Her life is a series of powders. Lemonade mix. Graphite. Ash. Everything in their kitchen was previously freeze-dried, flash-fried, concentrated, reconstituted, or saturated with some form of powder or irregular solid manufactured in a lab. Convenient sustenance, the packaging says. A chance to experiment, she thinks. On consumers. On lab rats. And on herself. After school, while her parents hustle from their first dead-end jobs to their second, she stands at the kitchen counter, testing her limits. Lemonade concentrate with ground rosemary? Delicious. Powdered coffee and activated charcoal? Pointless. Charcoal adds no value. She would rather paint with it. Smear it on her cheeks like bone dust. Pretend she is a necromancer raising spirits from the dead. She already reads most of her books by candlelight, does her homework as close to the window as possible to catch the setting sun. Their apartment has no electricity, no hot water. These are luxuries only the top Company-Polity in the region can provide its workers. Everyone else must be glad for a roof, a sink, sometimes a wall or a door to separate the toilet from the bed. When the sun goes down, a company candle will have to suffice. Only then does the apartment look big. Distant corners with the potential for clandestine meetings. Oblong shadows with no faces. Smoke whispering secrets, which the company can’t hear, not yet. Not until all the other company kids are ready. Until then, she’ll sharpen her pencils into shavings. Mold melted candle wax into marionettes. Stage puppet shows of lemonade stands where one puppet says How much? and then another says It’s free. All lemons should be free.
Ruth Joffre is the author of the story collection Night Beast. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Kenyon Review, Lightspeed, Gulf Coast, The Masters Review, Pleiades, The Florida Review Online, Flash Fiction Online, Wigleaf, and elsewhere and will be anthologized in Best Microfiction 2021 and Unfettered Hexes: Queer Tales of Insatiable Darkness. She lives in Seattle, where she serves as Prose Writer-in-Residence at Hugo House.