Shattered amber

I walk between rows of stainless steel counters strewn with dark monitors and abandoned notebooks, lit by the flickering fluorescent light coming from the glass-fronted berths lining the walls. I walk to the one I need and lift open the door, helping out the young woman sleeping inside.

Thin and long-limbed, her skin is the color of birch bark, with coal tar hair falling to her shoulders. She allows me to take her hand, her amber eyes bright with curiosity as she peers at my face. I lead her to a locker, and in the dim blue-white light she puts on jeans, a grey cotton shirt, leather work boots. I watch her dress, and think of the times I’d watched her during her long, long sleep — her, and the others, too, most of their lights now extinguished.

The pack I’ve assembled for her sits askew on a desk near the door. She slips it over her shoulders easily, and after putting on my heavy mask, I open the hatch.

We walk up broken concrete steps to the street. Little has changed since my last visit outside: the asphalt is still buckled and torn, burnt trunks all that remain of the decorative trees. The flow of time has remained constant, I think, with some surprise.

She walks ahead of me, silhouetted against the cracked, jaundiced sky. No breeze stirs her jet hair as she takes in the new surroundings.

I walk to her, stumbling a bit as I clamber over the same rubble shes navigated with grace. She turns to me, and her eyes have already changed. Their light is dimming — so soon? — and their rich amber hue is fading to mirror the diseased and broken sky.