Science Fiction & Fantasy

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Fiction

If We Do Not Fly at Sunset

It’s a Sunday morning and the woman in your bed is exactly your type. Turquoise hair, cut perfectly. Full sleeve tattoo in progress; she says she’s adding to it as she gets the money. A smile that makes you want more—and she knows how to use it.

When she leaves—hair messy, socks stuffed into her pocket, still smiling, and saying you should text her—you shower, then bind both your chest and your wings. You don’t hate either of them, but if you don’t people think you’re something you’re not.

There’s a technique to it; breasts down and to each side so they best mimic pecs, while your wings are still soft enough to be folded in upon themselves, the air squeezed out in gentle sighs. It’s tight but comfortable, and you feel better already.

You wish she was still here. You were prepared to be naked with her, but you resent the idea that your nakedness is somehow more authentic than the choices you have made.

You have brunch with your family. Your parents stumble over your name. Afterwards you use bleach to clean the mould off the ceiling of your flat, and then have to call in sick because you’re exhausted and your asthma’s flaring up. You don’t have sick leave left. They take it out of your annual leave and tell you that you should give more notice when you want to take a holiday.

It’s still better than dealing with WINZ.

You’re thinking about doing an MA in Film Studies. You’re thinking about travelling. You’re thinking about presenting yourself to one of the fae courts and seeing if they might have a place for you, even though you’re of a broken lineage and your magic is functional for nothing but party tricks.

Your mother would have a fit. Not to worry. Your people are effectively immortal. She’s claimed more than once already that you’ll send her to an early grave, but it would take far more than your life decisions to finish her off.

You don’t love your life here, but you don’t hate it either. You have the girl’s number. Her name’s Holly. You’ve already looked her up on Facebook and on LinkedIn, found she’s a designer. You don’t even know what you’d do with a LinkedIn account.

You wait until Monday and then you text her.

• • • •

Alina, the youngest of your three flatmates, the one who actually checks the recycling numbers on plastic bottles, thinks you’re living in the end times. She doesn’t say it like that, of course, because that would make her sound weird, but she’s put maps of sea-level rises on the back of the toilet door.

You follow the concentric shapes in blue, turquoise, green, illustrating bad, very bad, and catastrophic scenarios. Whatever the outcome, Petone’s drowned and Miramar’s virtually an island.

Apparently, rates of depression are on the rise. You feel sad a lot but you don’t think you’re depressed. If you were, you would feel guilty about it. It’s hard for you to admit that even if human civilisation collapses, you have an alternative. That you’ll miss this; the music in the late-night cafes, your collection of succulents on the window ledge, the random ill-advised beach trips that end up with you chasing your friends and shrieking as the southerly rolls in. But it’s not all you have.

You’re like a student who doesn’t want to ask their rich parents for money. A backpacker with enough funds and references to rent an apartment when it’s time to settle down. You’re not playing at this life, but you’re not committed to it either.

And you won’t sink, you won’t drown, you won’t fall if this whole world comes crashing down.

• • • •

You meet Holly for gelato on the waterfront. It’s mid-afternoon—you’re working a late shift, and she has flexible hours that actually seem to be flexible for her, not just her boss. You have the lemon—you always have lemon— and she gets a scoop of chocolate and another of Doris plum.

You start walking in awkward silence, desperately trying to catch the drips of sorbet as it melts, thankful you didn’t choose a flavour that would be more obvious when it drips. Holly . . . Holly doesn’t care. She’s licking brown and purple from her fingers and around her mouth as if this was just one more joy in a benevolent world.

“Want to try?” she says, and you half shrug an okay and then she’s in close, gelato cone in one hand, cradling your face gently with the other, and you know there’s chocolate on your face too now and you don’t care.

• • • •

In the evening, when Holly has reluctantly gone to work to meet a deadline and you’ve reminded yourself not to push it, to let things go slowly, a flat Netflix binge gives way to a late-evening supermarket expedition. You’re out of toilet paper—you’ve actually been using kitchen roll for three days now—and more importantly, you’re out of rice and out of crushed garlic. You all throw on coats and start walking, promising yourselves an Uber home.

Jet dances and poses on the rainbow crossing. Alina says that she’d rather they built a hostel for homeless trans kids, which you agree with, and yet you can’t help but delight in how many people walk those bold, bright, stripes every single day.

Which makes it seem like you’re winning but you’re not sure that’s true. You carry a paint scraper and a little bottle of hand sanitiser in your bag; TERF posters, marker-pen swastikas, and whoever keeps organising stuff in support of Assange; they’re all coming down.

And you . . . you’re genderqueer and you’re fae and you’re ill so much that you’re struggling to hold down a job but you’re not sure if it’s okay to call yourself disabled. And you feel like the people in your life can accept any one of those but two or three are too much.

