The Town

28 June 2021

Trail in nature

Credit: Staff

Telescope with better magnification? I guess. Photoelectric sensors? Maybe. A pH monitor? Who cares. Lisica stared at her list and wondered why she had even created one when she knew they wouldn’t help her secure an internship within the physics field she had become fascinated with over the past few years. Shaking her head roughly, she balled up the paper and threw it away. Four years of trying to find someone, anyone, who would listen to her ideas on making solar batteries run more efficiently was enough. She was done with hope. Hope didn’t exist anymore. She had lost all the competitions she had entered, and she had been rejected by all the internship programs for the summer. No one wanted her, and the core of who she was felt rattled and battered. 

“Lisica! Your grandmother’s here!” 

Lisica mumbled something unintelligible back as she slowly looked out the window to check for the black car in the driveway.

“So come out!” her mother responded, just as Lisica saw the sun reflect a bright sparkle across her grandmother’s car.

Tossing her phone into her backpack, Lisica shuffled into the hallway and reluctantly headed for the stairs. Her grandmother Patrielle was standing at the front door, talking with Lisica’s parents. As she started mentioning how she almost got into an accident, Lisica quietly noticed how much smaller her grandmother’s figure looked in the door frame. It towered over her head and stretched far beyond her shoulders, but she still carried a powerful aura that exuded confidence. When she laughed and said the other driver should get their eyesight checked, Lisica wondered how it was possible her grandmother never seemed to age. With wrinkles barely forming on her face as she smiled, her grandmother waved for Lisica to come over.

“Are you about ready to go?” she asked.

Lisica shrugged. “Do I have a choice?”

“This trip will be good for you to forget about stuff.” Her mother gave Lisica a warm hug. “And when you come back, don’t forget to bring the mail in.”

“Here,” Patrielle handed Lisica her car keys and wallet. “Go start the car while I excuse myself to the bathroom.”

She winked at Lisica, patting her on the back and nudging her toward the door. Lisica did as she was told and slid into the driver’s seat, tossing the wallet onto the top of the dashboard as she turned the key to start the car. Flipping through radio stations until she found a song she liked, Lisica gazed upon the car’s screens, panels, and buttons. Everything was in such perfect condition, as if her grandmother had just bought the car, even though she had driven it for at least the past 17 years whenever she visited Lisica on her birthday.

Running her fingers along the edge of the dashboard to confirm that the condition of the car matched how it appeared, her eyes fell on the wallet, which was flipped open to reveal an image of two people who looked like her parents standing next to a house that Lisica had never seen before. She picked the wallet up and examined the photo more closely. The two people were definitely her parents, her father with his pants amusingly tucked into his shoes and her mother with her large round glasses nearly slipping off her nose. But what house was this? And where was she in the picture? Her parents had never told her about living in a different house. Could it have been when they first met? Or some place they visited? Lisica continued pondering what the context of the image was as her grandmother opened the passenger door.

“Good to see you haven’t crashed the car yet,” Patrielle chuckled, settling in.

Lisica would normally throw a sarcastic jab back, but she couldn’t take her eyes off the picture. Something about it seemed to bother her.

“What’s the matter?” Patrielle asked, noticing Lisica was more detached than usual.

Her eyes still glued to the photo, Lisica managed to say, “What is this picture?”

Patrielle peered at what Lisica was focusing so intently on before leaning back in her seat and responding, “It’s your parents from before they moved to this house.”

Lisica looked at her grandmother, perplexed. “My parents never told me they lived in another house.” She paused. “Where’s this place?”

Lisica studied her grandmother’s eyes, waiting for any type of response that could hint at an answer. Patrielle sat up and placed her hand on top of Lisica’s, grinning, “How about we scrap the shopping trip and I take you somewhere else? Somewhere better.”

“Where’s that?”

“My town.”

*    *    *

As Lisica exited the freeway, her grandmother directed her to drive through a tunnel. As they traveled further and darkness started swallowing their surroundings, Patrielle began wrapping something that felt like a blood pressure cuff around Lisica’s arm.

“Woah, can’t you see I’m driving?” Lisica nearly pulled her arm away.

“Oh, please, you’ll be fine. We’ll be there in a second,” Patrielle assured her calmly.

Before Lisica could wriggle the device off, she saw a point of light emerge from the darkness. It continued to grow in size and brightness, so much so that Lisica had to squint to try to lessen its intensity. As they approached the end of the tunnel, Lisica glanced at her arm and saw what looked like a phone combined with a credit card attached to a black band. For the first time, in a long while, she hoped. She hoped her grandmother’s town was better than hers.

Right before they emerged from the tunnel, Patrielle told Lisica to stop the car. With a playful clap to Lisica’s shoulder, she teased, “Don’t worry! Your luck is good here.”

