Are We There Yet?

Prompt: “Are we there yet?” “No, child. We’ll never be there.”

From: r/writingprompts

“Are we there yet?”

“Not yet.”

It had only been minutes since he last asked me that goddamn question. His little head rested on my shoulder, tilted against me, pinching my ear against my skull but I didn’t make him move away. His breath was shallow, the worn fabric of the sling that kept him pressed against my back too thin, holes in dangerous places. He slipped a little, and I jolted my body to shift him and keep him higher, where it was easier to carry. His little feet, one wearing a shoe, one covered in a dirty sock, big toe poking out, danced and kicked carelessly as only the unaware and restless feet of a child can. I touched his foot with my hand to still it. He made it hard to walk.

“Are we there yet?”

“Not yet.”

The remnant had almost made its way below the tree line. Its pale light was fading fast and night would come soon. Night and cold and hunger. This was as good a place as any. All places were as good a place as any. I began to untie the fabric that held him to my back.

“Are we there yet?”

“Not yet.”

He slipped out of the bottom of the wrap and landed on his feet. He bounced a little, and dug in the mud, unable to contain the excitement of childhood but biologically incapable of expending too much energy.

“Mama! Look! Look at this!” I was rubbing the raw ache out of my breasts, letting the blood flow back into them after being constricted for the past several hours. “Mama, look!” He shoved a translucent, shimmering stone in my face and I backed up so I could actually see it.

“Yeah,” I said, and smiled. “It’s real pretty.”

“It’s magic!” he said, grinning, and plopped down on the ground.

“Oh?”

“Yeah! Magic! It’s one of those magic stones the sun made!”

“Mmm-hm.”

“The sun was hot because it had so much magic in it and then it got really hot one day-remember, Mama? Remember when the sun got all hot?-and then it got really cold-remember?-because it gave all its hot magic to the rocks!”

“Oh.” I began gathering a few bits of kindling, some dead leaves and branches, to pretend I had any idea how to start a fire without matches or flint. Rubbing sticks together? Sorry. Bullshit. For me, at least.

“Yeah! It’s magic! It’ll glow brighter when we get closer!”

“Ah.”

He sat for the next few minutes, pondering the beauty of his magic stone, rubbing his finger over the glistening surface.

“Poor sun,” he whispered to the rock. “I’m sorry you had to die.” He looked up at the sky for moment and watched the remnant easing its way below the horizon. “I wish I could remember what you used to feel like.”

I stopped listening, turned away, pulled the map out of my pocket and put my back to the remnant to let its insufficient light dimly illuminate the paper. I knew what I’d see. I knew what I’d been seeing for the past seven weeks. But I had to look, once again, to lie to myself for a moment that maybe I’d find something I hadn’t seen before.

But I didn’t. The paper was filled with nothing but giant Xs. Every city, every town, every flooded coastal village, gone. Atlanta, gone. Houston, gone. Florida, gone. Mexico, the whole damn country, gone. Canada, a solid block of uninhabitable ice. The warmest parts were water and everything else was frozen. I folded the map and put it back in my pocket and pretended I didn’t know what I knew: There was nowhere left to go.

I watched him playing in the dirt, digging with the magical rock, drawing a shape in the cold mud. It had been seven months, thirteen days since we last saw another human.

There was nothing left.

I dug around until I found a few frozen nuts and gave them to my son and let him eat. I raised his shirt under the guise of tickling him and counted his ribs. How long did he have? A day? Two? I hadn’t eaten in two weeks, but even I could outlast him. Fucking hell. Could I admit I’d considered feeding him my own arm, and that only the problematic logistics had kept me from doing so? I kissed him and pulled him onto my chest and stroked his hair and wrapped my body around his little, thin, shivering one.

He slept soundly, muttering to himself, but I never slept much anymore. I wasn’t scared of anything, there were no wild animals or raiding parties left on the surface of the planet. There was nothing left. I only stayed awake wondering why I made him stay alive.

In the morning I hitched him to my back and began walking again, breathing on his little bare toe to tickle it and warm it. His right hand gripped the magic stone, rubbing it smooth, watching it for the telltale glow that would lead us to safety. He looked thin, and sick, and blue. It would be soon. I pushed the thought from my mind.

“Where are we going?”

“Florida.”

“Are we there yet?”

“Not yet.”

Minutes passed. He fell asleep on my shoulder, his breath hot. My face spared a drop of moisture for a single tear. He woke up, but couldn’t lift his head.

“Are we there yet?” It was whispered, so quiet, so far away, so cold. His eyes closed. His breath was hot, and then warm, and then shallow, and then wasn’t. The magic stone slipped out of his fingers and fell to the ground.

I didn’t stop walking. My feet kept marching, obliviously, endlessly. My face kept waiting for the hot breath on my cheek, for the endless question that had no answer, but it never came.

“No, child,” I managed, and found I wanted nothing more in the world than to die. “We’ll never be there.”


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