Friday, June 15, 2012
We should be wearing black. It feels disrespectful not to. Funerals usually demand it and in a way, isn’t that what this is? Not for us…but for all the others? I try to imagine that my white sundress is really black like the sunglasses the guards are wearing. But it isn’t working.
I have to squint to see even with my parasol positioned low enough to shade my eyes. The day is painfully bright. It feels as if it’s getting brighter every minute—or maybe I’m just imagining it. All around me others stream past, their faces trained on the enormous space shuttle in front of us, idling on the tarmac just long enough for us to board. We are the last ones, the lucky remnants of the government’s lottery. Today we survive. To symbolize the clean slate we’ve been given, they’ve dressed us all in white. We look like a blizzard of horizontally fluttering snowflakes—at least I think—it’s hard to know for sure since I’ve never actually seen snow.
I glance beyond the bobbing collection of parasols to my right where our parents and others are pressed against the chain link fence. Some are wailing, demanding another drawing. Others, mostly those with children boarding the shuttle, are waving and pretending to smile. Tonight they’ll all go home, shutter their windows against the never-ending bright and take the little blue pills that the government issued them. They will sleep and it will all just end. Some have vowed not to take the pills, but I think all of us feel sure that they’ll change their minds. By tomorrow the sun will be too close. If they don’t choose the final sleep, they will burn. Of course in the end they’ll all burn, but I’m told that it makes it easier for those of us leaving to imagine them drifting off into a dreamless sleep—which is probably why some are refusing it. I get it. I wouldn’t want to make it easier on us either.
I grip the handle of my parasol tighter and shiver. It’s so hot that I’ve got fever chills. Walking forward is difficult in the unforgiving heat and I want to quit. How can I do this? My parents told me to harden my heart, to surround it in ice, but freezing anything is impossible here. Now my grief threatens to boil over and drown me. I search the faces behind the fence, try to spot my parents. If I see them once more I’ll find my courage. At least that’s what I keep murmuring to myself.
“Meara!” My mom’s voice disrupts my heat stupor and I look harder at the crowd. I spot her. She’s standing next to my dad. Both of their faces are scrunched up and their eyes are narrow slits. They’re risking blindness, standing out here without even an umbrella to shade them. Their heads and bodies are draped in long cotton rags, but they don’t cover all of their leathery brown skin. Even after years of exposure, they’re still growing steadily pink.
Without thinking, I push past the kids beside me, my parasol tangling with one of theirs briefly before it bounces free and I’m able to hurtle forward. I’m panting already. It’s like being in the middle of a bonfire. The air feels devoid of oxygen. The heat has leeched it out.
When I reach my parents I stick my fingers between the fence’s open spaces. The metal is uncomfortable, searing. I almost pull away, but then my mom laces her fingers with mine, sandwiching the metal between our palms and branding us both with the same diamond shaped burn.
“We love you so so much. Live well, Meara. Take care of your sister,” my mom whispers over and over like a prayer. She said this all last night when we said our goodbyes on screen and I tried to memorize their faces without having the benefit of actually touching them. My dad’s hand comes up to join ours. I thought being able to really see them again, to touch them would somehow make me ready, but now I can’t let go, even when I hear the guard coming up behind me and the click his gun makes when he cocks it.
“Go on. It’s time,” my dad says, his voice cracking even as he smiles.
“I can’t do this,” I press my forehead to the fence. The people on the other side grow increasingly agitated. They grab at me, at my parents. I can feel someone’s nails scratch my face.
“You will step away from that fence now!” the guard shouts.
“Your sister’s waiting at the space station. She needs you,” mom says quickly and pulls her fingers from mine. Her eyes are red, but she doesn’t cry. “Tell her we love her. Tell each other. It’ll be okay.”
I don’t have time to protest. Another guard rushes me, pulling me away from the fence with enough force to wrench my fingers painfully. He pushes me back into line. I stumble forward. My parasol is spinning in a circle back beside the fence. I can’t see, but I don’t need to, the crowd around me is moving quicker now, pulling me along. The people beyond the fence are yelling. The fence is shaking, I can hear the metal groaning. It won’t hold. I have time to think before I’m thrust onto the ship’s loading ramp.
I open my eyes once I’m inside the shuttle. Someone hands me a small bouquet of flowers, a symbol of my new life. They brought them down from the station’s greenhouse. They are the first flowers I’ve ever seen. I rub a velvety purple petal between my fingers and a smell, both powdery and sweet emanates from it. I feel sick.
The loading dock rumbles beneath my feet and I take a step backwards as it slowly lifts into the air. The fence collapses then, the people spilling over it and each other as they clamor for the shuttle, but it’s too late. The heat coming off of the tarmac ripples in front of me blurring the bodies rushing towards me and making the flowers look as if they’re on fire.
Story by: Amy Christine Parker
Picture by: Amy Haslehurst http://brokensundowns.carbonmade.com