“Admit it. You aren’t like them. You’re not even close. You may occasionally dress yourself up as one of them, watch the same mindless television shows as they do, maybe even eat the same fast food sometimes. But it seems that the more you try to fit in, the more you feel like an outsider, watching the “normal people” as they go about their automatic existences. For every time you say club passwords like “Have a nice day” and “Weather’s awful today, eh?”, you yearn inside to say forbidden things like “Tell me something that makes you cry” or “What do you think deja vu is for?””
“The power of speculative fiction is not to terrify us about the future, but to show us what it might look like to literally inhabit our ideas. We read stories where human characters grapple with our shared, eternal problems — survival, love, identity, purpose, access to authentic Mexican cuisine — but they do so in the constraints of structures that are just outlines for us. Speculative fiction is not a crystal ball; it’s a mirror, showing us the world we live in projected into a fresh, imaginary space.
This is especially important in the context of climate change and climate fiction, or cli-fi, where environmental changes that are inevitable and social adaptations that seem impossible are headed for spectacular collision. Climate fiction allows us to kill our darlings, as the writers say, and road-test our assumptions. Using the imagination laboratory between our ears, we can hypothesize about ditching political sacred cows and cultural mores that otherwise seem as inescapable as gravity. Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy gleefully pokes capitalism and religion in the eye along the way to her true target: the facile lullabies we sing to ourselves as we ignore our lives crumbling around us.”
in with the rat king because things between my girlfriend and me fell apart. Of
course, I mean this literally.
months in, she gave me a necklace that she’d made of silken string and sea
glass—to commemorate our relationship. She held it clasped in her
pressed-together palms for the whole drive to the beach. When she opened them,
hinged at the wrist like a mollusk, her hands were damp and weak from clutching.
Before we had even walked three more steps across the sand, the pendant had
fallen inexplicably off its chain and shattered against a stone.
later, on our anniversary, she made me a dress. She gave it to me at breakfast;
I stripped bare and pulled it on right then, leaving my t-shirt and jeans in a
puddle on her kitchen floor. By evening, it was slipping off my shoulders, the
seams loose, threads stretching in laddered patterns at my waist. In bed, she
pulled it off me in pieces. “Easy access,” she said, but her smile was shaken.
been thinking about leaving her for some time. It was a hot, arid summer. The
silverware burned our fingers. That evening, I put a mug—her coffee mug, the
one I gave her, with the sunburst pattern that framed the one-eyed queen—of
tepid water in the freezer and went to bed without thinking. When I woke up, it
had cracked into three rough-edged pieces. I packed my things.
king, a regular customer but not regularly very talkative, explained himself
while I pulled his four espresso shots, pounding the grinds with the heel of my
hand hard on the tamper. I didn’t believe him.
wait ‘til dusk,” he said, pointing out the smudged window. “I’ll show you.
stone-dark eyes, dark hair combed to one side, and a few days’ worth of stubble.
His hands trembled. I figured he was high, or an artist, or both—in one way or
another, he had chosen to teeter on the line of reason.
enough, though, as soon as the sun had sunk full-on down, he sidled back up to
the bar. I was cleaning espresso dust out of the machine’s cracks with a wadded
up napkin, checking my phone, waiting for her to get home and notice the spaces
I’d left. I was prepared for a slew of words, or a barrage of absence. I’d
drunk eight shots of espresso in the past hour, and wherever I looked something
lurked sharp and dangerous under a skein of blear. The rat king’s eyes were
wide, the irises orbs of broken glass glued back together. He leaned over the
bar, holding his whole weight up on his bony elbows.
wanted to see,” he said. I dropped the napkin, wiped my palms on my aproned
thighs, and followed him outside.
me to an alley along the side of the shop. He stopped short; I bumped up
against him. “So?” I asked.
thick, lazy wind pushed through the alley, breathing on the sheen of sweat at the back of my neck. I pulled off
my regulation baseball cap and shook my hair out. The rat king sat down in the
dry sludge of hot dust. I crouched across from him, balancing on the balls of
nothing to invite them. He did not whistle; he did not reach out his hands. The
first scurried toward him with aimless purpose, sniffing, flirting. It stepped
forward, then back. The second darted up with purpose. It scampered across the
rat king’s legs—back, forth, then settled at his elbow, curling up and falling
asleep right there, its whiskers brushing his skin.
there was another, another, six more.
fair,” I said, “This is New York.”
not touching you,” he said, jerking his chin at me, staring at the empty
half-circle in front of my feet. His voice was simple; calm. He was right.
