Author: Chris Preston
I just turned six years old and, for my birthday, Dad gave me a grown-up mask. It was supposed to be Mom’s, but she didn’t come home when she was supposed to. Before the sirens started.
I was only four years old when we went into our hideout under the basement. No mask fit me so only Dad could go back up into the dirty air outside.
Life in the hideout is boring. At first, there was a lot to do because Dad was very prepared. He worked as a scientist and his boss told him that something bad was coming. When it looked like we would be in our hideout for a long time, Dad even made rules for the different days of the week.
The weekend days are a “free-for-all,” as Dad says.
Mondays are cooking days. I don’t like the smell when Dad burns our soup, it stinks for hours.
Tuesdays, we read the whole time. My books, adult books, even some magazines. Sometimes, Dad thinks I am reading but only because I know which words always come next.
Wednesdays, we run the generator extra long to watch many shows and movies. Sometimes, we don’t if Dad hasn’t found any new gas.
Thursdays are grooming days. I always like the taste of minty toothpaste because Dad ran out of real mint a long time ago. We also trim our nails, wash ourselves with new water, and Dad cuts my hair. His hair is all gone. Mine is falling out too but Dad says that happens when you get older. After, I use a broom to collect the little bundles of blonde hair off the ground and put it in the trash can.
Fridays are my favorite day. Garbage day. Well, they used to be scary. Being alone is always scary for me. But now, it’s different. Dad made this new mask tight, as tight as it could go, so it fit my face. It was what I needed to leave our secret bunker again.
My heart was racing when I first left for my first garbage day with Dad. To get out, Dad as made a path through our house that fell over. It was daytime, but I wasn’t used to the sun anymore. I have what my dad calls indoor eyes. After I didn’t need to squint anymore, I remember saying, “what a mess!” Everything was different, like a big storm came through and knocked the whole world over. Our neighbours were all gone, it was just Dad and I left. Nothing like my television shows.
Since I started helping, almost our whole street is clean again. Dad says if we pick up all the garbage, and pluck all the weeds, people will come home again. Maybe even Mom too.
We would go out more, but Dad says we can only go once a week without getting sick. Our medicine would be gone if we did more.
I asked Dad when we can start cleaning up the next street.
“Next year, honey,” he said.
It will be a big job. There’s rocks and paper and bags everywhere. There’s even two people always asleep in the middle of the road. Dad said they’re just big plastic dolls. I don’t believe him.
I can’t wait until next year.