As we’re walking to Alvera’s uncle’s plant, she brings up the fact again. “You know, I should owe you two months and a day of meals because of you looking out for me today.”
I tilt my head, to the side a little. “I didn’t really think about that,” I confess. “But now that you’ve put the idea in my head it’s reality.”
Alvera lets out a content sigh. I can’t see her mouth because of her mouth mask, but I can tell she’s smiling.
“I’m glad you’re in my life. The way the world’s heading, I don’t know how much more time we have.”
I have no idea what she’s talking about, but I let out a small “Mhm” in reply.
“You have no idea what I’m talking about, do you?”
I shrug in response.
“It’s all right. I’m just afraid, you know? One day the rain will get so acidic it’ll burn right through our umbrellas and buildings. One day the clouds are going to get so gray with smoke we won’t be able to breathe. I just hope I don’t have to live to see that day. I hope no one does.”
I nod absently, twirling my umbrella breezily as I walk. Alvera clutches hers to her chest, clinging to it. She doesn’t let it move an inch in her grasp.
We make it to her uncle’s plant in about twenty minutes. Alvera lets us inside, flips on the light, and dashes inside, diving into her work. I walk in at a slower pace, taking in my surroundings. The factory is beautiful, all iron pipes and rubber conveyor belts. It’s huge and spacious and smells like paper and fills my heart with tranquility.
“It’s beautiful,” I exhale, my voice barely above a whisper.
“It’s all right,” Vera admits. She’s half hidden behind a power box, pulling at wires and fastening nuts and bolts already. “I’ll be done in just a minute.”
I set my umbrella and bag down on the floor beside the entrance and walk further into the plant, admiring its’ complexity. The way the machinery flows is hypnotizing, and if I close my eyes, I can imagine how magnificent it would be when it was up and running, with workers bustling through the pathways, the pipes spitting out flat sheets of paper, the whole room animated and alive.
I hear a rustle from my bag and whip my head around to face it. A single tail pokes out from inside, followed by one head, then the other. I squeal and rush over to the bag.
“Sugar! Spice! You came!”
Alvera has moved from behind the power box and is now carefully walking along the conveyor belts, checking the pipes.
“Can that stupid two-headed cat stop following me everywhere?”
I cover my mouth with my palm in mock offense and let out a dramaticized gasp. “Firstly, Sugar and Spice are not stupid. Secondly, they are two cats with one body. Twice the nuzzling, half the shedding.”
Vera scoffs. “You know, there was a time when animals only had one of each body part.” Excellent, she’s lecturing me on old-age life again.
“There still are some animals like that. Having extra body parts is a genetic thing that gets passed down through generations for them,” I speculate, cradling Sugar and Spice.
“It didn’t start as a genetic trait. It started as a mutation that developed because of overexposure to radiation. It’s all our fault that they’re like this. As years go on, there won’t even be any ‘normal’ animals left. And then, who knows? The radiation could start affecting us, too.”
I squint in concentration, trying to imagine myself with three heads or four arms. I’m left with a mental image equal parts terrifying and disturbing.
“That’s not possible. That sort of stuff doesn’t work with human bodies, right?”
“You’d be surprised.”
I wonder what she means by that for a grand total of two minutes before Alvera interrupts my thought process with an emphatic “It’s ready!”
She gleefully dashes back to the power box and flips it open. “When I flip this switch, a seed is gonna pop out the other side of this machine. And we’re gonna plant that seed, and then it’s gonna grow into a sapling, and a few years later, we’ll get a whole big tree! And we’re going to make more and more of these seeds, and they’re going to drink up all the carbon in the air and we’ll all be saved!” She grins, but her finger just barely hovers over the switch. She’s confident, but her body is almost afraid of what might happen.
I’m not sure how making a seed is going to make a huge, life-changing difference, but Vera’s excitement is rubbing off on me nonetheless. Obviously, I know better than to let her see that. “I hope you’ll at least get paid for saving the world,” I say casually.
Alvera snickers with glee, her eyes aglow with determination. She flips the switch with one clean movement.
Seconds pass. Nothing happens.
The lights shut off, one by one, until we’re in total darkness. I yelp and hug Sugar and Spice closer to my body. “Vera!” I shout, but she doesn’t respond.
The stinging smell of smoke reaches my nose, blanketing my senses until it’s the only thing I can know for sure. Usually, the ashy smell of burning is as familiar to me as the rattling of cars down the street, but for some reason, it fills my heart with dread right in this moment.
“Vera!” I scream again. I can hear someone scrambling around, and my heart jumps. “Alvera!”
The lights flicker on, slowly coming back to life. Alvera stands, panting, where the light switch is, her eyes wide with fear.
“Oh my goodness, Vera! Are you okay?” I ask, running over to her side.
“No…” I hear her murmur. “This can’t… This can’t be happening.” She leans against the wall, but it doesn’t do much of a job of keeping her upright. She sinks down to the floor, her face pale.
“It’s okay, Vera. You can try again later.”
“No, I can’t!” She yells, startling me. “No, I can’t,” she repeats, softly this time.
“What do you mean? The plant didn’t explode, something just caught on fire. You can replace it and start over again.” I try to keep my voice low and soothing. I’ve never seen Alvera so… sad? Angry? Scared? Her face is a complex blend of emotions that I can’t decipher.
“I can’t change anything, Mirai. It’s too late. The world’s already too far gone to help. I thought I could do something, anything, to change the direction we’re going in, but I didn’t realize how bad the world already was. It’s too late.”
“Vera, this is just your reaction to disappointment. None of that is true. You’re just saying this because you’re sad you failed, and it’s okay. You can start over.”
“I can start over as many times as I want to and I’ll never get a result! You know why? Because I can’t create life out of nothing. No one can. I can start over as many times as I want to, but this planet only has one run, and it’s nearing the end of the race.”
“I don’t understand.”
“You’ll never understand! You’ll never understand, because you’re just like everyone else on this wretched planet! We’re killing and polluting everything left alive, and no one even cares! Everything we damage with our metal touch, we’ll never get back. Why does no one realize that? Why does no one ever stop to think if what they’re doing is right? In all my years of life, I’ve never met one other person who thinks the way I do! Everyone calls me weird and crazy, but I’m the only one who even cares about this planet!”
A few moments of awkward silence pass. I hear our breaths, Vera’s heavy and rolling, mine light and loose.
“Are you done?” I ask in the politest tone I can muster.
I give her my hand and help her up to her feet. Once she’s stable, I start to collect our things.
“Maybe you’re right, Mirri. Maybe I am crazy.”
I don’t say anything, mostly because I don’t want to seem rude by agreeing with her.
“There’s no point to me doing all this. I should just stop trying. If the world ends tomorrow, then I guess it ends.”
“I guess.” I don’t want to interrupt her self-reflection, but I want her to know I’m here, too.
“I’m sorry for putting you through all this. You must hate being my roommate.” She sounds sheepish and awkward. It’s a little endearing.
“Nah.” I hold out Vera’s umbrella to her. “We’d better get going. The rain’s starting soon.”
Published on 4/2/2020 - writetolead.com
Author: Shreya Kumar
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