There weren’t no way I was goin’a win that lottery. Either way I was too old and there were the babies to look after now. I don’t regret it no ways but seein’ them ships lift off towards heaven and away from what was comin’ — that was hard. Seems there ain’t two things made for traveling on them fancy space ships — old women and babies. When stuck between a baby and a ticket off of earth to escape death — well, they reckoned, who needed something to hold them back? Plus there was jabberin’ on about how a baby’s bones don’t grow right in space. But like I said, I don’t mind them no ways.
There is Lottie, Lord for two does that girl have lungs like from the Devil! Keeps me up late. And Charles aged three, but I call him Picasso ‘cuz he is always coloring up my walls. Boy ruined fine wallpaper from my memaw’s time. But it was fadin’ anyhow. Them walls will all be lower than dust from what they sayin’ on the news.
I ain’t took but four of the children that were left downtown. There were about fifteen, but an old woman like me can only do so much, can only give so much. All the cryin’ that day with their names pinned on and scribbled, paper flappin’ in the wind like dying birds. Only took a handful, but I am doin’ my part. Lil’ Mary, she is as quiet as a rag doll and then there is Baby Colby who looks like my Mary Grace, God rest her soul. Every time I look into those hazel eyes I see my daughter, gone from this world for twenty-five years now.
They will know that what they left for me down here is much more precious then anything they will find up there. Before now I was a lonely old thang. Sure, there was my church and social times on Sundays but, Lord — don’t Christians forget about a person the rest of the week. I spent my days gardenin’; soothes the soul to get one’s hands dirty digging into the warm blackness of the earth. Watching sprouts turn into tomatoes and sage. Nothin’ like it, no, sir. And I have my chickens cluckin’ about. The children love the chickens.
On sunshine afternoons I got Baby Colby swaddled nice and tight in her bassinet as I get my little Picasso’s hand around a small shovel guiding it into the same ground my pepaw and I worked. Some nights we got storms run through. Nothing big to frighten the babes but that play of lightnin’ lickin’ at the horizon’s bend, the soft rumble of thunder. Ain’t really nothin’ on TV anymore besides that astroid, Apophis they call it. No need to see that. I prefer the evenings with storms ‘cuz then you can’t see it glarin’ down at you. Mocking you as if the countdown on the TV ain’t enough.
Sometimes I don’t sleep. The babies will cry out in their sleep. Lottie’s always the ringleader on that. It starts with one and then all the rest follow. Babies know something’s up. Babies always know. I do my best to sing to ’em but nothin’ works.
Another night lost and day gained. Tired hands wiping tired sweat. Sometimes I close my eyes out in the garden while Picasso makes art out of the mud. Close my eyes and see the promise of what yesterday was and what today coulda been. My Sam humming to himself as he walks the rows droppin’ seed. My belly full of growin’ life. My daughter bein’ born and runnin’ around the porch chasin’ a dog. And somewhere further my grandbabies pullin’ at my apron while fresh bread bakes and jam waits. But none of that happened. Sam died in an accident on his way home from the lumber mill, Ford smashed flat by a cargo truck that veered into his lane. Head on. I imagine it was quick. God could do that for him. And Mary Grace, Lord. Gone from SIDS.
A yell from little Charles pulls me back to now. He is a’jabberin’ and a’pointin up to the afternoon sky and I see it. No clouds or storm to hide it. Like a beast prowlin’ or a cat before it pounces and we are the cricket. Just like that Baby Colby starts to wail and on cue there goes Lottie too. I bring them in and comfort them. I wish I had Sam here to comfort me. I don’t know the hours or minutes I got left and I am okay with that. I got these babies to take care of. Being as lonely as I have been, ain’t nothin’ that can please the heart more then to got someone or something to take care of. I suppose in that regard I won the lottery.
By nightfall the winds pick up. Ain’t no type of night I had seen no ways. Might as well be dawn. I read to the babies from Aesop’s Fables. Their favorite — “The Tortoise and the Hare”. Fittin’ I reckon since we are like the hare runnin’ and a pantin’ though life, and death is always there, slow and steady, and we are bustin’ our butts to beat it but he laps us in the end. The winda’ shutter’s are a flappin’ now and I would swear the sun is up. There goes Lottie and the rest.
Thunder is a’rollin down on us now. Flattenin’ us down against ourselves and I cling to them babies and there is silence in that instant. Babies always know. And there we are clingin’ to the end of the world and I am okay with that because I got them and they got me and soon Sam will be with us and my little baby girl Mary Grace — and that’s the jackpot.
Joschua Beres has previously been published in Bohemia, Every Day Fiction, The Kitchen Poet, Literary Orphans and has work included in the anthology Milk and Honey Siren. His chapbook Forty-Five Seconds was released in 2014. Joschua is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Literati Quarterly which launched in 2014. He is majoring in Anthropology at Texas State University.