Burns Forever
rating: +18+x

"Dale Claudia, dejá el libro. ¡Mirá el sol que hace!"
C'mon Claudia, drop the book. Look how sunny it is!

She doesn't. The warm breeze blows a strand of blonde hair over her nose. A page from the soft-cover copy of From Bismarck to De Gaulle threatens to slip past the light grip of her thumb and index. Her other hand pulls the strand and coils it around her left ear, under the earphone blaring Franz Ferdinand into her eardrums.

You'll find me in the matinée, the dark of the matinée…

Thanks to the heat, the blinding sun reflecting off the white pages, the murmuring of leaves shifting, her own hair, the loud music, and the uncomfortable angle of the mound she's laying on — and María, of course —, there's not been much progress today. She considers answering her. She eyes the letters on the page one more time: each one is more like a tiny Rorschach test than a real character from the alphabet.

Would it be so bad to leave study for a bit later? Yes, it would, the thought answers itself, half-formed. No time left, really. But she'll need to get under shade to keep reading, at the very least. She's wasted about an hour on two or three pages, and the sunlight keeps getting harsher on her eyes.

María is still talking. Can't delay answering anymore. Both legs hurt from curling for way too long, but they manage to get her standing. One of the earphones slips out of place, and she takes the other off.

"En un par de días termino. El Sábado vamos al lago si taaanto querés."
I'll be done in a few days. We'll go to the lake this Saturday if you want to thaaat much.

It comes out dry, rasp, a bit annoyed. The thought of María seeing her irritation scares her into a little smile. Her dry, prickly mouth curls upward. María sighs, paging the air with her right hand. Two hazel side-eyes covered by strands of red hair pierce Claudia. Bit bothered, maybe a smidge of hurt, but still playful. God, that feels bad.

"Andá, andá. Yo decía para que descanses un ratito…"
Shush, shush. Just wanted you to give it a rest for a little…

"Sísísí. Gracias."
Yeah yeah yeah. Thank you.

She worries that didn't sound genuine, and bows her head slightly. No response: that's good. Then, she turns and leaves for the house: a little countryside shack they like to stay at on summer, some ten meters away. It's a bit old, but firmly built, with brick walls and a wooden roof covered by sheets of aluminum.

Her right hand isn't enough to turn the rusty knob, and two only make it half-turn. Claudia looks down at the miserable device and places a bit of her body weight over it, finally twisting it just enough for the hinges to start screeching open.

A ray of light — artificial, not a reflection — enters her peripheral vision. The lights are on. That's wrong. They shouldn't be.

The door keeps creaking, opening itself at a snail's pace. Claudia stares at it. Tension is pooling in her chest, pushing outward. Her heart rattles against the ribcage. She's beginning to understand what's going on, but it won't help much. A little whimper for María escapes her lips. Then she shouts. Everything goes silent.

The hole between the door and its frame grows just enough to glimpse something yellow.

something yellow.

something yellow.

yellow.

yellow

yellow

yellow

yellow

yellow

yellow


yellow


yellow


yellow


yellow

yellow walls ahead and a yellow floor to the right blind Claudia's eyes, lids darting open until the eyeballs threaten to slip out. Her legs and arms tremble in place, then stop. Panic subsides, heartrate sinking back into the threshold of comfort, dulling to the pitch of lingering anxiety. No cause for alarm.

Her eyes linger on the dreamy sight of María's face, viewing those few imagined seconds over and over again. It doesn't lift Claudia out of apathy, but she's been focusing on that moving image for quite a few minutes for now. Lot, lot more than usual. One could call it pleasing, though all the while her "real" sight — that is, not the mind's eye — is fixed to this little malignant notch in the walls where the paper sags just a bit, and the buzzing lights above shine on it in just the right way to create an unusually lighter shade of yellow. All in all, it makes her more anxious, which distracts from the repeating clip of María facing her and—

Right. It's time to go to work.

