I didn’t push my face against the window. I didn’t want to. The glass was melting, a steady and deliberate dissolving which would cause my skin to burn, should I have touched it. The slow dissipation of the window caused me to suddenly remember being taught at school that glass was always melting, the faint scent of blancmange still present upon my clothes from the canteen. They told me that glass was liquid. The years would change its shape, alter its form, distort what lay behind it. Outside the sun was shining. For a moment my mind smiled, but my present image remained frozen at the window on the bleak, bleak day. The glass melted now because everything was wrong… not because of its matter, and not because of blancmange, but because the poison rain fell from the sky; from clouds blacker than the scorched bodies which had littered the streets in times past. Darker than night, and more terrifying than anything which had come before. The droplets would fall, dissolving the concrete architecture, ravaging skin. Magnificent flickers of a blue shimmer, leaving behind such fluorescent flowers, such ferocious and beautiful mutations- of pink, and green, and yellow- alive, and dead within minutes. Humanity personified in nature.
I stood in the pharmacy, watching the black clouds gather over the grey horizon. I would likely be here for some hours more, whilst the rain dissolved my surroundings, my city, my home. This pharmacy was not as pharmacies used to be- there were no cosmetics, or cheap toys, hot water bottles, cold drinks or tablet boxes for sale. There were no orderly stacks of medicines, waiting patiently to be consumed by the greedy and blind and ignorant masses. Medicated happiness at its greatest had come to an end and instead, the shell of the building protected empty and crumbling shelves, stickered with government warning posters which adorned every surface: ‘Protect Yourselves and Your Children’, and the later issued ‘Protect Yourselves’. People had stopped having children on the day of the ruin. Often by incapacity. Often by choice.
There was an old man sat on the floor by the window alongside me. His skin was devastated by the poison rain, and perhaps a lifetime of love and suffering. The silence of the building was punctuated only by the steady drum of the rain falling outside, and by the old man’s wheezing. I would have hated him if I had anything left inside me.
Painkillers in these times were difficult to come by, reserved only for those deemed worthy. They were mainly for those who worked in the factories, like myself, and those of age and build and relative health. ‘Relative’, for health today was an imagined concept- a forgotten ideal, lost in the ashes of a dead civilisation. In days gone by, people wished for beauty. Today they wished for painkillers and a tomorrow. I was stood in the pharmacy waiting for my own pills, to curtail the anguish of a rotten inside. The pills I waited for were small and yellow. I did not know what they contained, and I did not want to know. I needed them to take, to work, to live. Likely they were made simply of ash. Little else was available to fashion tablets from. I did not know why the old man was waiting. Perhaps he was waiting for someone to care, or to fall asleep, or to wake up. Perhaps he was waiting for the end.
Another man made his way down the colourless street and entered the pharmacy. He pulled down his hood as he entered, revealing a grey and swollen face, merged with the red marks of the rain’s impact. As he walked past me, his coat hissed with the fumes of the rain upon it. For a moment the scent made me dizzy, and dragged me backwards to the time of the ruin. I could smell the decay of the explosion itself- a heightened sense of falling, and of agonising sickness. They had called it the Russian Winter, although it had never been anything to do with the Russians. Blame had been placed with those now long departed, and in their place remained only suffering and torment. With the smell of his coat came the feelings of confusion; of a total loss of communication, information, contact; hordes of people screaming through their melted lips; clothes fused to skin… and the smell of the fires. The burning of thousands of corpses, their charred remains lining the streets, their obsolete smiles welcoming the prospect of death into the hearts of the living. Cities covered with ash, poison rain and eventually human apathy. We never heard from the scientists again. Lysenko would have made a Saint.
The man’s coat had turned my stomach as he passed, my brain itching to break itself from my skull. But now he was stood at the counter, and the smoke of the funeral pyres cleared from my mind, I was once again bought to the present day, amidst crumbling buildings and fragmented lives. The stranger was talking and I could hear him clearly. He was begging the pharmacist for painkillers, and he was refused. His skeletal grey hands were shaking as he asked the pharmacist again. ‘I need them,’ he said, ‘I need them.’
Calmly, the pharmacist placed his hands too upon the remnants of the counter, ‘Sir, we all need them, but regulation dictates…’
‘Fuck regulation! Fuck… regulation!’
An uneasy silence. The dissolving of the brick work outside, and the old man’s wheezing inside. After a few moments more, the pharmacist continued with his sentence with similar detachment but renewed odium.
‘Regulation dictates that only factory workers and worthy members of society may be permitted access to medicines’- the strangers nails clawed at the counter’s surface- ‘Those who have been assessed to pose no threat to themselves, to not waste the drugs given to them to pursue a peaceful course to the end. These drugs are needed to rebuild the future, not to assist others in destroying their own.’
The stranger paused for a few moments, and then guffawed. His grey skin tightened around his throat. ‘I… wouldn’t. I just need them to…’ His mouth made motions that his voice had not the strength to match. His discomfort increased with every lie that he told. ‘I would not want to die, who… who would want to allow themselves to die? That isn’t what I need them for. That’s not… that’s not…’
The pharmacist’s answer came very quietly, his gaze upon the stranger’s eyes never faltering. He had said this many times before. ‘There are worse things than death, Sir.’
The man began to laugh and backed away. ‘You… you don’t know… you don’t know about it. At all. You don’t. You just don’t.’ He continued towards the door, laughing through the tears which poured down his face and cradled in the red scars from the rain. ‘You don’t know…’ He was so piteous and loathsome. He was reckless and beautiful. I could have slit his throat. I could have been kind. But I continued to stand by the dissolving glass.
I watched sincerely as the man marched out the door frame, and into the embrace of destruction, still laughing boorishly. His steps were confident; meaningful, at first, but soon faltered as the poison once more found his flesh. He grimaced and raised his hood, continuing into the distance, his laughter now stopped. There were things worse than death, afterall. I followed the stranger with my eyes until he had disappeared from my view. I tilted my head slightly to see if I could follow him further, a morbid fascination crushing my own fear and solemnity when suddenly the old man beside me touched my arm.
‘Something wrong with heart’, he said, ‘something wrong with heart.’