Snowdrops in the Dust
For sixty eight years Caleb’s body clock never let him down. He knew when the sun rose, when it was noon and when it was time for bed. Clocks never meant much to him . . . but time did. The less of it he had, the more it mattered. He rose from his bunk, coughing as he shuffled across the dusty, wooden floor, his eyes adjusting to the dark.
Caleb opened the door to the morning, and closing his eyes heard the morning song of the blackbird, the coo-coo of the wood pigeon, next door’s dog barking at the cat who sat on the fence out of reach as he taunted the dog silly.
If Caleb concentrated hard enough, he could smell morning dew and feel the dampness on his feet as he walked across the garden. The faint smell of roses permeated his nostrils, filling his mind with memories of a lost life.
A single tear trickled down his grubby cheek as he took a deep breath and opened his eyes. He would never get used to this world now.
The sooner he left it, the better.
Walking across a land of ash and dirt, Caleb stoked the embers to the fire, thinking about breakfast. If his Isabel was here, she’d tell him to snap out of it, tell him he was lucky to be alive.
Lucky? She always looked on the bright side, saw good in everyone, everything. Even when the world burned, she just rolled up her sleeves and got on with it, doing whatever was necessary.
He coughed, a deep, hacking cough, breaking the ghostly silence. He pulled away his grimy hanky, now with fresh crimson spots.
He’d underestimated his amount of time.
Gentle footsteps approached and a child sat down next to him, holding a book. He looked up to Caleb. “Can you read me one of the stories?” Kai asked.
“Sure.” Caleb recognised the book; his Isabel’s book of fairy tales, read to their grandchildren. Now, he was reading it to children he didn’t know, children who called him ‘grandpa’, children of the new world who either couldn’t remember the world or knew no different.
He opened the book, flicking through the pages. Something fell out; innocent white from a past life, now in a charcoal world.
“What is it?” asked Kai, his eyes wide with wonder.
“This, this is a snowdrop, your grand . . . my Isabel’s favourite flower.” Caleb closed the book and turned to face Kai. “Let me tell you a story, a story more fantastical than any fairy tale.”
“Better than wizards. A place where flowers grow, birds sing and everywhere you look is green. Where warmth shines down on you. Where life is a rainbow.” He coughed, his hanky now sodden.
“You can tell him later. You need a rest,” Kai’s mother said, gently helping Caleb stand.
“Can you do me a favour? Look after this snowdrop. It is so precious to me, us. Everyone.” Kai nodded. “I’ll be back later, I promise,” he said, walking away, hunched and still coughing. Kai looked down at the pressed snowdrop, now stained with a tiny speck of red.
Caleb lay on his bed, his chest aching with every breath. He felt Isabel nearby and a shallow laugh escaped his lips as he heard her chastise him.
“Not so soon!” she said. “ You have stories to tell that boy. You promised.”
Despite the coughing, Caleb felt a new sense of purpose; his mission to fill young heads with his real rainbow world would not be defeated by time. It wasn’t how much time he had left that was important, it was what he did with it.