the city is indecisive tonight. late-evening sunlight glitters weakly off a myriad of glass, a maze of cars and buildings and filters through thin lace curtains. in the not-so far-off distance, there’s a series of factories and houses all burning fires. smoke rises, hangs heavy and congested in the air, curls into the buildings themselves and stays a while.
the people do nothing to clear it up. it’s become a way of managing the winter chill, where main bedrooms are built around a fireplace and people trail upstairs to visit their hosts’ living room.
i sit, scalding-hot thermos cradled in one hand and watch as the smoke rises higher, blending shadowy into the sky.
(isn’t this why they banned fireplaces three cities over?)
it’s almost enough to choke a city, but this one gets away with factories running on fuel and the residents learned how to exploit it long ago, knowing the authorities wouldn’t be too worried about policing every smoke-producing place. instead, they stay and paint the sky gray, leave it to darken to midnight black.
steam rises from the thermos, delicate intangible ribbons swirling into the air and gone with the slightest exhalation: it’d take a tornado to budge the smoke storm.
(then again, isn’t a tornado a sort of smoke storm?)
i make my way over, winding through narrow cobbled streets and drawing ever-closer to the billowing smoke. from this close up, the city begins to look like it’s dropped in from a different time period, and it seems incredible to me that anyone can breathe here. maybe they have smoke in their lungs, clinging stubbornly to the walls and tarring wallpaper gray-yellow shades of murk.
it makes me want to strip down the wallpaper, water-blast the buildings until the clean paint below is revealed. this city feels older than its years, and i recite the history of it as i wander below smoke clouds. i feel hidden here, and the feeling intensifies as i draw closer to the centre of the cloud, squinting through the haze and trying not to stumble.
all at once my attention is divided five ways – at least i think it’s five, i haven’t stopped to count. right now all i need to do is find my way out but the smog is too thick now. i’ve stopped and started, turned and twisted half a dozen times.
there’s no way out.