That night she was on the roof again. The apartment was too small to contain her feelings, which were swollen and bursting. Hestia stared up at the bruised orange sky and listened to the world. The electric sign humming and cracking. One sleepless symphony of traffic, cars honking, motorcycles revving, sirens whining. Vague, jumbled music from parties on other floors.
Hestia dreamed she was ten again. The Soleils lived in a tiny flat above a liquor store in one of the outer districts of Altostrati. She didn’t live high enough then to see any neon lights, but the shawarma place across the street glowed warmly, and so did the Chinese video rental store.
In her dream, it was a dark winter evening, just past six, and it was raining. The lights outside became a soupy puddle of yellow and white and blue. CLOSED said the sign in blue. Rhea had been asleep on the sofa all day long, wrapped in her quilt. Her mug of tea stood on the rug beside her sofa, stone cold and untouched.
At half past midnight, when her mother staggered home from her studio half drunk with a corner store beer, Hestia unearthed her sleeping bag from the closet and took the elevator from her fifth floor apartment to the roof on the thirty-second floor. The narrow vestibule had no lighting, but the outside was bright enough with a harsh rainbow glare.
Hestia stepped over the tangled cords and found a spot in the shadow of a giant yellow sign that read LUMINA STREET ARMS. She sat on the edge of the rooftop, her feet dangling through the rusty railing bars and out over nothing. The sky was bruised orange, too choked for stars at the moment, but the stars existed elsewhere.
She gazed out at the view of her city and watched its sleepless pulse. A myriad of neon lights blinked and flashed and spun. Alexandria Hotel and Vanguard Electronics Department Store had angry red-orange signs, Portofino Furniture Mall had a cool blue sign, and further away she saw pink and green signs. She spotted a few more apartment signs situated on rooftops, some warm yellow and others harsh white, some with whole names shining and others with missing letters. And then there were the windows, each living space glowing as brilliant as any star. Each high rise towered like a pillar of jewels.
Altostrati, the city of light. Hestia snuggled under the folds of her sleeping bag and listened the snapping electric hum of the rooftop sign and the perpetual roar of traffic on the streets thirty-two floors below. She pretended to be asleep when somebody else came over and dropped a sleeping bag beside her. Hestia opened her eyes a small crack and saw her sister Rosalie sitting up, warm yellow on her freckled face, the rest of her in shadow.
It was one of those foggy mornings that nipped at your nose and froze your toes but burned away by noon. They rode the mirror-world bus to drama rehearsal at six in the morning, reciting lines like scripture. There was the rumble of an other-world streetcar instead of the perpetual sway and tug of ocean waves. The cement and stone sidewalks always took some getting used to. The road was hard, and their feet slapped against it.
They were brother and sister, twins most likely, with tan skin and thick, unruly brown hair. They lived with their father on Pier 39 and sometimes helped him operate his glass-bottom boat. They visited the shops occasionally, riding the carousel and eating bags of miniature donuts and running up and down the piano-key stairs. Oftentimes they just sat on a bench and watched the throng of tourists. The carousel was always an attraction, and so was the aquarium, but to their amusement, it was always the sea lions that caught the most attention.
The sea lions. Mirror-world animals dozing on salt-baked pier planks, waiting for high tide to carry them to loftier sleeping rungs beneath the wharf, streaking through the water to tear into cod or rockfish. They hung around the pier, barking at all hours of the day, the subjects of photographs. To humans, they were sea lions, mascots for the pier. Occasionally, though, some would look up and look back with intelligent eyes.
Read Take 1 of ‘Rain and Clockwork’ here
Read Take 2 of ‘Rain and Clockwork’ here
11:30 a.m. 108
It was raining. Not a warm summer sunshower, but a pounding rain that came down in torrents. This was rain that tore down from the clouds and hurtled against the ground in sloshes. It turned the earth to a muddy soup and made the forest howl and hiss.
Willow awoke in the downpour. Full of confusion and fear, she stumbled to her feet, but lost her balance and fell. She clutched the wet wooden planks of the bridge and looked down. She couldn’t see through the mist, but she could hear the stream. It was just a trickle in the timeline before, but now it sounded like a roaring gorge.
Taking a deep breath and trying to blink the water from her eyes, Willow began to haul herself up.
