She tells stories.
Some of them are true.
Most of them are not.
Parenting Tips for the End of the World
This story was written for NYCM Flash Fiction challenge. Prompts: Sci-fi/Air taxi/Forceps.
“It’s here!” Naomi called, spotting the Lyft as it landed in front of their apartment building. Isaac rushed from his bedroom, cramming essentials into his shoulder bag.
When the moving drone arrived an hour ago, Isaac and Naomi watched the giant forceps emerge from the bottom of the vehicle and clamp onto the shipping cube. It reminded Naomi of those old-timey vending machines where you manoeuvred a claw to grab a prize. How strange that everything Isaac needed for his first year of University — the sum of his belongings —was contained in that crate.
Naomi tucked back the steely strands that had escaped her hair elastic as she climbed into the Lyft’s passenger seat. She’d spent the better part of the morning helping Isaac stuff clothing and toiletries into boxes, despite repeated reminders to start packing days ago. The moving drone caravanned behind them, crate tucked against its underside.
“Do I seem different to you?” he asked as they rose off the ground. The electric mini-jet hummed as it propelled across the city. Their deepest conversations always took place in vehicles, both staring ahead; honest talk flowed in the absence of prolonged eye contact. “I feel different.”
Isaac looked nothing like his younger self: his curls, once as black and shiny as liquorice whips, were cut short and dyed blue. Holographic tattoos orbited his wrists and neck. Only his wide-eyed, curious expression stayed the same.
“In some ways, yes,” Naomi smiled. “In others, no. You got lost for a bit—like many teenagers—trying to figure out who you wanted to be in the world. But I’ve seen you come back in the last few years.”
She’d worried when he hit his teens. His confidence had dissolved. He’d become tentative, uncertain, desperate to fit into adolescent culture.
“Got your mask?” she said, checking the packing list.
Isaac sighed, pointing to the silicone filter sticking out of his bag.
“Sort of looks like a stormtrooper helmet, huh?” she laughed, attempting to lighten the mood. “Remember how much you loved that costume? You even wore it to bed a few times.”
“Don’t know why it matters when the world’s ending,” he shrugged, staring out the window as they flew over the Unhomed Sector, people milling about narrow streets, huddled in front of hover-carts overflowing with dirty clothing, canned food, broken electronics. The neighbourhood had expanded in recent years as the number of people living without an address exploded.
“The world has always been ending,” Naomi said. “And yet we’re still here.”
Between buildings, public transportation whirred along, while commercial drones lugging packages buzzed past.
Naomi shuddered. How can we turn away from the millions of displaced people roaming the streets after rising oceans submerged their homelands? Why do we continue to ignore the poisoned yellow skies, dead rivers, floods and wildfires? How easy is it to sidestep mounds of trash rising from a capitalist society?
The sun blazed above it all, its inevitable expansion into a red giant five billion years from now threatening to disintegrate Earth’s atmosphere and boil the oceans dry.
“I’m worried I’ll forget how to make friends.”
“You were always that kid on the playground who made friends with everyone.” She’d worried when Isaac became withdrawn in middle grades, weighed down by peer judgement. “You’ll find your people.”
Your son is leaving home. You’ll be alone, mama bird, in a spacious nest. She’d never been the type of person whose sole identity was tied to parenthood. Intellectually, she understood her role as parent was to raise capable humans who’d thrive, independent of their caregivers. Her heart, however, felt differently. Damn those maternal instincts.
At least he’s only moving a few cities away, she comforted herself with the thought. It’s not like he’s leaving for that new Martian college.
She stared at a corner of the sky, imagining the asteroid which scientists calculated was hurtling towards them within a decade until the inevitable conclusion of its journey. On optimistic days, she believed their promise of finding a way to stop it.
She’d upped her quota of words of wisdom lately, throwing out unsolicited bits of advice at the oddest times. She winced, remembering the random text she’d sent him yesterday: Like all aspects of a relationship, communication is the key to healthy intimacy. Sex is best when you communicate—before, during, after.
She wondered what other kinds of life lessons would replace sharing toys and tying shoes.
Have I taught him enough about the important things? What are the important things?
The air taxi slowed and began its descent.
“Find a way to leave the planet a better place than when you arrived,” she blurted. As he reached across the seat to pat her hand, she felt ancient.
Outside, the University campus stretched into the sky, knobby buildings arching over the river like a skeletal hand cracking its knuckles. They touched down on the landing pad in front of the dormitory. After climbing out, the moving drone lowered Isaac’s crate onto the walkway beside them. When he turned to engulf her in a hug, she wrapped her arms around his waist.
“Love you, mom,” he mumbled into the top of her head. “I’ll call you when I’m settled in.”
“Love you, too,” she whispered. She held on…held on (hold on)… until she felt his arms loosen.
Six months: Leaving the house for the first time without him, breasts already aching with milk, as his grandfather rocked Isaac in his arms.
Five years: Watching Isaac skip into the classroom, Pokémon backpack slapping against his small body.
Eleven years: Withholding a hug after taking a cue from Isaac’s cool nod as he perched on the top bunk when she dropped him off at summer camp.
Now, as Isaac nudged the hovering crate through the front entrance, she waved goodbye, but he didn’t turn around.
We all have to grow up. We all must leave home eventually.
The world is not ending, she reminded herself. At least, not today anyway.
Want to read another? Check out The Nesting House.