City of Winnipeg | Libraries

The Parting Glass

Harper kneeled still in the corner of the living room, her long, grey streaked auburn hair forming a curtain around her face as she clutched her son’s cold body to her chest. Too exhausted for tears, and too weak for grief, she simply stared at his soft lips, his plump cheeks and the creases around his lifeless eyes that were so much like his father’s. When Harper had been his age, a doctor would have just prescribed antibiotics and sent her on her way. But it was nearly impossible now to find a doctor in possession of any medical supplies and the cost for medicine were things she did not have: clean water, fresh food, fuel to burn. Harper knew that some mothers were burning their dead family members for warmth, but she didn’t want the last memory of her precious baby boy to be tainted by the delusions of human desperation. Not after what had happened to her husband. She forced her muscles to stand and dragged herself over to her son’s bed, gently tucking him in one last time. Placing a tender kiss on his forehead, she silently said goodbye to the life she’d worked so hard to build. The life that would soon be over.
Outside were the remains of the city that had watched her grow up, get married, start a family. But covering it all was a thick blanket of what would kill them all. The few people remaining resembled empty shells rather than living, breathing people with stories to tell. Trudging through the dreck, Harper searched the eyes of those she passed for any sign of passion or fight. But all she could see was a reflection of her pain, wholly embodied in those around her. With each step her feet became more bloodied, the debris slicing shallow cuts into her flesh. She came across an old man hunched over an accordion, and stopped to listen. The way the music moved through him reminded her of when her dad would spend an evening pulling harmonies from the strings of his classical guitar. From his weathered lips came the slow drone of an old folk tune, telling of evenings spent by the campfire under the light of the moon. His ballad chronicled the way fresh mountain air would leave a cool trail across his cheek, chill his lungs and disappear behind the trees; leaving him cleansed of the troubles that had weighed down his soul. He narrated wet grass tickling his toes and dragon flies buzzing circles around his head. The way the sweet perfume of wild flowers danced with the acrid trail of smoke.
Continuing down the street she came across a young girl that inspired memories from Harper’s childhood, reminding her of the youthful innocence that had long been lost. The girl’s translucent skin hung off her bones, barely holding her limbs together. How she was still alive mystified Harper, for she gave the impression of someone recently deceased. She was calling out for her mother, croaking out the words but failing to physically engage in the search. Her hair was made of tangled electrical cords, her eye sockets were filled with corroded coins, and she was carrying an old doll that had lost its head.
Harper rounded a corner and found herself facing her church that had been a meeting place for the congregational family that had supported her since birth. This plain brick building had been her second home when she’d felt she had nowhere else to go. Her calloused palms pushed open the cold metal frame of the door, the remaining glass tinkling to the ground at her bare feet. Ahead of her was the sanctuary, a room she had entered every Sunday at 10 am with her parents. The little daylight that remained filtered through, and illuminated the stained glass that filled windows, that her church had spent so much time making when she was a girl. Her mother had dragged her along to help, and she’d spent hours gliding the iridescent glass back and forth on the grinder. Her fingers would be left dry and nicked, but being a part of something so big and community oriented had filled her with a deeper sense of belonging, a sense of accomplishment.
As she made her way up the narrow stairwell to the roof and emerged into the thick air of the afternoon, she let out a deep breath, as if emptying her lungs for the last time. The city that lay before her was not the one she had grown up loving, nor one that had any future. Stepping up to the edge of the roof she saw that it’s once beautiful bridges had been worn away by greed and ingratitude, it’s diverse communities had been divided by humanity’s constant need to do more, have more, consume more. It was that inherent need that had caused her parent’s divorce, had destroyed the earth’s natural beauty, and was going to put an end to the human race. She took a step forward as one last defiance of society’s constraints and expectations, and fell towards her inescapable fate.

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