Small at the End of the World by Jabulile Mickle-Molefe
Remember the way ice cream drips if you dare to savor it. Your mother’s laugh. Remember the egg smell of low tide, the way the salt clings to your hair and the sand wedges itself into crevices you can hardly reach in the shower. Light up shoes. Candy canes. Gravity. Remember, they tell us, the little things.
In dreams, I cross valleys pulling a cartful of roses behind me only to find the cart empty when I reach the base of the peak. Each time, I halt, turn back, gather my scattered roses, and resume the journey. I am combing the heather for loose petals when my father shakes me awake, bags on his back. Dahlia, he whispers, his eyes rimmed red. Ten minutes — it’s time.
Outside, a cascade of stairs stretches upward before me, a wide metal saucer hulking behind them. I tug my father’s coat, beg him to run back in for my journals and the Delaware quarter I keep in a jar. But, the wind comes sharp and the pavement buckles and the old oak at the edge of the lawn splits down the center. There’s no time, he insists, pulling a cap over my ears. It has been pouring for three weeks end to end and I know he is right: The flood will roll in with the tide.
I have seen movies. I know the stairs fold neatly into the metal, that the metal will pick us up and plant us somewhere among stars. There have been drills at school. I know to brace for the spinning, to close my eyes and think of the roses if I get scared. My father knows that my mother is waiting; she has been stationed on Ceres for months stockpiling oxygen and learning the landscape. She pages us nightly to lament that she misses us, and the seasons, most of all.
The night I turn twenty, I ride shotgun in the orbiter. My mother steers us into the troposphere and my father navigates from the backseat as we scan capitalist ruins for aluminum cans. All sealed cans implode on the dwarf planet, so my penchant for soda was left behind with my journals. A good haul will bring the kind of nostalgia that sticks to my teeth.
We strip past the usual sights: Wal-Marts with rusted out carts eroding in crumbling lots, BP stations abandoned with the back shelves still stocked, crabs scuttling over the ruins of a now-collapsed Wall Street. My mother clutches the gold cross on her necklace and prays that the new world stays gentle, that the astrophysicists are right in asserting that Ceres can — over the long term — sustain human life. When her voice breaks, my father lays a hand on her shoulder and says Goddess of Grain & Bounty, honey. That’s gotta be good for something. We all smile. We swap dreams. My father misses stained glass and camping, mostly. I plot the garden I’ll grow if we make it back earthside. My mother wonders aloud at the magic of winter, at wet woolen mittens and button-eyed snowmen. I think of the last one we built, a single square button above his celery nose. I remember my favorite bowl, chipped plastic with SUPERGIRL scrawled across the base in Comic Sans.
I remember the world unfolding in spurts: Our button-eyed cyclops melted. The sky split itself, revealing a system of cracks that resembled a map of Canada’s rivers. I shut my eyes, trembling, carried the roses in armfuls back to the wagon. I remember laughter and sand. I remember the last ice cream cone I ate: chocolate with strawberry sprinkles. I remember the end: A dance of cranes flew, one trailing the others, into the sun. Slowly at first, then at once.
Jabulile Mickle-Molefe is a mother, wife, and diviner. Their work has appeared or is forthcoming in Triangle House, Alaska Quarterly Review, Vagabond City Lit, and elsewhere. They would like you to know that you’re doing a great job. This is their first flash piece.