Her eyes glaze, and she blinks. The train of thought ends then and there, and the clip of María is flushed out of her immediate memory. She rolls until the white blanket is right under her, stands on all fours, and pushes herself upright, cross-legged. The blanket is pretty thin, but it's enough to keep her legs from the yellow floor. Her arms reach into a huge trekking backpack and retrieve her usual clothes — red shirt, bit baggy, and some ill-matching blue sweatpants —, placing them onto her by force of reflex.

Before she notices, her mind has slipped. She's already standing, everything packed, staring at the door out of her room.

It's an intimidating sight. She has to think before stepping through. What if she forgets how to get back?

Claudia looks back into the room. There really isn't anything to distinguish it from anywhere else. Not even a different shade of yellow. The only remarkable thing about it is that it has only one entry and one exit: even the loud fluorescent buzzers inlaid into the ceiling are placed in the exact same orientation and pattern as anywhere else.

It's not any luckier outside. A decently long hall connects this room to six others, further segmented by thin walls, obscuring just for how long they go on.

No point to it. It's like any other day anyway. Five hundred meters to the right staying on a relatively straight path, then one turn to the left, find the second hallway continuing to the right, then keep going until the huge room without walls, and from there there'll be enough noise to guide her.

She shambles out of her room. The right foot drags. She has to make conscious effort to lift it up and make it move. Five hundred meters to the right staying on a relatively straight path, then one turn to the left, find the second hallway continuing to the right, then keep going until the huge room without walls, and from there there'll be enough noise to guide her. She looks down at her ragged red shoes to watch her step and keeps walking. Five hundred meters to the right staying on a relatively straight path…


Just when she starts wondering if she's walked too long to the right or left, the sounds of her job start to guide her. A muffled cacophony of talking, mumbling, whispering, breathing, rubbing, cloth waving back and forth, somewhere to the left. There's even less reason to lift her sight from her shoes now.

The presence of the huge room makes itself felt, though she isn't looking. There's dozens of tents around her, weaving thin maze-like yellow corridors zig-zagging toward the center. Trying to cover the yellow path with her shoes is an excellent way to avoid tripping on the various ropes and pegs protruding from the colored shapes all around her. Loud, jarring noises erupt from inside them, propelling Claudia forward. Feels gross to be there, in an absent sort of way.

There's a clearing in the center of the room: Will, the kid with the brown hair, is sitting on a desk right there, doodling something on his paper notepad. Will isn't his actual name, but the real thing is practically unpronounceable. Something Polish, Claudia thinks — matches his pervasive accent. She vaguely remembers meeting him — not actually meeting, since they were both somewhat aware of each other, but the first time he talked to her, right in that same spot. Last, too.

It went something like…

Ah… Claudia? That's your name, right?

Yes. Want to book?

No, no. Just saying hi. Want a sip of coffee? It's been a long day.

No.

My name's Will-

I know.

Well, that's not really it. Just got it because the real thing is a bit long. My real name's…

Whatever he said slips her mind.

Ah. Need something from me?

He pauses for a minute.

No, thanks. Good night, Claudia.

…once the memory is over, she approaches the desk. Before she says anything, Will stops doodling and checks the clock on his wrist, then writes something down in another page of the notepad. Before he can say his usual hi-hello-good day-good luck, she's already off for her tent.

Luckily, the red color makes it very easy to look for, which means she doesn't have to raise her sight for long, but she still has to, and it takes a few seconds for Claudia to do so. The brief look she gets at the room drowns her: it's massive. Full of tents. Dozens. Meters and meters tall. Hundreds of meters of yellow enwrapping her.

That sight fades away quickly once the tent is found. It's a bit like checking for something underwater and raising your head for a breather, but with the opposite motion of the neck. Not very pleasant.

Before she realizes, she's already there, slipping inside the tent. Someone's waiting outside. Tall guy. His face might as well be a flat patch of skin with beard, though he does seem familiar. She motions to him to wait and zips up the tent. He's smiling.

The sleeping bag is already outstretched and appropriately filled with pillows. Must've forgotten to undo it yesterday. Oh well. Her backpack slips off easily and gets left in the corner.

