Amelia is what’s known as a Riveter, after that Rosie broad who looked tough in all the old posters they’ve reprinted and posted around. A strength that survives even after they took away the mechanism for us to grow beyond the manual labor that Rosie was the cause celebre for. She runs the planes. She makes them them come and lets them go as I she sees fit. If she don’t want to let you ride, you will walk across the great and burning desert as brambles cut your feet, for that is all that can be found in the lost lands between cities. They’ve taken so much away that four tiny planes and a pair of runways makes for a certain amount of cache. And this, Amelia, refuses to forget.
It’s late in the afternoon, the light worth remarking on as it presses itself through the wooden slat shades, It’s almost time for Amelia to make her rounds, review the accounts one last time before closing her business for the day.
Before she can return to her bungalow and the relative luxury of a good meal and a bottle of wine that this success affords her, there is, of course, the matter of the Traveler.
She adjusts her fascinator, puts the white gloves in the snap-latched purse and leans over the desk .
“It’s been a bad year for your kind,” she peers at him, “And you don’t know that men from our time light ladies’ cigarettes to say that they’ll listen to a dame if only for the time it takes to let the ashes fall into an ashtray.”
She gestures at the empty smoked glass bowl sitting in front of her. For Amelia, that little knick-knack, the only one in the spartan room is beautiful, but only because that beauty is serviceable.
He says nothing.
She snaps open the purse again and pulls a little cigarette from some secret compartment, and lights it with a knowing, blase click.
“Oh, don’t cry now.” Through pursed lips, she murmurs mostly to herself, “How strange that men may cry if they find themselves so far from home, so at the mercy of a woman who has little reason to offer succor but for mercy.”
The Traveler wore a suit stressed and strained at all its seams, caked in reddish dirt. He’d come through the wild lands, that much was clear. Some of his wounds were new, from an over-eager security team that’s found little enough to secure when the city’s police pursue their invisible justices with terrible and overwhelming authority. Some less recent, but still raw, including a stinging zipper of a cut running deep along his forearm. Crawling beneath the fence was reckless, almost, if Amelia were the sort of woman to be so swayed, brave. It is only that they sent her a photograph that she knew him for what he was, and it is only, perhaps, that these long, weatherless days had been driving her to distraction that she called for him to be brought to her office before they they turned him over to the police. A gaunt, unhappy character, he looked like most of her employees. Except, of course, the tattoo his kind wore in hopes her kind might recognize it, in blue ink right above his collarbones, and the tears pearling along the brick-red waterline of his eyes.
“There’s planes,” she said, almost idly, as if it was something to mention while stirring your tea, “from here and there. If that’s what you want. Those I say can be gotten for pennies, for cheap thrills, when the cards are played right.”
The traveler takes a breath and nods, those tears just about gone to the end of his chin and dead.
“From here to there is easy,” Amelia says as a ring of smoke makes an axis or a nimbus around his heavy head. “From now to then’s…another matter.” She tap, tap, taps the cigarette. The churn of the typewriters in the pen of offices outside the glass window behind her stops until she bangs her fist on the desk that separates them. The cloud of white noise resumes, but quieter, and less frantic, more orchestrated.
She stands up straight, circles lightly, and lets herself land on the other side of the isthmus of mahogany.
He croaks, his face contorting in pain as the words slip out between teeth and lip. “They say you’re the lady to talk to.”
Amelia laughs, having heard that once or twice before, though never from a Traveler. “At the moment, the yellow-grey sky is all my birds, all my sky. Still, I need to pay these folks. And, you sir, don’t look like you’re up for much, certainly not to cover the fuel. So you’ll have to find a way. Maybe the mayor. He thinks he runs the town, and we let him think it because someone has to pull the sun aloft and someone has to butter the bread. Maybe he can swing you a ticket. But how do I pay him, you ask. Quite a fix, I say, I’m not sure what he’ll want. Some letters delivered, some men boxed up tight in a freezer. But it’s better than what I’ll ask.” I lean against the beveled edge, to take the weight off my heels. “It’d be easier for you to give.” A plane screams over all the noise and she shudders despite being accustomed.
But it isn’t the noise that makes her jump, it’s the Traveler’s worn and callused hand that Amelia can feel even through the industrial nylons.
“At least you know,” She says, with a strange sense of relief as she slides backwards on the desk knocking over the blotter, and ashtray, sending the whole works askew, “how to get from here to there.”
“Don’t even need a plane,” the Traveler says. His face is not handsome, but worth remarking on. Earnest, sincere, a beauty that is serviceable even through the bruises and the bloodshot. He smiles with a thick lip that’s been bitten dry. She feels it with with her own, until till they share the red between them.
“Now and then?” He whispers into her ear.
She presses the lighter into his hand, fumbles for another cigarette, and leans in, waiting for a spark.