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Forty-one short stories
by Holly Gramazio

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1 across

Where is she?

She spends the night walking the city, up and down sidestreets, running into the blank edge of parkland every mile and turning around. There's a lane or two that she never knew existed, and she stops at every 24-hour supermarket for a bottle of water or a bag of chips, any pretext for entry to a world that's not so empty. Sometimes she talks to the assistants, but they've always got half-read magazines behind the counter, or shelves to restock.

With all that water the toilets in Victoria Square become the centre of her world for a night, and she spends hours circling them, coming in from different angles, building up momentum to send herself out of the city. While she waits, she walks through a thousand ghosts: classmates from school, her sister's exes, dozens of friends and family members who want to know how she is and what she's doing and maybe tell her that they like her shirt. They're all asleep, now, or awake in a distant timezone.

Eventually she breaks free of the centre and curves out into parklands. They lead her all around the city, and then again. Occasionally it's too dark to see where she's walking. Occasionally the sudden smell of roses makes her turn around in amazement. Sometimes she has to detour around a fence and or a locked gate. Even the zoo is quiet, and by the river a row of dark regular mounds confuses her; she squats down to look and one of them unfolds himself laboriously, lifting his pelican beak from where it's nested between wings and lumbering away, down to the water.

She's not sure how many times she circles, but when she sees the first hint of a lightening sky she can't walk any further. Where is she? Trees, fences, the not-too-distant city a loud shout away: behind the railway station, maybe. Not far from work, either, and there's so much to do tomorrow, today, so much more than she has time for. From here she can ignore it all, but it's waiting, and it won't stay dormant for ever. The air's warm even now, and it's going to get warmer. There must be messages from Andy, butting against the plastic of her mobile phone, waiting for her to switch it on.

The day's first trains roll out while it's still dark, to Grange and Outer Harbour; there'll be light over the ocean by the time they arrive. It's a shame, she thinks, that they stop short of the seashore, but where they stop the footpaths stretch onward, and where the footpaths end there are still jetties, spreading out further still, over the water and into the air.

She squats behind the fence and rocks forward on her toes as the trains move past, huge in the quiet morning, and her fingertips brush against dry ground. Twenty-five minutes until the Belair train loops into the hills, pulling away to look down on the streetlights as they start to go out.

She can't remember how the city works when it's awake. Walking the empty streets has overlaid them on her daytime memories. She thinks of busy shops, but she can only imagine them with portcullis doors locked down; every flower in the parklands in her head is a hundred shades of grey.

She stands up and dusts hands on jeans, then bends down again to pick up a thin leaf. There's a hint of green in its grey; colours are returning to the city. It'll be flooded soon, every piece of rubbish and painted wall, every flower, every crate, and it's too unruly to think about. She can keep the monochrome world in her head but the mess of bright reds and blues and yellows is too much. When she turns her phone on it glows colours too, so she throws it away, across the tracks in front of her. It bounces and the clatters die down, and she can't tell where it fell, but then it beeps from its indeterminate distance: missed calls, messages, everything she didn't want to know about.

If she stands in just the right place she can pretend she's in the middle of nowhere, just a few trees in front of her and tracks stretching away in either direction; but when she shifts her head the buildings flare up again, their windows bright, tall behind occasional cars whose headlights flick in and out of sight on the other side of fences.

She doesn't want to see the sun come up, and there's nowhere to go that can block out all the light, so she steps across the railway; towards her phone, maybe, though she doesn't know where it landed.