by Jessica Kim
Art by Jia Gao
Issue: Audeamus (Winter 2011)

It was so hard to fall for a dream, yet so easy to wake up.

Life was a dream, a floating façade that shone more truth than fiction upon the iron-wrought chains of time and space and world. Sometimes the dreams were pleasant, perhaps even bland, and Dalia never wanted to wake up. Most of the time, they were nightmares manifested in flesh and blood that haunted her long after the crack of light and the strike of the knell.

“Are you listening to me?”

“No,” mumbled Dalia idly, “but you already know that.”

Nastia: “Please at least seem like you care.”

Dalia: “Who said I didn’t? But what were you saying?”

Nastia: “Well then, I was just talking about the latest news at the soiree did you hear that an airship collided no you don’t know oh well then I’ll tell you all about it it goes like this . . .”

It was a dark night, tranquil, mottled with gems that danced eternities from where Dalia stood next to the fountain. Night was just coming alive, nearly the time when the buildings take on the gleam of the moon and the lamp stands steal starlit fire to illuminate the dust-spackled streets of Arcades. The light summer air drifted in gentle pirouettes, leading Dalia down the emptying streets, listening to the distant symphony of the night that was Nastia’s ardent monologue.

“Are you excited for the Perseids?” They were heading for the square, where the townspeople gathered every year to watch the meteor shower. “So odd how time flies. I remember watching it last year, and already I’m a year older from back then. A great show, it’s almost like the stars are falling from the sky onto our little planet, don’t you think that’s cool?”

Dalia nodded her head, floating in her own world where the Perseids flashed across the water of the oasis, away from the noise and the humdrum. But that was last year, and already they were walking into the square where throngs of people had already begun to gather.

The market square was lit with dim lanterns, and a subtle wave of conversation weaved through the crowd. The lanterns formed a visual domino trail from each diverting road, and dozens and dozens of gazers had brought out chairs and blankets. There were air ships in the distance, the antigravity gently whirring.

The spectacles hung on the tapestry of sky, anchored and gazing just as these people gazed upon them. A mutual exchange, to see these strangers so curiously and earnestly look upon the natural, was taking place between two worlds. The townspeople, gazing and marveling at the exploding heavens, and those far-off bodies, wondering what so fascinated these small and noisy beings, waged a latent war of words and worlds. All things are spectacles—

— and just like that, Nastia was nowhere in perceptible sight, and Dalia stood alone. Why had she decided to come, after all? She’d always spent the Perseids alone since she was a child. It had become something of a ritual, a routine, something that required much to be broken and would duly be kept that way. She could leave before anyone saw her—as if anyone would—and find a place to watch it by herself. It wouldn’t be the same view as it would have been from the oasis, what with the smog and aridness, but at least it would retain the same lack of company that she was so used to.

But these trails of lanterns, no matter where they led her, came with the cost of having to pass through the great multitudes of gazers. Having them bear their insipid eyes on her, whisper amongst themselves, who is that lone girl? What is she doing, where is she going? Is she alone? Is she looking for someone? The chatter was infuriating; they weren’t even paying attention to the sky anymore. She fought the urge to turn upon them and yell that the spectacle was not the sky nor herself, but themselves. But she walked on, alone.

Out of the corner of his eye she saw him, settled quite comfortably on a miniature settee. Their eyes met, only briefly, and for a moment she was certain that he would approach her, speak to her, show any sign of association towards her, but in the next his attention was turned towards the gentlewoman to the left of him, and he didn’t look at her again.

Almost out, she could see her little exit right at the horizon, but suddenly a high-pitched voice called out: “Look! Over there!”

A meteor streaked across the midnight sky, soon followed by another, in an opposite direction. The people chattered in admiration and Dalia quickly went towards the—

“Dalia, wait—”

Instinctively, she ran, as fast as her feet could take her, across the streets and out of town, far from what lay behind. There was no need for any more spectacles. She had experienced enough. But, another phantom, another ghost from the past, when could she ever escape from them? She ran through the rabbit hole of blackness, eager for whatever nonsense and absence lay ahead.

The drum of her heart quelled to a soft rumble as she reached the oasis and her energy gave out. To see the same sights, the same sky and trees and still waters, stretching to the star-struck horizon, felt like a dream, and for a moment she had no doubt that it was. Memories of her gold childhood, days spent wandering through the landscape, running from chain and bondage off to new and uncharted lands—all so far off, all so farfetched; they had all but drifted off with the wind, with everything else.

And it had, once again, settled deep into the fissures of her heart, effused through the pores of her mind and whispered rhapsodies deep and whimsical into her spirit. Loneliness, her so dreaded and inextricable partner, returned with neither fanfare nor silence, while Dalia reposed absently with the stars and the sighs. It trailed through the air, traced the pin pricks of light and beckoned down towards the waves with a resounding crash and recoil. It breathed right into her face, incrusted her with sloth and fantasy, and beheld the great masterpiece of deception and dream before ebbing into the horizon.

And it was so amazing, if only you could have seen it! Dozens and dozens, coming all at once, like the heavens were exploding before our eyes!—and then, out of nowhere—

“Dalia, are you listening?”

She turned to see Nastia staring exasperatedly at her. “Were you listening to me at all?”

“Oh, of course I was.”

“Well, I’m sure the Tituses are in a fit right now, what with all the damages and reparations. But that was definitely the most spectacular meteor to fall that night.”

“Whatever you say, Nastia.”

And off they went, following the starlit lamps down the emptying streets of Arcades, with the symphony of night still playing behind them.

A person in a dress extends a hand toward spindly trees. The entire composition is in watercolor.