Lisica threw her a smirk. “Can you get me an internship for this summer?”

“You already have one, if you’d like.” 

Before Lisica could respond, Patrielle grabbed her hand and, squeezing it tightly, told her to look at the card on her arm. A wave of electrifying excitement flowed through her body as Lisica reached for the card and detached it from the band like a magnet. Twirling it gently between her fingers like a sleight of hand artist, she noticed a soft glow radiating from what appeared to be a screen. Fascinated yet startled by the fact that it grew brighter the more she moved it, she dropped it, watching as its light flickered then faded away.

Grinning, Patrielle picked it up and noted how the card needed more energy. Lisica carefully watched as her grandmother’s fingers brightened the card to display a screen, various colorful icons now decorating its surface. Eyes wide, Lisica continued to shift her gaze from her grandmother to the card Patrielle was now placing in her hand. This thing needed more energy? But all she did was touch it, and now it’s lighting up like a phone. There’s no way that — no, that can’t be possible…right? Lisica spun the card in her hand, watching as it once again grew brighter and illuminated more of the dim space around them.

Curiosity muted her dismal blues as she blurted out, “What just happened? Is this producing its own energy? I mean, that’s not possible, right?” So many questions were suddenly racing through her mind she couldn’t keep track of them.

Patrielle calmly chuckled, “Yes, it’s possible.” She started rolling up the left sleeve of her blouse then turned her forearm toward Lisica. With a tap, a screen just like the one in Lisica’s card appeared. Even more confused, Lisica stared at her grandmother in awe.

Patrielle smiled, “Alright, I’ll stop teasing you and give you some answers. These cards, they’re powered by the energy we produce, which can come from actions as simple as walking. And you don’t have one of these,” she raised her left forearm, “because you don’t live here.” She winked. “But you can if you want as an intern.”

Before Lisica could ask any more questions, her grandmother got out of the car and began walking out of the tunnel. Realizing she would have to find the answers to the rest of her questions herself, Lisica started after her.

As the landscape started coming into view, Lisica’s jaw nearly dropped. Everything, from the winding road that traveled over the hills to the lawns that lined the neighborhoods and park paths, was in perfect condition. Just like her grandmother’s car, every aspect of the town looked like it was built just yesterday. Not only did it all look sparkling new, but it actually sparkled. The houses, the cars, the beautiful flower beds, even the expansive blue sky —  everything winked bright twinkles at her, and she couldn’t help but forget her sour mood and giggle. 

But why is the sky sparkling? She frowned. Is it not real? Lisica closed her eyes for a moment then squinted back up at the sun. It enveloped her in a blanket of warmth but still glistened as brightly as every other object.

As Lisica followed Patrielle to the polished porch of her house, she began entertaining the idea of living here with her parents. But her thoughts halted when she stepped inside and gasped. Every door knob, rail, wall, and window shimmered just as much as the rest of the town. There was such vivaciousness in every object she touched she couldn’t help but wonder if, truly, all this was possible because of the energy they made by walking. That seemed unfathomable. How much did she have to walk to create a home as wondrous as this? Her eyes scanned the room she was in. How perfect everything was. Lisica turned to ask Patrielle a question, but she had already moved to the kitchen. 

Following her in, Lisica sat down at the table and again played with her card, noting how much lighter it had become when full with energy. As her eyes scanned around, they landed on the decadent curtains that were so elegantly draped around each of the windows. A sparkle from the sky flashed through a crevice in the fabric. She frowned. Looking over to her grandmother who was preparing what looked like lunch, she asked, “Why does everything sparkle and glisten and shine here? Because that definitely doesn’t happen where I live.”

Patrielle carefully placed a large pot of stew down in front of Lisica. It was brimming with the healthiest vegetables the girl had ever seen and the most delicious aroma she had ever smelled. “Well,” Patrielle started, “The sparkles let us know that there’s enough energy for everything to stay in good shape and that no one needs to donate any energy from their cards or storage to maintain it.”

Lisica raised her eyebrows. “But then what about the sky? Did you have to construct that too?”

Patrielle stirred the stew for a moment before responding, “From what I’ve been told, we used to be able to generate energy without any problems by walking and using the sun. But when your world began polluting the air, it became more and more difficult to collect the amount we needed. People were getting sick, and the atmosphere was so hazy that the sun’s energy couldn’t be collected.” She moved to the cupboard and removed two bowls. “If we didn’t do something, our people would die. So the young folks began volunteering to study at the universities in your world. When they had learned enough, they came back and worked on constructing something that would save our town.”

Lisica watched as her grandmother poured stew into the first bowl. The lightly steaming liquid gently pooled at the bottom of the bowl, smoothly making its way up to the rim. She heard her grandmother explain how the sky above them used specialized sensors to filter out the pollutants while letting the sun’s energy in. 

