“Fresh Air in the Smoke” By: Jeremy Wenick

The harsh squawking of a crow rudely awakens me from my sleep. I look at the pocket watch propped up against my bedside table. The time is 4:30 in the morning, a measly hour before I have to be at work. My name is Charles Davis, and I live in Gearington, the capital of Mechanicountry, and the biggest industrial town of this world. In this bustling city, every individual is assigned a job working in the rubber industry. I work one of the most prestigious and important jobs there is, and I proudly state it to anyone who wants to listen. I am a factory supervisor, whose sole purpose is to keep tabs on the many laborers in the factory. Unfortunately, this job also comes with the liability of arriving at work very early in the morning.
I sluggishly clamber out of my bed and throw on my clothes, which consist of a light grey button-down shirt and dark grey pants, complete with a grey pinstriped blazer. In Gearington, everyone is required to wear dark, drab clothing. Anyone wearing bright colors are promptly arrested. Houses are dark grey as well, with the wealthy owning light gray. I plod into my small bathroom and take a look in the ornate mirror. I am 31, with black hair and a small handlebar mustache, which I treasure. I wash my face and dry it, then enter my kitchen to eat a small breakfast of oatmeal. The bland taste reminds me of my job and life.
After putting my shoes on, I walk outside. It is early, but already the town is bustling. The smoke blows black from the billowing factory towers, and the sun burns crimson bright, trying almost frantically to break through the black fog that covers the sky already. I get into my car, a 1929 ford, and turn out of my driveway into the dark street. The rubber factory in which I work is only ten minutes away, so I buy a cup of black tea before continuing the drive. As I arrive, I already know this day will be a long one.
I stumble through work, not paying much attention to the meetings and discussions happening around me. I don’t ask any questions, only answer them, and when the day is finally at its end I am relieved. However, in the back of my brain I know that this will happen again and again for the rest of my life. This was not the life I wanted to lead, but my father lead it, and his father lead it. So it was my responsibility to step into their shoes and do the same. I drive home and enter my house. Then, after I had closed my eyes for a nap, the doorbell rang. My eyes snap open and I slowly pull myself off my sagging couch and pulled open the door. To my surprise, standing there was my little sister, Bonnie.
Bonnie lives many hours away in a neighboring village, and I was not expecting her to be here right now. Even more surprising then that was the little boy standing at her side. I did not know Bonnie had a child, and that fact shocked me. I had not realized just how much time has passed by since we saw each other. The
child’s eyes were bright blue and huge. They seemed to sparkle with a thousand diamonds. No one has blue eyes in Gearington, only dark brown.
Bonnie’s face lit up when she saw me. “Charles! It’s me! Your little sister, Bonnie! This is my son, George. He’s nine years old. Sorry my husband couldn’t make it.” I offered her inside and we rapidly filled each other in on everything that has been happening with our parents and childhood friends. I had no idea any of them were still out there, or at least I didn’t think about it. All the while, George sat on one of my chairs, taking everything in. Bonnie told me she was off from work, and decided to visit me in Gearington. We talked small talk for a while, before the phone started to ring. I hastily answered it, only to hear that the caller wanted to talk to Bonnie. I gave Bonnie the phone, and walked out of the living room, giving Bonnie space to talk privately. As I was leaving, she whispered to me that it was an important work call, which may take around an hour to complete. I whispered back that I understood.
I joined George in the living room, and asked him what he wanted to do while his mother was on her call.
“I want to play a game!” he responded.
“A game?” I replied.
“Of course!” he exclaimed.
“You’ve never played a game before?”
“Well, no” I mumbled, curious about what George meant. As a child, I never played games. My free time only consisted of preparing myself for the day when I would take the place of my father’s job in the rubber factory. However, here was a child asking me to play a game. I still had a couple hours before I had to worry about dinner, so I asked him what kind of game he wanted to play.
“How about imaginary world? Yes! Let’s play imaginary world!” George seemed so excited and eager to play that I seemed to have no choice but to oblige.
“What do we do?” I inquired. I carefully followed George outside. George then started chatting about nonsense. I had never talked about nonsense before, but I found I had a knack for it. We talked about the moon-bird in his flight, and the peppermint wind blowing through the colorful trees. I was amazed, and saw the world in a new light that I had never seen it in before. I could picture it all, in beautiful, glorious harmony within itself.
Right then and there, I made it my aim to use this gift, the ultimate gift of imagination, to direct my life in a new and better way. Gearington, as boring and drab as it is, has so many opportunities, so many nooks and crannies for adventure and fun. The place I was longing for, the place where finally the sidewalk ends was right here in Gearington, just in reach. I will reach it.