It is hot in Texas in the summer at night, so much so that most of the time I will not sleep with a blanket. This is one of those nights, where all I can do, besides trying to sleep, is to stare out my window. The light from the moon filters through my partially covered window, and at times, it is like I'm seeing rows of dead bodies covered with white blanket lying on my backyard. The morbid scenery causes a shiver to run up my spine, despite the heat, and I turn away from the window trying my best not to be afraid of the dark. I crawl out of bed and turn on my lamp that is sitting on my bed stand, diming it to the lowest setting. The light just makes the heat that much scorching and I am tempted to turn it off again. Tomorrow I train, tonight I must sleep even though I'm sweating so much. I slip back into bed, causing the bed to squeak softly, and shut my eyes. My mind is alive and speaking, so I just think the same sentence over and over again, There is nothing, I am nothing.
It must work for the next thing I see when I open my eyes, is the sun sparking through my windows. I place a pillow over my face as I realize it is hotter today than it was last night. I feel sticky and gross, groaning as I roll out of bed. Summer mornings in Texas are just as bad as the nights, waking up every morning sweating so much even though you had the AC and a fan on you all night. I stumble as I pick up some clothes out of the basket near by and duck into my bathroom across the hall. As I do my morning routine, a nice lukewarm shower and brushing my teeth and the usual, I pull my long pink hair back into a ponytail. Aware that pulling my hair into a ponytail while it is still wet will cause it to crinkle, I do it anyways for my hair acts almost like a curtain and sticks to me when I start to sweat. Also, there is no possibility of me turning on a blow dryer in this heat.
I grab my backpack and the shotgun off the kitchen counter, and make my way to the forest out behind my house. I start running almost immediately as I hit the edge of the forest, carrying my firearm in the appropriate fashion, trying not to think about how stupid this would look going down a regular street. The light filters beautifully through the leafs, making me feel like a intruder in this peaceful place. I trip over a branch on the ground, I go into the fall and roll into a kneeling position, pointing my gun around before taking off again. I finally slow to a trot before coming to a complete stop, panting vigorously. I look around carefully before deciding to climb up on a nearby oak tree. I hoist my back pack up and take out my knife, drawing a cross into the wood. I flip my blade close and tuck it back into my right hand pocket. As my legs dangle off the branch and I search through my backpack, I hear a bird singing in the distance and I smile. I find my water and take a big gulp of water, thankfully it was still a little cold. I pour some into my hands and splash my face and rub my neck.
After a few minutes of resting I climb down and try to decide if I should head back, for I have never been this far before. Deciding it would be beneficial if I know these woods well, I take off. I try to make note of landmarks, so as to not lose my way, stopping here and there to make marks on the tree. These marks would not be noticeable unless you were paying close attention to the root of the trees. I slow as I come to a clearing and peak through the bushes, I see a white structure that is maybe just one story high. I decide to get closer and wade through the waist high grass. As I come closer I recognize the building as that of an old school building, as I step into the building, it is falling apart in many places but still standing firmly.
I go to the blackboard and pick up a piece of what looks like the stain glass window that use to be adjacent to the blackboard. I fish out a piece of cloth, that I turned into a rag, and wrap it around the blue white glass. As I cover half of the half of the winged glass, I wonder how it broke so cleanly down the wings to where only a perfect half of the winged remained. I notice the setting sun and rush to make back home at a medium pace, my feet tired from the run here. It is almost complete dark as I make my way through the door, and grip my new found treasure firmly before I completely enter the house.
"So where did you go today?" I hear a deep voice behind me, as I set my shotgun back on the counter, "And what did you shoot and kill for me to eat tonight?"
I almost laugh as I turn toward my father, "Dad, you're mistaking me for you girlfriend again, I don’t kill harmless animals."
Dex pouts slightly as takes a sip of his beer, saying " It doesn’t hurt you every now and then to kill me a rabbit and cook me some rabbit stew."
I open the fridge and pull out some freshly killed and sliced steak, holding it up to Dex, "See Dad, you girlfriend already set us up for at least two days with this."
Dex sighs as I go about fixing up the steak to cook for dinner, dads today are different then they use to be. Usually if your 19 year old daughter ran off into the woods with a shotgun, you would call the police, now however it seems to be normal. Our rustic kitchen used to be nice enough that people would spend loads amount of money to get, but after years of neglect and constant use, turned it into something apparently modern day people wouldn’t even glance at.
