R. W. Ware
I know I’m going to die soon.
It’s my heart.
Sometimes it’s painful, sharp pains that drill right through me; sometimes it’s a pin-drop that echoes throughout my body like ripples in a puddle. For me, all time stops.
My fate is certain. There are few specialists left, and those that are have kept to the big cities, where there is electricity and big hospitals. My concern is for my son, my beautiful son; my special son. My Tiny Tim.
Who will watch over him when I die? Who will love him or understand him like I do? Who will prize his laugh or feel his anguished shrieks? Who will calm him when he bashes his head, in frustration, against the wall?
It’s just me and him, and I don’t know if I’ll survive this journey. But what else can I do? If his mother, or brother and sister, had survived then it would be different. Millions of people didn’t survive, but only three that mattered to me — three that loved my beautiful apraxic boy.
His eyes are so clear, like the scenes of the Caribbean that the television used to show us, as he tries to lift my head off of the ground.
I’m so tired.
"Daddy," he says. It’s one of the few words he can speak clearly — which comes out as Dad-dee — and he does so with insistence. "Daddy, Daddy, Daddy."
I force myself to sit up. Bolts of pain shoot from my left nipple to my shoulder blade. I try to mask the pain, but he must see something, because he says, "Daddy... ugh." Ugh is hug for him, but no less endearing. I wrap an arm around his scrawny shoulders and pull him in tight. He’s so innocent, so needy. I feel guilty once again that I’m as helpless to cure his hunger as his underdevelopment.
I must push on, find him food.
He thinks this is a game. Though it hurts that he can’t understand, his laughter makes me smile. I love his laugh. It’s something I can hang on to.
We walk out of the woods and see a town ahead. It is as much of a ghost town as all the others, but perhaps there are canned foods or cereals. He loves his oopey-doops — his mother’s name for Fruit Loops.
My chest muscles cramp and I bite down on my lower lip. It feels like my ribcage is throbbing. I take slow breaths to calm myself and hope I will last just a little longer.
Until I hear a clinking, I don’t even realize I’ve turned the boy loose. Pain does strange things to the mind. He is playing with a broken headlight in an overturned truck.
"No!" There is a body in the truck. Maybe it’s carrying whatever death swept across the country. "No, Bubba, don’t play with that." Bubba is easier to say for him. It has been my name for him since he started speaking — what little he does.
He screams. My boy flings the headlight away and smacks himself rapidly in the face. This is the hard part. I manage to get to him and pull him away from the truck, but he smashes his forehead into the ground over and over. I stop him, pull him into a hug. It hurts in so many ways.
"It’s okay to be mad, Bubba, but you don’t have to do this."
My peaceful tone and rubbing his back calms him, but he cries. I cry. It isn’t fair.
I carry him on to the town. He’s not heavy, and he wants to be held. His legs are wrapped around my waist.
As we pass a gas station, the signs of looting are all too evident. I switch his head to the other shoulder and kiss him — there is a decaying body in the window.
Banks, restaurants, clothes stores and music shops are all trashed along the sides of the road. But then, hope rises in the form of a supermarket. Its doors are broken open, but surely there must be something to eat.
The junk food is gone. Everything simple or up near the registers is gone.
"Eat, eat," my boy says, while poking fingers into his cheek — signing, like his mother taught him to.
Most of the food on the shelves requires preparation. Bugs skitter around the shelves, dipping into products through holes mice chewed in them. Most of the cereal is gone, but the boy finds some single-serving boxes of oopey-doops. I guess most looters weren’t looking for small stuff.
I open a box and hand it to my son. His face is bright and beautiful again and his little lips purse with each chew. My beautiful boy. This is all that matters. He needs to be safe and fed, and as happy as he can be.
I grab a green-canvas tote bag and fill it with some essentials: aspirin — to keep me alive until the next town, and chance to find someone to take care of my boy — a lighter, bottles of water and a bunch of hot dogs and sliced turkey.
"Come on, Bub." I reach a hand out and he takes it. I put the oopey-doops in his pocket, where he can reach them as we walk. He only eats one at a time.
Pain stabs me under my left arm. I am used to this pain, and the fear that this one will be my last. I have to close my eyes for a moment to calm myself. When I feel I can stand, I take an aspirin — blood thinner — and we trudge onward.
At the far end of town is an on-ramp for I-95 South. We climb it. The pain has faded, for the moment. The top of the ramp shows me a sign that bring tears to my eyes and hope: Boston 20 mi.
I scoop him up, hug him, and we trudge on.
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About the Author
R. W. Ware
R.W. Ware is devoted husband and father of three, and an artist of multiple mediums. With a background in comic and fantasy art, he paints in acrylics, illustrates Flash Fiction Online in a number of mediums, designs t-shirts and logos, and is a Master Tattoo Artist (dermagraphic artist). He’s garnered over 150 awards for tattoos (and broken records at two conventions), painting and poetry, was voted #6 artist on the Preditors & Editors Poll. He also writes long- and short-form fiction.
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