I want to grab the man by his collar and tell him to snap out of it.
But he's not any different than any of us at the moment. Lots of blank-faced men and women standing about today. We only had hours to live.
I didn't have time for this hulk of a man to be blocking the sidewalk. I needed to be at home with my family. Molly and Charlie were there. Mimi had at least called me before she abandoned them to go to her own family, but they were too young to be alone. They needed me.
"Hey!" I yell at the man. "Excuse me. I need to get by." He didn't move, and I gave up all pretense of polite conversation and shoved at him with all my strength. The man grunted, but my momentum got him to move the three inches I needed to sidle past him. I broke into a run, my short legs moving quickly. My lungs burned after a block, but I kept going. The blue sky above looked just like any other day, but I knew that it was all a lie now. The blue was going to fade as the atmosphere disapated.
Two more blocks and I staggered up the front steps, pausing to catch my breath before I opened the door. I could tell that there wasn't much time. Hot tears burned at the back of my eyes, and I wanted to scream. I needed to be calm. I opened the front door and called for the children; they burst out of hiding from behind the red couch in the darkened parlor.
"Mama!" Molly had been crying "We can't find Mimi!"
Charlie is right behind his sister, his bottom lip quivering. They're terrified and fighting for breath. I move to the couch and they struggle briefly to climb in my lap. I gather them to me, useless words of comfort coming from somewhere to soothe their fears.
"It's all right, my sweets," I tell them. "Mama's here. You are two of the bravest children in the world. And now we can all be brave together."
Molly lifts her hand to touch my face, and I realize I am crying. I rest my cheek on the top of her head, rocking a little. The news reports stated that children would be the first affected by the catastrophic depletion of oxygen in the atmosphere. Charlie's eyelids begin to droop, and my heart clutches in my chest. No! My brain screams. Children are supposed to grow, to live. To be.
But there's nothing that I can do but watch. There's nothing that anyone can do; it's too late. Both of my children fall unconscious in my arms, their shallow breaths trickling into silence.
I hold their bodies, and I wait for my turn, cursing the fates.