It’s freezing. “How far down are we?” No one answers me. Of course no one is going to respond to a simple question from a 17 year old girl, especially one who fades so well into these grey walls. I silently try and calculate how long it took to travel this far underground, but my math skills are weak and I have no idea how fast the elevator is moving. Once we exit the hospital sized elevator I see the sign, 325 ft. No wonder my head is feeling fuzzy. The hallway opens into a large room that resembles a bank safe. Hundreds of safety deposit boxes line the walls, each marked with a family name. I stare at the slightly larger family container marked ‘NOLAN.’ Ours is bigger because there are so many who make up my rambunctious family.
“Hazel, Hazel….HAZEL !”
“Yes, mother?” The sarcasm drips from my mouth before I can suck it back from my lips. She snapped me out of my disorientation, so it’s her own fault when I respond like a ‘typical teenager’ as she would put it.
“Where is your lock of hair?” We’re with everyone from our neighborhood so with her big blue eyes and eyelashes that extend so far I think of flower petals, she says ‘you’ll regret that when we’re home.’ I hand her my 2 inch lock of mouse brown hair and watch her frantically gather the other items from all of my siblings. Lots of things are my mothers fault; she wouldn’t be so crazy right now if she had stopped after three kids. She jokes that she regrets all seven of us. With the way she stresses, sometimes I wonder if she’s telling the truth. But it’s her flower eyes that bring me back to the reality that she brought us all here on purpose. I feel safe knowing I was a calculated risk and she wanted me anyway.
Evil laughter emerges from the deep gut that can only come from a child, a naughty one. Jimmy Brown. His mother Deborah is either lying when she says she didn’t realize the name James Brown had already been occupied, or lying that she didn’t name Jimmy after him. Oddly enough the name is exactly how I would describe him. I almost like hearing him throw tantrums because his screams are musical, especially the last note, he always extends it for a grand finale. More so, it’s the way he’d move his legs when he tripped his little sister Issia (which was the reason for his laughter.) they’d flail like worms and suddenly snap back into place. His momma must have felt his crazy legs in the womb. “Oh ‘Sia, you stupid chicken head! You fall for it every time!” He retains the attention of nearly everyone down here; I wish I had this seven year olds laugh. His green eyes, soft black skin and caramel curls get him noticed wherever he goes. In a way, he reminds me of a candy bar, well, one that laughs and screams on key anyway.
“Ruby, Jimmy is here! Oooh, I bet you want to twirl his curls!” It’s hard for everyone in the bunker to refrain from laughing now, my little brother Matt can’t help but taunt Ruby. She’s the youngest of us all and is the easiest target. In her defense Jimmy loves her back. Ruby’s flushed cheeks and Jimmy’s laugh lightened the mood. The grey walls seemed to brighten to the colors of their personalities.
Mrs. Brown peeked in our container and awed over my Gramma Mabel’s wedding ring. Elaborate light blue sapphires circled around twice on top and bottom framing a grand white diamond, when she used to wear it; it went up to her middle knuckle. What no one knew though is that gramma sold the diamond to pay for my mom’s college. The replacement looked as real as the lies she made my mom believe. My mom got the ring when gramma died; I hope she kept it to have her close by and not for the supposed value. Maybe one day I’ll tell mom how I read gramma’s journal entry and tore out the page so she wouldn’t feel guilty. I kept it though; it was what I kept to be close to her.
The mood went back to its claustrophobic dreariness. Apparently, we’re on the brink of what they call a bio-chemical war. From what our teachers say, the government hasn’t confirmed or denied that it could actually happen. “If the threat is true, it wouldn’t be imminent for years.” The president is always spewing phrases like that around when he’s bombarded with reporters. I personally don’t believe any of it. People who are skilled at math do the numbers, and the news always broadcasts that it would be far too catastrophic for it to be a reality. Sometimes they’ll issue a warning and say it’ll be just the United States that is hit, but most often they say it’ll affect every continent, and would be utterly useless as a war tactic since everyone could die, not just the enemy.
Either way, the growing trend is ‘Saving for the Generations.’ This is the new Presidential candidate’s slogan. Mr. Henry Foster, pronounced Hen-ray Faw-sta. He’s a short man that greatly resembles Yosemite Sam. Between his white linen Colonial Sanders suits and slowed speech he’s oozing of southern charm, or as he would say it, “Suthan chawm.” He’s everywhere, and it doesn’t help that I can’t take my eyes off of that thick red mustache. I’m pretty sure he uses campaign money to have it dyed that deep fire color. While his image is distracting, his plan has been catching on like reality TV. At this rate he may be elected before the term is up for the current President. With disaster just around the corner(or so they say) he has built mass bunkers deep in the Earth’s surface, not only to store humans, but our legacy as well. If you tell someone to report to the city office and submit a DNA sample there will be an overwhelming negative response. That’s why Mr. Foster took a far different approach, he prefers flattery.
