This is one I wrote for the prompt “Set your story in a major city that your character has a love-hate relationship with.” I wrote about the character have a love hate relationship with a city, but I didn’t really set a story in it. Kind of surprised this was accepted…

I hate the city. 

I am alone here, and nobody knows who I am, no one cares.

 I could disappear and no one would notice.  It’s the first place I have ever lived that I am afraid to walk around at night. In winter, when the days run short, I am forced to run straight home to avoid being caught out after dark. When I do finally get home, I always lock the door immediately. Even then check it about 15 times before I go to bed. I even check the balcony door a few times, because even though I live on the 4th floor, you hear enough horror stories…

When I lay in bed at night, listening to the traffic, the sirens, the people upstairs screaming at each other again…I try and let myself relax, and unwind the way I used to in the country. I close my eyes and pretend that that I have a nice big, airy house. That I couldn’t reach out my arms and touch both walls in my tiny kitchen. That I had room for a dining room table in my living room, or a coffee table, or a couch. Room for my books that languish in my parent’s basement, while my small desk occupies the main room as an eating space, workspace, and the only other place to sit than my lone armchair.

I think back to games nights at my old apartment, and sigh as I realize I couldn’t fit the board on the floor, let alone the 4 people we would need to play. We play online now, but its not the same, and only three of us are able to make it on anyways. They say that’s part of growing up, but until I moved here, we always made the time.

Sometimes my imagining works, and I lay there relaxed and dreaming. Unless of course I hear a noise, a creak, a jiggle, and then all I feel is terror. Is there someone trying to get in? Am I going to die here, all alone in this apartment?  Do I call 911? Do I get up and look? I just lay, as still as I can while gasping for breath until the noise stops. Then after, do I hear steps? Eventually I realize it was nothing, but it takes some time, and by then my body is so full of adrenaline, sleep will not come for hours. When it does, it will be interrupted frequently, until all too soon the alarm rings.

I walk down to the subway, head down, not making eye contact.  Then I jam myself in with a bunch of unwashed strangers, pressed against them as I try not to fall, or make contact with the unsanitary surfaces. I show up everywhere I go in winter and summer overheated and out of breath.

The spring, and the autumn, they aren’t so bad though. When the weather is nice, and you can skip the subway all together. The slight cool in the air refreshing, as you walk where you need to be. Not like the country, where everything is at least a 30-minute drive. In the city 30 minutes is the outlier, it’s far away.

I can get most places I need to be in minutes, and I don’t have to spend the time searching for a parking spot when I get there. No time lost searching for a gas station to fill up either. Sure, I can’t take a big haul of groceries home, but I can stop at the market each day and get only what I need. Never has the food I ate been so fresh, with nothing coming out covered in frost years old from the bottom of the deep freeze.

If I don’t want to cook, there are plenty of restaurants to choose from. The best of the best are here, they have to be good to make rent in this city. The prices can be high, but the food is always worth it in the end. You could eat out somewhere different every night of the month, a different cultural eatery around every corner. So much better than eating week after week at the same two places, the diner, and Italian restaurant, which is about as Italian as the diner is really. They just serve more than two pasta dishes….

There are clothing boutiques too, and music shops for those so inclined.  I am not among them though, for me, where the city shines is in its bookstores.   Not just the four floored, oversized chain bookstore, with its overpriced low quality coffee shop on the second floor. Though I will admit to spending a lot more of my time there then I should.

What really sets it apart are the smaller shops, the independent bookstores that are so narrow that you might miss them when walking by. More often on the second floor above a restaurant, or clothing store. Climbing a set of rickety wrought iron steps to a door with an entirely different world behind it.

The smell of books overpowering, filled with a labyrinth of shelves down to the floor and up to the ceiling. There is rarely coffee here, but always a stalwart companion, these are the places owned by readers. Those who know the location of every book on every shelf. When they don’t have what you want the used shops will offer to call if a copy makes its way in, where the others will promise to order it and have it on the shelf for your next visit.

Walking out with a canvas bag of treasure, as you make a weekend of going shop to shop. Cutting through parks, while browsing the wares of countless artisans.  Going through the inevitable festival or sidewalk sale, and leaving with a jar of homemade jam, or a picture, or the memory of a day well spent. 

Here I can be who I am, who I want to be. I am not bound to be the person that people who have known me since I was in diapers expect me to be. They aren’t here to see me each day and judge me for what I do, what I wear, who I choose to date.

I am alone here, and nobody knows who I am, no one cares.

I love the city. 

For a look at the reedsy contest take a look here for more prompts. It runs weekly Friday to Friday!


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