Jerry didn’t want me to open the door, but I did it anyway. What good did the door do? There were only a few tins of sardines left, and I wanted to breathe real air one last time.
‘Look here!’ said Jerry, limping along. ‘Look here, Stella. Get back in. This won’t do us any good.’
‘Won’t harm us more than we’re already completely fucked,’ I said. Trying to skip, I stumbled and skinned my knee: bright blood prickled through rubbed-off skin like cherry juice. I wouldn’t have seen that beautiful red in the murky light of the shelter. In the distance loomed the city, burnt black and buckled. We’d been underground during the blast. They’d called Mum mental when she built it, but she knew what she was doing. Although it was a shame she didn’t live to see it used, it stank like a toilet in the end, and I was sick of the sound of Jerry breathing, wet and wounded, like a walrus.
The sky hung thick with black, rumbling clouds. I danced, knees wobbling, and imagined the tainted light eating away at my skin. It would erase me—carry me gently into nothingness. I longed to be part of that sky: nothing more than smoke and ash. My body weighed me down. There wasn’t a part of me that didn’t ache, from scalp to toenails.
Jerry kept following with his swollen face and half-bald head. I tried to hurry away, then stopped short when I thought I saw a hawk flying above. It wasn’t even a bird. Just some old piece of crap picked up by the wind. Jerry scampered after it, shrieking and waving his arms.
I spun around, my bare feet painting swirls against the ashy earth, and thought of those labyrinths I’d seen in Cornwall as a girl. I danced my own lines now, weaving in and out until they made a circle. Then I stood still, right in the middle. Nothing for miles but grey ruins, the crimson trickling down my knee the only color visible.
‘Stella!’ Jerry stumbled back, the scrap flapping from his hand. He tripped over a pile of bricks and crashed down. When he got up, his face was as vivid and beautiful as my knee. ‘I’m going back in,’ he said, snuffling and wiping his nose with the back of his hand. ‘It’s not safe out here.’
I laughed. ‘You go ahead and do that, Jerry.’
You can grow to hate someone just for living. Jerry disappeared back underground, but I stayed out, breathing in the oily air. Each breath made me lighter, made me lesser. Soon, I was like that scrap, weightless and airborne.
Ilana Lindsey is a graduate of Richard Skinner’s Faber Academy Write a Novel course. One of her short stories was long-listed for the CWA Margery Allingham Short Story Competition last year. Her current inspirations and favorites include Margaret Attwood, Katherine Dunn, David Mitchell, and Kazuo Ishiguro.