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Spring 2008 Edition
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Author: Lily Thomas
Location: Northeastern Pennsylvania

diamond icon Lily Thomas is a published writer whose work includes speculative fiction, horror, and sci-fi. She's "pushing thirty," lives with her son, cat, and dog, and is a student. You can visit her website at www.lilythomas.com.



Like Snow, Like Ash, Like Tin

It was noon on a Tuesday and her hands were shaking.

Jen crushed the small white tablet in the mortar and pestle she got at her bridal shower twelve years ago. She ran an index finger along the curved inner surface and powder fell like snow into the applesauce.

From the countertop she picked up the cardboard box and studied it. Twenty pills. One pill per day for each of them.

When the cloud had plumed in the sky, she could only think of two options: the emergency kit with the pills or Bob's gun safe. At first Jen had wanted cool, slick metal beneath her fingers and reached for the spinning dial, but the combination was Cody's birthday. She opened the white plastic kit instead and rummaged through it until she found the small pillbox stashed inside.

Jen set the cardboard box down and opened her mouth to call Cody, but nothing came out. Her voice, which had sung show tunes in the community theatre and lullabies in a dark bedroom, had failed her for the first time.

She walked into the living room, where Cody was on the Oriental rug playing with a yellow truck. He looked up and smiled. In that moment he looked so much like Bob, with the dimple in his right cheek, tousled black hair, and eyes the color of fresh-tilled earth. If her heart could break any more, it would have then.

"Hi, momma."

"Have some applesauce, baby."

Cody ran to her, sat on her lap and asked questions about the boom, the sky getting dark, the neighbors leaving. She said nothing, just fed him and watched the neighbors from her bay window. They stuffed their cars with blankets, bags of food, and cases of water. They shoved their children into the leather interiors and all their faces were kabuki masks of terror. She wondered where they all planned to go. Everything was in ruins. Bob would know what to do, but Bob had taken the car to work and Bob was gone.

In the kitchen she recycled the applesauce container, placed the spoon in the sink. She turned the handle and found that the water still ran. The flour, sugar, cookie jars and anything else that could hold water were dumped. She filled them. She plugged the sink and it was half full when the water finally stopped.

#

Midnight on a Friday, or six on a Saturday, or noon on a Tuesday. Her hands were shaking.

Thyroid blocker, in case of radiation emergency, use as directed by your state and local agencies. She fingered the crumbling cardboard like a rosary. When she had first touched the box, she had felt the faintest sliver of hope.

But hope was gone.

Everything was gone.

"Momma? I'm hungry," Cody called softly. He made a retching noise. There would be blood on the floor when she went to him.

"I know, baby. I'm coming."

She ran a hand through what was left of her hair. Brown strands fell to the table, floating like ash.

Pills that were once Bob's were crushed and stirred into the last applesauce. Cody didn't complain when she fed it to him, even though she was sure it must taste like tin. Or death.

He went to sleep in her arms and she held him like she did when he was born. She whispered to him how much he had been wanted, how long she and Bob had waited for him. That he had been a miracle. That three years weren't nearly enough. She sang All the Pretty Horses and Baby Mine until her voice failed her once more.

When he was stiff and cold she put him to bed. Covered him, crawled next to him, tried to cocoon her body around him like she once did when he was protected in her womb.

The metal was cool and slick.

Her hands did not shake.





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