The morning after the hurricane, everything regained the fresh look of a child just after a bath. Melissa was first out of the bunker. I followed closely behind, aware as always of potential threats to her time-bomb body. “Look!” She was triumphant. “Everything is so clean!”
It was true. The horizon gleamed bright blue in the distance, the skyscrapers at the edge of the world like fingers pointed in victory rather than in rude gestures. Fields of green, gold, red crops, grown with as much human toil as in any bible story, waved their many limbs ecstatically at the surrounding overgrowth, trees living and dead, moss and weeds and briars clambering up, down and anywhere they could get a foothold. Even the rubble surrounding our village had a shiny, polished look to it. The scene was so far from what we had come to expect the outcome of natural disasters to be that we stood, awestruck, drinking it in. More and more of the community joined us, emitting cries of delight, emerging from the ground like the ants I often secretly compared us to. Nobody was wearing their masks. After rain, the air was clean. I hugged Melissa to my chest, breathing deeply. She touched her lips to my fingers. “It’s like a rebirth.”
Later in the day, we sat at a feast. Tables, cushions hauled onto ground level, tins of peaches and spaghetti saved for a special occasion. Joy, unthinkable just a few days ago, flowed through the walls, mingling with the stench of the acidic river only a mile away. Children, unused to so much space, were shy at first but gradually began to explore further and further around. Melissa watched them guardedly, slight jerky movements of her body betraying its teetering ability to function. An ache settled in the spot between my breasts. With so much lost, the space in my heart felt hollow, but the knowledge of more even so to lose was a constant burden.
Piero, the eldest boy, came skittering back to the group of chatting adults. “We found something!” Breathless, he indicated Claude, who approached solemnly, carrying a small bundle of leaves. It looked like the crowns we made the children who won races.
Claude approached Melissa, his young fingers tender as he placed the - moving - object in her creaking arms. Up close, the baby was tiny and florid, with downy grass for hair, leaves for eyelids, and, stranger still, twigs emerging like feathers from its arms. Crinkled leaves unfurled as it opened its mouth and started to wail. Melissa turned to me. Delight on her face like I had never seen. “Imagine that,” she breathed.
By Deirbhile Brennan