You hide being fae most of all. Not because it’s what you most need to keep secret; but because there seems to be little to be gained from revealing it. Some of the people you meet don’t believe you exist, or that you died out centuries ago, or that you stayed in far away countries. Even when they do believe you, they have weird ideas about what you are. They think you’re an expert at tricksy contracts and technical loopholes, when you failed to get into second year law.

They’re also convinced you can conjure things from thin air, cast love spells.

You do have some magic. You can stack playing cards, thin edge upon thin edge, even in a breeze. You can freeze a glass of water by touching it with your fingertip. If you leave a separated sock on your bed with a couple of fresh leaves in the morning, its pair will have returned by night.

You cannot fly. You can move your wings if you focus, strain your muscles, but they’ve always been slow and small; there’s no chance of you taking flight.

If you could, you wouldn’t need to be crammed into this Uber to get your groceries home. But afterwards, when you get home and the frozen goods have been put in the freezer, you’re laughing and there’s music on and Alina is putting the pizzas in the oven while complaining that they’re wrapped in plastic and maybe no-one needs magic after all.

• • • •

At school they put you all together, the kids with magic or abilities or who weren’t exactly human. Long bus journeys across the whole region so you were in the same class.

Your best friend could shape shorelines, move coasts and beaches with the gentle curve of her hand. You fell in love with that hand, that arm, those movements, not because they were magical but because you’d never seen such power and such delicacy all at once, much less seen it translated into flesh and bone.

You fell in love with her.

Then she went to Otago and you went to Vic and you didn’t know how to talk to someone you were in love with without the daily mundanity, without the ease of being beside her.

You wonder if it will be her who saves the world.

• • • •

That was years ago now, and everyone knows first loves never last, even when the girl you love has a perfect magical arm. Everything has changed unimaginably since then, and you wouldn’t go back, not even for a minute, but the certainty of how easily your love came for her made things easy when nothing else was.

You don’t love Holly, not yet at least, but she makes you happy.

Her flat is way back in Brooklyn, round so many turns and hills that you don’t know which way the city is, but it’s just her, in the middle flat of a house split into three. There’s a kōwhai in the shared garden, and a plum tree, and something else you can’t identify. In the morning bird song comes through with the early light.

You’re there more nights than you’re not, these days. It seems sensible, without flatmates and shower times and knowing looks to weave your ways around. There’s fancy cheese from Moore Wilson’s in the fridge, and fresh coffee every morning. There’s a heatpump that seems to make your asthma better. You catch the bus into work, or you walk round the blustery hills with your hands stuffed inside the pockets of your puffer jacket and your headphones on, short-cutting through the park down into town.

You’re scared of being happy.

• • • •

They split the city up into quarters, gave each of them a personality: Willis, Waterfront, Lambton, Cuba. It was just a silly and expensive marketing campaign that silently failed like they all do. But you think of how this city was planned on flat paper so far away in London, by men who’d never walked its hills.

You know that other cities have been split into quarters for centuries, that they’re grown up from industry and oppression and refuge and community. but to lay a flat plan upon a moving city, to run score marks across it, split street from street, makes you uneasy still, even now they’ve taken down most of the signs with their brightly coloured blocks.

It feels almost as bad as letting a city drown, as letting the water table rise until whole suburbs become unliveable, of letting the ever more frequent storms tear at the railway tracks round the harbour, break tarmacked chunks from the reclaimed land of the port.

• • • •

Holly can’t change the coastline with the movement of her hand. She can’t fly. She can’t even turn a glass of water to ice. But she’s said that when you’ve been together long enough not to regret it she’ll design you a tattoo and you’ve already started mentally tracing its outcome on your skin.

You’re in your bedroom, both of you, and she’s already teased you out of most of your clothes while still in her bra and jeans. Alina’s music comes through the internal walls and on the road below you can hear the high-pitched pop of the pedestrian crossing, someone yelling across the street to their friends.

Holly’s seated beside you on the bed and you turn your back to her and let her run her fingers along the edges of your wings. They’re not impressive wings; they unroll downwards more than they unfurl, and rather than ethereal, reflecting the light in all directions, they’re dull and tinged with green. But perhaps Holly’s never met anyone with wings before or perhaps she likes them anyway, and right now, just for her

what you have

is enough.

Andi C. Buchanan

Andi C. Buchanan. A white non-binary person with brown hair wearing a striped t-shirt, with grass and part of a tree behind them.

Andi C. Buchanan lives and writes just outside Wellington, New Zealand. Winner of Sir Julius Vogel Awards for From a Shadow Grave (Paper Road Press, 2019) and their short story “Girls Who Do Not Drown” (Apex, 2018), their fiction is also published in Fireside, Mermaids Monthly, Cossmass Infinities, and more. Their novel Sanctuary (Robot Dinosaur Press, 2022) tells the story of a queer, neurodivergent found-family who live in a haunted house. You can find Andi at andicbuchanan.org or @andicbuchanan on Twitter.