Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer
Not for you, but for me.
“Emily, Uncle Karl, and the twins. All together in that great big truck of his. They’ll be laughing and we’ll laugh too.”
Laughter. You’re my only source of that, but I’m not the only cause of it for you. Watching your delight at things I dread, like the mutaflys that flutter by looking so pretty you can almost forget they’re hunting for fresh blood. A swarm can suck a small human dry in the time it takes her brother to run up two flights of stairs, find the insect spray and get back too late to use it except in petty revenge.
“Karl will have one of his flame throwers and he’ll make the garden safe again.”
You love the garden, all the waving leaves and those pointy-edged flowers in the pond. They’re very pretty. Hypnotic. Even a big man can’t resist being lulled off guard and pulled down by whatever waves those pointy-edged flowers.
“The twins will have new dresses and shoes to show off, and ribbons from the market for your hair.”
They’d called to say they were coming to do just that when the last round of mutanukes whistled down, most exploding close enough to the ground to set the tops of the tallest buildings on fire. The luckiest got caught in those fires and died. Everything else was enveloped in a cloud of biological horrors. It caused various maladies, but foaming lung, hypercancer, and explosive dysentery were the most common ways to die.
“We’ll go down to the basement and drink the last of grandpa’s wine, then we can all hop right into that truck and get away from here.”
That’s where I was, down in the basement, all masked up against the dust and mould, cataloguing poor Grandpa Roget’s wine so we could sell it off. I should have been out back, mowing the lawn, snatching glances at you in your flowery shorts and halter top. As usual, you only wore one gardening glove and I’d guess you were singing off-key while you pruned the roses.
“Everyone will be far out of town before evening and we can watch the sunset together.”
The mutanuke that went off high overhead was likely a misfire. I heard the noise and I swear I heard you scream. I scrambled out through the coal chute, leaving the hatch open so we could get inside quicker.
Outside the murk had started to settle. I saw you and the ladder on the ground. You’d either breathed in a little or fallen off the ladder in haste. I dragged you into the basement, closed the top and bottom hatches, then used a lot of the wine to wash us both off. Stinking of fermented, sun-kissed berries, I patched your head wound before carrying you up through the screens at the entrance to the basement.
“There’s beer and ham and cheese, sweetheart. Won’t you come and join us?”
“Join who where, Gareth?”
I look down and see a child’s innocent recognition shining in adult eyes. I was overjoyed when you first came round, convinced you’d get better. Now I curse myself for the selfishness of dragging you inside. Any second now, you’ll smile and I’ll fall in love with what remains of you all over again. I can’t grieve for the family we lost while you laugh as you draw rainbows across the wallpaper. I can’t grieve for you, because darkness waits for me there.
All I can do is tell you lies while you are sleeping, so I can be true when you wake.
A very powerful piece. The ending really nails it.