Alice Orr

The Adelphi Hotel, March ‘20

Water springs from cracks in the rooftop pool of the Adelphi Hotel. It is splitting apart while suspended half in vacant air. Another financial district engulfed by a disaster from the sky. The threat comes, not from an external terror, but from a desire to be saturated by the aesthetic of money: plastic sheen, transparent and fluid; it cascades through spread fingers from fissures in glass; hands tremble as it slips past. I look up, expecting to witness a dirge, but there is only an ellipsis across the skyline.

An elevator to the twenty-seventh floor of the hotel: I press the corresponding button and watch the light glow, doors shuttering, before extinguishing, motionless.

Three mobile phones enter the elevator, women attached. They stand apart, scrolling. We ride upwards at the pace of a newsfeed.

Doors open to the penthouse. A large table, surface covered by scattered bowls of fruit, food platters, colour-coordinated gift bags. My new companions walk towards the bounty. I follow.

A PR girl requests that we sanitise our palms with luxury hand wash. It is called “Resurrection”. We gather around the table. In order to fit in, I pretend my Birkenstocks are more valuable than a Birkin. A girl, standing beside a hydrangea, sneezes. We edge away; most do not look up, but some take a moment to glare in her vicinity. A purple thread breaks free from a petal. Are they real? A few minutes later, the sneeze is forgotten. The girls begin taking photos of the gift bags without touching them.

Mounds of peaches and mangoes gleam; bunches of grapes become orbs of onyx. If colour were currency, the table would collapse. We take small bites. The pears are hard,  the berries sour. A brown rice cracker dissolves on my tongue with the texture of bread at Communion. Swallowing his body, I am made suddenly aware of my own, of its proximity to others. I sniff a flower, find it scentless. Back to the disinfectant. I cleanse myself and ride back down to the heat of the street.

Flinders Lane: chaotic colour, high afternoon light. It ricochets from phone screens to sunglasses, mediating today’s news cycle, flimsy ozone.

A couple stands together. One looks downwards, the other away. They are unaware of the water leaking from above, from a pool designed to look like a shipping container. She wears a blue surgical mask; he places kisses on it. Do they have only one? Has he allowed her the courtesy of survival? Women and children first. I watch them walk from Flinders to the cathedral, spires sharp enough to shatter glass.

Standing on a tram travelling north, I perch between two women, perhaps young, perhaps not, their faces obscured by masks. A few feet away, a man sways. He moves to an unheard melody, palms outstretched, steadying himself, or giving a blessing. We move forward a few feet and the light changes, the angle momentarily rendering the dancing man invisible.  But even when the sun evaporates, the man remains unseen.

I sit alone in another Melbourne coffee shop, waiting for a cup of Magic. I search for a news story that will reveal the fate of the Adelphi pool. My search turns up nothing. There’s no mention of shattered glass, a flood. An untruth: yet it was true once.

How did I know that the pool was breaking? Who told me? Did I see it?

Real is reduced to myth by lack of record. A fact is broken apart by the pixels intended to consolidate it. I watch the world realign itself through a window.

Alice Orr is a writer from Edinburgh. She is a staff writer and Lists editor for Podcast Review. She has been previously published in Extra Teeth, Forum, Scottish Review, Nomad, etc. She is the winner of The Sloan Prize for writing in a Lowland Scots dialect. She holds a MA and MSc in English and Modern Literature, and is a DPhil offer holder at the University of Oxford. She is editing her first novel.