Time was there’d have been opportunity for girls like me to be whatever our hearts desired. Whatever our wills could want, was possible.
So we were told.
So were we encouraged and cheered.
We were taught that hard work and talent were the only ingredients needed for success. Those days are long past.
This remnant life is a grasping thing, and my hands don’t have finger strength adequate to the task.
It didn’t take long, not through the lens of reflection. Daylight grew short over a handful of days instead of months and the sun paled, withdrawing behind the scrim of dust that settled and clung. After the initial shock and panic resolved into a baseline of leaden grimness we covered our faces and opened the doors to take stock.
It was hard going for weeks, and then years. I remember lying next to my little sister, night after night, as she coughed in her sleep. I looked still, but my soul was churning, wondering if the bleakness itself would ever settle, or if all nights would echo with the ache for before.
Step by step we began again, rebuilding what was needed for the fraction that remained. The world was a contained thing now. Everything built by human hands outside the ring road was gone, had been carried away on the wind within a week, and those who had ventured beyond the old highway to discover why did not return. Even at eight years old I knew better than to keep asking why. Whys were what made folk disappear. Whys wouldn’t do any good for anyone anymore.
The day my Aunt Hen placed a warm oatcake drizzled with a precious spoonful of honey was the day it had been determined I was now seventeen. My sister placed a small glass before me filled with green blades with a few snowdrops tucked like sleeping faeries bound together with a scrap of blue ribbon. It wasn’t a certain thing, nothing about marking time was sure anymore, but we held fast to every marker.
Aunt Hen’s ingenuity with our rations was a beacon against the dark. My sister’s tiny bouquet was a gesture of memory, a token of when our mother would ring our breakfast plates with flowers just because she could. I knew the celebration was as much for them as for me, acknowledgement we were all still here as much as of the anniversary of my birth.
Nine years past, but a world apart.