than out in backyard.
“Oh it’s nothing.” I said to her. “Well actually, it is something. My consulting company signed a big deal with BNP last night.”
“That’s amazing!” She squeezed my shoulder. “This place really does bring out the best in people. I’m so happy for you Jimmy!”
She plucked a handful of tomatoes and handed them to me. I glanced down at the fruit.
“What is it?” She worriedly asked me.
“It’s kind of silly, but I feel a little distant to Sally. It’s just that it’s been twenty years and I feel like the spark isn’t there anymore.” I told her.
“Oooh, twenty years is a lot of time. Especially for people like us. You know back in the day people would stay married for their entire lives! It was sooo romantic. These days people are lucky that they are together for five years. 10 years with children.” She smiled ruefully.
“I don’t know, it’s just a feeling. We don’t have that much of a spark if you know what I mean.” I confided. “How do you stay so in love with Thomas?”
“I try to not think about forever. Forever feels so overwhelming. I take everything one day by day, and thank whoever it is, Providence, a god as the scientists are now saying, whatever, I’m just so happy that I am with someone who is happy to be with me everyday. And I try to return the favour.” Her gaze lingered on mine as I looked deep into her ruby red lips.
“Ooooh! Who is that handsome hunk entering my driveway!” She turned away and bounded to the sports car that had entered into her garage. I watched her lifted into the air by her husband.
“Nice cologne. Is that Le Parfum de la Femme?”
“Good guess.” He laughed.
“I don’t remember getting you that?” She asked him.
“Yes you did. 6 years ago in Paris. You must have forgot.” Tom replied.
“Silly me, I must have.” She laughed.
“Jimmy tells me that he and Sally aren’t doing so well.” She said to her husband. “But don’t tell anyone about it okay?”
Thomas waved at me.
“Well, I can fix that. Just take her out on my plane. I know that does the trick. Every time.” He gave a sideways glance at his wife.
“Tommy has one of those ancient planes that he’s been playing around.” Veronica explained. “He says it’s the most romantic thing, and he calls it the Heart Breaker. It’s soooo cheesy, but he’s right. It’ll bring back the spark.” She giggled.
“Jimmy, old chap. Anytime you want, and the Heart Breaker is yours to use.”
“Errrr… I don’t know how to fly a plane.”
“That’s okay, I’ve installed a self-piloting system in it in case we are occupied.” Thomas smiled broadly.
“Okay, I’ll keep that in mind.”
“Keep what in mind?” My wife asked as she popped out of the house in her slippers and carrying my son’s Hero’s Up backpack.
“Nothing…” We all said in unison.
With the new proceeds from my work, I felt that I was able to afford something that I could treat for myself. Whenever I thought of my neighbours, I was always reminded by how very cool they were. Thomas was always so suave, and Veronica so peaceful. They made the coolest perfect couple I knew. I wanted to be in love like they were. I wanted my wife to want me as much as how much Veronica adored her husband. Sometimes late at night I would picture myself in her husband’s place. But I would snap out of it very quickly. I loved Sally, and I loved the kids.
It was ostentatious at the time, but the Dragon Inventions Icarus R edition was simply a masterpiece. It had silvery fins along the smooth contours of its side. Red stripes along the hood, and its hover discs purred like a jaguar out in the wild. My son Jay was happy, because we’d passed the family car down to him. His sister Daisy was happy too because she could force her brother to deliver her to any place she wanted. My wife was worried though. Every time she would pass the car, she would give it a disapproving look. It was the opposite reaction that I expected from her. When she was younger, hell, when we were younger we always craved for wild drives along the long winding ocean roads up Ausmerica Island. Nowadays with the car and house of our dreams, she would just sternly give a tut tut and pass along.
“That’s one mighty fine car you got there son.” Thomas would say to me with an approving look.
Veronica would give her praise as well. “A cool dad in his cool car!” She would call out to me.
The days rolled past like a blur. Time seems to slow down living like that. At first the car was the envy of the neighbourhood, but it too soon became a daily fixture in the suburb. I didn’t drive it that much, I’d often use the self-driving features and rarely if ever used the manual mode. So I often took it only to get food or take the kids to see the movies or something.
