Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer
They stare at me as I go by. Heart-shaped faces, pale skin, a hint of freckles, eyes like summer sky reflecting in still ponds. Every day since I got here, they stop what they’re doing to watch me go by. Still makes me uncomfortable, but it always happens, so I’m accustomed to it. The only thing I can do is keep driving.
I stop at the delicatessen, offload the shipment and back through the doors, sack wheels stacked with wicker crates up to my chin.
“Good afternoon, Caleb. You’re late today?”
I stop by the till and carefully slide the stack off the wheels.
“Sorry about that, Roy. Had to help Roy at the bakery with an oven replacement. It was so heavy even Rita had to help.”
Roy looks impressed. He raises his head and shouts: “Hey, Rita! Caleb says they got Rita to help move one of the ovens at the bakery!”
Rita bustles in from the back, a look of disbelief on her face.
“I’ll believe it when she tells me, and if she did, she’ll be telling everyone for a week.”
I laugh with them, then take my leave. I don’t know how they do it. This is Ritaroyburg. Males are Roy and females are Rita. Never seem to need more than one identifier or qualifier to work out which one of them I’m talking about.
I presume it was the same for me in Carolcalebtown – until my Carol got taken by a catamount. I lasted three days before running from the place screaming, trying to drown out the noise in my head. Started right after Carol died. After the screaming, it got much quieter, but it’s still there.
Since leaving that place, I’ve been through Juliejohnburg, Barberabobtown and a dozen other burgs and towns. Can’t seem to stay in one place for more than a season or two. Seen more of this country than any since the Iron Rain, I’m sure. I’m also sure I know how them who survived set this land up to continue: all the places are the same. All the people are the same. Only the names change. In some places, the people are much older and they barely talk, just go about tending the crops, woodlands and streams. I don’t stay long in those places.
I used to dream of the life I never had with Carol. After that, I dreamt of dusty rooms filled with the skeletons of the people who made us. The ones that knew what children were. The ones who had a plan for what came next, until they all died. Now-
She’s sitting on the front step, hair blowing in the breeze like Carol’s used to. But she’s not Carol, and that’s quite alright.
“Rita. Will Roy be standing across the road again? He was there all afternoon yesterday.”
She shakes her head.
“Roy’s in gaol. So’s Roy next door. His Rita is telling Sheriff Rita I should be the one locked up. Deputy Roy thinks you should be the one in gaol.”
I sit next to her.
“Roy said seeing me keeping company with you made him realise he liked Rita next door more than me. He asked Rita next door about it. Roy next door hit him with a skillet. They fought.”
She takes my hand.
“What do we do?”
The noise in my head stops.
“Get your things while Roy’s in jail, Rita. There’s lots of other places to see.”
“Leave? Be Rita and Caleb?”
“If you want to.”