As she steps into the street she tries to focus on the ways that the light from the streetlights and the sky fall across the hedgerows and other vegetation that have been planted to separate the hotel from the footpath, and on the tiny growths of grass and weeds that push up through the concrete and around the corners and edges of the lead planters. The leaves and the thin sprouts of vegetation all sway in the soft breeze, uniform but irregular, and each growth or budding flowerhead catches the lights of the city in its own unique way. It is dizzyingly complex the way that they arrange themselves. On the other side of the park she is aware that there are millions and millions of times as many, all moving this way, but in the obscurity of absolute darkness and so inaccessible to her standing here and shivering. Her hostility is overwhelming and alien and she tries hard to process it and breath it out from her chest in huge exhalations. She keeps turning away from its intensity and its obscure implications. She walks along the perimeter and around the corner to the service entrances, but now there are no workers hanging around smoking or checking phones. The bins have been locked. She wishes that there was a thick grey plastic tray for her to sit on and rest, but these have been taken in and locked behind the doors that she cannot open on her own. Instead she sits on the concrete ground and puts her back against the wall and smokes the last of her borrowed cigarette and watches the breath fly out from her open mouth. Far above in the darkness of the sky and the storm there are obscure beings whose bodies are composed and ordered by great sets of parallel lines that stretch away into the darkness. There are thousands of them, maybe millions, since they do not seem to be extensive in space, and they recede in series, held between the bars which correspond in some obscure way to the architectural lines and surfaces of the hotel. Their bodies are enormous. They fill the sky. Their flesh is the same dark translucent colours of the rain in the nighttime. You cannot see any faces. Each one adopts its posture, dictated by the bars that hold it in position, and each of these is unique. They are composed in reference to contingency, sufficiency, survival; a pure survival even fixed here, unsheltered in the teeth of forces that would crack concrete and level buildings. There is no rupture of a scream. Each is a copy of a copy of a copy. If they could be made to remember the pleasures of eating, the smells of cooked meat and of fat popping from the charred bones of the communal spit then perhaps they would come back down among us to feast— a chastisement for pride, for the vanity of our separation. Above and around the figures the space of the air is carved into by wind that moves across the sky in enormous sheets. Between the sky and the earth the rain coheres into its programme of vertical bars. There is the verticality of the rain and the horizontal substrate of earth and sky, and these compose her body as surely as they do these others that have been brought forth from nothing, from vapour and obscurity, to illustrate the poverty and the autonomy of saintly beings.

First published in the collective novel A Kink in the Arc, May 2020