“Thanks, Bea,” I said waiting for her to look up and make eye contact so that she would see my sincerity.
“Don’t mention it,” she replied waving away my thanks with one greasy hand.
As I walked from the kitchen toward the exit, the fading light clicked off and the false sky was replaced by the dark blue ocean. I waved my ID card in front of a scanner by the exit door. As it opened, I hesitated. A part of me didn’t want to leave; to return to a world that didn’t have my Mary in it. While I was down here, working, I could pretend it was just another day. I could pretend she’d be there waiting for me like she’d always been. The kids needed me though.
I stepped through the doorway and into the tunnel which connected the dome and the elevator shaft. The new night guard nodded. I nodded back then continued to the elevator.
Tension leaked from my body, allowing my shoulders to relax as the orange glow of a true sunset became visible through the transparent tube. The light disappeared as I entered the small building on the surface which housed the elevator. Two more guards patrolled the surface tower. They ignored me as I collected my backpack and face mask.
I wrapped the package of cinnamon rolls in my coat and placed them carefully at the bottom of my pack, hoping that the faint smell wouldn’t be enough to permeate the filters on the masks of any passersby. People had been killed for less around here.
After adjusting the pack so it rested comfortably on both shoulders, I strapped on the mask so it covered my mouth and nose, then turned on the filters. One of the guards let me out and I paused, looking for an opening in the crowd that flowed past on the sidewalk. I jumped into a gap and hurried to match my pace to the river of evening commuters. When I inhaled for the first time, my nostrils flared in response. The filters might improve the air quality, but they couldn’t completely eradicate the smell.
As we approached the ten story apartment building three blocks down the coast, I maneuvered myself to the edge and finally stepped free of the flow onto the front steps. Another wave of my ID card opened the front doors of the building and I stepped inside. Once the doors had sealed behind me, I took off the mask, then made my way to the elevator. I pressed number six.
As soon as the elevator doors opened, I heard a tiny voice screech, “Daddy!”. My daughter dove at my legs, wrapping my knees in a giant hug.
I smiled down as I smoothed the shiny black curls on her head.
“Hi pumpkin. I have a surprise for you.”
Her eyes lit up as she looked up and smiled. I swallowed the lump in my throat at the sight of the dark circles under her sunken eyes. She released me long enough to let me get into our apartment. As the apartment door closed behind us, my son looked up from the couch.
“Daddy has a surprise for us!” my daughter announced.
My son just raised his eyebrows and watched as I pulled my coat out of my backpack, took out the package it hid, and finally unwrapped the cinnamon rolls.
My daughter clapped her hands and squealed. My son actually turned off the video game he’d been playing and joined us.
Bea had sent three of them home. I gave each child one and a half.
“Here Daddy, don’t you want one?” my daughter asked, holding her extra half out to me.
“Nah, I don’t really like cinnamon rolls.”
My son gave me a knowing look, but they were both too hungry to put up much of a fight.
It was a momentary high, being able to see their smiles as they handled their treats as carefully as fine china. Not a word was spoken as they savored every last morsel, right down to licking the flecks of sticky cinnamon from their fingers.
For a moment, I could pretend it was enough.
What do you think would be good names for the son and daughter?