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Weather Underground

Andrija Popovic is a native of the Washington DC metropolitan area who indulges in photography, spends entirely too much on books, and occasionally adds to the #NoirAlley chats on Twitter as @andrian6. His stories have previously been published in Daily Science Fiction and the anthologies Alien Artifacts, The Death of all Things, Portals, and the forthcoming Noir. For more, check biomechanoidblues.wordpress.com.

I was clean out of Late Autumn Day when they busted Danni, my weather dealer.
Residents gathered at windows and patio doors. They risked heat, humidity, and high particulate counts for peek at the arrest. Danni operated a ground-level bodega, with street and complex access. Our weather lady. The cops made sure to drag her into the parking lots, in easy view of the everyone. Her wife, Meryl, clutched at their cat, Silas, as he hissed under his breather mask.
A few brave souls clustered at the asphalt barrier between our space and police territory: the parking lot pavement. Armed drones kept us back. The officers in bright blue ABC armor clattered as they shoved Danni into the cruiser. You'd think she'd killed people, not brightened their day.
"Fucking cops." Marlon, who lived below me. Didn't know him that well. "It's just weather! It's not even illegal."
"Wasn't just weather." Sylvia, my neighbor. She wore a custom plague-doctor mask breather with a long beak. Sylvia was another drone runner. Like me, she was eating up precious break time on neighborhood drama. "Hey, Ruth. Like the new 'breather."
"Thanks." Mine resembled old video game power armor, with a cone-shaped muzzle. "If it wasn't weather, why did they bust her?"
"Intellectual property infringement, officially." Sylvia's digital assistant glowed with the police blotter feed.
Another wave of grumbles. I stepped back and opened my digital assistant. A countdown clock charting the end of my break ticked down.
Sylvia tapped me on the shoulder and showed me her gloved palms. One displayed a similar countdown clock. Her brake was shorter than mine. The other carried a red disc, just big enough for a thumbprint: A weather tab.
"Balcony?" she asked.
"Yes. Thank you. See you there."
Sylvia's lived to my left. The connected balcony was a concrete slab facing the courtyard. Low walls and thick, iron bars separated our spaces. Plastic shields over and around the rusting metal kept particulates down. Supposedly.
We shared similar tastes weatherproof plastic flora. I went with a year-round spring. She countered with fall colors. Where her bars met with mine, we removed the shields and replaced them with twining creepers, spring melting into fall, fall growing into spring.
I scooted my chair up against the fence. She sat down, raised her right hand, and tugged at the glove's fingertips. Three tugs, and her hand was naked. Shaking, I unsealed my glove. Sticky summer air crawled onto my skin. It collected in my palms, and dulled the purple paint on my fingernails. I slid my hand through the bar.
Sylvia dropped the weather tab into my palm. We wrapped out fingers together, held hands, and squeezed.
The disc broke. Autumn flooded our bloodstream.
We sat on a wooden porch in large, wicker chairs. Two mugs of spiced tea rested on a weather-worn stool between us. Woolen blankets swathed our legs. We wore sweaters, thick and high-collared. Mine smelled of lavender soap. I breathed. The air tickled the back of my throat. Cool air. Brisk air. In the eternal summer, there were only two kinds of atmosphere: thick and muddy or mechanically cleansed.
An avenue of trees stretched out before us, split by a simple gravel road disappearing in a forest. Everything was a riot of colors: Deep orange and bright red and mustard yellow completed with earthy browns and the blue-grey sky. Afternoon sun slipped through the branches. When the wind approached, it followed the driveway. I watched it play in the distant treetops at first, and then make its way to us.
Air blowing through brittle autumn leaves reminded me of sand dribbled onto children's construction paper. The wind carried a smokey scent. Not industrial--no sulfer or ugly particulates--but the sweet smell of a distant fire consuming freshly cut logs.
When the wind reached us, we laughed. I was unmasked, as was Sylvia. Our hair whipped about our naked faces. Windchimes spun and sang. Wood creaked as I leaned back in my chair and took deep, slow breaths.
"How long will this last?" I always got lost in the weather. The five-minute dose felt like fifty minutes inside. When the forest dissolved away, and the gasp of the breather replaced the leaves, it was always too soon. I needed to be ready for the comedown.
"This is the last dose." Syliva'd misunderstood. "Though, I know Marlon, one floor down, had a little Winter Snowfall he could spare. Not the same, but he offered. If we'd go all in. Like this."
She clasped my hand and raised it. Her thumb rubbed circles onto my skin. A blush crept into my cheeks, but the bloom from the wind's kiss hid my embarrassment. Three people, holding hands, sharing a snowfall. It felt illegal, but sounded wonderful.
"Yeah. I think that'd be nice." We held hands. We listened to leaves skittering across the ground. We imagined snow, and frost, and cold on our cheeks. And we hoped it would be enough--until another weather lady set up shop.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, April 20th, 2022

Author Comments

"I miss autumn in the District."

"I get you. I wish I could send you some of our weather."

This simple, typical exchange opened up a world of what-ifs. What if you could send someone weather? Could you share it? Would it be like an ASMR video of leaves blowing across a New England road? Or something more personal? From there, I thought of two people trapped and unable to experience what was once taken for granted--except through the grey market. Would they covet their rare fall days? Or let someone else in? Because, as amazing as a crisp day in October can be, it's best when shared with another.

- Andrija Popovic
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