Out The Window

She smiled at the sad man. He smoothed the front of his uniform and returned her smile with a pained frown when another, far fatter, D.O.G. officer motioned her forward. Bea liked to pretend it stood for Demented Octopus Guards, but Division Of Gender officers weren’t nearly as fun. No mingling, no touching, those were the laws, laws Ben pretended to uphold but abandoned for her.
She caught his gaze across the canteen, and pushed through the crowding of sterile, white jumpsuits with heads, aiming for the door ahead. Her heart fluttered like a caged bird as she eased open the door and slipped inside. A dark cupboard, little else, but it was a haven often known in the recent months, dirty as it was. She held her breath when the door clicked open, light pooling over her. A lanky effigy stood for a moment and then closed the world out behind him.
‘I could see you blushing from a mile away, Bea.’ She relaxed at the sound of his voice, filled with gravelly melancholy. ‘I know I’m attractive but maybe control yourself a little–’
She reached out in the dark and punched what she hoped was his arm. He grunted in muted pain. ‘I’ll try harder next time, Officer Bighead,’ she said.
‘Maybe try using that hand for something other than hitting me.’
He was sad again; she could hear the thickness in his throat. She drew her fingers under the starched fold of his shirt collar, and tucked her other hand in his back pocket. He pulled her to him with desperation and leant his forehead on hers.
‘When we first met—‘
‘We don’t have long, Ben.’
‘But do you remember?’
She sighed and exchanged a grip on his skinny backside for the slope of his tired shoulders, teasing the mournful intensity from his muscles. ‘You were crouching in here, your gun in your ear.’
‘And you said—‘
‘I didn’t say anything, I smacked it out of your hand and pulled you to your feet.’
‘That was the first time anyone had touched me for seven months.’
‘Look, maybe you get a narcissistic kick out of reliving your finest moments but it’s depressing.’ Her voice quavered embarrassingly. ‘Everything’s better now.’ He touched his dry lips to the top of her cheek, just shy of her eyelid.
‘Neither of us are better and you know it,’ he whispered. ‘We eat our own words every day and it kills me.’
She began to cry as he spoke. He knew and wiped the wetness from her hot face.
‘Anything. Tell me and I’ll do it,’ she said, and stared up at the shadowy hollows of his face. He didn’t answer and she worried that they’d both be missed soon.
‘There’s a train tonight, going somewhere, I don’t know where but the whole world can’t be like this. There has to be others who feel even through the division. I mean, New World my ass. If I want to do this…’ His breath was quick on her neck as he grasped the baggy fabric of her jumpsuit and pushed her against a set of shelves, his leg between hers. ‘Then I will. I promise that if you don’t leave with me then I’m going to do to you everything they lie to themselves about.’
‘If… If you believe that, then I’m all yours, Bennyboy.’ She felt him smile against her throat. ‘But right now we have to leave.’ He took her hand, pressed it to his chest for a long minute, and then let her go. They opened the door slowly, Ben first, and she hid behind. She thought she’d give him something to think about later on, and with an unassuming hand she reached out and grabbed his backside.
A redheaded woman gasped dramatically in offense, then screamed, and turned to scream in the direction of a D.O.G. who galloped in toward them without hesitation. Ben pulled on her hand and they ran for the stairs. The D.O.G., with eyes fixed on them, stumbled, only to be caught by another uniform as they swarmed. Bea’s hand was sweating in Ben’s as they climbed two steps at a time. They were already nearing the top floor when she heard heavy footsteps at her heels.
They turned a corner, hugging a wall painted with creamy skin tones, and panted in unison.
‘Isn’t it funny,’ she said. He didn’t look at her. ‘If I were a guy, we could share an apartment and they wouldn’t even blink.’ He only squeezed her hand in worry. He didn’t know this building like she did; he’d led them to a blocked off corridor, the only exit a long window in front. Men shouted for Ben and rattled the staircase with their tread. He looked at her pointedly. She shook her head. ‘No. You’re an idiot.’
‘There’s a ledge, we get to that and we can jump to the next building. It’s not far.’
She shook her head vehemently.
‘Do it, Bea, because God help me I’m not letting them take you away again.’
She paused, measured the way his eyebrows met in a sorrowful scowl, how straight his mouth was, and she touched his lips with her fingertips simply because she might never again. Even as her throat grew sore with suppressed emotion, she went to open the window, and put her foot on the sill. She was so focused on getting out to that ledge without falling, she didn’t notice that Ben hadn’t followed until she was safely precarious.
She stretched out her hand in invitation. He didn’t look at it, only at her.
‘This was your idea, come on!’ she cried. He reached over the sill, leaning out as if to take her help, but he held her gaze, and with a smile she so rarely saw, he kissed her hand. She was confused until he let go and slammed the window closed, trapping himself inside, locking her out. ‘No, Ben!’ She strained to see inside. Amidst a group of brawling D.O.Gs, a lofty man fought, drew back for another blow, and then found a gun to his ear. The window pane steamed with her protest, but she heard the shot and saw his blood.
She leant back on the ledge.
They forced the window open and shouted to her.
As Bea stood, they became quiet. She watched the white jumpsuits scurrying below. She should have let Ben do it himself all those months ago, she’d been selfish to inflict long-awaited touches, fearfully drawn breaths. They stuffed themselves through the window until none could move closer. They threatened her with the same gun.
‘If I were a man,’ she said quietly and a D.O.G. asked her to repeat herself. She grinned, eyes on the fall. ‘If I were a man, I would have done this a while ago.’

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