A warmth from a million years ago
It was after the war had raged on for years that had felt like a lifetime; after the bombs had dropped and destroyed the town she had lived in for all her life. Grand towers reduced to rubble and wreckage in a matter of seconds, fires and thunderous explosions left and right, heavy smoke and gas permeating the air. People screaming, crying and begging their throats raw. Many were completely unable to move, whether it be because they were trapped under wreckage, someone they love was trapped under wreckage or they were injured so badly or missing certain body parts rendering them unable to run. And blood. So much blood. She wondered what they had done to deserve to experience hell in this lifetime.
Of course, by this point, she had “moved on.” They all had to, eventually. What else could they do? The buildings had to be rebuilt, the injured had to be treated and the dead had to be honored and buried. Over the years, things slowly began to improve, but it was never the same, of course.
Sometimes, she dreams about her family. Her friends. Before everything had changed. Now, it’s the time of year where frost creeps and snowflakes float through piercingly cold air. During weather like this, her family would sometimes have grand dinners, inviting close relatives and friends. Everyone would somehow fit in their petite dining room, while the fireplace crackled and roared. There, in their safe little home at the table…
The smell of maple-roasted turkey, stuffing, tangy cranberries, and wine wafted about. She looked down. Her wide plate was already loaded. Turkey, a baked orange yam topped with crisp golden walnuts, stuffing that was half-covered in gooey gravy, a soft dinner roll. She took a forkful of yam and felt the sweet butteriness of it melt in her mouth.
“Better watch yourself, you fatty. I can’t believe you’re already eating more than I am.” She looked up to her right. Her older brother. Hair swept back, face smooth and unlined, with a playful grin and sparkling eyes that belied his remark. Wait, he’s actually smiling? He looks so….happy…. Oh right. This was before he enlisted, before his eyes turned dead and his frown was frozen, and he never got out of his room.
“Oh shut up, last year you ate practically half the turkey.” Oh yeah. Back when she could get away with joking with him.
“Hush, you guys both be good. The both of you guys should grab some cranberries! They’re extra sweet this year, I promise.” Mom? But you were in the hospital that got blown up. You and Auntie.
She looked around at the table. Across was Dad chortling with his friends—before illness and trauma had defeated him both physically and mentally. Her childhood friend, still declared missing, the boy she had dated and been in love with—back when they didn’t acknowledge each other, when he was just her brother’s friend; of course. The war later took him too—and the next-door-neighbor she didn’t like very much at the time—they’re roommates now—
“You okay, dearie? You look like you want to cry.”
Her aunt. The one who had been with her mom at the hospital. She felt a lump build up in her throat—suddenly, she couldn’t swallow the turkey that she didn’t know she had in her mouth. She wanted to cry, to apologize, to say she was so, so sorry for sneaking out and causing her to panic and run to the hospital where her mom was, where the first bomb fell—
“I’m okay, thanks. I’m just not feeling too well.”
“Hm. Take a break from eating for a little bit, then.”
No, no, that’s not what she meant to say.
“Auntie- Auntie I—”
“Yes dear?” How come her voice sounded more far away?
“I- I’m really sorry for what I did- for sneaking out—”
“What are you talking about? You’re right here.”
“No, no, later, when the bombs—”
The table, which was just filled with the noises of warm conversation, jokes, and laughter, fell completely silent. Then—
“What are you talking about?”
“Are you feeling okay?”
“Are you crazy?”
“We’re all right here—”
They were getting farther and farther away. They were all still at the table, but she…wasn’t. She was detached somehow. Floating away. Their voices sounded so distant. She was floating away faster and faster. Their faces, which had just been so sharp, so clear, were now just faded colors, like splotches of water on a runny painting. The familiar sound of their voices, the warm dinner, the aromas of the food, the fire—
The stiffness of her mattress, and the frostiness of her window. The silence.
After nights like these, it was almost always impossible to fall back to sleep. She tossed and turned a few times, trying to fall back in the numbing oblivion of sleep. But of course, she couldn’t. So she laid in bed, eyes trained to the unforgiving icicles glistening outside her window, the flurry of snowflakes vaguely visible even in the dark hours. Then, slowly, the smallest ray of sunlight peeked through the dull grayness, scattering on the wall opposite the window. Her eyes flew to there. As the minutes ticked by, more light gradually began to seep through. A new day has begun. She recalled how years ago, she had been in the exact same position, too excited to sleep in, restless to see her cousins and friends and to spend an entire day playing with them in the snow. A day that would end with a sumptuous dinner and pumpkin pie. Maybe she could have a day like that again. Maybe everyone who had lost everything after the war could too.
That morning, she went out and purchased a turkey, cranberries, bread, butter, celery, onions and cream. Her roommate came home to a mess of pots, pans and bowls half-filled with various ingredients on every possible surface in the cramped little kitchen.
“Um. What’s going on here?”
“It’s been awhile since we had a holiday dinner. Help me chop the onions, will you?”
With barely suppressed smiles, the two of them got to work on making the first holiday meal since the war. The usually-bare stove was soon crammed with pots of simmering broth and bubbling gravy, and the rusted oven, which hadn’t been used in months, was slowly warming back up to life.