The coin he handed her was completely unfamiliar. It was six-pointed, like a star of David; thin as a needle and of a bright, glittering silver. She flipped it over and saw that on the other side too was a spiral. No symbols of monarchy, no stamps of nation or empire. No date of minting, no hint of history; no indication of worth or belonging. Just a neat little spiral, the kind of idle doodle that Lucy would have done herself, waiting for the kettle to boil, or for her mother to stop ranting over the phone.
She hadn’t realised she’d ventured out so far. Could she be beyond the border even? The change of currency indicated a passing beyond, but she wasn’t sure what actually constituted beyond. For so long, the limits of this city were shifting and nebulous. There were no fences or walls; no great highways, very few roadsigns. You left with intentions to drive south, but ended up stuck on a roundabout, bound eastwards, endlessly, back into town.
“And what can I buy with this coin?” Lucy wondered. The boy behind the counter stared at her as if willing her to leave. All she wanted was a few more moments to linger among the mesmerising aisles of neon energy drinks, of chocolate bars and tacky magazines. She wanted to absorb the hum of the refrigerator, the nervous click of the boy tapping his shoe against the laminated floor.
When finally she closed the door behind her, he breathed a sigh of relief.
The world outside was ablaze with sunset. A strange wound of a sunset, where the sky haemorrhaged pools of red which flowered out like ink among a sea of flaming pink. The red light dripped down the glass buildings and cast its fiery shimmer on the roads.
It seemed self-evident to her then that the coin could buy her infinity. Clueless, she kept walking, following the sunset. It would be lovely, she thought, to step right on into that sunset. It glowered and spasmed before her like a terrible womb, and even as she walked, she knew she was returning to the origin. There was something about the air of dusk then, its sweet, ominous musk.
The coin would buy her infinitude. You just had to be born again. Lucy opened the carton of milk which she had bought from the shop with the flickering sign, and slowly began to drink it, a white rim forming round her lips, like a halo. Her skin began to purify, tautening, smoothing, glowing. The years were being rolled flat as she drank and drank. The sky burned above her, earnest in its wanting. She took the coin from her pocket and placed it on her tongue, as if it were a tab of acid. A shadow passed over the sun and so she swallowed.
Needles tingled all through her veins, growing in pain as if each vein, each capillary, were a stem of thorns being torn right through her flesh, all through her body. She was a rose, starved of monoxide, wilting, withering…so sensitive to the flames of pain. The sun would burn her, eat her dead or alive, and so she would be beautiful.
The next morning, someone found a strange coin on the pavement, stamped with the face of a girl who was beautiful.
— Maria Sledmere
(Flash Fiction February prompt: nowhere)