The pedestrian with the red umbrella sighed. Her hand had been warm in her pocket, but then she took it out to adjust her hat (which, given the umbrella, she really didn’t need) and all the damp and chilly air rushed back into her pocket and now one hand was cold and the other was numb and just barely hanging on. As she did all this, her eyes darted around the intersection in a life-or-death game of avoiding eye contact, and looked rather impatient and busy despite, like everyone else on that cramped curb, waiting for nothing but the 30 seconds for the walk signal. To her dismay, she realized after a second that she was staring at a lady with klutzy glasses and unnaturally white hair—it looked most certainly like a wig. The lady was staring at her. She looked away.

She had her head pointed in the general direction of her phone, despite having no interest in the lengthy discourse on 15th century botany she had open. The person at the front of the line had spent the past 5 minutes on an “agate refresher.” When the cashier blinked up at her with a confused expression, she continued to escalate in irritation before giving up and googling it, haughtily shoving a pastel page in her face. She couldn’t help but look at the person next to her, who wore a brown coat and had a buzz cut, and laugh. There was an immediate sense of familiarity. He asked for her number and she said no.

As she sipped her coffee, bitter over its taste of sketchy water, she zoned out before the spectacle of tailored suits and teetering heels and pondered the next 8 hours of her life. Her workplace was an austere-looking building straight out of some 2010s dystopia. Why was she spending her time writing reports she didn’t understand when she could be out there, leagues away from high school mistakes and old hand-me-downs, power walking under the pretense of some purpose? And the cheese in her sandwich reminded her so much of those clocks in that one painting. What was his name again? Doyle? Ali? She read half a page of moonworts and maidenhair and tediously churned out half a page of business babble and nonsense with some jargon mixed in. She waved goodbye to Buzz Cut on her way out.

It was only after surviving an excursion to the fringes of death while dazedly jaywalking did she process her perturbation and shudder.

The buildings on this street were all so monotone. They all had imposing columns of concrete, glass exteriors that blended in with the sky. Maybe some unwitting bird or G36 Bonanza could shatter the illusion of composed-ness despite her frantic waving through the windows (will she ever make a sound?) and she would be free from this vicious cycle of vapid schedules. She felt a strong sense of déja vu, not at the hipster putting up yet another peace poster in the shadows of her peripherals, but at her visceral reaction to their psychedelic hat. She could have sworn she’s had these thoughts before. But then, was it really possible that some time in the past, she thought these exact thoughts and proceeded to think about those thoughts, as she did today? Was today really another day? She just barely remembered to left turn into corporate hell.

At work, she worked like a student imprisoned by the gaze of a teacher. There was a constant piercing stare over her shoulder that made her back straighten and movements stiffen, but as the day wore on the caffeine wore off and she was mindlessly rotating tabs without really looking at any of them. It was like she didn’t have the space to do anything, except she was in the furthest possible corner of the office, with nothing behind her but the 20 story drop to a splatter of blood and bone on pavement.

The moon was out when her neighborhood made its appearance on the horizon. Neon lights overthrew her black garments. A cacophony of angry drivers in the distance.

Then it was dark.

Then it was quiet.

Photo: 青 晨 on