Dystopian fiction about a father and daughter as they make their way through this world.
|The tin can rang as her father’s spit clanged against its side. It was near full of saliva, tobacco, and traces of blood. He picked up the can and limped over to the edge of the roof and tossed the contents over the side of the burned out grocery store the two were camping out in.
He leaned against the concrete siding and looked out at the ruined West Virginia town. A cool breeze began to move in and swept across his wavy brown hair. There was more grey in it today than yesterday, she noticed.
“G’on downstairs and bring us up the rest of the chili. I think we’re gonna have to stay up here tonight.”
She watched as he limped back to his seat and winced as he sat down on the faded American flag colored lawn chair.
She went down the ladder and into the store and walked where the chili was simmering on a stovetop in the deli. Most of the shelves in the store were ransacked; what remained was rotted meat and fruit and vegetables among never bought clothes, trinkets, and toys. Beside the stove was a bridal magazine she picked up when they made camp a week ago. She was mesmerized by what it contained. Women with not only clean, but also immaculate skin, all smiling and filled with hope. It was a world alien to her.
The first time she heard of marriage was the day her mother died. He had been quoting their marriage vows as he laid a makeshift coffin under the ground and covered it with dirt and tears.
“In sickness and in health; till death do us part.”
“What does that mean, Papa?”
He took a moment to wipe away his tears. "It means it’s an institution handed to us by God; though people don't seem to have much use for it now. Your mother’n I- well, we well may’ve been the last married couple on earth.” He then got back to covering the wood coffin with the dirt he dug up before.
Eight years. She still remembered that day with a clarity that would never fade; nor would she forget the wisdom she parted to her.
"Don't give up hope."
"Trust your Papa; he looked out for me and he'll look out for you. Él te ama."
"Read your Bible and don't lose your way on this earth.”
“La vida era dura antes; It'll be harder now. Trust in the Lord, sweetie. He’ll get you through. Él te ama."
“I love you, Mama.”
Those sayings her mom sprinkled her with recalled as she flipped through the magazine and started to cry. Something good had departed from the world and she didn’t understand why.
A few loud bangs in the distance removed her from her memories. She heard rustling on the roof. Her father was in another fit of coughing.
“Yes, Papa?” She wiped tears from her eyes.
“I think we oughtta sleep up here tonight. Why don’t you bring up the blankets too while you’re down there!”
“Yes, Papa!” She carefully placed the magazine in a paper sack that was full of magazines like it, as well as a few comic books she found along the way.
There were two sets of blankets by the hunting area of the store. His blankets were just tossed in and were ragged and worn, like himself. But she took the time to personalize hers. He had helped her carry a life-sized princess castle from the toy department to be the entrance to where she slept. She found a poster or two of heroines silhouetted against the sky and a poster of a man she thought was mighty handsome.
The sun was falling behind the mountains when she returned to him. She put the items down and stopped a moment to gaze at its beauty. Though the world was covered in dust, there was still beauty left that the bomb couldn’t wipe away.
“Ladle me a cup of chili for me, would you?” He was fiddling with a map, planning out the safest route to take to get to the enclave back down South.
She sat Indian legged beside him on her makeshift pallet of blankets while he sat on an old lawn chair and they watched the sunset.
“Beautiful, ain’t it, Papa?” She said as she handed him a blue tin cup of chili.
“Yes It is. Reminds me of before the war.”
“Tell me again what it was like, Papa.”
“It was beautiful, sweetie.”
“You wish you could go back?”
“Why only sometimes? It sounds delightful.”
“‘Cause you weren’t born yet. So if I went back, that’d mean you wouldn’t be there."
"Besides, it wasn't always delightful. It lead to this," he said as he pointed around at the remnants of society.
"I guess you're right, Papa."
"Oh, now don't get down. I wish you could've seen it before. Music ‘n people would begin fillin’ the streets back home ‘round now. The festive lights would be hung all 'round town and your mother 'n me; well we'd go dancin'."
"I wish I could've seen it, Papa."
"I wish you could’ve, too."
"Think it'll ever go back to the way it was, Papa?"
"Someday, sweetie. I’ll have to take you by the Texas State Fair when they get it back up."
"Here," he said as he set down the now empty can. "I wanna show ya somethin' I found downstairs."
He pulled their old beat-up CD player from the bag and set it on the floor. He then produced an unopened pack of batteries from his back pocket and waved them for her to see.
Her eyes lit up and she smiled.
“I figure there’s about an hour or two left in ‘em.”
He put in their CD. It began playing old Spanish festive music, filled with accordions, trumpets, and guitars.
"May I have this dance?" He stood and bowed and reached out his hand.
"You may," she said as she daintily grabbed his hand."
The two danced.
“I’m sorry it’s not the Quinceañera your mother ‘n I would’ve wanted for you, but I’m glad I’m here with you, sweetie,” he said as he held her close and kissed the top of her head. “I know she would’ve wanted to see you today.”
“Te quiero mucho, mi pequeña,” he said in his Texas twang.
“Yo también te quiero, papá. Mamá dijo que tu mal español era lindo.”
“She said it was cute, huh?” He smiled.
“For a gringo.” They both laughed.
"You're beginnin’ to look just like her," he said. "She’d be proud of you, Darling."
"Thanks, Papa." She looked up at him and smiled.
A screech from the mountains rang. It cut through the crisp, cool air and interrupted the happy mood.
She held onto him tightly.
He turned the music off and went and grabbed and readied his weapon.
She remembered her mother’s words: “Trust your Papa, he looked out for me and he'll look out for you. Él te ama."
“Pick up your gun, Daughter. The Ferals are coming.”