Aurelia hopped onto her motorbike, the sky reflecting the same shade of marmalade as her saree. Her thighs ached, but she pushed through the pain; she always pushed past the pain. The bike’s motor roared to life, and she made her way through the small streets of Ayhane. Here, those with paws, fins, hoofs, and human feet walked with baskets atop their heads or biked through the narrow passageways. Every street led to the Stacks in the distance.
Luckily, she was in no hurry. Her job finished early, and she even received an extra tip to buy persimmons for Papa from the market. Perhaps the fruit would fill his shell with memories of younger times.
She lifted a sheet to move into the next area of the market. Swerving, she avoided collision with two Amphimian women carrying water atop their heads, in matching sarees the color of the sea. Their gills and webbed fingers were shriveled, and their scales paled. It was difficult for Amphimians to secure enough water to submerge in every twelve hours. And yet, they managed to live and work another day.
People swarmed the streets while she moved into the district she loved most. With clay homes atop one another, even smoke from the Stacks wasn’t visible. Instead, tan homes teetered in the breeze, and drying laundry was strung up like rainbows. Exchanges of prices and trades bore into her, and she slowed her bike beside the fruit stall.
“Aurelia.” It was the wife of the owner who greeted her. “What can we get for you today? May I recommend the kumquats and persimmons freshly picked from the rooftop garden this morning; they’re quite delicious.”
She looked to the wife and then to the man helping another customer. The owners were Fawnums with deer-like bodies and humanoid torsos. With an affinity for nature, they could grow the best of produce even in a city filled with poison. She stepped off her bike and pushed it to the side, away from the crowd. It wasn’t abnormal for bikes to be taken by thieves with nothing better to do when they weren’t working in the Stacks.
“They do sound lovely.” The delectable fruits and vegetables were wrapped in paper to prevent further bruising and shone like waves on the Primeval Ocean. Most couldn’t afford such luxuries, but thanks to her tip, she could if she haggled a bit. “I’d love two persimmons please, for Papa of course.”
She hated using him as an excuse, but as the words left her mouth, the husband turned, his large, aquamarine eyes filled with pity. The wife was more rigid, her lips drawing a straight line as she calculated the profit to be made. It wasn’t cheap to grow food in a city built for people moving to and from the factories.
“Always so noble. That’ll be twenty-three plats for the two of them.”
Not even a plat of a discount. She held in a sigh. Though the job and the tip gave her just under fifty plats for the evening, rent would be due, and without Papa working—
“Twenty plats.” The husband stepped in.
The wife’s eyes narrowed, studying her. “I heard you’ve been working with dozens of customers as of late.”
She forced a polite smile. Not everyone agreed with her line of work, but Papa always told her she should sooner sell her body to a man than her soul to the factories.
“With Papa unable to work, it’s my turn to pay for our expenses. And the factories—well, you know it’s best to avoid them.”
The husband nodded slowly, placing a hand on his wife’s. “Fifteen plats for the fruit. A discount for your father. He was always so kind to me in the factory before we received permits for our garden. Tell him I’d love to see him one of these days.”
She gave a strong nod, holding out a string with the coins dangling on them. The wife muttered something, placing a hand to her temples, where her antlers rose from her head toward the sky. Aurelia took the fruit, thanking them, before returning to her bike. She cradled it to her chest—a precious bundle for Papa—and zoomed through the alleys toward her hovel.
A blanket hanging like a sun-dried butternut squash acted as a door. It was too difficult otherwise for Papa to enter and exit the home, although he did little moving as of late. She stored the motorbike beside their abode with a lock. The bike was all they had from days of security.
The single room greeted her with a countertop, table, and window facing the Stacks. It was there that he sat, legless, in his moveable chair that cost every plat they had. His forest-green eyes gazed toward the Stacks like a blank canvas yearning for paint.
“Papa.” She knelt beside him, displaying the fruits like little gemstones in her hands. “Do you remember five years ago? You made my tenth birthday cake with persimmons. I wish to make it once more. Would you help me?”
Her father’s sight never left the Stacks. Not to look at the bundle in her hands or the tears she shed. His soul had been sold, and she wondered if she too would be forced to the same fate in the years to come.
Rose Marry has an MFA from the Northeast Ohio Master of Fine Arts program, and she serves as the Editor-In-Chief of Jenny Magazine. She has flash fiction published in Bridge and Rubbertop Review, poetry published in Volney Road Review, I Become The Beast, and Laurel Review, and nonfiction published in Anomaly. Check out her work at rosemarryauthor.com.