by James Castiel
Content Warnings: none
Stepping out of the house and onto the terrace felt like walking from one world into another.
Indoors, the cool rooms were doused in darkness, and the light falling through cracks and open doors created a quiet, almost ominous twilight inside. All the blinds were closed to shut out the heat of late summer.
In comparison, outside the world was blazing. The light was so bright that, despite wearing sunglasses, she had to blink for a moment until her eyes adjusted. The sun stood high in the cloudless blue sky, and the heat was a heavy weight in her lungs and a prickle across her skin. She loved this, the heat and spending times like these at home in her garden or on her terrace. Such a contrast to her chilly, grey work environment with its narrow metallic corridors and the constant smell of machinery.
The terrace was a small paradise of potted plants, climbing roses and heavy-scented flowers. A summer day in the middle of the green, jungle-like surroundings was the perfect place for a vacation. Woodbine had created a small, shaded area, like a canopy, under which she had placed a deckchair and a small table. An orange sunshade produced an almost dream-like glow.
She sat down with a happy smile, laid back and stretched her legs, wiggling her toes. Warm air caressed her exposed arms and legs. Closing her eyes for a moment, she soaked in the peaceful atmosphere of her garden in summer and the luxury of being out of her work boots.
Bees were buzzing around her, birds singing in the hedges, and a little creek gurgled a few meters away from the garden stairs. No human noise interrupted the pure and unfiltered sounds of nature. No engines, no shouts or arguments, no alarm noises.
Gradually, she let her muscles relax, taking a deep breath in and letting the air out in one long exhale, sinking into the soft chair cover underneath her. The stress of the last week fell away slowly until she groaned in relief. It was perfect. Well. Almost perfect.
‘Darling,’ she called towards the open door. ‘Come on! It's beautiful outside!’
There was no reply, but she hadn't expected one. He could be so stubborn. She picked up her book from the little glass table and started reading. A soft breeze of warm air moved across her skin and brought the smell of sunflowers, roses and ripening apples from her apple tree. She'd bake so many apple pies. Maybe some apple puree. With vanilla ice cream.
A soft fluttering sound drew her attention from apple pie daydreams, and she smiled.
‘Hey, little robin,’ she whispered softly. Her heart gave a happy thump. The robin was sitting on her table and eyeing her curiously, close enough that she could touch it if she reached out.
It hopped onto the glass table, its little claws causing tiny pricking sounds, before leaping upwards, urged into flight by something she couldn’t hear or see. She followed it with her eyes until it vanished across the neighbouring hedge into nowhere.
‘You missed the robiiin,’ she sang in the direction of the kitchen obscured behind the dark entrance. ‘Such a pity, you could have seen it if you’d been here with meeee.’
Still no reaction.
‘Idiot,’ she muttered with a shake of her head.
She read for a while until she reached for her juice and realized that she’d forgotten it inside. With a sigh, she put her book away. Sometimes she wished he would be more considerate and give in to her demands of bringing her the things she needed.
‘There’s probably no chance you’d bring me that cold juice from the fridge, is there?’ she asked without any hope. There was no reply, and groaning, this time with mild regret, she sat up.
Stepping back into the sun felt like needles pricking her skin, the hot tiles burning under her feet and her scalp heating up immediately. The unmoving air of the terrace was heavy with heat, and she felt sweat breaking out under her thin shirt. It made her feel alive. She was more aware of herself, of her body, when the heat outlined every inch of skin, when she could feel the pores opening and sweat breaking out and running down her back and face. She needed the stark contrast to cold and unfeeling dark.
The kitchen was at least ten degrees cooler despite the open door. The jug of orange juice fogged up when she took it out of the fridge and placed it on the counter. Some ice cubes and a deep pull of cold juice later, she knew what she wanted.
‘How about some ice cream?’ she asked into the next room where he had probably gone to hide from the heat under his favourite blanket. He never cared about the contradiction in that. ‘No? Oh, I know what I can do to get you out of hiding.’ She rummaged in the drawer for a spoon with one hand and opened the freezer with the other, letting her bare shoulder hold it open while she expertly scooped vanilla ice cream into a bowl. Closing the top door, she tugged open the fridge and reached for the spray cream. Pulling the cap off made a loud pop, and before she even started shaking the can, a heavy thud came from the living room. She smiled.
‘Gotcha,’ she murmured, and the answering meow echoed through the kitchen a moment before warm fur wound around her legs. The long-legged tabby with his black nose and white paws almost had her tripping over him before she decided standing still was the best option. Every second she shook the can, he protested with pitiful cries before she took mercy on him. She sprayed a big heap onto a small plate and placed it on the floor, his paws urging her along.
‘You know, you’re an awful butler and way too demanding. I’m not sure why I put up with you. You’re almost as bad as a man.’ His purrs answered her question. ‘You’re lucky you’re so cute.’ Once he was done cleaning the plate as best as he could, she picked him up and carried him outside together with the ice cream. She was about to get comfortable again and was contemplating a fruity cocktail when a chime interrupted her thoughts.
‘No,’ she said to the cat. ‘Absolutely not. Not yet.’
The chime repeated, and she hid her face in her hands with a groan. At the third insistent chime, she picked up a little innocent-looking device from the table. She looked around one more time, her other hand still petting the purring cat. ‘Guess it was too much to hope for at least two days off.’
Pressing the button, she snapped, ‘What?’
‘Sorry to disturb you in your time off, Commander, but the Captain wants you on the bridge. We’ve reached the mining asteroid, but there’s an issue with another freighter.’ The tinny voice resonated with an unusual disturbance, and with a sigh, she got up. ‘On my way.’
The cat looked up and protested with a soft sound when the petting stopped. ‘Goodbye, buddy. See you soon. End program.’
The cat melted away, and the garden was replaced by black walls, the stench of oil, and cold steel under her feet. The heat was nothing but a memory on her skin. The change from the perfect dreamscape to biting reality felt like a tight band around her chest until she took a deep breath and readjusted to the state of things. Life had restarted. Peace was over.
Germany-based James discovered his love for writing through fanfiction. After a turbulent twelve years in the army, several runs at universities, and a new career path well into his thirties, he finally started writing original works. This is only his second non-fanfiction story to be published, but it sure won't be his last.