She breathes in deep and stretches. Air comes in laboriously, like trembling inside her. A right hand enters her sight and unzips the tent on its own and motions to the guy waiting outside. He's smiling. She smiles too.

That same hand, aided by a left one, hooks on the hem of her shirt and starts pulling up. He's smiling. It's her first job of the day.


Back-forth, back-forth.

Time passes by rather quickly. Back-forth back-forth for a few minutes, and the guy on duty leaves for the next. They're all smiling and she smiles back.

It's all a bit discomforting, really.

The line of smiles entering, back-forth back-forth, and leaving.

I want to go somewhere else — the thought intrudes, a pinch of pain on the base of the cerebellum — shift's not over, though.

It all has this stupefying sense of slowness to it. Time passes quickly, but her thoughts linger for way too long.

Jagged. Laborious. Trembling.

Back-forth.

She looks at the inside of her tent from a window deck somewhere else. In a spike of droll curiosity, she notices something: though they're all smiling, they don't seem very happy.

It's a distant observation, imbibed in equally distant worry. Like one would worry for a pigeon under the rain.

But it still worries her. They're not happy either.

Why wouldn't they be? There's plenty of water to go around. Cans and bags of food come every day. Hell, they have enough of that stuff to book a quick 30 with her.

Where else would you go? I can promise you, anything that goes on here is better than that endless yellow expanse. There ain't a way out either, if you're hoping for that. Girl, your best chance is to stick around. You've got plenty of drink and chow for easy work. Out there? The loneliness eats at you. Anything's better than that. You should be thankful.

Someone else said that a while ago. Who knows who.

Why wouldn't they be happy then?

Why wouldn't I be happy?

I've got everything I can hope for.

But I don't.

María.

Someone is leaving her tent.

When someone else threatens to enter, she raises her hand and motions to stop. He's not smiling anymore.

She quickly slips back her shirt and pants. Little drops slip onto them. Sweat. It's not just the heat. Her hands tremble.

Claudia stumbles out, dizzy, drunken, barely thinking. Everything around her makes little sense. There's complaining. There's a whirlwind of yellow and other colors creeping forth and receding.

She has to get out. Her bare feet trip into everything in front of her. There's so much yellow. She checks the faces of everyone she sees, sometimes through the thin cloth of the tents. None of them feel like María. It's not long before there's no tents anymore.

The noises of the big room start dying down and fading, leaving her in absolute quiet — except for the buzzing of the lights. And the soft slithering of all that yellow fixed to the walls.

Claudia keeps walking, and walking, and trembling, and looking around.

She doesn't really notice the pattern of the wallpaper, or its wrinkles, or the light above, or anything else, except the way forward and the sea of yellow.

It feels almost like being stuck falling asleep.


- - - -

< ⁂ >






Something suddenly catches her attention. It flings her out of sleep, though she still can't place herself. There's new noise somewhere, something unlike the buzzing and unlike her own pace.

It feels like it's been ages sleep-walking forward. Cooling drops of sweat make the spine quiver. Being cold is unfamiliar, but it helps shake off the lingering feeling of drow over the eyes. They open fully, brushing off the harsh yellow: she isn't paying attention to them. What's that noise?

Rhythmic. Melodic. Familiar.

Curiosity is a rare feeling, even at home, but over here, it is nothing short of preternatural. It would be unnerving, weren't it exciting. Every instinct screams at Claudia to slow down, to be careful, to heed all those ill-remembered canards of something wicked slumbering just around some yellow corner like any other, but it doesn't register: she's only got ears for that faint noise guiding her feet just a little forward, just another push forward across another square hole through the yellow walls and—

There. Across the room! A door. Old, wooden, with a round, rusted knob on its middle-right side.

She rushes to it, barely grazing the ground between them, something around ten meters. The texture of the ground intermittently touching the toes and heels is an inconceivably sharp sensation, in spite of familiarity. Every leap feels like a little step closer to something deadly, but so alluring. When she's finally there, the nerve endings of her palm fight and pour over each other to grasp the knob, tasting, delighting on every uneven jut of rust and plain curve of cold metal.