When I said I had to go, he nodded and did not move.
planned to crash on the couches of a rotating cast of friends—mostly hers, so I
was prepared for debates and half-hugs, for side-eyed sympathy and carefully
chosen words. That night I was due at Jon’s, my manager at the coffee shop, who
had given me the job based on her recommendation. He said he didn’t mind.
also a personal trainer and he was hot; older, moneyed women loved when he
smoothed his strong hands over their flabby bellies, so he was loaded. Every
surface in his apartment was lacquered or plush and the space brimmed with
natural light; even after night fell, it held a soft permanent glow.
to me, though, about minding. “Loretta,” he greeted me with a brisk nod on my ninth knock. He avoided my eyes. He scooped up a folded towel from its perch on
the arm of the sofa, and trotted off to take a shower with barely a word except
to call back, “I’ll be done in a jiff.” Two minutes later, he emerged, rubbing
his golden hair dry, finger-combing it tousled. He grinned widely at me.
to do some work,” he said. “If you need me, I’ll be in my bedroom.”
stretched out on the bare couch and stared at the ceiling. The fan cast cycling
rays of shadow around the room. I tried to follow one blade in a full circle,
but they spun too fast for me to hold them in my eyes.
oil seeped out from strategically placed square vases tucked in corners. The
smell was so heavy that I could taste it, but too sparse to feel filled by it.
I took a few calming breaths. I imagined myself climbing the bookcase, pulling
out book after book, letting them thump on the floor until Jon might come out
in all his glossy puzzled glory and ask me what the fuck I thought I was doing.
what would happen then? I imagined slamming myself against him in desperation,
crawling all over his perfect body, running my hands across his chest, my
thumbs over his jaw. He would try to resist, his hands fluttering against my
rib cage, before giving in, his tongue an eel in my mouth. I imagined kissing
down his neck and chest and abdomen, nauseous and unstoppable.
to leave” I texted Jon, “she and i are working out some things”
he replied, “good luck sweetie she’s a keeper”
watched the bar of light under his bedroom door. Nothing shifted. I wondered
if, in some unspeakable history, they had ever hooked up. My nose twitched as I
considered the tan, athletic sex they would inevitably have had, in which they
would have stared earnestly at each other’s strong jawlines while their flat
stomachs skimmed against each other.
myself out without breaking the silence. I shook off the resonant glow of the
apartment and chose the direction of the street where I’d left the rat king
sitting on the stairs just half an hour ago. While I walked, I kicked a long,
skinny shard of broken glass out in front of me until it hit a pole and split
still there, almost obscured by a skewed shadow. He didn’t see me coming. He
broke into a tense smile and patted the space next to him on the stair. “You’re
back,” he said. “I had a feeling.”
are you still doing here,” I whispered.
here,” he mock-whispered back.
jerked his thumb at the door behind him.
aren’t you in there, then?”
pointed at the square-fenced sapling across the sidewalk. A small dove-grey
rat, barely larger than an obese mouse, sniffed around the base of its trunk.
turned away from us to scratch at the dirt. Its tail twitched in the dim light.
I said, “That one’s kinda cute.”
king’s dimple tucked sweetly in his cheek. The sound of rustling paws crested
and slowed in waves around me, but I couldn’t see any of them except for the
one by the tree, pointing his nose to the sky in a searching way, mildly
keep them? As pets?”
need to.” He looked at me, his head tilted, dark hair falling down across his
pointed chin. He pushed against the ground and stood up, fishing his keys out
of his pocket.
you coming in?”
throat misted; clogged. I nodded. I put my hand in his and let him pull me up.