by Aimee Ogden
The young man comes to visit Patrice every day.
The ink from his fresh-printed pamphlets stains her fingers when he presses one upon her, as he does each day. He never seems to hear her protestations that she doesn't know how to read. Every time he sees her he asks her if she's read what he's written, and every time she tartly replies that the paper has found its way into the garbage heap with all the rest. What she doesn't tell him is that before it meets that grim fate, she asks one of her sisters, one of the lettered few among them, to read the smudged words to her by the fading light of the afternoon sun, before the evening settles in and Patrice's customers come seeking her.
The young man has never solicited Patrice's time, though not for want of her asking. He's handsome enough, all yellow curls and student sensibilities--and she thinks she's not wanting for looks, with all her own teeth yet and hardly a pockmark to be seen. She'd like to make him shout over something other than revolution, for once. "Costs half the price that your upcity girls will run you," she likes to tell him, "and gets you twice the joy," and his face goes red, and he suddenly finds a reason he must go find his University brothers and flog his silly pamphlets somewhere else. He flees across the bridge back into the upcity, where the streets are wide and even and lined with trees, where the whores don't come down into the city street at least until the sun is setting.
But till then, he follows her up and down the street, even as his brothers-in-arms are shouting in taverns and plastering their foolish posters on whatever wall will yield them space. He talks and talks about a new tomorrow, a bright dawn that will paint the sky when the Magisterium's sun sets at last. His boots are covered in the filth of the street, and somehow still he can speak of the gleam of this bright new tomorrow. She loves his shit-stained boots more than she hates the promises in his voice, but she doesn't tell him what she feels about either, not really.