The Story Of Who
Afternoons on Milday were darker than the nights. The two suns lingered in the sky for what seemed like eternity till they drowned into the sea—in agonizing slowness. A blend of lilac and orange swirls, like both flower and rind had melded together in the mortar that was the twilit sky and my gaze played the role of life’s pestle—churning them into inexistence.
The sky became an endless sheet of gloom and every crackle of electricity filled me with dread, and my bones with an unspeakable ache to be set free from a cage of my own doing. Yet, inevitably, those were also my favorite days. Mellow. A break in the monotony.
I got to listen to the birds for longer before they went silent and hid in their burrows, and Mother stayed in bed until much later. And I could forget I was in pain and peace, agony, and bliss, love and hate: everything. No longer did restlessness brew in my heart when I thought of how the day would go, how the day always went and how I couldn’t change a thing even if I was cursed with near-prophetic nightmares every other night.
Today was the brightest anyone would see in a while. According to the forecast, there would be no night.
Olaris—the Great sun—and his little partner Gisiin shined hard today, and maybe that was a sign that things were going bad somewhere in the world, or about to go bad, or something much, much, worse. No one ever expected evil under the glare of daylight.
No one except me.
If there was still a moon, Father once told me, I would have loved it. He said that its presence made the darkness even more special, less something to be feared and more something to be cherished, and I believed him.
But Lunae was gone now, blown to smithereens long before I was born—years before my parents were even alive. I had only seen pictures of it in story books—a big round sphere that glowed softly, hanging in the night sky like suns often did. Not so different but not quite the same either.
Father had told me once that it was only technology keeping our planet together now, that without a moon Milday had long since stopped functioning. He also said that the moon hadn't really been blue but a reflection of our suns.
I believed him.
Every morning when he came back from work, he would ruffle my hair—like he was doing now—and show me the modifications he had made to his gun while he had been out.
This was my favorite part of any day, even the unbelievably bright and oh-so-hot ones.
Father was a soldier. A scientist who worked for the Resistance. They gave him the latest Sols to experiment with and improve on but he worked on many other weapons—ones too important for me to ever see or even be spoken of in my presence—and fixed things that were broken.
He always showed me the guns. They were the only weapons with blueprints I could really understand and the only weapons I ever developed an interest in. I saw myself in the barrel, in the trigger, in the sights. Parts of me combusted in cartridges, parts of me was the bullet, parts of me was nothing but molten air—a controlled explosion created to launch a lethal projectile.
I was dangerous. We were dangerous. I was the gun.
Today, he didn't.
Staring at the baleful smile on his lips, I couldn't bring myself to ask why. Maybe I should have. Maybe not. I had always been an observer, even in spite of myself. Nature has placed a watchful soul in you, was what my teacher always said and I knew it was a compliment.
I watched him kiss Mother on the cheek and scoop my baby brother into his arms. I watched carefully for Mother's expression before spooning more oatmeal into my mouth.
She was happy today. Usually, she would scowl or frown when Father took Jethro from her. All she did was flinch this time.
Mother loved Jethro more than she loved me even though she never said it. Once, she carried me wherever she went and kissed me on the head every morning but that was before she discovered my brother, then nothing but the whisper of a heartbeat, growing in her belly. Ever since, she gave him the best of everything and left Father to take care of me, as though my existence had been erased from the perfect family she envisioned in her mind's eye.
I didn't mind though. I loved Father more than I loved her. We were even that way.
"How was work?" she asked him with one of her rare smiles, turning to the sink full of soaked dishes.
Also curious, while twisting my spoon in the bowl of chunky porridge, I let my gaze drift back to Father in time to see him nod and run his fingers under Jethro's chin to coax a giggle out of him. Usually, Father was eager to talk about something new that happened in his lab or which one of his higher ups had been paid too much for the little they knew. I had never seen him ignore a question before.
Mother, as expected, didn't notice the difference, her hands elbow-deep in soapy water—her thoughts elsewhere in a world I was not privy to. Her hums filled the kitchen—a melody I was still "too young" to recognize: a war song.
It made me wonder what had happened today. Why was Mother so happy? Why was Father frowning?
Mother used to be a medic for the Governing Society. She was smart, maybe even smarter than Father. They had both worked for the government before defecting to support the Resistance.
Sometimes I wished that the Governing Society didn't exist.
The war between the two militaries was the reason the moon was gone—and I was supposed to, born to, brought up to, love the moon.
Mother secretly wished for Jethro to grow up to wear the yellow-stripped garbs of a soldier—one that fought against the Resistance. I didn't know if Father knew yet so I never mentioned it.
The government gave money to the families of their soldiers and we needed money to buy a lot of things in the house, from clean water to clean air. The Resistance didn't pay Father enough money for us to be able to fix anything for ourselves—they barely had enough to support their war effort in the first place.
I understood why Mother wanted my brother to work for the government. She wanted him to have a better life than we did. She didn't want him to grow up—poor and scared and alone in the night with terrors predicting unending darkness in the skies—like I did.
She wanted him normal.
Father put Jethro in my arms and I nearly dropped him because of both surprise and awareness of Mother's stare on me. She didn't like me holding Jethro, even though I would never do anything to hurt him. Maybe she thought I would be jealous and beat him as revenge for her abandonment. I wouldn't though, because I wasn't like that.
I couldn't be.
I did get jealous sometimes but he was my baby brother. We had the same blood running through our veins and that meant something. Something I didn't fully understand yet—but soon.
All I knew was, I couldn't wait to teach Jethro all about guns when he finally stopped putting things in his mouth. Maybe together we would build the first gun that couldn't be used to kill and maybe then, the world would stop being so dangerous and we all would be kinder to one another.
He giggled in my arms and I smiled, placing a kiss on the furry, blonde hair carpeting his scalp. His scent. His sweet, sweet, scent of breast milk and honeyed fruits was able to overpower my daytime dreams.
"Rita," Father pulled Mother into his own arms and kissed her—right on the lips this time. "I have something to discuss with you."
Mother looked at me one more time before nodding and kissing the corner of Father's shaved jaw.
The two of them walked out the kitchen, leaving me alone with my babbling baby brother. He was so soft and warm, and had just turned one a week ago. He reminded me of the chicks I helped rescue at school yesterday.
Back then I could also feel their heart beating hard against my palm when I held them. They had been so fragile.
The teachers had told me to hold them as gently as I could. That was the same way I held Jethro—gently.
It made me wonder if Mother would stop carrying my brother too if she found another baby growing inside her. Jethro didn't deserve that. He was still so young, so fragile. At least Mother had carried me for four years before leaving me. He needed more time to be loved before she moved on.
Out of curiosity, I tried to feed him some oatmeal. He spat all of it on my face the moment it touched his tongue and I agreed. It was pretty terrible without any salt or sugar but right now we couldn't afford any better.
All the food money was going into his baby cereal.