DAY 2 : RUSS
Buddha once said, “Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.” What Buddha failed to realize, Russ thought, is that when your preexisting back condition is acting up while wind is blowing in your face so cold it burns and you’re dragging a weary ten-year old girl block after block for hours on end, it is the other points of your timeline that must be focused on to propel you forward.
“Tired yet, sweetheart?” Russ asked.
No response. Maddy was too busy trying to make sense of the new world.
As if the previous one wasn’t hard enough.
“You must be hungry, ‘cause I know I am!” He smiled a fatherly sort of smile. “What do you say we stop in a few minutes and see if there’s anything to eat, okay?”
Maddy nodded, lips pursed, and continued tiptoeing in Russ’ stride.
The pair ducked into the local diner for the night. The door was torn off its hinges, so he deduced that all of the food and money from the place was looted and, with nothing in there of value, it would be the perfect place to rest.
As blackness set over the town, unobstructed by any artificial source due to the power outage, he saw a young man, presumably in his twenties, stagger down the sidewalk with a bottle in hand. He stopped for a moment to take another swig and then evaluated his surroundings, searching. Through the diner window the man’s eyes met Russ’, and he began to walk towards the doorway with purpose.
Russ thanked whatever higher being he’d been complaining to for the past few hours that Maddy was lying down asleep in the booth. He stood and took a brisk walk to the door. The gravel and fine layering of snow crunched under his slightly worn desert boots as he confidently approached the man, knowing that confidence always throws an aggressor off. For a while, they just faced each other with steady eye contact. No sound registered in their ears beyond the whoosh of the wind.
“What are you staring at?” the man blurted, slightly peeved by Russ’ patient demeanor. In that moment, Russ just knew. This man wanted to be a threat to others, not out of aggression, but a need to ensure his own safety. If he were the aggressor, no one would dare challenge him. Uncertainty left them uneasy. Russ could use that to his advantage.
“I believe you know the answer to that better than I do.” The man’s eyebrows furrowed briefly at the statement, only to smooth out as he tightened the grip on the neck of his bottle and squared his shoulders.
“Shut up and hand over your cash,” his tone suggested he would not take ‘no’ for an answer.
Russ exhaled, his face void of emotion, and looked him straight in the eye. “I’m retired. It’s my sons who give me money, and they’re both at the hospital.” This man had no reason to know this wasn’t true. Besides, what good would money do either of them now?
The man fumed as he released his hold on the bottle’s neck to ensnare Russ’ and shoved him against the brick wall. His furious gaze was transfixed on Russ as he snarled, “You gonna tell me the truth old man? Or are you going to need a little convincing?”
At the last question he raised his other arm and sent his fist into Russ’ face with breakneck speed and a haphazard aim. Inebriated, he only clipped Russ’ jaw, but it was enough to make him spit little red freckles into the snow.
With what was left of Russ’ air supply, he choked out, “You know, I hear that open wounds increase the likelihood of spreading the Flu.”
The man’s eyes widened and he relinquished his hold, leaving Russ to fall to the ground and heave. The man whispered, “You mean, you have—“
“Farmer’s Flu, yeah.”
[pullquote align=”center”]Rabbit hole,’ Maddy said, pointing out the window. He noticed a staircase going downward into the subway. Yes, he supposed, it is a little Lewis Carroll. It was pitch black and mysterious, which of course led Maddy to want to investigate. She was far too curious for her own good.[/pullquote]
Shaking, trying desperately to get the blood from between his knuckles, the man took a few steps backward and then bolted down the street.
Russ regained his footing and crept back inside the diner. He didn’t want to think about his latest spinal tap and the unexplainable anomaly in his results. He didn’t want to think about the very real possibility that he would not survive. He didn’t want to think about the fact that he would be endangering his daughter.
Would she understand, when daddy didn’t wake up? Would she look at the blood pouring from his ears, and know he was gone? Kids, they understand a sword to the stomach or a bullet to the head – would she be able to comprehend his fate without any wounds to show for it? Russ looked at her face and remembered that he had a job to fulfill before it was all said and done.
“Rabbit hole,” Maddy said, pointing out the window.
He noticed a staircase going downward into the subway. Yes, he supposed, it is a little Lewis Carroll. It was pitch black and mysterious, which of course led Maddy to want to investigate. She was far too curious for her own good.
“Come on Dad! The white rabbit’s probably down there! He’ll know the way to the hospital!”
She’d been doing this for a while. At first Russ wanted to object, but decided against it. What he wouldn’t give to see the world through a child’s kaleidoscopic vision. To see everything in vibrant color instead of stark blacks, whites, and grays. To take in their environment’s bleak truth.
He was running out of time. She needed to get to the hospital before that happened. He had to eventually prepare her for losing her father.
Maddy’s wide grin and incessant tugging did the trick. Russ sighed, smiled at her, and cautiously led her down the rabbit hole.
Halle Nelson is a first-year pre-major student. She can be reached at HN824858@wcupa.edu. Marty Hopson is a third-year student majoring in English literature secondary education. He can be reached at MH786110@wcupa.edu.