The monotony of our lives were broken by Veronica Virgil’s exhibition. Our entire family had been given tickets to its grand opening, so we dressed in our finest attire, left the house at 6pm and arrived at 6:15.
We admired her paintings.
“I love this bird one!” My wife said to me.
It was a phoenix sitting in its nest erupting in flame. You couldn’t tell whether it was in pain or pleasure. Maybe it was both.
“Hey Jim and Sally! Daisy and Jay! So glad that you could make it!”
She was dressed in a purple velvet dress that exposed one of her pale tender shoulders.
“We’re beginning soon.” She smiled at me. “It’s just such a comfort to have your neighbours here. Tom’s running late in traffic.”
She gave a speech about the art of scarcity in the infiniteness of life and space.
“There is a discrepancy in the life of the biologically immortal to the ones which were finite. Though we all agree that short lives are barbaric and strange, we must agree that immortality has made us lose a part of what makes us people. In the infinite, we no longer can hate forever. At some point we eventually forgive and rebuild. But that also applies to love as well. We can no longer love forever; a promise does not last forever. But unlike hate, we must try. That is the belief of love. Tonight, I wish for all of us to come away with the feeling of finiteness.”
I noticed in her slight mannerisms that she seemed a little melancholic by the end of it, and so at the end of the night I left my family to talk to her.
Veronica was sitting on the front steps alone. She held a glass of red wine which she occasionally took a sip from.
“Hey…” I said to her. “I noticed something about you tonight.”
“Oh, hey Jimmy.” She turned her head to me.
“Do you want to talk about it?” I asked her.
“I don’t know if you can help me Jimmy.” She looked up at the stars.
“You can tell me about it. We’re friends.” I reached for her hand.
“Ahhh… okay… do you ever feel that success is more disappointing than you imagine it to be? Like you think that it’s this big thing that will change your life forever, but when you get it, it just feels like ash in your mouth. I don’t know whether I should stop now or if I should keep going for the next big thing?” She looked glumly at her drink.
“You know what Veronica? That’s how it feels like every day since I moved to Sky City. It’s kind of embarrassing, but I always dreamed of living in Sky City. I heard those darned commercials as a kid, and I knew that I would work and work until I eventually bought a place here. But I guess that it’s always been about leaving the world as a better place. Which means, for me a better life for the kids, and maybe for you it’s inspiring the world with your art.”
“Why do you think that life won’t just be an endless treadmill? We are biologically immortal now, you know?”
“I don’t know.” I whispered to her. “It feels like I’ve reached this heaven, the forever state, and I feel like I don’t belong here. But I know that my kids will be all grown up all too soon. I know that I should be treasuring every moment of their lives.”
I sensed her breathing deeply. Her chest rising up and down with each solemn breath.
She rested her head on my shoulder.
“I should… go.” I said to her.
“Don’t… Shhhh it’s almost midnight.” She hushed. “We are just two foolish dreamers aren’t we?”
“Two star-crossed dreamers. Trying to return to a time when things made sense.” I finished her sentence.
I grabbed the flesh above her hips.
“Can I kiss you? I want to know what it feels like to be a parent.” She whispered.
“Please… Veronica. You know I can’t.”
She pulled me in, and I felt her hands warm against my back. I felt my face flushed with heat as I looked into her golden brown eyes. Her tight dress felt loose in my hands. I felt her dark hair in my face and her breath mixing with my own breath. I tucked her hair back behind her ear like I used to when we first dated.
I drew closer and closer to her intimate embrace. Our noses a whisper apart and our lips touched like gentle forgotten friends.
“I can’t… ” I pulled away from her. “I’m sorry.”
“Thank you.” She whispered to me. She looked up back towards the building. Almost remorsefully.
We sat there in the comfort of each other’s company for what seemed like hours. My wife messaged me that she had felt real tired and taken the kids back home.
“Do you think I’m beautiful?” She whispered to me.
“You are the most beautiful thing I’ve ever met.” I said to her with all the honesty in my heart.