At the smell of dinner cooking my fourteen year old sister and fifteen year old brother, come wandering into the kitchen, still dirty from tending the garden. I take a nice glance at the them and smile, before returning to my task. After the meat is done cooking, I turn to the freshly picked vegetables and start a stew. The smell drifts through the house and the grumbling sound of five stomachs is not something that easily overlooked.
My littlest sister, age 4 wobbles into the room looking up at me as she holds on to the edge of my shorts. I pat her head and let her know that dinner is almost done, and the Younger sister, Amy starts setting the table. Ben, my brother, picks up Ren, the youngest, to wash her and himself down before dinner. Once Amy is done, she follows after.
"Kassandra, something has to give." Dex states, as I finish the food and start making plates before my siblings come back, "You can't keep training like this, you have to accept this fate and spend your time with your family." I ignore him and turn my back to his pleading gaze to wash my hands in the sink. "Your mother passed when she gave birth to Amy, so you are the only mother figure they have, and what kind of mother runs off every morning before they wake." I dry my hands "They miss you, they need you, and I need you here so I can go...." As his voice trails off, I grip the base of the sink. How I wish I grew up in the modern world, instead of this post apocalyptic world.
I do not turn around and pronounce clearly, "Where are you going?"
An awkward silence fill the room before Dex answers my question softly, "I've been called forth to defend this area. So I need you to take over guardianship of your siblings."
"Why me?! I have sacrificed so much, my own youth to raise them, while their real parent gets drunk and sleeps with loose women. I train every morning so as to protect this family when the front line is breached and this area descends to hell! You can't go!" I rant, turning forcefully toward my father who is a arms length away from me forgetting that my siblings can hear me.
I feel heat on the right side of my face, my father had slapped me, "Hold your tongue! You are lucky that I choose you to look after them and not Nancy! Take responsibility and be what you have to be to support them."
I look up at him with what my mother use to call my doe eyed face, and whisper, "But daddy I need you here."
Dex looks coldly in my eyes as if not know who I am and as he turns, he picks up his pack sitting by the back door. As he starts to walk out he calls, "I won't be coming home."
Instead of crying like I want, sit at the table as my sibling come out reproachfully to eat the dinner I had prepared. I force myself to smile and chat happily with my siblings. I ignore the stares that are directed at the front door, which Dex had just left through. I clench my fist tightly as my conversation topics plummet into silence, and my hands start to shake in frustration. I clench to tightly and can feel my hands start to sweat and my fingernails dig into my calloused hands. As the silence consumes us and the palms of my hands start to hurts, I bang my fist on the table and everyone jumps. The smooth wood beneath my fist and the stinging pain shooting up from the side of my fist, tell me that this isn't just a daydream, but Dex really did leave us.
I look around the table, fear in each of their faces, but in their eyes one could tell they have already accepted this long before is passed. It seems as though I am the only one who did not see this coming, the only one who can not accept this, and the only one who is hurt. Sometimes people feel betrayed by the smallest things, people read into the smallest action, and body language can tell people what others are thinking; However, apparently kids can read these signals better than me it seems. So I straighten up, become rigid and try to send out vibes that read as confidence and reliable.
I pick up my fork and begin to eat and the sound of their utensils start to join mine. After shoveling our food in our mouths in complete silence, we start to clean up, and I usher them to take their showers and to rest up for tomorrow. I stand in front of the sink staring out the window, staring into the darkness of the night while my hands move around in the water, cleaning the dishes. Everything else has been done, except for the dishes, and my hand moves deeper into the sink pulling the stopper out. Gripping the side of the sink, thinking about tomorrow, thinking about the future, closing my eyes. I want to stop thinking, stop being, stop wanting, and just start moving.
I see images of my mother play across my eyelids, as she trains the seven year old me how to skin a rabbit. I feel something wet and warm roll down my check, and I immediately swipe it away, dropping a plate. The sound of glass shattering on the ground, the sound of broken glass being crushed beneath my boots, and the feel of that one piece of glass in my hand from earlier. People are sometimes as frail as glass but all so beautiful as the stain glass. Maybe not always shining, but each piece unique in it's own way.