Modern architecture offered no comfort in the pouring rain, flat in the non-light afforded by the weather. The shower was cold and of a disposition to saturate everything it touched.
Runoff flowed with difficulty, the gutters clogged with all manner of junk, thorny nests of ballpoint pens and pencils, Post-It pads, keychains, tangled ID card leashes, mousepads, clots of muddy t-shirts, misshapen ball caps, all insultingly bright and cheery, all branded with a conspicuous trademark. Foam stress balls bobbed and sailed the currents like happy ducklings. Drifts of CD-ROMs were crisp mother-of-pearl scales upon the ground. Software houses, Internet start-ups, telecommunications, pharmaceutical and biotech firms; their branding mines covered the area. Respectable garbage, liquor bottles and cigarette butts, were sadly outnumbered.
The wall was designed for the comfort of pipes and ductwork rather than people, and in its grudging lee Lavender crouched to escape the rain. Her pale skin was preternaturally unblemished despite her circumstances. It shone through the small but growing splits in her disposable hospital togs, one lean shoulder bared by the sagging garment.
Strands of nailpolish-red hair curtained her eyes. The driving of the rain muted her voice and there was no one to hear her anyway. She read from a soaked paperback, water dripping onto it from her hair, from the tip of her nose, the grasp of her fingers disintegrating its pages. She spoke in wonder at the words, appearing inconspicuously mad, and the weird blue glow of a flashlight pen tucked behind her ear illuminated the page and her expression as she read.
"'Turning and turning in the widening gyre--" An immense rust-painted gravel truck grumbled by, shaking her bones and driving her voice from her own ears. A poet's words emerged from the din. "Things fall apart," said Lavender, "the center cannot hold. Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, the blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere the ceremony of innocence is drowned." She tapped her dirty, bare feet.
Lavender looked up. A walk signal flashed at her through the curtain of rain, rumoring a world of laws. She blinked back at it. Her gaze was drawn by the procession of foam balls in the gutter, and as though addressing them, she kept her eyes there and continued. "The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity."
She finished reading the poem and closed the book with a pulpy squish, tucking it into an equally sodden gym bag. She got up and hefted this over her bare shoulder, and walked out onto the street. The sheet of windblown rain stuck her clothes to her form instantly. Lavender bypassed the wide, invitingly dry entrance overhang of the building, whose guards had previously moved her along. Her hands pulled a candy-colored radio-- adorned with the logo of a printer company --from her bag and plugged the buds into her ears.
"--president says a continued presence in the region is necessary to show commitment to--" said the device to her before she changed the station.
Beneath the awning of a coffee bar, Lavender sat. Water sluiced through the ironwork chair. By ancient law the destitute were entitled to coffee and a place to park their ass while drinking it. College kids and yuppies eyed her but were too concerned with their own heads to pay her any mind. Lavender gazed ahead, clocking the motion of the neighboring sushi joint's circular marquee until her eyes hurt. It reminded her a little of the learning machines, and she smiled.
A boy in a green apron brought her a cup of the most meager coffee available, placed it before her. Lavender stared at it for a moment, lifted her head, thanked him as her heavy lashes flickered, and he left. She wouldn't drink it, only warmed her hands with it. The rain was letting up, and staring into the street, she began to sing.
Her voice wasn't the greatest, had little practice behind it, and the song coming over her radio was uninspiring bubblegum. The sensibility which permeated her inexpert lyrics, however, was arresting, speaking of a kind of doomed but hopeful resignation, a sense of inevitability and wry acceptance that was a whistling in the dark. She was something majestic that had been brought low, waiting for its end, but not quite through. The banality of the lyrics made it all the more jarring.
For surely no longer than two seconds the attention of the cafe is fully upon her. In some small way the reality of their world is at risk; something so human should not have come from something so dirty and untouchable. Some lesser brother of fear is in their eyes. Then they compensate, some smirking or frowning, others looking away to deny her presence, embarrassed for her lack of shyness, while two or three continue to watch, trying to logic her into harmlessness.
Lavender sang to herself as the sun shouldered clouds aside, coming to greet her. Then she got up and headed downtown, where she knew she could find food later on. The boy came back and cleared away her untouched coffee. Impulsively he pocketed the paper cup he'd served it in.