The alluring noise filters right through the cracked wood, calling Claudia forth. She fumbles a bit with the unimaginably unfamiliar mechanism of the knob, somehow still functional, somehow not fighting the turn of her hand, though maybe she's doing it too excitedly to notice, and the hinges whine as a long groove forms and widens between the door and the frame.

As it opens, she winces from the noise. Something is about to go terribly wrong. Something is waiting right past the threshold and she's is about to become new tattle of another terrible fate lurking somewhere…

But past the door is just a room.

A room, but not a yellow room. Uneven, wooden walls, it's even got furniture, covered windows. Two white lamps flooding everything — and they don't buzz!

And the noise? What was with the noise?

It's better in the matinée, the dark of the matinée is mine…
Yes it's mine!

The "mine" hangs in the air for a bit shorter than a second. It's a song. It's Franz Ferdinand.

The start of the second verse finds her jaw trembling, then bursting into a wimpy, awkward laugh. It's the shack! The summer shack, on the countryside of Córdoba! Down to those two sofas against each other, and that annoyingly short table which — and she verifies — has one leg shorter than the rest and pivots to the side when you place anything heavy on top.

A strange contraption rests on it. A flat, rectangular machine lined with little square buttons on one of its short sides, a grid opposite, and a window between them: a cassette player!

Something Claudia never had. She's just too young to have gotten to own one. It sticks out among the familiarity of the room, stirring her curiosity. Scanning every sight, every angle, every texture, she scampers around, moving things, raising the sofas and checking in the ash in the cold fireplace.

The song advances to its third chorus, and the lyrics burst from her throat — blowing the ash between her hands —, poorly remembered, poorly sang, but still a song: she says through corridors and factories instead of through corridors, refectories, and files, but it makes very little difference, really.

Every second of this feels unbelievably sharp and alive. So used to hours being seconds, seconds being hours becomes exhilarating, magical, with all the childishness implied by the word. She discovers a puddle of dirt behind a lamp, and plays around with it — Claudia can recall it being there years ago, never moved, just collecting height undisturbed. It doesn't seem to have grown much.

She jumps up, and pulls the drapes aside the windows. Behind them there's no outside, just yellow wall. It stings a bit, but it doesn't hurt. It can't dull the exhilaration, though it feels like it should. She screams the last chorus, slamming onto the sofa, savoring the instruments that linger for a bit longer — then end.

Chest bouncing up and down, breathing slowly. She thinks, for what feels like the first time.

She's still where she is. That's for sure, there's no changing that. Can't tell how far from work. Though she eyes everything, she can't find something she is really hoping for: a photo of María. She can't recall her face.

But, somehow, it doesn't feel that bad. Still sharp, still exhilarated. Smiling. Smiling for real. It'll be okay.

I'll find somewhere else.

Somewhere better, maybe, now that there's a reason to think that.

The trembles die down. Her breath slows, tiredness settling in. Must've been awake for a dozen hours now. She tries to remember María's face: not much comes up. Just the usual red hair and oval patch of tan skin. But it'll be okay.

Maybe I'll remember her face tomorrow.

The string of consciousness cuts right there. She falls asleep: this time, the real thing.


Some hours later, her eyes jut open. She rises and walks to the door in one quick, vertiginous motion. Thirsty, really thirsty. Have to go back and get a drink somewhere.

Reluctance holds her feet in place. She's a bit afraid that it might just disappear if she steps out. But it doesn't matter anymore, does it?

Whatever this was, whatever this means. It stays. It can't leave anymore.

Outside the room, it's like always. Yellow halls. Cold, buzzing.

She takes a look back, taking everything in.

And steps out.

Taking a look back for almost every meter made.

But after a while, the room goes silent.





























Then she runs right back in, and picks up the cassette machine. Almost forgot it.

Dark of the Matinée bounces around the halls. Alex Kapranos sings beautifully, though Claudia not so much.

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