But the wind was gusting, and the rain poured, poured like a waterfall, and the old broken bridge creaked hideously. She felt like crying, she was so scared, and she clung to the wooden planks and dangled there. Slowly, she tried to lift herself up, numb and trembling as her arms were.
It didn’t work. In a time-frozen second, her fingers slipped and she dropped. The bridge was mossy, after all.
The rain fell all around her, and the river reached up to catch her. Willow had lungs of water and bones of ice, and her hair floated untied and loose, waving like water weed.
Read Take 1 of ‘Rain and Clockwork’ here
11:30 a.m. 107
Here she was again, awakening by the old broken bridge. Willow sprang to her feet and looked around, trying recover her bearings. The watch was no longer in her hand, but there were her two ragdolls and the plastic strawberry-poison-dart frog. Her flashlight was there, as well as two apple cores. But she didn’t have an umbrella this time, nor did she have her raincoat and picnic tarp. The forest showed no signs of recent rain. In fact, the world was dry and hot. Summer sun burned brightly, even through the thick green canopy, and a symphony of cicadas rang in Willow’s ears. She looked down the slope to the stream that ran beneath the bridge. What was once a rushing torrent was barely more than a trickle with its pebble floor exposed.
Quick note from the author: Rainbow Rumpus! is shifting its focus from random rants to actual short stories! I hope you’ll have as much fun reading these silly stories as you did reading about flaming public toilets.
11:30 a.m. 106
Summer showers came and went frequently at the mountaintop village. Big bloated thunderheads swept in and the rain fell for hours, or just a few minutes. The streams gurgled, the stone pathways shimmered with puddles, the wind sighed in the treetops, and the air grew cooler.
Willow awoke by the old broken bridge just as the sun fell in shafts through the forest canopy. She rubbed the sleep from her eyes and saw pools of gold, green, and flecks of yellow sunlight against the trunks. She became aware of the raincoat she was wearing, and the umbrella and picnic tarp too, and wondered where they came from. Before it rained, she had gone to play by the old bridge with just her exploration team (two rag dolls and a plastic strawberry-poison-dart frog). She was a fearless explorer sent by the kingdom of Cirrus on an expedition to a mythical hidden country that lay just beyond an ancient mossy bridge. Willow assembled her men, packed a backpack full of equipment and rations and set off. The rainclouds covered the sun when she left, but she paid them no mind. And then…she was here, waking up from a nap, dry from the rain.
There’s nothing quite like the jolly warmth of a well-lit fireplace on a cold winter night. For obvious reasons, the orange melting plastic mess that is a porta potty ablaze on the sidewalk can’t really compare.
I’ve seen it in the old photographs found in those San Francisco souvenir guidebooks, and in too many watercolor and oil paintings: Ocean Beach used to be a grand place, with a boardwalk like the one at Santa Cruz, Sutro Baths nestled among the cliffs by the sea, and a train to ferry people back and forth. Now the beach is a bit more desolate, vast, and cold, and the seaside bluffs are home to ruins of a former era. I feel it’s better this way, having the lonelier natural landscape over a carnival.
In this city of constant change, the beach is one of the few places that has moved in a more simple and natural direction. Continue reading
It should be common knowledge that you can most likely buy Alaska with the money you would need to purchase half a block of land in San Francisco. Land prices in SF often exceed six digits, so for the average prospector it’s a green-light dream—reach for it and get your prize, or reach for it and get seizures. Nevertheless, last year two chums and I (being the horrific idiots that we are) truly thought we could acquire a piece of unused property and turn it into a sort of suburban arcadia as a gracious act of community service. In other words, get an empty lot and turn it into an urban garden.
What a great plan, right? We had ambitions to be like the Friends of the Urban Forest , but with more delusions, less cherry blossoms, and no Board of Directors or funding of any sort. I thought the whole process would go like this:
1. Get some land.
2. Do some stuff to it.
Our goal to improve the green infrastructure of the area and grow some sunflowers and organic strawberries for the neighborhood kids was so awesome. Land use in the Sunset is usually limited to building identical, attached squat houses, so I thought we could be creative and add a bit of color and diversity to our foggy, sleepy neighborhood. We wanted to start small, and so we set our sights on a particular empty lot in the Outer Sunset—a plot of land inhabited by dead grass and soda cans, big enough to build three houses on. Continue reading