Thursday, 13 August 2015

SWC #6: Progress

Ashley @ [insert title here] is continuing to run her (fabulous) Summer Writing Camp. There is still time to link up with Round 6!

dialogue prompt


“Remember the day we left?”


“Remember, Sylv? We had lunch outside—”

“I remember.” She stared into her lap, not wanting to meet her husband’s gaze. She knew what she would see there – a half-pleading, half-provoking look, brittle and quavering. The whites of his eyes were too bright, like hers. It was the pressure change, they said. To shoot through space at this speed, it took its toll on the human body. And the mind.

“Our last proper lunch,” Nick was saying. “Do you remember? The bread and butter, and we had that soup, that soup your mum brought round—”

“Shh,” Sylvia said. “Don’t think about it. Besides, darling, the food will be better when we get there.” She looked at the silver packets of freeze-dried mush stacked on the shelf and hoped she wasn’t lying. 

“And the fruit,” Nick said. “Peaches, we had—”


“And the last pears—”


“They were from the orchard. Bill’s orchard. Remember how it used to smell there, Sylv, when it was hot and the smell of the apples was like cider, and the plums would all be ripening, and we’d lie in the grass, sometimes, and just listen to the insects …”

“I remember.”

“There’ll be no grass there,” Nick said quietly. 

Sylvia said nothing.

“Desert planet,” he whispered.

“It’s very beautiful,” Sylvia said. “In the photos, I mean – all that red sand, and those lovely deep lakes, and the huge sun—”

“Remember our honeymoon, Sylv?”

“Of course I do.” Her voice was strangled. At last she looked into his face. 

“That blue lake.” Nick was looking at her yet not seeing; he looked beyond her, into the past. “And the mountains. With those goats, remember, those wild goats and the trees … We never wore shoes, remember? We didn’t have to. And I picked you different kinds of flowers every day.”

“You did,” Sylvia whispered.

“And when we came back we had our first house – our first house in the city – and I used to wake up and see you looking out the window – and the sun would be out, and the buildings picked out all in gold, and the river, and the sound of the people … And the streets so full in the mornings, and the shops and the performers and all the smells from the cafes and the seagulls on the wharf—”

“Nick, please, darling!” Sylvia turned away, choked.

“I’m sorry.” His voice was quivering. She could not look at him. She knew she’d shatter.

Every day Sylvia thought of the shifting mass of the city, the myriad of people in the great tide that rolled back and forth. She’d loved to watch them, imagine their stories. It blew her away, the thought that they all moved beneath the same sky, and yet their lives and their hearts and their dreams were so different. Most of them she’d never see twice. They were anonymous, and so was she, caught in the beautiful, inexhaustible spiral of life. Sometimes she’d listened to the rain at night, feeling it cleanse the city streets before the throng rushed out again the next morning. There would be no rain on the desert planet.

They had been happy, then. Nick worked for the Government, a rising name in his field, and they had their friends and their books and their music and the world. It was becoming a better place, they were told. Science was ever advancing. The leaps forward were remarkable. Some spoke of growing wings to leave this small blue planet and create life in galaxies far away. Sylvia rejoiced in progression. Everything was getting better. Science was religion. The world thrived.

The new planet was discovered.

The excitement washed over Sylvia like laughter. It filled the news and the online world. The new planet had oxygen, water; it could sustain life. Politicians marvelled. The Government laid out plans for habitation. Sylvia lived with joy through those enthralling days. She and Nick were going to have a baby. The promise of the world thrilled inside her.

Then they were selected.

It was a reward, the officials said. Nick was doing so well; on the new planet his position would be prominent. Their child would grow there in the red sand, a part of the greatest experiment humanity had ever performed. There had never been, they said, a more exciting time to be alive.

Now Sylvia sat with her hands on her growing stomach, trying not to cry.

In the small, sparse room the lights were fluorescent, making Nick’s skin look unearthly pale. A bed, a sink, the white door to a tiny bathroom. There was a bookcase, too, but Sylvia had stopped reading. A book comes to life as its pages are turned, but only when the life inside is recognisable. For Sylvia, to read about the world she’d left was to cast a painful shadow. Her husband continued to devour the paperbacks, though, lying on his stomach on the bed, his hands like claws as he tried to rip from the pages the life they’d once known.

There were speakers, too, but nothing sounded right in the sharp white room. That did not stop Nick from playing old music. Sylvia would sit there, violins unreal in her ears, and watch the blackness roll by outside their window. The night was eternal. The stars were not the same, either; where they had once blazed they now seemed cold, like sleepless sentinels, the cruel guards of a silent void.

“Remember dancing?” Nick whispered. He stumbled to his feet, pulling Sylvia by the hand, but they did not, could not, dance. She stood motionless, staring at the stars over his shoulder, and felt his body shake. Nick wept. Sylvia could not look into the face of the men she had once loved. She only held him as he crumbled, driven mad in the name of progress. 


  1. Very cool and not what I was expecting at all. :)

    I'd go with The Handmaid's Tale!

    1. Thank you :)

      Ah, too late, I'm reading This Side of Paradise! Which is very good. So not a bad choice.

  2. This is so sad! Just why?!

    It is beautiful though. It makes me think of a Twilight Zone film, short and punchy, but somehow still lingering and poetic. Awesome use of the prompt!

    It's still sad though. :( The Handmaid's Tale or This Side of Paradise. . . Whichever one is not depressing and sad, read that one.

    "Science was religion. The world thrived." And he went "mad in the name of progress." It's like Twilight Zone. Except that it's so real. I guess that's what's so depressing about it.

    1. SORRY!

      I don't know what Twilight Zone is, but, uh, sure! Thank you, though, for your v kind words.

      RE the books, I think they're both depressing and sad. I know THT is (not that I've read it yet), and I'm only 50 pages into TSoP but I have a feeling that it's going to go sadly because that's what Fitzgerald does.

    2. You have never seen the Twilight Zone?! It's an old TV show. It's a bunch of unrelated short clips that usually air late at night and most of them are in black and white. They're usually sci-fi-ish and have a creepy or haunting clinch. Not exactly Alfred Hitchcock style, because they can be funny too, plus they are more. . . strange, I guess, than Hitchcock?

      Anyways, it is really good! Like I said, poetic and kind of haunting.

      Sad and depressing books put me in a bad mood. I have to be careful when I read them. I'll sulk around all week long just because of a book.

    3. No, never heard of it! But I'll keep an eye out now.

      Thank you!

      Ha. I feel like everything I've read this summer has been sad. Mill on the Floss? Farewell to Arms? When We Were Orphans? Blech. I dunno, Percy Jackson and the Battle of the Labyrinth was kinda happy but really mostly not because there is a definite feeling of things coming to a head ... YIKES.

  3. I've nominated you for the One Lovely Blog award! Love reading your comments on my blog! :)

  4. WHY DON'T YOU JUST DIG MY HEART OUT WITH A SPOON??? IT WOULD HURT LESS. Ohhhh, I got so desperate and claustrophobic reading this. And so sad. So sad. It had me longing for green grass and trees, and blue waters and skies. Excellently, excellently written. :)

    1. THAT MADE ME SMILE! Did it really?? Good! That was my intention! ~evil author laughter~


Thanks for commenting! :)