• Vol. 05
  • Chapter 11
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Autumnal Equinox

From the sky, you’d never know it was the last day of summer. The light hardly changes from one hour to the next. Some people remember changing seasons, but if you look up, it’s not that different from looking down at the pavement – a stippled, ashy grey. Occasionally, the clouds are cut through by a flash from some cosmos traffic, like a swathe of discarded neon-pink bubblegum.

I can just about remember when months were still marked in the old-fashioned way. My Nan used to remember the numbers with a rhyme. Thirty days have September, April, June and November. Funny-sounding words filling up her little pursed mouth.

The last day of summer is just another day, but for whatever reason, they treat themselves to new outfits. Hats lined with crunchy aluminium. They proudly wear their healing crystals and read their horoscopes and consult their birth charts, like we aren’t already almost in hell. And of course, the occasion wouldn’t be properly marked without a bit of music. Which is where we come in.

I think I was still in primary school when they brought in the Equinoxal calendar. Not too long after that, I was scouted at a community fair, and sent to the conservatoire down in Deptford. No fees, since I’m what they like to call “socio-economically challenged.” I spent five frustrated years learning to walk in heels and do up buttons and zips, instead of actually playing my harp. I was so lonely, and all for a piece of paper. Still, that diploma is the only thing keeping my musicians’ passport renewed and keeping the well-paid gigs coming in. They keep saying the Neo Londinium housing bubble has to burst at some point, but I have no idea what could possibly begin to puncture it. So, I definitely need this. It’s the highest paid gig of the year.


Autumnal Equinox

Walking along the Embankment, my breath heaves through my mask. My lungs are aching. I’m sweating, praying my rented dress won’t stain. We pause to collect ourselves. I stare down at the old riverbed. A group of mudlarks are clustered around their buckets, likely hoping for antique iPhones and FitBits. Vikram reaches a gloved hand out to touch my elbow. His eyes smile at me.

We’re ushered through the service entrance airlock, then back out into the courtyard.

“You have just over an hour before the guests start arriving. There’ll be leftovers for you in the back room at the end of the night.”

Vikram hoists his timpani up onto the stage, stretches his arms towards the sky, adjusts his oxygen tank. He reaches a hand down to help me up.

Just like last year, they’ve set us up in the middle of the courtyard. We’re surrounded by rings of round glossy tables, wreaths of plastic flowers. Behind those, the usual big screens. Scrolling text glares down. “Somerset House Says Goodbye To Summer.” Projected photographs of how it used to look, covering up the real smog-soaked stone.