26.6.11

Mouse in the House

I think we all eventually outgrow our places of peace and respite. Do you agree?


From above, the city was beautiful, great spires, towers reaching for the clouds, competing over centuries to be the tallest. The sun glistened off the city’s brightest buildings, their mirrored sides tossing the light back and forth, down, down onto the city streets. The streets looked like a crawling mass of vermin from the highest heights, choked with walkers and runners and bikes and cars, all moving with purpose to their destination with no patience for their fellow citizens.

From above it grew, blossomed like a flower, where there was once nothing but prairie wind and wheat stalks. The mass of humanity became its own world, too many millions to count, too many heartbeats to hear. And still they came, drawn to the city by its promise of wealth and opportunity. The city moved day and night, never slowing, never becoming any less active, the sun’s thousands of reflections replaced by a hundred million lights that turned the sky to dawn and blew out the stars as if they were a galaxy of timid candles.

One of the buildings, an older building but still magnificent, is topped with a playground, which is surrounded by a giant cyclone fence. The playground is painted green, but no grass grows there. All the best and safest pieces of kid pleasure sit waiting for the screaming, squealing mass of underdeveloped humanity to descend on them twice a day, nearly every day. The monkey bars and rings and slides and ladders. The giant tires and swings and teeters and boxes of synthetic sand. A hundred children could play on the top of this middle-of-the-road building and there would be room for a hundred more.

The school occupies the top three floors of the building and children who go there often receive elementary, high school, undergraduate and graduate level education without ever leaving them.

Next come the residences, the families of the children above, placed in spacious if not completely similar homes big enough to hold three generations or more. Nearly half of the building is consumed by a simple place to live. Extensive camera networks keep the occupants in line if the sense of community should sometimes fail them.

Traveling down the throat of the building, the great central elevator network, the homes evolve into offices, first the largest, richest companies with the most important, most influential people in the building, if not the city. This being such a mediocre building, chances are rare that a political potentate or citywide CEO would bother working here. The offices become smaller and more practical the closer the levels get to the city street.

Below the offices, stores of every type materialize; anything from groceries to clothing to the latest computer creation can be bought without ever leaving the building.

Restaurants and entertainment are just above the street level so non-residents can enjoy them without getting too far off the ground. This particular building has almost four-dozen restaurants counting the fast food stands and pizza joints. Most buildings have more, but this building is one of those built many years ago and well beyond its prime. The entertainment includes nightclubs, dive bars, theaters, stages, symphonies and virtual sports of a hundred different varieties.

At ground level is security where humanity comes and goes, often pouring out of the building like a silo dropping grain.
All is at it appears in the building, a finely tuned, purring machine designed to expedite life, make it the most efficient existence possible.

But below the building, under the streets, where the old city once thrived, are the forgotten segments of the civilization, the thorns of blossoming humanity. Dark, quiet halls lit by single, dangling bulbs mark the paths to and from the under-city, stairways rather than elevators travel deeper and deeper underground to more dark halls with dingy walls and scuffed floors and rows and rows of similar, gray doors.

On one of the lowest levels, nearly to the original ground level of the city when it was still just dirt and an idea, one of the thousands of doors opens to a room lousy with sound. The chitter and chatter of machines spill into the hall. An oddly high ceiling in a surprisingly spacious room boasts a handful of bulbs similar to those in the hall. The resulting light is little more than a candle’s worth because of the size of the room, but it doesn’t slow the machines. The room is cool, insulated by ten million people and ten thousand buildings, but the air is thick with the smell of burning, electric capacitors and the formaldehyde used to preserve the nine dozen bolts of fabric that chaotically decorate the farthest wall.

Sitting at one hundred sewing machines are ninety-one girls and eight little boys, one of the machines down for repair. They sew garments at impossible speeds, each of the children given a specific task for the day; attach this bodice to this skirt, hem these pant legs and attach the belt loops, surge this underlining for tomorrow’s assembly. No child is over the age of ten. Ten is the age of freedom. Ten is the age when their parents’ debt is paid. Ten is the age when they return to the aboveground life. Besides, after ten years old, their hands are too large for many of the sewing tasks in which this factory specializes. Until then they work every day in this room, eating and sleeping in the barracks next door. The string-thick bands around their necks keep them in line when needed. But they rarely are. They are good workers and the supervisors remind them constantly that the fates of their families rely solely on them.

So they work.

In one of the darkest corners of the factory, one girl, just six years old, works in near darkness. Her fellow workers call her Mouse and the supervisors think it’s because she is so small. But they have given her that name because she disappears every night and since she doesn’t ever speak, no one knows where she goes. The older kids have tried to stay up, to watch her escape. She simply waits quietly until they doze. If one has the will to watch her the entire night, they are so miserable the next day they never try again. If she were a boy, they might beat her until she showed them. But she’s tiny and beautiful, so they let her be.

The truth is she has found a vent in the barracks. It’s on the floor and partially covered by her cot. The other children have seen it, but don’t expect it is her escape because it looks too small for a person to get through. Indeed it is difficult for Mouse. She has to squirm and wiggle and hold her breath as she drops down into the dark, square, hole. But she makes it through and the vent immediately opens into a corridor that leads into an old air conditioning system, which leads to a room that holds a forgotten freight elevator that travels not just to the surface, but all the way up the spine of the building, behind the elevators everyone else uses.

Each night she takes that elevator to the very top of the building, past the restaurants and stores, beyond the offices and above the grand offices of the important businessmen and women, up through the residences where sometimes she hears laughter through the walls of the elevator shaft and can’t help but cry a little, past the college, high school and elementary school and all the way up to the playground with the green painted asphalt and every piece of equipment imaginable.

She doesn’t play with any of it. She climbs the highest ladder and lays down on the soft, plastic landing, her little arms supporting her little head as she gazes into the well-lit sky.

She breathes the air and feels the breeze on her face and bare feet.

But mostly she enjoys the quiet. She is surrounded by giant, silent toys, toys which were probably brought up here by the same freight elevator she uses, all of them completely silent, and imagines they are watching over her, keeping her safe from all harm and giving her the strength to work through the next day.

She knows these nights are becoming precious few as she slowly outgrows her hole in the floor. Soon, she will be truly confined to the barracks and the factory, stuck until she turns ten and can rejoin her family.

Until then, she tries to soak up every breath of her own magic place.


Thanks for reading! Off to write...

Casey

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