The sun removes its fingertips from my arm; I imagine it is a lover guiding me to the dance floor. I glance up at the luxury aircraft overhead, its oblong shape the length of several clouds. Shafts of light poke around its rounded edges and darted for the ground only to disappear moments later when more airships pass. I imagine they are whales swimming in a vast ocean, and I am a mermaid watching from underneath.
Most of my friends are in the sky already. Some of them married last month in preparation for the annual migration. Etta married an heir to a mining company. I’ll bet anything she’s in one those ginormous floating palaces. They probably have masquerades where people lounge around a dais, listening to music while they eat grapes.
My only proposal was hardly a fairy tale. Wilbett couldn’t even look me in the eyes. He stared at his boots as they scuffed the damp ground, and he mumbled something about how I’d fit in with the rest of the herd. Like I was just one of the cows!
“Can you imagine the smell on their ship?” I ask my dog.
Djinn paws at the muck, searching in vain for heat and light, settling for a frog instead. Djinn snorts a few times before plunging her short muzzle into the mire.
I tug on the leash, and Djinn’s innocent eyes peer over a mud mustache.
“Really? That’s your apology?”
It isn’t the amphibian’s fault that saturation season is early. Every year our planet breathes oxygen and liquid from its core. Everything floods, and we jump in our airships to escape the planet-wide swamp for four months.
Uphill, gears creak and groan, as the dirigible’s engine resists Dad’s ratchet.
“Dammit!” His tongue slips along with his hand.
My feet squelch in the mud as I trudge uphill. Dad sucks on a knuckle while Mom weighs all our possessions and writes down her calculations in a leather journal. Each tick of her pencil draws a sigh.
“Fuel is getting more expensive every year,” she says.
“Only for some,” Dad grumbles.
I run my thumb over the sapphire pendent around my neck as I look at all our possessions. Some of these things will go with us. Some will have to remain. This pendent is my family’s last heirloom. Dad often tells me that Gran’s eyes were the color as this stone. She left earth for the colonies when she was a little older than I am now. Pregnant and scared, she ran for the stars.
We bartered the rest of Gran’s heirlooms for fuel years ago: a porcelain doll, a hardcover set of books, an engagement ring. Nothing is more important than reducing weight and staying in the skies.
I’ve never seen what happens on the ground during the saturation, but there are stories. Men hunt men. They kill whatever they can find for food. Plague and diseases ravage those left behind. When the waters recede, not even their bones remain among the mud and muck.
I twirl Gran’s pendant while Mom finishes her calculations. Next year I might have to take whatever proposal comes me way. Unless, I can find a job instead. Can you imagine it? Djinn and I in our own dirigible, floating high above the weeping aquafirs? We’d find our own patch of sky where we wouldn’t have to worry about saturation or marriage proposals, for that matter.
Dad oils the ancient gears, presses a wrench longer than my arm around their teeth, and lifts with several grunts. Metal whines against metal, but the gears turn. Wiping the sweat from his brown, he gives he a thumbs up.
Mom drops her pencil and bites her bottom lip.
“I’m sorry, honey.”
She’s staring at Djinn.
Mom reaches for Djinn, but my girl darts around Mom’s legs, yipping and yapping with a silly grin fixed on her muzzle. Dad approaches cautiously from the side.
“But she’s such a small dog,” I protest.
“Plus, her food.” Mom glances at her journal. “That’s at least 30kg.”
“She can have some of my food.”
“Be reasonable. If you lose too much weight, nobody will want to marry you.”
I can’t believe she said that. I’m not just some possession that can be traded away for more fuel or to save weight.
Mom sighs. “Please accept Wilbett’s proposal. I’m sure he’d make room for the dog.”
I scoop up Djinn and clutch her against my chest. My girl curls her dirty paws into my shirt and licks my chin. I’m not going to trade my freedom for Djinn, but I’m not going to leave her behind either. There must be another way.
Gran’s stone bounces against the lump forming in my throat as I shake my head. Something stronger than fear grows inside of me.
“We’ll stay down here.”
“Grow up!” Dad’s expression is as unyielding as the dirigible’s gears. “You’ll die. You leave that dog behind or you marry.”
“But I don’t love Wilbett.”
“You can’t make decisions that way. Love don’t float.”
“I can survive down here. I’ll prop the house up on stilts, buy some weapons and extra food.” The plan sounds ludicrous even I say it. I don’t know how to build anything or hunt. I can barely build a fire, but I’m not going to marry, and I can’t abandon my girl.
Mom tucks the pencil behind her ear.
The line of airships passes overhead. Once again, I feel the sun touch me like a tender lover. It embraces my shoulders. It kisses my forehead. This is the fairy tale I want to live in. I want to be whisked away by some prince, not some cattle rancher’s idiot son.
Love may not float, but sometimes it must run. I open my eyes and dash down the hill with Djinn bouncing in my arms while she barks a goodbye. Like Gran, I don’t look back.
I don’t expect my parents to follow.
This piece is part of my upcoming flash novella, No Place Like O2. I’m hoping to publish the novella as a short read on Amazon either in August or September.