A Wrinkle Ironed Out
by Alison Wilgus
Ada lies on her back, her face inches from the cathedral's ceiling, and dabs at soot with moistened cotton swabs. The left elbow of the Virgin Mary looms above her, a patch of rich blue pigment emerging, the latest in a blossoming field of color she's coaxed out of the gloom. When Ada was a child, a project like this one would have warranted a team of conservators, a documentary film crew, a commemorative book of befores and afters. In her adulthood, the Calm has settled over Earth like a woolen blanket, and our interests have shriveled and retreated to our doorsteps, our driveways, to rooms with curtains drawn. The cathedral no longer holds services, and Ada tends to its treasures alone and unobserved.
Or she did, for a time. Some months ago, when an angry handful organized themselves enough to launch artillery into orbit, the Calm ground an acre of their makeshift barracks into a smear of dust and blood. Now three hundred self-determined soldiers shelter beneath the cathedral, watched over by a host of marble angels. And by Ada on her platform, listening to their boots shuff on the stairs down to the catacombs.
Ada, who sits in the deanery with a girlhood friend, she dressed in frayed coveralls and he tucked neatly into an olive jacket.
"They know you're all down there," Ada says.
Thom sips his wine, his eyes still on the paper map he's laid out on the table. "Nice of them to tell you."
"The air feels different," she says. "Thicker."
"Oh, well then."
"It's just the same as last time," she says. She visited the barracks, too, and sat inside those small boxes of corrugated metal. She remembers how it felt to breathe--the soupy, viscous weight in her lungs. She picks at her cuticles and adds, "They've known for weeks."
"And for weeks they haven't done anything," he says, patient.
"The mill would be better. Thicker walls. Harder to see from above."