Survival

Ice on aspen leaf

When the snow fell from the sky for the first time, that November afternoon, people ran outside to welcome it. Some people cried. The experts warned: Do not become complacent! But the air was cold and clean and deadly to the virus, and even Eleanor put her bowl of flour and sugar down on the counter and stepped outside to feel the icy flakes sting her cheeks.

The children were at school, her mother asleep in bed, and her father alone in his study not wanting to be disturbed, so Eleanor waved to her neighbour Harry, who waved back and then did an awkward little jig, and Eleanor laughed so hard she felt warm tears on her face. 

She felt eyes upon her and turned towards the house, and saw her father standing in the window of his study, his face in shadow. She could not tell if he shared her elation or was disdainful of it. She waved to him, then turned her back on him before he could respond, and waved to the neighbours on the other side, two sisters who hugged each other and wept. They’d lost everyone, and wept for their loss, Eleanor suspected. They were tears of rage more than tears of relief. They didn’t see her wave. 

A chill gust of wind abruptly brushed the thin layer of snow from the sidewalk and lawn and it rose in a cloud. Eleanor, now damp and cold, went inside.

She wanted to tell her mother but did not want to disturb her sleep. She’d slept so fitfully this past week, the fever coming and going; she was too weak to eat and the doctor, looking almost as grey and exhausted as his patient, had set up an IV to keep her nourished. That helped soften the rash on her face and body, she looked less uncomfortable and angry, and her features softened as she slept.

Eleanor imagined the teachers setting the children loose outside in the snow, free to run and play for the first time in many months, and anticipated they’d return home flushed and glowing. She put the cookies, dark with molasses and cocoa, in the oven. They would be warm when when the children burst through the door.

Her father came into the kitchen. She could feel his presence before she saw him. He was a dark cloud that inhabited the house, like a ghost, steady and uncomplicated and now predictable. “I don’t believe it,” he said.

“Don’t believe what?” Eleanor said with a sigh. “That it is snowing? That winter is here?”

 “That it will make a difference,” he said. “That’s just another lie.”

“Papa, they know it will kill the virus,” Eleanor said. 

“Who is ‘they’? You are naive. You forget I survived this virus. I know what it is.”

He’d said the exact words before, but was never willing to explain what “it” was; nor how he would know more about the pathology of a deadly virus than medical experts solely by virtue of having contracted it.

“I’m not sure you did survive it,” Eleanor said in a low voice, turning away and vigorously wiping the counter top with a yellow cloth. 

“What did you say?” 

“I’m not sure you survived it,” said Eleanor, more loudly this time, turning to face him. “You are not the same, papa, you don’t smile, you have… strange ideas, you—”

“It took me a lifetime to understand the truth, that’s all,” he said, his face flushing.

“What is the truth?” Eleanor snapped.

“I’ve been used, we all have been used,” her father said darkly. “Where do you think this virus came from?”

“You are talking nonsense,” Eleanor said. “We know where mama got it, and how.” 

“It’s because of them,” said her father.

“Who?”

A shaft of late afternoon sunshine suddenly broke through the clouds and streamed through the window, blinding her father; he turned away and covered his eyes. He was still very sensitive to bright light, it was a lingering symptom of the virus and one reason he favoured his darkened study. He would battle a severe headache later on. Her mother’s bedroom was never brighter than the light a single dull bulb from a lamp in the corner could cast.

“I’m sorry, Papa,” said Eleanor as she closed the blinds, a chore she’d usually have already taken care of as the sun moved lower in the sky. It would be dark soon, and the school bus would drop the children home. The cookies were cooling on the rack, and the milk ready to be poured.

She brushed an unruly lock of hair from his forehead. It was almost time to give him another haircut. Her fussing used to irritate him, now he let her touch his face with a resigned indifference. It was a connection, however tenuous. Sometimes their eyes met, as they did this time. 

Her father was about to retreat to his study when the front door opened and slammed against the wall and a small boy flew into the house, dropping his knapsack on the floor. “There was a snowman!” he cried to his mother, who smiled and knelt and helped remove his jacket. “She let us come home early, so we could play. Will you play with me Grampa?”

Eleanor’s father said nothing, but a wisp of a smile played at the corner of his mouth. 

“It’s gonna be better now, Grampa,” the boy said solemnly as he took a seat at the kitchen table. “Miz Fitzgerald said.” He then burst into a toothy grin. Eleanor’s father almost smiled again, and touched the boy’s head as if to tousle his hair, but did not.

“Where’s your sister?” Eleanor asked, as she placed warm cookies on a small plate and set it on the table.

The boy’s grin vanished and he looked at his lap, then at his Grampa standing beside Eleanor. 

Eleanor looked quizzically at them both, one by one. The boy stared at his hands. Her father took a step towards her as if to hug her. She could feel the dark cloud that always hovered over him penetrating her like an icy wind. She thought of the sisters, hugging on their front lawn, her neighbour Harry doing a jig. Her mother lost in a fog of illness. Her daughter, learning how to climb steps two at a time. She felt her father’s arms surround her and hold her as if she were a weeping child.

The boy advanced and gently took her hand. “It’s gonna be better now, Momma.” 

It’s gonna be better.

Gritty Meatballs

Prompt: Visceral


Dear Wednesday,

I admit, my reaction was visceral, from the gut, when I was informed that we would have four guests, three of whom I’ve never met, staying with us for over a week while they attend an athletic event (as participants). I’m still recovering from family reunion week, for heaven’s sake (and recovery realizations are pretty glorious… intently savouring every quiet moment of no-one-else-ville).

