The ash came back today. I think it's because it's Wednesday the 13th.
One joyous day of sun and now the skies are covered back in clouds. I only found out that the ash returned at noon. There was heavy fog this morning, and the swirling mist was almost hypnotizing. Because of the fog, no one really wanted to get out of bed. The skies were even darker than usual and everyone just wanted to sleep.
"Do you think we'll ever see the sun again?" I asked May.
"Probably," she said.
"You remember that book we read in middle school? The one about Venus and the Sun."
"No," she said. "I don't remember much from middle school."
"You know, the one about the kids that couldn't see the Sun on Venus until one day it came out."
"Kinda. It sounds vaguely familiar."
"Do you think we're going to be like them? Never able to see the Sun again."
"No," she said. "The Sun will come out. It's not going to be cloudy forever. I'm sure there's somewhere in the world where the sun is shining."
"But the ash-"
"It's the Sun. And it's powerful enough to come out again."
The fog faded away when we were eating, but the Sun didn't come out and the sky was still dark and gray. May was wrong today. Hopefully she's right tomorrow.
I got another chance to go out today.
I guess Mom and everyone have all just been so sick of being stuck at home that we all just want to head out. We had to be safe, of course. Air masks on at all times. No going outside a two mile radius of the house without telling her and Dad. You can only be out for an hour before you have to go back indoors.
I left the house around mid-afternoon. Mira and May were planning something together to do something. Honestly, I had no idea, so I didn't really bother them.
"Where are you going?" Mom asked.
"Just to the garden," I replied.
"The community one?"
"Yeah. The one I worked at during the summer."
"Aren't the gardens all dead because of all the ash," she said. "Even our own garden is dying."
"I don't know," I said and shrugged. "I just want to check it out."
"Only an hour," Mom said. "You better be back by then. Otherwise you'll be grounded for the rest of your life."
I pulled the air mask right to my face and adjusted it. The sky was gray today, but it's always gray and the ash doesn't seem that bad. I think my lungs are getting used to the smoggy air. I wonder how people with asthma are dealing with this. It must be awful.
Lately I've been wondering a lot about other people. I guess because I've been stuck at home for so long that there's not much else to do but imagine and dream. The neighborhood has been getting quieter and quieter. I haven't seen a car or anything in the last couple of days. Everyone is just holed up in their homes or wherever and just weathering this storm for however long it'll last.
When I walked into the garden, I saw someone leaning over the plants with a watering can. I didn't expect to see anyone there. I went just to see if the plants and crops were doing all right. But the person watering the plants seemed awfully familiar.
He turned around and faced me. "Neal? I haven't seen you for about two weeks."
"Yeah," I said. "My Mom was worried about all the ash stuff. What are you doing here?"
"Watering the plants. No one has been here since the ash snows, and all of our hard work is just withering away."
"But aren't the plants going to die anyways," I said. "The ash is blocking the sunlight."
"But not all of it," he said. "I read a book about a volcanic erupt-"
"When did you become an expert in volcanology?"
"I had a lot of free time," he said. "The point is that this type of situation happened in the past before. A supervolcano erupted and spread ash across the whole world and causing mass famine-"
"How does this even help your point?"
"The crops that were produced were tiny and insufficient to feed large amounts of people," he said. "But the important thing is that the crops did not die. They just grew a little less. That's why we've gotta keep watering them."
"But it's not just one super volcano. We've got hundreds of them erupting everywhere all the time."
Charles looked down and sighed. "Just have a little faith. Will you?"
"Fine," I said and added. "Just for you."
So we kneeled down and pulled out weeds and filled watering cans from the leaky faucet by the shed. When he was pulling out one particularly obnoxious dandelion, Charles turned towards me. "Have you thought about the bucket list."
"I have, in fact."
"So... What are the things that you want to do this summer?"
"I'm not telling you anything unless you tell me your whole list."
"I'll do it," Charles said. "I'm not bluffing."
"Then say it."
There was a small moment of silence.
"I'm not going to," he said. "I'm making a conscious choice to not do this and expose the fact that you probably haven't thought about it since we last met."
"I think you haven't thought about it either," I retorted.
"Here's what we are going to do. We are going to go down our bucket list and we take turns trying to help each other do these things, whatever they may be."
"Seems fine," I said.
"So..." Charles said and motioned with his arm.