“Why can’t that happen in my world?” Lisica prompted.

“Your world is too big, with too much pollution. And with so many negative energies flying around, I doubt you all could ever work together.”

“Negative energies?” Lisica broke her focus away from the bowl and shot a look at her grandmother.

Patrielle wiped the spoon she was using to pour as she commented on how well the wind captured the energies the people in Lisica’s world generated. This was their primary source of energy now.

“What energies do you mean?”

“Anger, jealousy, resentment, fear.”

Lisica sat up, intrigued. “So the negative emotions from my world are converted to energies that fuel your world to be the way it is now?”

A nod. 

“Why didn’t they use every kind of energy?”

Patrielle started filling the second bowl with stew. She scooped out the vegetables that had sunk to the bottom of the pot. As the mushy clumps made small splashes in the bowl, Patrielle explained how their first attempts had involved using both energies, but when they realized they couldn’t, they tried to use her world’s positive energies, but there wasn’t enough. So they settled with her world’s negative ones. Besides, she argued, it wasn’t as if they were forcing the people in Lisica’s world to feel negative often. They just did, and her town used those negative energies to survive. 

Lisica closed her eyes and pressed her fingers to her forehead. What Grandma is saying is right. No one is forcing anyone to feel any certain way. But when people keep rejecting you like they did me, I can’t help but feel forced to feel dismal. 

Her grandmother slid over the first bowl she had poured. The clear broth swirled around in perfect circles with one small movement of her spoon as she mentioned again how there was a spot ready for her to work at her town’s labs if she wanted.

Lisica’s brow raised as she mulled over the first offer of employment she had received in her years of applying. And to think this was handed to her without any effort tantalized her. Plus, the town was the most amazing place she had ever visited. Maybe here I won’t be rejected. Maybe here my talents and ability will finally be recognized, and I can make this town bigger and better. My world’s a mess if no one appreciates me, that’s for sure. With each sip, Lisica imagined the kind of life she could live here. Smiling slightly, she visualized herself a charismatic leader that everyone loved. 

As she continued to fantasize, her visions became increasingly restrained and restricted, as if something were holding her back. When she examined them more in depth, she realized she couldn’t accept what this town was doing. “Energy is energy” was what her grandmother told her before clearing the table. Energy was energy, yes, but to feed off the ones that made her world worse and theirs perfect felt so wrong.

After placing her bowl by the sink, Lisica grabbed her backpack. To know her happiness and comfort were made possible because someone in her world was feeling depressed or scared was a thought she couldn’t cope with, even at the expense of having the most wondrous life. In fact, she speculated she’d be even more blue and get lost if she did live here. As she walked toward the black car, Lisica spotted a house that seemed strangely familiar to her. She looked at it for a moment then remembered the picture from her grandmother’s wallet.

“Is that the house my parents were standing next to in the photo?”

Patrielle, now in the driver’s seat, smiled.

Lisica took a step back and looked at the house again. They lived here before. But they moved away. Why have they never said anything to me about it?

*    *    *

The ride back was quiet, with Lisica trying to think and stay awake, but the rumblings from the car’s engine lulled her to sleep. After she fell into one of the deepest slumbers she had had in a while, a sudden bump stirred her awake. Peering out, she recognized the front of her house and her mother through the window. She looked over at her grandmother who told her she’d see her next year. Lisica removed the black band from her arm and took the card into her hands. She flipped it around a few times and knocked it on her knuckles. It was solid as a brick.

She started thinking about her future here, in this world. Maybe I’ll study this card to help clean the air in our world and use it to generate our own energy. As Patrielle motioned for her to head out, the card sparked into tiny pieces and began slowly drifting up to the sky. In a panicked state, Lisica frantically grasped at the floating bits, trying to keep whatever she could grab. But the little pieces soon vanished into thin air.

Lisica held a look of disbelief, even as her grandmother told her how the objects had no choice but to leave since she had decided to leave. Though Lisica understood, she remained quiet. How can I save our world now? As she approached the steps of her house, she picked up the mail on their driveway and unlocked the front door.

Seeing her mother and now her father cleaning the table, Lisica asked, “Why didn’t you ever tell me about that town?”

They looked at each other then at her. “What town?”

Lisica’s eyes traveled down to the headline of the newspaper she was holding: NEW SOURCE OF ENERGY FOUND IN PEOPLE’S MEMORIES. She shook her head, trying to remember what she was just talking about. But all she could recall was going for a drive with her grandmother. “I- I don’t know.”

Her parents chuckled and walked over to hug her. Her mother patted her head, “So how was the trip?”

Lisica glanced at the newspaper. She looked back at her parents.

“It was good. Trips with Grandma are always nice.”

She smiled.

“But I like home better.”