I never knew my father very well, although it was still a surprise to see his face on the news. I was to poor to afford anything besides wooden shoes. I took care of my youngest brother, who was dying from an illness the doctor could not identify. It was the last few months I spent with my brother alive, and he spent this knowing ... I thought at the time ... that his father will never come home. I suppose that explained why he always came home late at night.
At school I pretended like nothing was wrong, although my lunches were particularly quiet affairs. Samantha would ask me why I never smile, while she would give Rachel a brand new flute to remember her mother by. But for me, I had nothing to remember my parents by at all. Life was finite, and I was more so. And my little brother, who did nothing wrong but live was fading into dust. At night I read him bedtime stories in the English language, while I was still properly learning to speak the language myself. At night there would be blank triangles in the sky, spying on our neighborhood. I would wake up some nights with my underwear turned inside out, and I would see a strange man in silhouette eye me through the window. I wanted him to go away, and just like that I was out of the dream.
After school we would go eat pizza at the arcades, ran by a school friend's mother who saved most of her food supplies for the restaurant in order to enrich the family beyond the war rations we were getting as a community, standard packaged dried noodles for home spaghetti. We would have the best pizza of our lives, as it wasn't a standard liquid cheese on cracker bread affair. We got it cheaper by having more than four topics, so we chose bacon, mushrooms, olives, hamburger, and pickled jalapeño. All to the tune of retro music from the 1990s, her mother being a connoisseur of oldies before music was written by committee. Before independent labels made all the committee ideals irrelevant, and individuals could sing their songs again. Yet our lives was not a popular music song, it was the song of broken lives and restored friendships transcending the limits of the human race.
And at night we had normal bed times like other middle schoolers, yet we would get together at unspecified points in the night in order to connect our USBs, and communicate securely. Samantha was a programmer, and she taught the rest of us how to use this strange software. One of the three of us would be administrator, and specify a specific time that we would meet: the routes we would walk would almost seem at random at times. But she always seemed to know how to avoid the triangular craft in the sky, above the glow of city lights. And when bombs were a dropping, she would always know the best nook and cranny to hide under, from university tunnels to underground sewers. Among other things I shall not describe.
She once told me and Samantha of a friend who seemed to like to make everything she said into some kind of sex joke. At times it made Samantha want to give her a choke. Yet at the end of the day she never did. And that friend would always follow around her asking for sex. Eventually she stopped connecting with her, and now we don't know where she is. And that's the kind of life we lead, as broken people in the world of the broken life. Girls that strove not to be wives for any boy, at least as long as we could eat pizza at the arcades.
We would return at an unspecified hour.
We would then sleep soundly at night.
We would only have this get together periodically, and I spent most nights being bored with my little brother. At times I would worry what would happen if I left the ghost of my little brother behind, under the glow of night lights. He always slept peacefully, and never a terror stirred. The terror always haunted me, in the darkest of the forbidden midnight hour. And every hour after I would break up in a breathless panic, dreading something in the closet. Something reaching out for me. And in our ventilation in the apartment, I saw ... a hand reaching out ... and it was.
"Honey, can you get me the screw driver?" my dad said.
The government assigned me a stepfather until I became eighteen, and would guide me until the war was over with the Southern colonies. "We can't have you just wandering out at night Susie. It's not save our there. These buildings at bomb prove. But out there you're just meat."
At night I dreamed of my mother, falling in the war.
Her face stricken with terror from the bomb blasts, before she jumped and fall off a sky scraper onto the floor below. I remembered my dad, trying to reach out to talk her out of her fall.
Yet it was no use.
And now I didn't have him.
I had nobody.