Nearby, a few children were playing a game. The sound of delighted shrieks pierced the air.
Children disgusted her. In their eyes was contained a whole future: pain, suffering; the petty hatreds and jealousies of adolescence; the sex and revelry of their later teenage years and twenties; the prudishness of their thirties; the senility, sickness and despair of retirement. And somewhere in there would be the child’s own children, born after a condom breaks when they are nineteen, or in an elated pre-menopausal midlife crisis; the filthy cycle continuing like a plant that germinates, seeds, and bursts forth in fruit to wither. In their eyes was the future of every dick and sociopath, every pretentious child, every naïve romance and fantasy. And so it would continue, ad infinitum, until her own bones had long been shrivelled to dust.
One of the children fell, scraping her knee. She burst out crying. Her mother rushed over, making hushing noises, while the other kids looked on awkwardly. The game had been extinguished instantly. The cries rose up to shrieks, which burst forth incessantly.
Get used to it, kid. For most of your life you’ll be searching for happiness, and it will always be taken in an instant. That’s the basis of a life. We were born in agony, brought shrieking into the world; most of us haven’t left that state, but have merely become quieter.
Melanie stared down at her coffee. It had grown cold. The milk would have a fatty taste, and a residue of sugar would have settled on the bottom. She left it, and turned to get up. She felt horribly aware of the mass of consciousnesses around her: most of the patrons had turned, awkwardly, towards the screaming girl. The scene concentrated them, channelled it like a flow, and Melanie felt sickened as it washed over her, aware that she was part of the maelstrom.
The screams rose, breaking to a coughing sob, before repeating. What a set of lungs on the child!
Melanie smiled wryly: perhaps she would take up singing. Her parents would make her take piano lessons, and she would be allowed to buy a violin in primary school after much begging. She would play for the grandparents each Christmas, and they would remark how proud they were after each recital. She would take it in her head to start drawing; after a birthday present of a camera, she would attempt to become a photographer. She would soon convince herself that she had talent, and take pride in it immensely. Her friends would praise her, but she would deflect it deftly - “Oh, I’m quite terrible, really” – and drink in each compliment in secret. She would read, of course, and dream, and write a diary – considering her thoughts both beautiful and unique. She would read Capote and Plath with rapture, and feel that they had been speaking directly to her. And her parents would be so, so proud when she got accepted to an Art school on a scholarship.
Eventually she would wind up sitting in a café listening to some brat scream.
Melanie bit her lip in a moment of self-disgust. She hadn’t meant for her thoughts to lead that way. A trace of lipstick had been left on her coffee cup. It seemed to her like dried blood.
By the playground, the child was settling down. Her mother was murmuring to her cheerfully, and she was laughing again.
Melanie walked away, a bitter taste left on her lips.