chapter nine: Sparrow

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Bluish gray ascended into deeper coal and almost amethyst. The sky was like a murky, black pearl, or a bruise blooming just beneath the skin. At the lightest edges, just before the clouds grew dark, the distant, squared edges of industry reached for the gods-or whoever, whatever, else waited beyond the skies. The blocky towers reminded me of an old story that I'd read in university from a book called the Bible. It was a story of the human people rallying together to build a great tower that reached into heaven, but God saw this as insolent, and he changed their languages so they could no longer communicate, and he scattered them around the world.

I had always found human mythology fascinating, from a very young age, and I remember being desperate to believe in something, being desperate to feel some purpose.

And I remember asking my father, "Father, if the human's God created everything, then couldn't he have created us as well?"

I remember the exact look of patronizing amusement he'd had on his face. From behind his desk he glanced up, grinned superciliously, steepled his fingers before his lips, and said, "If God made man in his image, and you look like them solely because of me, does that make me God?"

And I had stared back at him in confusion, not understanding then what he meant. But all the same, it had sent shivers down my spine. 

I set my jaw and drove the familiar fear away. I did not want to think of my father. Just the memory of his eyes bearing into mine was enough to set my heart racing. Here I was, a full grown man and still terrified of him. I clenched my fists at my side and reminded myself of one more thing, of something Wild always told me: "Weakness doesn't make you less of a man. It makes you more than one."

I was never really sure what she meant by that, but it always calmed me. Being more of anything in her eyes calmed me. If I could be a hero to no one else, as long as I was one to her my life was worth something. I inhaled long and deep and pictured her eyelashes batting against her cheek. I focused on the view again. A light mist hung in the air just beyond me, crystalline droplets clinging to the fog dusted glass that separated me from Jewel City's opulent skyline.  

"Well?" the real estate agent's grating voice jarred me. I had nearly forgotten she was there at all. "What do you think?" she added.

I turned slowly to look at her. She was older than she would ever admit and trying too hard to back up the age she would likely claim if ever she was asked. Her frizzy, blonde hair was clearly from a bottle. The dark gray at her roots was impossible to miss.

Her leathery face was caked with creams and powders intended to mask the wrinkles there, but they only emphasized the crepey skin around her eyes and mouth. Her lashes were so thickly coated with black cosmetics that they hung lankly into her eyes, barely clinging to her sagging lids. She batted them at me with some effort and said, "It's a nice view, isn't it? Even on a gloomy day like today," she tried to offer a light laugh, but it almost sounded like a cough.

"How much?" I asked.

She replied slowly, "Well," and she looked me up and down skeptically, as she had when I had first inquired about the place, "It's-well, it's 3.5 million dollars. A steal for this side of town, but not exactly a drop in the bucket compared to... where'd you say you were coming from?"

"Mercury," I lied absently. Then I glanced around the empty apartment one more time and nodded. "I'll take it."

Her eyes widened as much as they were able. She opened her mouth to speak and then clamped her jaw shut. I knew she hadn't actually thought I would be buying any place in Jewel City, let alone something with a 3.5 million dollar price point. She had merely thought I was attractive and had humored me because of it, maybe indulging a little in her own wild hopes or fantasies that I might take interest in her because of it.

Now she was caught entirely off guard. I could tell she thought I was playing a game with her. Her droopy eyes narrowed, but it was a moment before she spoke again, "The owner wants cash, you understand," she said far more sharply than before, "He'll want payment immediately."

"That's not a problem," I said, shrugging my backpack off of my shoulders. I unzipped the bag and made a show of displaying a couple of the stacks of money stashed inside. "Can I bring it to him now? I'd like to move in as soon as possible."

Her cheeks flushed with color. "What is this?"

I smiled, "What do you mean?"

"Who are you?" she cocked her head. She was backing away slowly now, and I realized I had probably scared her.

I put the backpack down on the hard wood and raised my hands defensively. "Oh, no. Please, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable. I know it's quite a bit more cash then people are used to seeing. But I brought it with me so that I could make a home purchase immediately."

She bit her lip, glancing down at my backpack, "You didn't... you didn't rob a bank or something?" she asked.

I laughed, "Oh, no, nothing like that. I just come from a wealthy family, and my father always instilled in me the value of paying in cash."

She didn't look terribly convinced, but she relaxed a little. Then she pasted on the best fake grin she could muster. "I'll call the owner and draw up the paperwork."

I nodded and picked up my backpack, slinging it back over my shoulder. I turned back to the window and peered out, down onto the streets so very far below. It was raining now. Droplets pelted the window harder and harder. I placed my hand on the cold glass and pressed my forehead against it, closing my eyes, feeling the vibrations of the rain on the smooth surface. I pictured her hand on my cheek, her eyelashes in the light, not heavy and coated with black like this woman's, but light and wispy, barely visible against her skin.

Where are you Wild?

I thought of her face staring down at me from the ship. Then his voice came to me, my father, the last words I hear from him echoing in the back of my mind for the first time in a long time: "I won't have to worry about her. She's long dead. But if I find you, I will kill you. All because of that little primitive."

"I am a wild little primitive," she used to laugh and say. But I didn't like the word, and I didn't like the way he had said it, with so much hate his eyes glowed with it. 

Thunder sounded somewhere distant, and my eyes shot open.

Another clap of thunder shot through the skies, and I looked up to see the lightening flashing through the clouds. I felt like God himself was warning me that, just like the men who were constructing the tower of babel, my father was playing with something he did not understand.

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