Chapter Seventeen: The Calm
It is six-thirty am on August 5th.
My son and I are back in our cabin after faking going into the Tank this morning, and though we didn’t seem to raise suspicion I can’t stop shaking. Carrying my little boy into a space that his body was violently opposing is the worst thing I’ve ever had to do, and what makes it even harder is that he understood. I can’t tell him what is happening yet, or what we are going to do, because I don’t know the answers to those questions myself. But when I sat him down this morning and told him that we needed to just pretend to go in for a moment, and that we couldn’t tell anyone about it later, and that I really just couldn’t tell him why yet, he said okay with tears in his eyes. He knew it would terrify him…but he trusts me. And my heart is breaking, because I don’t know if he should. I don’t have any idea what I’m doing, and I’m terrified too.
We are sitting together on the couch in our living room, propped up against opposite sides, the soles of our feet touching as he writes in his journal. Sitting with him like this, it takes only minutes for my heart and nerves to settle. Light from the window behind him is making him glow like an angel. Even with a fever, his energy is profound. It is a swarm of beautiful bees, buzzing curiously around the room as he scribbles. His toes are tapping against my feet to a rhythm I can’t hear, perhaps pacing his thoughts. He is still wearing the tattered wrap I pieced back together in a hurry this morning to go to the tank.
Yesterday when Tok walked out of the cabin with the journals, I took full advantage of my son being asleep and threw an absolute tantrum. I ripped my wrap from my body and tore it straight down the middle before getting his out of his bedroom floor and doing the same. I wanted to scream. When he woke, he brought me the torn wrap and asked what happened, his eyes glistening with tears. I paused awhile, trying not to cry, and told him that sometimes adults get frustrated enough to throw a fit, too. I’m still not sure why, but after a few seconds of silence, we both completely lost it laughing. At the meeting later that evening in the Mother’s cabin, every time we looked across the room at each other’s tattered wraps, we started cracking up again. At one point, Tok paused, irritated that we were interrupting his lecture about not missing Tank times with our muffled giggling, which of course made it worse. After shoving part of his wrap in his mouth to keep from laughing, my son finally excused himself to use the restroom, and I heard him howling all the way down the hall.
“What are you writing?” I ask him as I tap his foot with mine.
He doesn’t stop scribbling, but answers me with a smile.
“I’m drawing, Mom.”
“Okay…what are you drawing?”
“Cool…can I see?”
“Mom, do you even know what that is?”
“He’s a radio. He’s inside me, he’s the guy telling me if something is wrong or right. Like you told me, remember? He’s really cute. I wanna surprise you with him, don’t look yet, ok? Not till I’m done.”
“I promise I won’t look yet. I really can’t wait to see.”
The room is completely silent for a few minutes except for the gentle scraping sounds of my son’s pencils. I love the sound. When he turns his head slightly, the warm light makes the edges of his cheeks look gilded with gold. I wish I could hold onto this moment, his little feet pressed into mine, scraping pencils, golden light, alone but together, deep in the woods and wanting for nothing.
“I love you, Mom.”
“I love you too, Kala.”
. . .
I startle awake with a familiar pounding heart and see Kala across from me on the couch, one foot hanging off the side and his open journal lying face down on his chest. A congested sounding little snore fills the air in the absence of his scribbling.
I gently lift him off the couch, moving in painful slow motion so I don’t wake him. It looks like staying up late with him last night worked as planned, but I hadn’t considered how tired it would make me, too. My limbs feel heavy and weak as I carry him to his bed and gently cover him up.
I grab the pocket watch off his nightstand; 7:30 am. Perfect. One kiss on his forehead, my bag off the floor, and I slowly walk out of his room, careful not to make a single creak. I am just under his door frame when he sighs loudly. I freeze…I am not breathing. Please be asleep…I need you to sleep. When he exhales, one sleepy line from his song comes with it, and he is out.
Outside the back door of the cabin, I look again at the watch. It’s 7:42: eighteen minutes before I heard Tok and the Mother approaching yesterday. I’m shaking so hard the buckles of my bag are rattling on my shoulder.
Be still…Breathe…Please keep him asleep…Please keep me safe…Please help me find the answers…Please show me what to do…Please don’t let them see me…
I am going to the Portal. I’m going into yesterday to find out the truth.