As snow fell from a bright and sunny sky, I felt like I was living inside a snow globe. The air was nipping cold, but even in my crummy slippers and my hole-filled hoodie, I was unwilling to go back inside yet. My home, an old school shared with my family and many others, was warmer, but far less beautiful. Bored children and their grandparents often cleaned the yard and walls because there was nothing else to do after work days were finished.
I was sure that there was nothing like this in the world. I shielded my eyes and looked up. The snow was bright and shining as it fell, like motes of pure light. An uneasy step led me forward, away from the old school. If none of this had happened, I might have happily attended it as a student and learned how to read the sign in front.
It was so strange. All it took was one bomb, hundreds of miles away.
My mom and dad were gone. It was just me, my deaf Gram, my blind Gramp, and seven brothers and sisters. I was a middle child. My three older siblings all worked hard to earn enough to feed everyone. My four little siblings had no idea how our oldest sister, Amy, was killing herself on whatever the foreigners wanted just to afford a loaf of bread for the week.
They couldn’t see the haunted face of William, who cleaned the healthy dead and processed them so he could bring home a thigh each week. Bess had only half of her fingers from working in a factory to earn enough money to buy a few scraps that were spoiled at the green grocer’s stall.
I could see.
I couldn’t bear to let them continue to sacrifice themselves for my sickly body anymore. Everyone else was still asleep this early, so I simply walked away.
There was no note, like I heard people used to write. I didn’t know my letters.
Instead, I just walked to the wall that stood between us and the world of the people who weren’t struggling.
Those people called us sick, because we lived closer to where an old bomb exploded seventy-something years ago. It was longer ago than my grandparents were born. I didn’t feel sick, unless it was a change in the seasons and my nose stopped working for a few months. Spring was coming. My nose felt it. I scratched the aching thing. I had a hard, sharp booger hiding too deep to pick. It hurt.
As I walked, the clouds finally rolled in and blocked the sun. The light snow continued. Everything looked more dreary once the sun hid away.
A shout pulled me from my reverie, and I looked up. It came from the wall. I hurried forward, ear cupped. What was that person ahead saying? My every step made the frozen grass crunch underfoot. When I arrived, an angry face in nice, but strange clothes stared down at me like I was a scrap of food too moldy for even the most hungry vagrant.
“Go back.” He grunted at me. “Stupid girl.”
“I just want to look across.” I lied as I looked up. I had to speak loudly, because the wall was so high. “I heard it’s pretty on the other side.”
The man sighed as he looked down at me, then pulled a pair of rubber gloves onto his hands. Was I that horrible? My belly felt tight as he opened the gate that led to the ladder. I was going to look across the wall. My throat felt like a bean was stuck in it as I climbed the frozen metal ladder. It sucked my body’s heat away quickly, and when I got to the top and stood on the wall, I was shaking.
I looked across the wall. State workers were cleaning streets in the early morning light. People who weren’t starved left their homes and climbed into cars that weren’t rusted. They laughed and greeted each other, like there wasn’t a life of struggle on the other side of the wall, where plants rarely grew. It felt like a kick to the face like Dad used to do on accident when he was tripping over my brothers and sisters and I to get to work on time.
How could they live so peacefully and with such smiles? I stared for a long time. It looked so much warmer over there. I hugged myself to keep warm and simply watched. When I began to turn away, I noticed the guard was looking the other way.
My mind seemed to click out of place, and I jumped down on the wrong side. Instead of embracing the ground, like I planned to do, I embraced my legs and rolled. It hurt, but I wasn’t dead. There was some strange spark inside me. I looked up from between the dead grass. The guard wasn’t looking.
Frantic arms carried me on their elbows deeper into this pretty, white, clean place. I wanted this for myself, for my family. I had to get a home and prepare it for them! The snow felt like tiny stars as it melted on my bare arms, and as the clouds moved aside, I gaped. Each house was even more beautiful. Their brick sides were bright and clean. Each had a chimney with smoke. Their lawns were already poking up little sprouts of grass. Slowly, I stood to get a better look.
Nothing else mattered as I enjoyed the beauty of the world outside. I saw metal fences, and dogs inside panted happily when they saw me. I walked to one, and it licked my hand like it would love me forever. I sat by its fence and scratched its ears through the gaps in the wire. His fur was soft, and he was a very fat creature.
It felt like someone threw a stale pea at my back. I reached back to feel it. Why was my back wet? I looked at my red-painted hand.
The dog cowered and whined, and I crawled back into the tall grass. Shouts came from the tower, and I kept crawling. Somehow, I found a hollow log, and I rested there. Heavy feet got closer as I closed my heavy eyelids.