He’d find Mr. Joe Shmoe and tell him he’s the finest creature that was given to this planet, and if he doesn’t leave a record of it, “Oh my! How will people a hunerd years from now know how mighdy fantastic you are?” He’s charming, and he’s right. Not that Joe Shtupid is great, but about that burning question in all of us, have I done something notable? Have I done something that someone will care to talk about when I’m gone? His hard work has proven to be a huge success; he’s up in the polls. Every one is writing detailed accounts of their lives; it must be the fear of death that motivates people to leave behind something, anything proving they existed.
So that’s why I’m stuck next to a man who smells like cat urine and fat people. My mother is down to organizing my littlest sisters ID bag. Along with our mug shot and social security number labeling it, the bags contain:
- 2 inch lock of hair. If you don’t have enough hair, you can provide a blood sample.
- Family trees as far back as you have; including pictures.
- Any picture albums that you would like included.
- Records. Copies of Birth Certificates, SSN, Licenses, awards, diplomas, religious certificates, and any other record you would like to include.
- Voice recordings. Say your name, birthday, current residence and any other tid bits you want remembered.
- Personal items that will fit inside the family container.
We lock our safety deposit legacy box and take the long ride back to the top. Putting everything in the box is just a precaution and since nothing is expected to happen for ‘years,’ we retreat back to our modest home. We made it there safely despite my dad swinging his arm back in hopes to smack us so we’ll stop torturing each other. The dinner table is much quieter than usual. There hasn’t been one belch or complaint. We’re all thinking about the same thing, the possible doom that could be minutes away. When the silence becomes too much for me I excuse myself and go take a shower. I felt disgusting be crammed so close to so many smelly people. I stay in the shower a while. The music plays loud and I sing along, trying to wash the stench of this sad world off of me. I slip into my bathrobe and stare in the mirror hoping that the face I see will magically change. Since it’s not changing I decide to put on a little make-up so I can mask my uneven skin. I have to give myself some credit though; my eyes are a strong black and give my face an intensity that draws in the respect of adults, and a few compliments. I’ve wanted to color my hair to match my eyes, but my mom won’t allow it. Not yet anyway.
My stomach is in knots and I’m not sure why. I pick up a wooden pen and began tracing the grooves of my name. I received it after I lied to my dad about breaking his Ipod. It was an accident and I hid the evidence, he knew it was me and I couldn’t lie when I saw his face. He’d grind his teeth and raise his brows; I’d always cave under the pressure. When I told him the truth finally his angry face lightened to disappointed, I’d take my punishment and as I’d walk away he’d say “aren’t you forgetting something?” I’d redirect and wrap my arms around his neck, freshly cut wood filled my nose; sometimes I’d have to brush the saw dust off of his shoulders. He taught woodshop at the high school, and he would always bring home that week’s project, that day it was a pen with my name beautifully carved into it. “You’re my little girl, always.” He’d say. A smile came across my face; my reflection made me realize I look much better smiling than stern.
The feeling in the pit of my stomach didn’t leave. I can’t think of anything I’m forgetting, school’s out for the summer and I’ve got nothing going on for the next week or so. I trace over what has happened in the last few days to try and place this sinking feeling. For the life of me, I can’t figure it out. I notice it’s gotten quiet and so I follow the silence downstairs, I hope they didn’t go out for dessert without me! My dad’s weathered leather wallet sits on the beautifully crafted entryway table he built by hand, so, they didn’t leave. I grow more curious as I see Ruby’s favorite Barbie pink flip flops on the floor and the purple rimmed square glasses that Val’s broken three times. “Outside.” I state assuredly as I peek out of the glass on the back French doors. “Not outside, hmmm.” I hear the spaghetti sauce still boiling in the kitchen, “that’s weird,” it’s been a while since dinner should have been over. My bare feet feel the cold tiles that my dad and brothers laid. I stare at the tiles remembering how Gavin complained non stop about his knees hurting. The tile is beautiful, no thanks to Gavin for quitting early.
I raise my head and see my family still at the table. Statues, Medusa has frozen them. My mother’s eyes are empty as she stares at the mustard walls. A look of fear is etched in each of my brothers and sisters faces. Where are their outbursts and insults when I desperately need them? Nothing, I am alone in the kitchen where my family sits. Confusion holds my body captive for what has to be several minutes. It’s not until I collapse to the frozen tiles that I understand what happened. Tears drown my eyes, I can’t see. I don’t want to see. If I don’t accept it then it isn’t real. I scream so loud in my daddy’s ear, “Why won’t you listen to me?!” I’m his little girl, his pumpkin, his princess. I hate them all for not paying attention to me. Why do they pretend I’m not here? I shake them all excessively hoping it hurts so they’ll wake up. It doesn’t work. So resigned, I sit at the table as still as I can, hoping to join them, praying they’ll take me with them where ever they’ve gone.
Minutes, hours, even days could’ve passed and I wouldn’t have known any different. My face is swollen from tears. Memories flood through me faster than I can savor them and no matter how many times I recant what happened I can’t figure it out. Taking my first step outside the sun burns brighter than I’ve ever seen it. Throwing my hand up to protect my eyes until they adjust and what I see is my neighborhood. It’s exactly as it’s ever been except everyone is as dead as my family.