The varnish on the wood steps is peeling away, cracking and splintering like the shards I’ve begun to feel in my soul.
How long … I wonder. Has it always been that way or did it degrade suddenly and explosively? Just like this world? Just like me?
Maybe it was just covered before. The warmth of a fake wool runner that we slid down on our bellies just a few blinks ago seems to be nothing more than a distant memory. My mind holds it like a memory from another world, gently as if the slightest breath could ripple the illusion and forever break it.
Cobwebs have taken over corners and chairs like the one my father sat in on Sunday mornings while reading the comics. They stifle the echo of his laugh bouncing off ceilings and through the hallways.
Now the only sound I hear is Sigh obsessively opening and closing cabinets. It seems that no matter how far gone the world is we still believe food will materialize in mom’s pantry. I hear him cackle with glee, “Twinkies!”
And yet here we stand, still just two kids, with the world forever crumbling around us.
“Sia! I found Twinkies!” Wrappers fall to the ground as Sigh stuffs two at a time into his mouth. His eyes betray the wonder, they never stop darting from the window to the door as he shoves two packs into my hands. “This is it.” He whispers, “I’ll go over to the Johansson’s and see if there’s anything left.”
I turn the golden cakes over in my dirty fingers. They remind me of summers and pool parties. Hours spent outside running through backyards and climbing trees only to shove the most un-nourishing thing you can find through your starving lips as a prize.
“Sia.” Sigh leans close to me, his hazel eyes moving into sharp focus. “If I don’t come back you have to keep going.”
He pushes the pistol into my hands and two bullets before disappearing into the swirling snow that is the ashen world beyond our memories.
I brush the cobwebs from my father’s old chair and settle into it, hugging the pistol into my hip. I try to relax but my thirteen-year-old mind knows I should be talking on the phone with friends or going to movies, not guarding the last two packs of Twinkies with my life.
The sun sets beyond the roofs of our long-gone neighbors. I find myself wondering how many bodies have gathered in these homes, on this street, in this neighborhood I once called home. The wind howls against the door but Sigh does not.
How long … I wonder.
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