Holly Kent-Payne

An unpopular tale of urban alienation

Left alone, they were walking through the night town, which appeared orange. Some people with legs crossed the street. They had begun an argument which had become explicitly theoretical.

In their head, they were feeling a peculiar pressure, such as hard packed snow. They saw dancing in a bar going on with greasy vigor.

“I think it’s a moot point, really, I mean even if they did happen to, it wouldn’t be the same historical trajectory.”

“No, but what I’m saying is, there’s every possibility in the world of them getting to that point, and then achieving something completely un—”

“Arbitrary notions about the nature of experience notwithstanding, you have to agree it’s really a kind of—”

“Of course, I know what you’re saying, but just listen a moment, and try to imagine a different method of approach. You see, I think that—”

“Hold on, I’m getting a call. Yes, hello? I’ll have to talk to you later, I’m rather busy at the moment.”

This took place in a popular city before it was destroyed.

A woman shouted something neither of them understood, and did not feel addressed by. The argument hung around in the air as they walked through a thick puddle and stopped talking until they reached the other side of the street.

“Did you hear somebody was murdered around here the other day?”

“No, I try not to hear that sort of thing. Who were they?”

They walked on down the shining street, discussing the midday murder of a man and a baby which had stepped into a shady alley to feed and change, and were accosted by knifers making immanent demands on their milk. Word had it that they tore the baby apart like bread, and strangled the man with a vine. Everybody hanging around nearby heard but was too afraid of inconvenience to investigate. This was a travesty currently disgracing the neighborhood, and those callous observers now felt the need to scuttle around like beetles under iron boots, avoiding the glowering glances in train stations and restaurants. Even their own parents had shut the doors on their noses in the face of this public disapproval.

As they passed a doorstep, a child shook a white handkerchief at them, to which they smiled condescendingly.

“There are few things more irritating than unattended children.”

“I certainly can’t think of any.”

In the city, people jostled around like pebbles in a dark pocket, knocking up against each other, quite indifferent to size or shape.

“I touch my face a lot, have you noticed? Do you do that?”

“I don’t.”

“I’m sure it’s a curious habit.”

They came to an empty house, and one of them stayed, while the other went off alone. Going upstairs, they forgot about the other person who was walking away towards the old library. They went into the bedroom, and saw some dirty pieces of paper on the floor, which made them think again of the murdered man and baby. They could not summon the same feelings for it as they had while walking; the subject seemed like a tedious dead end—yes, it was bad. Shrugging, as they sometimes did to dispel unpleasing thoughts, they went to lie down on the wrinkled bed.

They had had a wearying day, talking to their friend on the way home from market, at which they were disappointed not to find the correct kind of fish, or the book on skulkery they had seen there last week. They had not even found the stall with the book, or the mildewed woman who had stood slightly to the side of it as if queuing for a bus, and asked in a hostile tone whether they needed any help. Something about the woman’s evading eyes and crumpled back came back to them in a picture behind their closed eyes, causing a light, revolting feeling.

Other people were vile, with their drudgerous panics.

Holly Kent-Payne comes from England and lives in Illinois. She has an MFA from NYU and writes short, strange stories. She loves cats and is entirely apolitical.

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