The taste of chalk in my mouth, the swirling dust hypnotic, intoxicating. I pull the scarf over my nose, hoping to keep the metallic tang at bay. Standing on the porch, one hand on the rail, another inside the trench coat, the comforting leather on leather whisper reminds me the holster is still there.
Isn't it always?
I close my eyes, and remember it as it was, the days before the shroud of the sky was blown off. Looking up from this very spot, pinpricks in the velvet sheet, twinkling ever on and off, moon full and bathing the world in faerie light. It was a long time ago, and only a memory exists. Now, toxins scud across an angry red, chasing sickly green whispers. The stars are just a memory, like so much else.
I pull the goggles over my eyes, and step down to the street. This never gets any easier. Not when the wind wails through the dead trees, kicking up the waste and litter. Never easier, still required.
The playground is as empty as it ever is, the same scene I've seen what seems a thousand times before. The roundabout spins lazily in the breeze, the little skeleton still draped over its bars, overalls in tatters. I should really do something about that, but I can't really figure out what. Every day I step out, Winnie the Pooh smiles at me, waving through a film of red dust and grime, and empty sockets ask me why it had to be her.
I never have an answer.
Boots sink into the scorched wood chips and dust, kicking up a haze around my feet. Through the goggles, peripheral vision has that eerie fishbowl effect, and the shadows seem to dance at the edge of my eyes.
I'm too scared to close my eyes.
Cars wait for owners that aren't coming back. I amuse myself drawing a happy face in a Sunfire's rear window. I wonder if it will still be there when the rest has rusted away. I wonder if I care.
I step over the cracked glass and twisted metal, empty aisles and shattered bottles on the floor a testament to panic and the end of time. What else are you going to do when you're told to hold tight and take your last breath because the missiles are on the way? Pull out the lawn chair and toast the apocalypse with the Captain, of course.
I look up and smile. I'm not sure why, I've been here a dozen times before, it never changes. I pull a bottle free from the sticky residue, and feel it through the leather gloves. Back home, a lawn chair awaits.
Across the street, everything seems as it was, waiting the flick of a switch. The coffee shop proclaims itself open, and that it is, the glass fronting blown out, inviting me inside.
I marvel at times at what was spared.
I sweep shattered porcelain off one of the shelves, and staring me at me is a faerie in relief. Everything else blown to kingdom come, and this one coffee cup dares me to take it.
Who am I to argue with good fortune?
I pull a chair out front, and right one of the tables. The wind is dying down, the dust is settling, and the sun will soon set. It always sets. There are some things you can count on.
I look towards the bridge, and wonder where everything went wrong.
Does it matter?
I put my feet up on the table and watch the sun go down.
Tomorrow's another day.