This story is by Gayle Woodson and was part of our 2019 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
I’m five years old.
My birthday is tomorrow, and my party will have a chocolate robot cake with blue candles just like the one Jules had. He’s already five.
I can count my fingers. “One, two, three, four, five.” And my other hand. “Six, seven, eight, nine, ten.”
Today we are our tiny house. Mommy says it’s a treat ‘cause of my birthday. But Jules can’t come play with me. Mommy says there is not enough room.
I like the tiny house. It’s like camping, but it’s not a tent. It’s one big room. I get to sleep in a bunk bed and my baby sister’s bed is underneath mine. Mommy and Daddy have a big bed that comes down from the ceiling when you push a red button on the wall. Or you can turn a crank to get it down, in case there’s no ‘lectricity. The sofa turns into a table and there are lots of shelves that go way up high.
My Daddy built this house. He says someday everybody will live in tiny houses ‘cause there’s too many people. He’s an arky-tek. And he made this little house underground, so it stays warm in winter and cool in summer. There aren’t any windows but there is a parry-scope—something that lets you see outside and look at our big house. Like when the tornado came, and we could see that our roof was gone.
Mommy is reading to me and Lucy. “Don’t cry Mary Lou. We will get your kite out of the tree.” I used to like this book but not anymore. It’s a baby book. Mommy grabs my knee. “Stop bouncing your leg.” Lucy grabs the book and tries to eat the page, but it doesn’t tear because it’s plastic.
I wish I could go fly a kite today. Yesterday Jules and I flew my big yellow butterfly kite in the park with his Daddy. I run around the room and play like I’m flying my kite.
“Don’t run inside,” says Mommy. “Remember the rules.” She sets Lucy down on the floor and stands on a ladder to pull a box of blocks from a shelf. Lucy picks up a red block and a blue one, bangs them together and giggles.
Mommy’s cell phone rings. I can tell it’s Daddy because of the ring tone. Mommy is talking very quiet, but I can hear some words. “Yes, I saw the news. We’re in the shelter.” When she puts the phone down, her mouth smiles at me, but her eyes look worried. “Daddy’s coming home.”
Mommy helps me build a huge tower, ten blocks high, but Lucy pulls out a block and the whole thing falls down.
“Bad Lucy,” I shout. I tap her shoulder, just a little bit, and she falls over and starts crying.
Mommy hugs Lucy and pats her on the back and tells me I have to stay on my bed for a while. I say I’m sorry and try to sit very still for a long time. I wish I was in our treehouse, the one that Jules’ daddy built for us. It’s not really a tree house—just some boards nailed onto branches in the apple tree. Sometimes we play like it’s a pirate ship. But Jules and I are good pirates and only fight bad guys. Sometimes we are soldiers. His mommy made us come down out of the tree house when we pretended the apples were grenades and one hit his little brother in the head. It was just a little apple. But he cried and acted like it hurt because we wouldn’t let him play with us.
My bed makes a good pirate ship, too. I wave my arm like I have a sword. Mommy frowns, so I try to sit still again. But the red button on the wall is close enough for me to reach. I give it a tiny pat and Mommy and Daddy’s bed starts coming down. It makes a loud buzzing noise.
Mommy yells at me. “Stop it!” Her lip is pulled up, more on one side than the other and her teeth look scary. She makes the bed go back up and sits beside me. “Sorry. I forgot to tell you that rule. Never push that button. The bed is not a toy.”
“What can I do?”
“Help me make sandwiches.”
We spread peanut butter and grape jelly on bread. Lucy tries to help but her hands get gooey and she rubs purple gobs into her hear. Mommy sighs and wipes off the jelly with a rag.
Maybe another tornado is coming. Maybe that’s why Mommy is being mean. That tornado was really scary. The sky was green, and it sounded like a big train was coming. We stayed in our tiny house for a long time and when we came up, our big house did not have a roof anymore. Jules’ house did not get hurt at all, even though they are right next door. His mommy cooked dinner for us and I got to stay with Jules until our house was fixed. That was fun. Jules is my best friend.
Daddy comes in the door and Mommy jumps up to hug him and they rock back and forth. He whispers. “Maybe it’s a false alarm.”
He sits on the floor and helps me build houses with the blocks. It’s a lot of fun. He says, “Maybe you’ll be an architect someday.” Mommy plays with Lucy, so she won’t knock our blocks over.
It’s dinner time and we get to eat the PBJ sandwiches. Mommy and Daddy keep looking at their cell phones and she looks like she might cry. I look through the parry-skope to see if the sky is green, but it’s night and the sky is just black. I can hear a loud noise outside, like a siren.
Mommy tucks me and Lucy into our beds. But Lucy is crying. “Blankie, blankie.”
“Oh no,” says Mommy. “I forgot her blanket.”
Daddy says, “I’ll go get it.” Mommy grabs his hand. “Don’t go out.”
I say, “I want Teddy.” That’s my bear that only has one button eye.
Lucy is screaming. Daddy pats Mommy’s arm. “It’s Ok. I think there’s plenty of time.” He goes out the door and Mommy walks back and forth, rubbing her face, shaking her head, and whispering, “No, no, no,” over and over. She doesn’t even pick up Lucy, so I climb out of bed and hug my little sister.
The door bangs open. Daddy is here and Mommy grabs him. She is crying but he pushes her away so he can slam the door shut.
I can hear footsteps outside. I think people are running down the stairs.
Someone is banging on the door and yelling. “Please, please let us in.” It sounds like Jules’ mommy.
“They want to come in,” I say. “Why don’t you let them in?”
Mommy whispers, “There’s not enough . . .not enough . . .”
Daddy sits down on a chair. He has a big gun. I never saw that gun before.
The whole room shakes, and the noise hurts my ears and all the lights go out.
I can’t see anything, but Daddy finds me and tucks me back into bed with Teddy. I hear Mommy singing to Lucy, the song she always sang to me. “Rock-a-bye baby, in the treetop.”
Daddy lights a candle and gives me some medicine. I’m not sick but the medicine is grape and tastes good. Daddy says it will help me sleep.
The lights are on in the room. Daddy is looking through the parry-scope and tells Mommy, “Solar panels aren’t damaged. It’s just still too dark outside for them to generate much power.”
Mommy looks through the scope. “How much battery power is left?”
“Could last a week. Depends on how much we use. Just hope the sky clears off before then.”
“It’s my birthday,” I say.
“Oh, you’re awake,” says Mommy. “Happy Birthday.”
“Can I go outside? I want to play with Jules.”
She shakes her head. “Not safe yet.”
I ask, “When can I go play outside?”
Daddy looks at a thing on the wall with red numbers. “Radiation level is really high. Must have been a direct hit nearby.”
Mommy says, “Fallout lasts for a couple of weeks, doesn’t it?”
He rubs his eyes, shakes his head. “There were missiles coming across both oceans. We’re looking at nuclear winter.”
I ask again, “When can I go play outside?” I want to run in the park, fly my kite.
He sits down beside me, rubs my back. “I’m afraid it will be a long time. Maybe 5 years.”
I count on my fingers. “One, two, three, four, five.” Then the other hand. “ Six, seven, eight, nine, ten.”
Five and five are ten.
When I’m ten years old, I ‘ll go outside and play.
In the apple tree.
Jules and me.