"Are you going to say your first thing?"
"Not today," I said. "We wasted too much time on this gardening thing."
"You're stalling," he said. "You don't even know what you want to do first."
"Fine," I said. "I want you to do something dumb."
"What?" he said. "I'm ready for anything."
"I don't know," I said.
"Well figure it out by next time."
"I don't even know when we're going to meet next," I said. "My Mom is really strict about going outside because of all this ash."
"Is this why you're leaving soon?"
"Yeah," I said. "One hour outside otherwise I get grounded for life."
"Well you better head home soon," Charles said. "I'll be here on Wednesdays and Fridays to keep the plants alive."
"What about meeting at your house?"
"My parents are pretty paranoid with everything going on," Charles said. "I don't think it's such a good idea."
"Okay," I said. "My time is running out. I guess I'll see you next week."
"You better figure it out. No more delays!" he said.
"I'll try my best," I said.
Charles wanted to stay at the garden longer, so I left without him and thought about the wishlist. What is something dumb that I could make him do? Just writing this out feels a bit childish and petty, but I guess that's what this summer is for. One last chance to be young before adult life catches up with you.
We got a flyer from the city council. I was out when they taped the paper on the door. After the riots, they wanted to hold a town hall to have more transparency about their food distribution and to talk about how the rest of summer and winter will proceed.
It's happening on Saturday, and anyone who wants food has to attend. That's a smart way to make people actually come and listen. Mom is worried that with so many people, the crowds will get rowdy and another riot will break out, but Dad told her that they'll have lots of security and police there. Plus, we'll need the food for the future.
Mom made us do the dishes today.
I guess she just got tired of doing them for us almost everyday, and because we weren't doing anything useful, she decided to put us to work.
I said that I'd dry the dishes. Washing food covered plates seems disgusting. But May and Mira wanted that too. I guess no one really likes touching wet dishes. I wonder how Mom dealt with all of this every single day.
We did rock-paper-scissors to decide which two people were going to get tasked with washing the dishes. Thankfully, I won the first round with my rock against both of their scissors. "Why don't we make Grandma and Grandpa do the dishes," May grumbled.
"Because they're old," Mira said.
"Just because they're old doesn't mean that they're incapable of doing anything."
"Don't let the old people work. Just do it."
"You sound like Mom," May said.
"Is that bad?" I asked.
"It's annoying," May said.
"Less talking and more working," Mom yelled from her bedroom.
"Yes, sir," May said. "The dictators commands and we do."
So we washed and dried the dishes for a solid half an hour. It was a very boring half an hour. Most of today was boring. Mom and Dad we're talking about the town hall tomorrow. I don't think they've ever been this tense since the small riot on the day of the first food handout. Normally, Mom and Dad would be arguing over summer vacation plans or trying to wrangle all of us together to go to the beach. Look at how the time's have changed.
"Should we bring my parents?" Mom asked.
"Is your mother's leg doing better?"
"I think it was a cramp. She says that she's fine, but I don't know."
"She's tough," Dad said. "We have to bring everyone. We need to-"
"-get the food," Mom said. "You've been going off like a broken record about this."
"Sorry," Dad said. "It's just that it's important."
"I know," Mom said. "So we're staying close to the door for the town hall?"
"Stick together and stick near the entrance. If anything goes wrong inside, we'll be able to escape."
"But what about outside," Mom said. "Someone might bring a gun or who knows what and then..."
"I know," Dad said. "But what else can we do. If we stick to the front, if anything goes wrong, we'll be stuck behind hordes of people. Staying in the middle is the worst. The only option is sticking to the back. If anything feels off, we'll leave."
"Do you think they'll tell us when we're getting electricity back?"
"It's not happening," Dad said. "The whole world is collapsing around us. We'll be lucky if they extend the natural gas cutoff to the start of winter. I can only pray that they don't cut off the water."
"They can't do that," Mom said. "They're probably going to tell us during the town hall."
"Whatever month they say, take it and subtract it by three months. They don't want us to panic, so they'll lie about it. If they say that we might run out of water in January, our taps will run dry by the end of October."
It's terrifying to think of losing access to water. No more showering, no more cleaning dishes, no more water for just drinking. But October feels so far away, and we don't even know if we're going to lose water that early. Hopefully, we won't lose it that early.