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art by Ron Sanders

Luna City, At Night

Author of the novel Father John VS the Zombies and of almost seventy published short stories, Karl El-Koura lives in Ottawa, Ontario (Canada). He holds a second-degree black belt in Okinawan Goju Ryu karate, is an avid commuter-cyclist, and works for the Canadian Federal Public Service. To find out more about Karl, visit his website at ootersplace.com.
Every night before I hit the bars, I push the mattress off my bed and pick out one of the expensive watches. In my house, under the mattress is the safest hiding spot. I select a watch, like I do every Friday night, and put it on. Real leather wallets keep the watches company; I choose one of those and shove money inside. Without the mattress, my bed looks like a snake-lover's garden: silvery serpentine watches crawl over brown rock-like wallets. I replace the mattress.
Every time I head out, I think: Luna City is beautiful at night. It's the same every night, but it's beautiful.
Daytime is a recurring nightmare filled with unceasing sameness. I get up at the same time each day and take my shower at the exact same time because the water supply is tightly controlled. I wait for a crowded floater to stop in front of my dome and for the driver to throw open the dome's latch. I get on the floater and stand between the same sweaty people and I never get a seat and I get off at the dome stop linked up to my work complex. The floater keeps going, bumping along on a jet of pushed air, a giant farting machine. As precise as clockwork, the floater comes around at the same time each day, and farts along at the same speed, traveling every day along the same dome-dotted path.
At work, every day is the exact same. I work with the same people, and take my breaks in the same cafeteria. I come in to work every day at the same time and I eat lunch at the same time and the boss yells, every day at the same time.
But nighttime is a different story. Nighttime, the domelights are dimmed and pretty girls go out to the bars. They all wear tight pants and yellow eye shadow and dark green lipstick. The same, but beautiful.
When I leave my apartment at night, I never take the floater. I walk in the underground tunnels connecting the domes. I walk in the tunnels, taking my time and looking at the people that pass by, and when I feel I've walked enough, I take the nearest elevator into whichever dome I've reached. I'm not worried about finding my way around--the domes all have the same design and each has a bar or two or three. This one has three.
The streets are narrow--there are no cars on the moon, and floaters travel the undeveloped spaces between domes. Everyone walks everywhere inside a dome, and everyone is walking everywhere now. The dome is packed, people pouring through the narrow streets like angry water racing down the twists and turns of a badly designed river.
Each building, dome-topped like the larger dome above it, announces its existence with an arching sign that follows the curve of its roof. At night, those buildings still open for business--restaurants and bars and movie theatres mostly--turn on their neon to outline the letters of their signs in bright green or pink or orange.
I go into the nearest bar. It's packed, like the streets. The bars all play the same music, and they play it over and over again. DJs don't decide what to play, but when to play it and how often. The songs themselves are all the same, and it's sometimes hard to know when one song has finished and another has begun.
I see a girl, then walk up to her and offer to buy her a drink. She says yes. I pull out my wallet, but can't tell if her gaze drifts over the money inside. As I'm paying the waiter, I think I see her gaze drift over my silver watch.
Later, she says yes, she will come home with me. We walk in the tunnels but don't talk at all. I unlock my door to let her in, like I've done for a hundred girls on a hundred different nights.
We are inside my room and I leave the lights off, like every other time. I come up behind her, wrapping my arms around her waist. I begin to undress her.
She turns around, allowing her clothes to fall to the floor. She begins to undress me. I bend my head; we kiss. We are in bed; we're making love.
It is the same, but it is beautiful. Like Luna City at night.
I turn over and pretend to sleep. I am content although I know what will happen, what has happened a hundred times before. The girl I've brought home will pretend to sleep too; a short while later, she will get up. Being very quiet, she will slip my watch off the nightstand, then ruffle through my clothes, looking for my wallet. If I'm still awake, I'll hear the door open, then I'll hear it close.
I sleep.
In the morning, I stretch my arms but bump against something hard.
"Ow," she says, rubbing her head.
"You're still here," I say. Without meaning to, my gaze drifts over to the nightstand. My watch is there, my clothes undisturbed.
She gives me a quizzical look. "Did you expect me to leave in the middle of the night?"
"Luna City is beautiful at night," I blurt out, not sure what I'm saying.
She rises from the bed and goes to the window, pulls back the curtain to let the light in. "I think it's gorgeous in daytime."
I rise and come up behind her, wrapping my arms around her again, the same as the night before but somehow entirely different, and I look out over my little dome, bathed in a dawnish light, and at the domes I can see past my own, glowing with their own dawnish light.
"Yes," I say. "I never really noticed."
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, March 5th, 2014

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