We all need to learn to control such reactions, or at least not to trust them, necessarily. My reaction was not instinctual, it was a purely selfish response to what I perceived as a burdensome lack of privacy. But was it?

They are lovely people. They train hard, and buy provisions, and are charmingly appreciative (the English accents don’t hurt).

Now they are visiting friends overnight, and I was astonished how much I missed them. The house suddenly seemed a lonely cave.

I also admit I am confused.

Allow me to present a few of my favourite cartoons, the first of which is tangentially related to today’s Daily Prompt, visceral

cartoon art sucks


cartoon gritty meatballs


cartoon send more roc


Savour every moment!

~~FP

Eclipse

Prompt: Eclipse

Illustration of Ancient Peruvians Worshipping the Eclipse

Nations, like stars, are entitled to eclipse. All is well, provided the light returns and the eclipse does not become endless night. Dawn and resurrection are synonymous. The reappearance of the light is the same as the survival of the soul.

–Victor Hugo, poet, author, and dramatist

 

I bet a fun thing would be to go way back in time to where there was going to be an eclipse and tell the cave men, “If I have come to destroy you, may the sun be blotted out from the sky.” Just then the eclipse would start, and they’d probably try to kill you or something, but then you could explain about the rotation of the moon and all, and everyone would get a good laugh.

–Jack Handy, comedian

 

In a way, staring into a computer screen is like staring into an eclipse. It’s brilliant and you don’t realize the damage until its too late.

–Bruce Sterling, author

 


  • Image: Ancient Peruvians Worshipping the Eclipse, Leonard de Selva, Corbis

Agony Ant: Still Thirsty

Prompt: Survival

storm at sea Robert_Salmon

Dear Agony Ant,

I was on a private Polynesian cruise with my boyfriend and two other couples, when there was a perfect storm and the boat sank. Everyone drowned except me and Arness, who was named after a TV actor. I didn’t know him well, though we became acquainted after spending several weeks on the open sea in a little dinghy, with no water or food.

So what’s the problem? you ask. Well, the thing is, we survived the ordeal, or I wouldn’t be writing to you, but something happened while we were floating, totally alone, with no hope of rescue or comfort.

We were not concerned about betraying our partners, since they were dead. And in fact, I was not interested in sex with Arness, and he didn’t really need me to satisfy him, if you get my drift. So that was not the problem.

He also talked in his sleep, which was not a problem either, since his nighttime ramblings about goats and Microsoft, were, to me, more interesting than his careful, conscious conversation, during which he avoided topics of philosophy and fixated on basketball.

The thing is, we went almost a week without water, even though the sky was overcast and the air was heavy and humid, and we bobbed on the ocean in our little inflatable, dying, probably literally, of thirst.

We set out the cup we had, and cleared the bottom of the dinghy of debris, and prayed to all the gods, foreign and domestic, for rain.

And the gods answered. We got a full one-third cup of water after the rains, and after we sopped up the rainwater pooled in the bottom of our inflatable with Arness’s t-shirt, and squeezed it into the cup.

My lord, we were beyond knowing what thirsty was. When you are thirsty you feel a tickle in the back of your throat, right? We, or,at least I, were beyond the tickle. It was what we dreamed of, awake or asleep. It is, of course, the old irony, of “water water everywhere and not a drop to drink”. There is something extremely cruel about a Being that would put you in the middle of endless seas and watch you die of thirst.

Anyway, we collected our water, through careful planning, patience, and desperation. There was the almost-half cup of water, not as pure as we would have desired, since it contained a lot of Arness’s body salts and smells, by way of his t-shirt, but it was water.

We did rock-paper-scissors to see who would take the first sip; who would have the first half of the water.

Arness won. Damn that rock.

“Just half,” I reminded him, as I passed the cup into his hands. As if he needed reminding.

He nodded, though, and brought the cup to his lips.

When he handed it back to me, it was empty.

Empty. Arness stared at the cup, and then at me. “Oh my god,” he said.

I upturned the cup into my mouth, and not a drop found its way to my tongue.

“My tongue was a sponge,” Arness said. “Oh my god, I’m sorry.”

I ran my finger around the edge and bottom of the cup, in search of a water molecule, and failed to find one.

“It only felt like a sip, Casey, honestly,” said Arness.

So we got rescued a day later. We have been back on dry land for a few months now, and Arness fluctuates between calling me several times a day to see how I am doing, and calling me several times a night, drunk, to see how I am doing.

The fact is, he decided his life was more important than mine while we were floating on the ocean.

I have an opportunity, through my job and connections, to sink Arness’s career and throw him out onto the street. We work in a competitive financial environment, where I am on the rise, while Arness has made one or two promising gambles, which blew up in his face.

Should I exact my revenge for his nefarious deed in the dinghy?

Sincerely,
Still Thirsty


Dear Still Thirsty,

Ahoy! I would throw the blighter overboard with just a lifesaver (the minty kind you find at the supermarket checkout).

Or, write a tell-all book about your TRUE LIFE experience, and in interviews on your book tour with late night talk show hosts, insist you have forgiven Arness for his unforgivable deed, relating it in great detail each time.

If the host asks if you had sex, scrunch up your face and say, “ew”.

Peace and love,
agony ant


Dear Agony Ant,

But would I have done any differently, if I had won rock-paper-scissors?

Sincerely,
Still Thirsty


Dear Still Thirsty,

Thank goodness you will never have to know.

Peace and love,
agony ant