She shifted her body towards me and I sat soaking in her warmth, feeling truly wanted for the first time in my life. In that moment I wished selfishly that I never met my wife, that I never made my wedding vow, that I never had kids and that I was free to do whatever I wanted with whoever I wanted. As soon as I thought it, I pushed it out of my mind. My kids needed me. She must have felt the same as well, because she stood up and watched someone in the distance. She froze as though something broke within her. It was Thomas with an arm around a tall thin blonde woman. They got into his car and drove off.
She turned to me and asked me whether I wanted to do something fun. I looked at her quizzically.
“Come on, I’ll show you my favourite pieces in the gallery!” She leapt up and offered her hand to me.
“Sure, give me a private tour!” I laughed.
She giggled and pulled me into the gallery. The lights were being turned off and the guests had left. All the cleaning robots had already come out.
“Careful! Don’t trip on one of those critters!” She laughed. Her dark strands of hair bounced like fairies while we ran through each hallway.
“See this! This is my favourite Monet!” She pointed to a painting of a bridge. “And this one here! This is Leonardo Da Vinci’s flight machine!”
She laughed and skipped in front of me. I suddenly became aware of how alone we were. The twinkling city lights basked the cold tiled rooms with a faint moonlight. I could smell her perfume in my face.
“This is Atlas Holding the Sky!” She pointed to a marble statue of naked man holding a globe above his head.
“That is one big man.” I said a little self-consciously.
“You’re not too bad yourself.” Veronica beamed at me.
We went through those long dark hallways. Rushing in and out. Exploring expressions and emotions. Exploring for just hours but it seemed like an eternity had passed. I looked at her face filled with sweat from her almost manic drive to show me everything in the entire gallery in that single night. I pulled her to a stop and told her that I was tired.
“I know the perfect place.” She said to me in a low voice.
We walked to the top of the building and into a warm cosy wood lined room. Standing in the middle of the room was a Mesopotamian goddess with her arms outstretched over a small cave like bed.
“The Cradle of Ishtar.” I read out the description.
“This is the most comfortable place in the gallery.” Veronica looked at me.
She lay in my arms until the air outside became chilly with frost, and the first glimmers of daylight broke through the night.
When I arrived home that morning, I found a note left on the dining table.
“Dear Jimmy, I’ve seen the way you look at her. I’ve seen the way you long for her. I’ve heard you whisper her name at night. And I finally saw the way you kissed her last night. I’m happy for you. Really I am. All these years that I’ve known you, you’d been focussed on living this fantasy and last night I saw that you finally found something that was real.
But this family is real to me. Jay and Daisy, they are everything to me. I want them to grow up living with truth, and I know that every day you spend your life with me is a lie that you tell yourself. I don’t want them to live with the guilt that their parents had to give up themselves for them.
I’m taking them to my parent’s place. I don’t want you to look for me until you know with your heart what you truly want. I hope for the best for you. I mean it.
The more I reread her note, the more pain I felt. Was I a bad father? My parents… they gave up everything for me, and I resented them for it. Growing up I’d wished that they were successful. I wished that they could have achieved their dreams so that I could have had the confidence to achieve my own.
I ran through the backdoor, and knocked on the Virgil house.
“I’m so sorry.” Veronica said. “I didn’t realise…”
“You got to go to her.” Thomas added.
I sat in my empty house, and poured a drink for myself. Sally used to nag me whenever I drank alcohol in a down mood. She would say that it only gave me a temporary high but that it would bring me crashing even further down. But she wasn’t here, so I poured another glass for myself. Just a few times more.
I poured myself into work. All of my other clients had gotten word that I had a contract with BNP, so they too requested larger contracts. I knew that Sally and the kids didn’t need the money, but I’d send them part of my paycheck along with part of my UBI. The days again drifted by, but this time instead of a blur of a kaleidoscope of colours, it had become a dark grey fog.
