Front Row Seats

An exhausted Clementine exits the station. Feeling safe under the beating sun, She opens her eyes to meet the blues and grays of The City. She takes a moment to catch up with her breath, enjoying air yet dominated by rat fragrance or piss cocktail. Confidently unaware she’s been blocking an entrance to the station, she looks up to a large sign. It reads ‘first blvd’ in chipped green tile.

“Shit,” Clementine utters, realizing she's gotten off 2 stops early.

She shuffles to an empty corner of the outdoor platform. She sits on an empty, black bench in the shade. In front of her, a large bush jiggles as bluebirds nosedive into dense greenery. Clementine relishes in wiping away beads of sweat instead of tear drops. With the air feeling cooler, She takes a moment in recombobulation.

Clementine lets out a dehydrated moan. She reaches in her tote for something to sip. From the bellows of her bag past; 2 lip glosses, 7 pens, 3 notebooks, a copy of Moby Dick, a granola bar, a half empty pack of parliaments, a small sack filled with prayer beads, and wintermint gum; she grabs a moss green water bottle. A fulfilling gulp, the type that has a Simpsons sound effect to it. She thrusts her arm back into the bag and retrieves a shattered phone. Thump. Thump. Thump. Feeling her heartbeat in her fingertips, Clementine inputs the address to the university’s community center. A 35 minute walk across the northside mainlands, oops.

"At least the weather’s nice" she whispers. With a heart rate friendly walking pace, She moves through the veins of The City.

The City runs through 3 territories, canvassing 17 miles of forest, lake, and island. Beginning in Clementine’s home territory, The City ‘starts’ at the most northeast corner of Fiefield (although exclusively referred to by the population as  ‘valley village’). The City ‘ends’ at the converging border of Upstate and Downstate.

A highly desirable piece of land, The City was founded 119 years ago by experimental architect (and full time narcissist) Delsano Pictaro. A maddened visionary, a man in way over his head, a man who never really understood other men. Self proclaimed lovechild of Gaudi and Archimedes, Pictaro grew up in southern valley village. His father and emotional terrorist, Alfonso Pictaro, built 14 factories across the lands. With the region having no official government, Pictaro ruled horribly and cruelly. A steel baron, Alfonso hated his son for pursuing studies in architecture. A fascist at heart, Pictaro is responsible for the deaths of over 300 laborers. Unsure and insecure in every step he made, except for when it came to his inheritance. He vowed once his father died, so would his horrid practices. Delsano stuck to his promise and for 20 years the factories sat abandoned. Although, the moldy apple never falls far from the rotten tree. Delsano, hellbent on revenge, decided to eradicate his father’s name from the land by destroying every factory. 7,000 acres chopped up and exchanged in business deals with men far worse than his old man. The only part Delsano Pictaro held onto was a 17 mile strip of land in between two lakes and a mountain range.

Historically naive, Delsano felt he had no way of predicting the consequences. Crops burned, irrigation systems replaced by septic tanks, thousands of families displaced due to Delsano's daddy issues. He didn't act on his conscience until a forrest in west valley village--native to the rose hair tarantula--was burned to a crisp and turned into a parking garage. He contacted independent contractors, called on every former professor, and begged investors to develop The City. Built with the intention of preserving the natural landscape, The City exists as harmoniously as possible with nature, setting it apart from the majority of metropolises. However, still a metropolis. Never adorned by a specific namesake,The City composes 8 neighborhoods. In the mainlands, the districts follow a numerical system; 1,2,3, and such. Districts 1-4 belong to the north side while Districts 5-8 belong to the south side. It would take Clementine longer than she'd admit to understand the numerical system.

A narrow island sits in between two lakes. The island is split symmetrically by columns holding up elevated railway tracks. Only shops, restaurants, and 5 story homes are permitted on the islands. No commercial or residential building over 40 feet may be built. There are no sanctioned bridges. To get to the mainland neighborhoods, there are 4 tracks leading to the left and 4 to the right. An homage to the rose hair tarantula. Cars are a rarity. There hasn't been a franchise store or building crane in over 8 years. Echoing Delsano’s sustainable initiative, most available properties are dedicated to the promotion of education or cultural preservation. Dying before completion, Delsano left behind two things in a skewed deed. First, Infrastructural changes cannot be made until 75 years after his death. Everything must be built upon, or improved.  Delsano’s way of protecting The City’s architectural legacy. Delsano refused to repeat the same mistake twice. Second, No more than 20% of land can be owned by an individual, corporation, or institution.

In the coming weeks, Delsano's spirit would act as a tour guide for Clementine. Watching her from another realm, Delsano would take Clementine's body through a romantic stroll of The City. He felt a kinship in Clementine, one his soul could not recognize in either realm. He felt indebted to her spirit for what she would go on to do for The City. A herald, an earthly Hermes. His soul moves to the rhythm of birds, most frequently showing up as sparrows and bluejays.

