What the Future Looks Like

It was a perfect morning. The sky was singing its crisp blue melody, and the birds were swooping overhead, expending neat white pellets at the feet of the people who walked like they had nowhere in particular to go, because they didn’t, it was the beginning of summer, and the days were growing long, and the people were all so happy in a hazy, nostalgic kind of way.

Teresa woke early, made herself a pot of nectarine tea, and sat at the window of her flat. She stared out at the rows of houses, all narrow and tall with small white verandas out the front, where clean bed sheets expanded and contracted in the breeze. She listened to the humming sunshine, which in fact you could hear if you paid close enough attention, and said, ‘Hello Mr. Sun!’

‘Hello Teresa!’ The sun smiled back and stretched its beaming arms towards her. ‘Today is a perfect day!’

‘Yes,’ said Teresa, because the sun was right, everything was perfect — even the bees greeted the humans cheerfully as they passed, hovering around their shoulders, not to strike, but just to feel the goodness of their companionship.

‘I can’t believe it,’ said Teresa to the plants sitting patiently on the windowsill. ‘I couldn’t have asked for a better day on which to graduate!’ Her teeth shone white through a gap between her dark red lips.

Four years had passed. She was finally grown, finally almost free. She put on a green dress and her robe. She hung the hood over her shoulders, and pinned it into place. The gold satin shimmered. Everything was good and right. There was a stream of messages and notifications on her phone, and they were nothing but nice, encouraging, so many gestures of love. She took a moment and closed her eyes, thinking, this is the day I’ve been waiting for all my life.

 

A lonely fly buzzed its way into the room, admiring Teresa as she admired herself.

‘Hello!’ said the fly, ‘You look wonderful this morning. Would you care if I joined you on your walk?’

Teresa held out her hand and the fly landed neatly in her palm.

‘Of course, my friend. I would love the company.’

The fly flew to rest atop Teresa’s trencher as she went outside. Teresa chattered excitedly about the future, and the fly listened, feeling excited for her too. The past four years hadn’t been easy, but the girl had made it through and now she’d do such incredible things. The fly wasn’t the only one impressed. The houses tilted their roofs towards her as she passed and murmured their congratulations.

‘Thank you,’ said Teresa, ‘Thank you all so very much.’

 

There was a path laid out before her. She followed it faithfully, each bend and dip and curve, whistling as she walked, until suddenly a rat appeared.

‘Beware,’ the rat said, its voice unusually low for such an animal. ‘Today you must walk a new route.’

‘But I’ve always walked this way, every day for four years, and nothing bad has ever happened to me.’ Teresa took off her trencher to consult the fly, but it was gone.

‘Today isn’t a normal day, my dear girl.’ The rat appeared once more a few metres in front of her. ‘You must be wary of everything.’

Teresa felt a pressure growing in the back of her skull. She didn’t know what to do. She’d always walked the fastest way, but the rat’s warning frightened her.

She turned down the next street and found herself climbing a steep slope. Patches of sweat formed beneath her armpits and in the crevice of her lower spine. Her feet began to ache in the high heels she’d worn especially for the occasion. She bent down to remove them, but when they were off, she couldn’t pick them back up with her hands. Teresa slid her feet back in, but the shoes had shrunk tighter, and she deduced that if she took them off again they’d no longer fit at all. She kept both of them on and decided to bear it.

She kept walking up the slope until she came to an intersection. The traffic lights shone blue for go. She crossed diagonally, but when she made it halfway across, a car sped before her and she retreated from the shock.

‘Hurry!’ said the red man now, in short bursts, ‘Time is running low!’

She went to check her watch but realised that she didn’t have one. Her pockets were empty too, no phone. She ran forward again, dodging more cars and bicycles and telephone poles. The grasses were murmuring low, and she leaned in to hear.

‘The fountain, the fountain!’ they chanted. She saw a burst of light in the distance and knew where to go. Teresa charged up the hill, her shoes slicing into the backs of her heels. The satin cape hung heavy around her neck. It felt like she would choke. She lifted it from her neck and hung it from a nearby fence. Her trencher had fallen off somewhere. She didn’t have time to turn back and find it. The tarmac was yelling at her now to hurry, hurry, it was time.

‘Go faster!’ yelled a large dog from over the fence.

She sensed an urgency in the dog’s voice and broke into a run. She thought she had more time, but the sun was beginning to go down, and she hoped she hadn’t already missed it. Her feet were bleeding now and her toes had gone numb. Teresa tugged at the shoes but they wouldn’t come off. They’d somehow fused with her foot like a second layer of skin. She fell to her knees and began to crawl, grazing the heels of her palms as she went, the concrete tearing at her kneecaps.

‘You’ve made a terrible mistake,’ said the sun in a disappointed tone, before completely disappearing. The sky had turned red.

‘I only did what they all told me,’ Teresa cried, wiping the sweat from her forehead with the sleeve of her dress — makeup smudging off onto the green fabric, her eyebrows smeared across her face.

 

When she got to the top of the hill, the field was swarming with wasps. She couldn’t see the fountain through the black cloud.

‘I made it,’ she said. ‘Now show me where to go.’

‘There is nowhere to go.’ The wasps said, flying around her in circles. ‘There was never anywhere to go.’

And then they laughed at her. They laughed and laughed and laughed.

About the author
Sinead Overbye is a recent MA graduate from the International Institute of Modern Letters. She writes magical realist works that evoke what it feels like to be a young woman navigating a turbulent world.