Two months passed without me contacting them, when I realised that it was Daisy’s eighth birthday. I messaged Sally but she didn’t reply. I knew that they now went to school in Golden Beach Pier High School in NorthSide City so I drove up there in the Icarus. It was already too late when I arrived, school had ended. The teacher at the drop off told me that my wife had already picked up the kids. Her dark blonde locks over her motherly frown reminded me of Sally. Dejected, I made my way back to the house.
I drank a lot that night. In my stupor I must have jumped into my car.
“Where to?” It must have asked me.
“I don’t know.” I said to it. “My life is going round and round.”
My neighbours later reported that the car drove around the suburb in circles. From early morning to noon. Thomas messaged me at least 40 times asking me what was happening.
Apparently at one point I had changed to manual mode and started driving erratically around the bends. The residents finally decided to call the cops. When they arrived, I must have panicked because I then drove damn straight into the platform fence, knocking over the hologram generator that powered the fake sky, and down into the ground below.
Did this convince Sally to bring the kids back home? I wouldn’t have thought so. I wouldn’t have if I were her. I think I saw her in the hospital behind a large panel of glass with my kids. I lapsed between consciousness and unconsciousness. I don’t want to go. I don’t want them to grow up without a father.
“It was a huge drop. Dr Hudson.” The doctors had said. “We’re doing our best with him, but he fell a long way…”
I woke up with a start. The sun was shining through the hospital windows. The trees on the terrace calmly brushed against the wind. The air felt perfect. There was a gilded-age jazz styled clock on the mahogany bedside table. I saw that I’d been out for three days.
Instinctively, I reached over to wake up my wife but of course she wasn’t in the hospital bed with me. Instead I grabbed my phone and rang Thomas.
“Hey Thomas, can you come to the hospital in the Heart Breaker?”
“Sure.” He said.
“Meet me on the rooftop of the General Hospital Tower.”
“I’ll be there in 20.”
I jumped out of the hospital bed, pulling off the breathing mask. There was no one around to stop me as I rushed up the stairs in my white coloured hospital gown three steps at a time until I got onto the roof of the building.
Medical helipods were lined up on the side, but there was enough space for an old biplane to land.
The old engine roared and coughed up diesel smoke into the clear blue sky as the yellow plane circled above me. I jumped up and down waving at Thomas. He pulled the plane along an arc and made a bumpy landing.
“Are you ready?” He asked me.
“Yes.” I replied to him.
Veronica was in one of the seats. She was beautiful as ever.
“Let’s go get my family back.” I cried to them.
We flew above the skyscrapers of Central. The engine of the plane roaring like a proud fierce animal that had broken out of a trap. I could see the tiny movements of people moving about in their daily lives. We were so high up that I couldn’t see each individual person; the masses blended together showing only the rhythmic flow of the city. Veronica noticed that the wind was blowing strongly against my face.
“Here have these.” She shouted as she passed me some aviator goggles.
“Here we go!” Thomas shouted as he made a sharp ascent to climb above the mountain range separating the two cities. “Hold onto your horses because this is going to be fun!”
I squealed. I laughed. I even put my hand out to touch a cloud. It felt like a soft warm pastry. We made our way through the mountain range and to NorthSide City. These buildings dotted out through the landscape like miniature Lego pieces. I felt my heart beat quicken. We were nearly there.
“We got to tell you something Jimmy!” Thomas shouted.
“What?!” I yelled back.
“Over there!” I pointed to a beach house in front of us.
“Gotcha mate!” We banked and descended over the ocean now.
“Thomas! I think we’re out of fuel!” Veronica shouted.
“Oh dear!” He yelled back. “This is going to be a rough landing!”
He pulled the nose of the plane up as it hit the water. Bang! Bang! I felt my chest shudder as I slammed into the dashboard.
“Wake up Jimmy!” Someone shouted at me. “I’m going to check his vitals. Call for help!”
I woke up in the cold ocean as a new man.
“What did you have to tell me?” I asked the Virgils.
“I’m pregnant. We’re going to start a family. Thank you for inspiring us with your undying love.” Veronica said to me.
“Now go to your family son.” Thomas proudly patted me on the back.
I swam over to the shore as Sally, Jay and Daisy ran out onto the beach.