by Leslianne Wilder
It’s the only fair way.
Mabel traces the edges of her respirator mask, makes sure there is no crack for the airborne toxins to wriggle in and burn holes in her lungs. She smooths the overalls over her belly- no swell yet. She’s hungry, but it’s worth it. She has four lottery tickets this week.
Mabel sits by the playground and chats with friends. Their children’s respirator masks are painted with elephants, snakes, and monkey tails, and the children run after each other for as long as they can without gasping. They laugh, and it sounds magical; deadly, terrifying and freeing all at once, like setting money on fire. No matter how bad things get, children fill Mabel with a sense of hope and gravity.
“Little Saul can read a whole book by himself,” Rachel says, muffled behind her mask. “He’s got a couple years yet, but we think he’ll be able to test into the domes after puberty. Think of it. A good job, something executive. He’s a sweet boy, he’ll send us back money. He’d never forget us.”
Rachel coughs, and on the gray rungs of the playground ladder, Saul wheezes to himself. Mabel doesn’t say it; no one says it. Rachel’s a sweet woman, and hope’s all she’s got.