F.A.S. (Foetal Atomic Syndrome)

i.

The fireman exited the decimated first-grade classroom. Ash and blood draped across his shoulders like he’d walked beneath a canopy of entrails. He held in his hands a pair of Coke bottle glasses and a charred swatch of tartan skirt. The principal, a short man, squat like a wine barrel, accepted the piecemeal remains.

“Margeurite Beaton died a hero,” the fireman said. “She saved those kids.”

The principal swallowed. “Will someone come and take her away?”

“Once we’ve got her off the walls.”

“Right . . . okay.”

#

Allegra Matise was passing by when she saw the explosion outside the kitchen window—a horrible sunrise from the wrong direction. She dropped to her knees, scrambled under the kitchen table, and clamped her hands over her ears. A dust tsunami shattered all the windows and set off every car alarm on her street.

When the chaos had passed she crawled out from under the table, grabbed her car keys off the hook above the microwave, and left.

Standing in the driveway, Allegra brushed shards of broken glass from the driver’s seat of her car. She noticed her neighbours exiting their homes to survey the damage. Many appeared to stumble out their front doors, wiggling fingers in their ears like they’d been at a heavy metal concert. Heads turned, terrified whispers aimed in her direction. She jumped in her car, sped off down the street before they could start throwing rocks.

Miraculously she arrived at the school ahead of the emergency response teams. The building was still standing—thank Christ—but the second-floor east wing was a burn victim: collages and finger-painted self-portraits hung from the remaining walls as cooked turkey skin would from a bone. Trees in the yard were stripped clean; every car in the teacher’s parking lot flattened.

Matthew sat on the sidewalk in front of the school, hugging his knees to his chest. He looked unfettered, save his patchy, windswept hair. Allegra pulled up to the curb and called his name. He didn’t respond; she put the car in park and went to her son. Knelt down and brushed the hair from his eyes.

“Kiddo, we have to go.” She glanced the destruction behind him. “We don’t have time for this. I need you to use your legs, okay?”

Matthew stroked the side of his mother’s face, drawing a line through the thick, sludge-like coating of soot and debris that was always there. Allegra led him by the hand to the car and buckled him safely inside. There were sirens approaching. She quickly pulled away from the curb, watching in the rear view mirror as disoriented survivors filed slowly out of the building.

 

>>Double Feature Magazine, issue 2, 2016

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