With an eerie feeling in her stomach, Clementine pulls out a pair of navy headphones. She connects the tangled wires to her phone. Her thoughts form a new symphony. Her playlist begins where it last left off: meeting The Pomegranate Man. Flight or fight activated, she was far from ready to blind date her demons. What occurred on that train would never feel right, nor real to Clementine. That second-to-last car marked her genesis into the world of advance sense. Not to be Rod Serling but the lines between the 3D and 5D would never be the same. Perceptual experience could only be perceived in monadic accordance with Clementine having to figure out what the fuck that means. Despite former rituals with linear time, from the moment she left the train, Clementine would struggle distinguishing waking world from dream space. Launching into a violent spiral of metaphysical obsession, one She would be unable to wriggle herself out.

There was no rulebook for the journey She’d be embarking on. There wasn’t even a form of treatment available. It was like getting your first period, losing your virginity, and getting pregnant in a week. Far too much for one body to handle, but not impossible.

As she crosses the street, a sparrow flies by. Delsano. The bird swoops around Clementine and shits on her right boot. "Fuck," she thinks first. "I have nothing to wipe this off with," she thinks second. She runs to a tree. She wipes her boot on the tree. It's fine (for now) but it's not a wet rag.

Clementine exhales. "Maybe the bird didn't like my boots" she utters quietly. She looks up to a large sign reading '4th district' in stone. She looks back at her maps, 7 minutes to destination. On with the trek. Minutes later, She arrives in the bosom of the 4th district. With 19% of the 4th district being owned by the university, student culture takes over the 4th district. So much so, that most neighboring real estate--while not owned by the university--is dedictated to some aspect of student life. Used bookstores, cafes with free wifi and ample seating, trendy yet affordable foods. Everyone in The City looks to the 4th district for what's hot.

Clementine reaches her destination. A building sits on a small incline, hugging a large lawn with about 40 raised garden beds. Magnolia trees cover the grounds, making the air sweeter than musky pines or firs. A windy cobblestone road leads up to arched doors. It's a nice walk.

Approaching the building, Clementine notices the art deco and steampunk influences on the architecture. It's horrendously fascinating. Reaching the arched doors, She places a cold finger on the bronze knob. With a swift push, she falls like Alice into an afternoon wonderland.

The university center, commonly called 'the caf' by kids on campus. The only place you walk indoors to get fresh air. Warm bread, onions in olive oil, and hot coffee hit your nose like a drunk 16 year old punching a wall. “This is the type of scent they make candles of” Clementine thinks. Being there, felt like a different decade on a different planet yet nothing was unfamiliar. It was our world had it moved forward sustainably, that's something Clementine could fall in love with over and over again. They grow their own produce, refuse plastic, and are on strike about thrice a year. The food is delicious, but it's more efficient to bring your own meals. Plants hang or sit across every inch of available real estate. Oversized windows wrap every inch of the building. In the front, a coffee bar with the sexiest baristas you’ve ever seen. To the left of the bar, booths and comfortable couches. To the back, a small room that would be turned into a blackbox theatre during the weekends. To the right of the bar, an iron staircase leading to the next floor.

The second level, a lofted library with two 12x6 cherrywood desks. Cozy, secluded, and a bit too sensual for a study space. Only lovers and extreme nerds congregate in the loft. Hiding in plain sight a spiral staircase leads to a rooftop, where smokers waste time and lung capacity. Clementine stands over the lofted railing, looking onto to the caf happenings; flirting bodies on vintage sofas, students stressing over Schelling, a group of 5 knitting from a comically large ball of yarn, every type of smoke cloud visible to the naked eye, leftover crumbs of golden pastries, an orange cat with no tail, and at least 77 open books. A whirlwind of downright garbage and sheer genius. Everyone's beautiful. What's more, they have something to do. They aren't just something to look at, they feel worth watching.

Clementine turns back to face the cherrywood table. A warm feeling envelops her stomach, confusion settles her mind. Why did she feel such warmth from this spot? Clementine closes her eyes. For a moment she sees herself sitting with a man, laughing, drinking coffee, and sharing pie with whipped cream. Or vanilla ice cream. It wasn’t clear enough to make that call. Overwhelmed, Clementine rushes down the iron stairs and out a side door.

Better to chase pavements than daydreams. Standing on a small road, Clementine ignores the ‘no pedestrians’ post behind her. She takes a sip from her water bottle and looks in her bag for a piece of gum.

Crunch. Ruffle. Ruffle. Crunch Crunch.

Clementine finds a shiny, minty gift. She pops the wintermint gum into her mouth and chews nervously. With each chew, her jaw clicks. ‘I wandered for longer than I should have. There’s still an hour before my meeting and 2 before class” she thought.

20 feet behind her, swooshing down the lane is a Rollerblading Baddie. Her outfit is fabulous. An orange velvet skirt, long socks with orange stripes, a cropped denim jacket, and a white tank in which her nipples shine like the stars. Her hair is black and curly, enough to make a lion jealous. Her red rollerblades match her headphones. The type of gal Quentin Tarantino would cast. The Baddie, like Clementine, is in a world of her own. Obliviously confident, She likes to close her eyes as she rollerblades. She hasn’t walked since she found out shoes can come with wheels. Everything about her was a force. Clementine would find that out in a few seconds.  

