Commonwealth: A Novel of Utopia, part 1, chapter 10
Author’s Note: This is an excerpt from my novel Commonwealth. The rest of today’s installment is free, but only on my Patreon site. If you want to read the next part today, it’s already up on Patreon as well. You can sign up for as little as $1/month, or $2 for exclusive author’s notes and behind-the-scenes material. There’s also a table of contents for all published chapters.
When Rae left work, it was a cold, clear morning. The sun’s subtle golden light lent a patina of age and dignity to the worn stone and grubby bricks of the downtown office buildings.
She hadn’t been above ground at this hour for a long time. The broad boulevards and narrow streets of lower Manhattan were mostly empty, as if she had the city to herself. Despite the worries that dragged at her, she felt a giddy sense of freedom, as if she were a teenager skipping school.
She hailed a cab and gave the driver her address, then called Zoe. She knew her friend would want to hear about this.
The phone rang. Once, twice, three times.
There was a click. A message played:
“Hi, you’ve reached Zoe Kolettis. I’m not available to take your call, so please leave your name and number and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.”
That’s weird, Rae thought.
“Zoe, it’s me. Wait until you hear about the morning I’ve had. Call me.”
Rae leaned against the window, watching the blocks pass by. Every neighborhood in New York had its own character – even now, as depression and decay crept over the city – and she enjoyed spotting the invisible lines where one changed to another: the concrete canyons and gold-awninged restaurants of the Financial District, the dive bars and underground art theaters of the Lower East Side, the ivied brownstones of Greenwich Village, the neon theaters and corporate glass of Midtown East.
Once they’d bypassed the downtown reclamation zone, she decided on a whim to walk the rest of the way home. It would save money, and it wasn’t as if she had anywhere else to be.
Rae asked the driver to pull over. She got out and walked along Second Avenue.
The city on foot was a different experience than from a cab’s window. It was slower, its texture richer. Too many storefronts were vacant, too many apartment buildings boarded up or foreclosed; but she drank in every one that wasn’t. Every little detail caught her attention: a bouquet of colorful silk flowers in a shop window; a homemade blanket hung from a fire escape; a collection of sprouting green plants in terracotta pots on a windowsill; a savory aroma of cooking. Each one was a small spark of individuality, a sign that a human life in its uniqueness burned within like a candle.
However, as she got further north, her mood started to waver. The news of the government shutdown was spreading.
On every block, the billboards flickered to special announcements. Newscasters crowded the screens, speaking in low, rapid voices. People halted in the middle of the street, gazing up with looks of uncertainty or fright.