Athens, Greece, 2020
Last night our town turned into a ship, like someone took a knife and separated it from mainland, then threw it into an unknown ocean to float. All adults panicked, like it was the end of the world, or as if the end were near. Anna was the first person I talked to this morning, you checked the news? she asked, I had barely opened up my eyes when she called, we’ll be late for school, I told her, but she reassured me school was out of the question. We’ve been together for a couple of months. Anna is my girlfriend and it feels good to have someone to talk to, to make out with, someone who informs me of disasters before mom and dad. Not that a disaster has ever happened before, not here, not in our town, but at sixteen I’m already a big boy, grown enough to have heard of them, I’ve read about them, about how they hit you, out of the blue, how they destroy everything. Dad looked worried when I stepped into the kitchen, mom hadn’t even prepared breakfast, so I knew something was seriously wrong. Dad said we should stay home, then smiled, everything will be fine, he said, and I believed him because dad knows better, he always does, so I didn’t worry much.
We’ve stayed at home and watched some old movies but dad switched off the tv after a while, like he couldn’t bear watching it. I think dad envies those actors, they step into the car and travel like the world has no end. He turns back on the tv and only watches ads now, there can’t be disasters in ads. Mom looks surprisingly calm, she feels kind of dizzy, she says, or maybe seasick, she adds jokingly, mom who used to worry about everything before this. Mom only cares about imaginary disasters, when real ones happen, she doesn’t give a damn. Everything’s fine, she says, like she doesn’t believe in disasters, like they are allowed to happen, but only in her head. She’s been so used to safety she doesn’t know how to live without it. Mom doesn’t seem to know how not to be safe.
This feels awkward, so I escape and meet Anna, who’s also jumped out of her window to see me, we can’t stay apart for long, it’ll be fine, I tell her, like mom and dad said, and we cruise around town, enjoying our day off, and it is fun at first, Anna and I have several trips at the edge of the town, just to see the sea, before we realize the ship is shrinking, our little town grows smaller, like the waters come into it through holes we can’t see.
Days pass and we are used to this. Adults look fine, even Anna’s dad is fine, who’s jobless because his job was out of town and has spent days trying to locate holes and fix them until he gave up, like most people. Mom and dad still go to work everyday, like nothing’s changed, like we were all born on this ship, or island. Anna’s cousin left town this morning by plane, some people leave, because they can afford to, and dad says we will all be rescued in the end. In the meantime, we have to stay calm and go on with our lives.
I tell dad I’m scared. It’s fine kid, he says. Only I know it’s not. Things are harsh now and it’s hard to swallow that they won’t go back to how they used to be. But that’s what people do, I realize. When things go wrong, they pretend that everything is fine. People can’t let go of old habits. Dad says it’s too expensive to fix the holes, we’d better wait, and everyone pretends that nothing’s wrong, that I worry too much, like it’s all in my head and things won’t go back to normal, because they already are normal, although the place is shrinking, or sinking.
Anna says she feels reality knocking at her door, she means her mind. Reality calling too loud for her to ignore. That’s exhausting, she tells me, being alert all the time. She’d rather be like our parents, oblivious to it. Dad says we can beat this and means it, I tell her, that’s wishful thinking, says Anna and claims dad never outgrew magical thinking, because magical thinking can be intoxicating. Then we lie down and rub our eyes, and phosphenes appear, those flashes of light that don’t need light to be created, so we are gods, we create light, I tell her and Anna nods, she’s different, she doesn’t deny reality, she only ignores it when she wants to, like she’s also into magical thinking but in a more conscious way, and we get drunk on that light that only we see, sugarcoated explosions inside us, like fireworks, like magic in the sky, that light that keeps us afloat, that saves us from darkness, we’re rubbing our eyes and we kiss and kiss and make out under the glowing universe.
That’s fine son, dad says, and he repeats it like a mantra, like we’re on the Titanic and dad is the lead singer of the band, singing and paraphrasing songs, he had too much to drink last night and somebody put something in his dream, although I suspect that band willingly ignored the sinking, unlike dad, who insists no disaster can touch us. Mom sighs, like I have a problem, she’s thinking of taking me to a therapist, you’ve developed a phobia, she says, most probably blaming herself and those imaginary disasters in her mind. They act like I’m insane, although I’m not, for disasters happen and not of all of them are imaginary, but mom doesn’t recognize, or can’t handle real ones.
And we’re drawn to the sea, Anna and I, not in the mood to swim, or float, or escape, but to watch the waters, this battle between the sea and the land, the waves attacking the ship like soldiers, then retreating only to come back later, those short times of truce, of peace, before the battle starts over, those short intervals of bliss we think they’ll last forever, the eternal battle of this and that, the everlasting dialectics that move life forward with or without us and we wish it all ended with a big bang, like it started, not with this downward spiral sucking us down, through repetition or the illusion of it, and we think we move in circles, like we’re in control, but instead we head downwards, slowly shrinking, slowly sinking, holding hands until we are but phosphenes in each other’s eyes, until we can’t see the sky, until the sky can’t see us.
Mileva Anastasiadou is a neurologist, from Athens, Greece. A Pushcart, Best of the Net, Best Microfiction and Best Small Fictions nominated writer, her work can be found in many journals, such as Litro, Jellyfish Review, Ruminate, Okay Donkey, Open Pen and others.