It did not matter if there was enough. There was never enough. The child with the hurt eyes, hurt she didn’t understand but felt just as deeply couldn’t be left behind, alone. So I held out my hand and without thought or hesitation she reached to meet it. Come with me, I said. It will be okay.
Everything will be okay.
We say that to others like it has meaning. It’s nothing more than a pleasantry for hard times. A child believes it because they’ve never heard it before, not had it said to be disproven. Nothing would ever be okay again.
When I’d washed the ash and blood from her face I found skin as pale and delicate as porcelain. Nothing cleared the shroud from her eyes, but her skin shone with the light of something young and fresh. So out of place in this wasteland. I almost wanted to put it back, protect her, cloak her so she wouldn’t stand out.
“Papa,” she said.
I told her I didn’t know where her papa was, but I would look for him. Everything would be okay. She reached her arms to me and said it again. “Papa.”
I gathered her close, felt her warmth and life and an overwhelming desire to fight for her. Her small fists wove themselves into my hair, pulling painfully, but I held her tighter.
“There isn’t enough,” Linny said after I’d extinguished the light and the house, what was left of it, settled into silence.
“You want me to have left her there? I know this, I know.”
“It will take from ours to give to her.”
“I know!” my voice was a hiss. What had this world done to us? In another time, Linny took in every stray cat, dog and child even if it meant going without herself. Linny was a good woman.
“My babies come first.”
I heard determination set her classic jaw. Imagined the cold light in her faded eyes.
“I will take care of us. I have to now, right?”
A pause. “Yes.” But not well, the accusation cut the dark like a militant’s blade.
“I will take care of us. All of us. Hope is one of ours now.”