The Rollerblading Baddie finally spots Clementine. She glides to the left, hoping to slide right past her. At the same moment, Clementine senses another body near her and moves to the left. CRASH! The two girls collide. Clementine and the Rollerblading Baddie sit on the hot ground, feeling dizzy together. Swiftly, Clementine tries to stand up but the Baddie’s ring is stuck on Clementine's pants. BAM! The pants tear from the back belt loop down the seam. Poorly constructed pants equaling to Clementine’s ass; scraped and on display’ for all to see. The Baddie lets out a screech, ripping the ring off her finger. That's a bone bruise, no doubt. Baddie quickly takes off her denim jacket. She wraps the denim around Clementine’s waist, concealing Clementine's cartoon undies. A makeshift belt. An impromptu angel.

“Are you okay?” Clementine asks the girl.

The Rollerblading Baddie responds, “Am I okay? You’re the one with your cheeks out.”

“It’s my fault, cheeks or not. I didn’t see you,” Clementine responds.

“You can’t stand here,” the stranger points to a sign, “this is a wheels only area. Bikes and blades.”

Clementine finally notices the ‘no pedestrians’ sign.

"I'm new here," Clementine says, hoping all is well.

“It's not like we died. You did mess up my vibe a little, but I can get over it," the Rollerblading Baddie says, noticing a gash near Clementine's temple. "Do you handle blood well?” the Baddie asks.

“I can handle--"

“There’s a pool of blood on your face…Do you not feel that?”

Clementine touches the skin around her ear and looks back to her finger. She had not felt that. Fresh blood. She takes a sniff, forgetting that someone new was watching her. The Baddie watches Clementine, in awe that she hasn't winced once.

“I dated a male nurse for 6 months, do you mind if I look?" the Baddie asks pointing to Clementine's ear. She grabs Clementine gently by the face, “It’s just a cut. I can’t see your brain, but you should probably get that cleaned up.”

"Be careful not to get blood on you."

“I really fucked up your entire outfit, it's only fair” the Baddie reassures her.

“It wasn’t that good to begin with,” Clementine says, knowing there’s nothing else to do but laugh it off.

“Luckily, you can get away with your private parts hanging out in this district. It's actually sort of encouraged.”

“Good to know but...I have to meet my uncle in a hour. He's a professor. I can get away with blood, that's not out of my character. But I should have all holes covered."

"Don't get me wrong, the bloody look is a lot better than the Banana Republic chic you started your day with, no offense. You could afford to look a little hotter, with all due."

"It's my first day here," Clementine states, hoping the Baddie will step down.

“Your first day? No wonder I don't know you. Here's a tip: this campus is crawling with hot, dumb guys. Why do you think I'm dressed like this at 10 in the morning." The Baddie responds, like she's on shark tank. "You should be wearing something that screams 'scholastic slut'...You have a hot body, why are you hiding it?"

"Thank you?"

"I don't usually do this for just anyone, but I'd like to offer you my genius. Would you be my makeshift model for the day? I took a costume design class last semester and forgot to take photos for my portfolio. The professor keeps nagging me like 'you need to turn in your work to get a complete grade'. Okay, just admit you're a hater. You'd totally be helping me out. Besides, this outfit can only last so long," she says pointing to Clementine's ensemble.

"I don't-"

"I know you don't know me, but girls would pluck their pubes with a rusty tweezer to borrow from my closet."

Clementine stops for a minute. “Is she fucking for real? She's not kind, but she's being half nice to me. Is this what everyone in The City is like? Her clothes are better than mine, she seems to know a lot about campus but to invite me over 5 minutes after meeting me? She has to be a bit off. Her sense of urgency is worse than mine yet She seems so sure of herself. She should know better than to hang around me. I should say it. Maybe I'll blurt it out. I'm an individual with a lot of trauma and most people, sooner or later, have to leave to protect themselves. I'm rancid and abusive. Even at my best, I'm an ungodly cunt. Then again, do I really want a reputation as the loner transfer student? I don't want to lose another friend before I have a chance to make one." Clementine says making up her mind.

“Okay, sure. I'd be up for a makeover. Promise to keep it on the milder side?"

"Sure, whatever. Now let's get your ass back in your pants before you see professor uncle."

"By the way, I'm Clementine. I never caught your name. I got a lot, but not your name.”

"Eva. Eva Valentine”

“I think it's nice to meet you, Eva Valentine."

“It's a pleasure for you to meet me, Clementine. My place is this way.” The two begin walking. "By the way I don’t own bandaids, I don't believe in them. We can blend out the ear blood to look like blush."

Clementine looks up at Eva with a smile. Eva's weird and a little mean. This could work out. Having just met, She follows her new friend for an impromptu play-date. "Whatever happens can't be worse than a bare coochie" Clementine thinks to herself. With a bloody face and poop on her shoe, Clementine feels warm for the first time in months.