By Lulu Sha
I have the craziest dreams, and this story was inspired by one I couldn’t understand. So, I wrote it down.
The war had been going on for months, but the schools stayed open and Mom did her nine-to-five like always, and came home to us and sunk into her armchair with a check in one hand and a cigarette in the other.
We were almost done with dinner by the time Mom turned on the radio. The war would reach us by midnight.
“If only Dad were here,” Lotte whined as Mom tried to shove a spoonful of peas into her tight white lips.
Mom and I started to pack while Lotte played with her Barbie dolls in the kitchen. The most we could take was one outfit each and important documents sealed in a manila envelope. I wanted to take more, but Mom said we could come back after the war.
It was almost ten when we started to move out. We didn’t have our own car, or even a bicycle, like the others, and there were no taxis because all the cabbies were also trying to evacuate with their own families.
Outside, people shuffled along, stopping occasionally because someone had dropped something, or something had to be left behind. The train station was about a mile and a half away. Mom and I could have easily gotten there by ourselves, but Lotte dawdled, humming and gaping at the other families, bundled up in big coats and hunched over under their bulging backpacks.
The hardest part was making sure she didn’t sit down in the street because it was covered in sewer muck from burst pipes, the curb strewn with still-smoking cigarettes, and she was wearing her princess dress. We were sticky with sweat from wading through the thick air. The sky was the color of a bruise in the ten seconds before a stubbed toe started to bruise when you hoped that it wouldn’t.
“Mommy, my tummy hurts,” Lotte complained.
At the train station we were practically alone except for some female government bureaucrats in leather jumpsuits and red construction helmets waving signal flares at fighter jets that passed us in the sky. I thought they looked like femme fatales. If the invasion really did come at midnight, those ladies wouldn’t be afraid.
“Lotte, we need to go! Goddamnit!” Mom screamed, her nostrils widening and closing rapidly.
Lotte started to cry. Snot dripped onto her lip, and she blew her nose in her lace sleeve.
“She’s just a kid,” I said.
We switched loads: Mom carried the laptop and documents, and I carried Lotte on my back.
The city was dark; the government had cut off the electricity. A stray dog howled at the moon. The brave biker ladies paid us no attention; I told myself that was because they were on official business and they had orders to follow. Meanwhile, Lotte was slipping down my back.
Then, I spotted an abandoned baby stroller, one wheel still spinning. We put Lotte in the stroller for Mom to push, while I carried the rest. The only sound was Mom’s rubber flip-flops smacking the cement. I felt the trains humming beneath my feet —we were close to the station.
Suddenly, the front wheel of the stroller caught on a pebble and Lotte lurched out of the seat, while Mom tripped and crushed the handlebars. Surprisingly, Lotte hadn’t woken up; she lay in a ball in the middle of the street, her dress muddy and torn. I tried to help Mom up, but in doing so dropped the laptop and documents, and they skidded along the pavement towards the sewer.
“Holy motherfucking Jesus Christ,” I screamed, crawling on all fours and snatching them inches from disaster. I glanced up at Mom, expecting her to flick my head for cursing, but she was sitting on her heels in the middle of a puddle, her hair damp, and matted on one side. She clutched a photo that I hadn’t noticed her carrying before, of a twenty-something woman at the beach with wild hair. The other half of the photo was cut off, but a man’s hand with long pianist’s fingers rested on the woman’s tanned shoulder. Even in the photo, she wasn’t smiling.
“Let’s keep going,” I said. “We’re almost there.”
I wanted to apologize again, but I didn’t. Instead I sat down next to them and pulled Lotte onto my lap, running my fingers through her thick, clumpy hair. Beneath us, the trains stopped humming. Even the biker ladies were long gone.
“Everything’s going to be okay. Everything’s going to be okay.”
Lulu Sha uses sci-fi and fantasy to explore modern issues, in particular colonialism, socialism and national liberation movements. She believes in having strong leadership for Asian American youth and incorporating Asian American history into high school curriculums. In her free time she loves to sing rock covers and figure skate.