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Author: Allyson Shaw
Year: Future

I have no illusion that I can foretell the future, though I’ve heard my family speak of such aptitudes, and that it may be inherited. Since childhood, I’ve pulled a tarot card every day from a deck wrapped in silk. These days, I keep pulling exactly the same two. First, the lightning struck Tower arrives in flames, and then I pull a second to amend the initial hellscape. The next is without fail the Ten of Swords with the pilgrim stabbed in the back as he bleeds out at sunset. Some optimists claim that the sun on the card is rising.

April, Elliot’s cruellest month, came this year. Overnight, the little things of my civilisation were put on hold. In the parlance of our times, they are paused for the foreseeable: yoga classes, museum visits, my weekly swims in the pool, rambling train journeys, all vanished. I could no longer go to the mall to look at pretty things, draw stripes of lipstick on my wrists at the makeup counter. A pale comfort in those rooms that smelled heady with a hundred perfumes, marketing gurus called it the lipstick effect. Some trifle ameliorates our piques, our sufferings. Also gone were other people’s galas, events with a capital E, the society pages in magazines, the red carpets, the first class flights and fashion weeks, the roasts and balls and shooting parties, scratched.

Now we are surrounded by the wildness of unaccounted time, a deep privacy that some blow open on social media. What will the extroverts do, I wonder, in this future? Look at my splendour, is the unspoken plea, despite everything. How do you like me now? Zoom parties, all night texts, masks and gloves mark a peculiar loneliness. Some of us, defiant, walk farther. We might not make it back in an hour; what will we say to the police should they stop us? 'I, officer, am a flâneuse — essential and peripatetic.' We walk to know the weeds and the other emboldened creatures claiming again what was once wholly theirs. At the dawn neap tide, seals bob, watching as if they recognise us. In this womb of the present, we dream. It’s the clear skies and clean air that give our naps their weirdness. They are a doula to the new and unknown. The dreams tell us our fortunes in vivid, linear narratives. They say, if we survive, we must relinquish much. You are ready, they tell us. Here is a crash course in witness.

There will be work to do: grieving learned and memorial practiced. You will hug a friend who has come for tea. You will clasp the hand of a stranger. There will be nights in different gardens. You will be close enough to whisper, feel the breath of another in your ear, like a child again, trading secrets. What seemed like a miracle, the handheld amanuensis of the mobile phone, the Mesmer that memorised you, will cease to work the way you wished it would. It will not feel the same, and you will put it down.

I will go to the pool again, wave to you from a distance. We learned to breathe in this element; it won’t have been forgotten. We will pass each other in our lanes, our bodies skimming through the water with grace and speed.