Fall

Mommy and Daddy are fighting again. I can hear them shouting.

I’m hiding in the basement, watching television with the lights off. The light fills the room with scary shadows, colored shadows like through church windows. I touch my hand. The fingers hurt from where Daddy grabbed me.

There’s a scar on my leg, I’ve showed it to my friends at school and they all think it’s pretty cool; I think it looks ugly. I don’t know how I got it, but Mommy gets tears in her eyes when she sees it. I hate summer because everybody wants me to wear shorts and go swimming and there’s no way to hide it from her.

There’s a dusty clock on the wall. I think my grandpa made it a long time ago, he must have, Mommy calls it the grandfather clock. The pendulum swings back and forth and it tick-tocks like a clock in an colorless movie or something. I watch the black hands inching around the white face. I don’t know why they call them hands, they don’t look like hands. They’re more like fingers, the long bony fingers of a dead person. The clock says it’s about seven o’clock, but it’s wrong. It doesn’t keep time very well, and nobody remembers to wind it half the time. It’s actually eleven fifty-six. I know because they’re counting down on one of the channels. It’s almost the new year, just a few minutes away now.

I’m flipping through the channels, watching the way the light changes on the walls.

The TV down here doesn’t get very good reception; there’s a crust of static on the edges of the screen, and the sound hisses. It doesn’t get very many channels.

There are a lot of news reports talking about sickness. They show pictures of people in China and Egypt and Germany, and they’re all wearing face-masks that cover their noses and mouths. It makes the people look like scientists. Sometimes they show pictures of a sick person, but I look away whenever they do. I chance a look: it’s a video of an Indian man, his eyes are very bright and he’s real skinny and he seems nervous. He says something but you can’t see his lips move because of his mask.

There are a couple kids at school who got sick. Mommy doesn’t let me go anymore. At first it was okay, but it’s been almost a week now and I getting really far behind in my classes. I just know that I’ll get in trouble when it’s time to go back.

I hear a shout from upstairs and the sound of somebody getting slapped. It could be either one of them, I guess, but it’s probably Mommy. She hits more than Daddy, but Daddy doesn’t usually hit with an open hand. I turn the volume way up. The static growls at me, hissing and sputtering.

There aren’t any cartoons playing tonight. Everything is serious.

It’s time. I watch the ball drop in New York City. Nobody seems excited, it’s very quiet. The reporters all look like they’re trying not to cry. There are lots of reports that show maps with computer graphics on them, big arrows and colored overlays that look like spills spreading across the world. They’re talking about projections and stuff. I don’t really understand it all, but it frightens me. I want to turn it off but I’m scarred of what I’ll hear, so I just change it to a channel that doesn’t come in so good and I just watch the static. The roar of it fills the basement.

Then there’s a pounding at the door. I jump. Then the door breaks open and Mommy is shouting and falling down and she comes down in a tangle of limbs and hair and clothes and she lays still there on the bare concrete floor.

My father is standing at the top of the stairs and he looks frightened and confused. He looks like he doesn’t understand what just happened.

We look at each other.

The static groans from the television set.

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