I started working in places like this asylum over 9 years ago, when they first started rounding people up and putting them into temporary camps. I hated it, but I didn’t have much of a choice. I needed a safe place, not really for me, but for Danna.
I was taking my 4-year-old niece to the bathroom, leaving my sister to carry on shopping with my nephew, when the world exploded. From the lower basement level, we heard the Mall come thundering down above us, and for days afterwards, we heard the screams and groans of the dying. We lived off the meagre supplies from my niece’s Muppet Babies lunchbox and the diaper bag she shared with her brother, as I told myself over and over again that my sister and her youngest child had been heading for the carousel, top level, and would have perished instantly, painlessly.
When it was all over, when we learned we were 2 of about 20 survivors found in the Mall, I wanted to feel lucky, but I was just scared. I saw the way people were already starting to look at Danna; and as soon as the first Asylum for the Blind was opened, I travelled there and begged for a job. As a registered nurse—with some ability to save lives, not merely soothe those whose lives are ending—I am given a little leeway, and I take Danna with me, to every patient I visit.
Today, our last patient was an elderly woman; old and blind she may have been, but she was sharp as a scalpel. We’d been in the room for about 5 minutes, and I’d introduced Danna as my 10-year-old niece (she’s small for her age, and people get more hope from younger children, the thought that they’ve been born after the war, why not) and explained that although she was deaf, and that’s why she sounded the way she did, she lived here with me; the old woman asked Danna a couple of questions, after I said that Danna could lip-read, and out of nowhere the woman went:
“Horse sh*t.” Danna giggled and clapped a hand over her own mouth.
“Excuse me?” I was shocked, but I had a suspicion of where this was going.
“I said, horse sh*t,” the woman said, but her tone was mild. I could feel my heart racing, and I was weighing up the options—an air bubble in a syringe, that would leave the fewest traces, if I needed to kill her—and as she talked, I started edging silently towards my medical bag.
“I was a speech therapist for 40 years,” the woman was saying, “And I’ve worked with all kinds of disabled children. She’s not deaf—she has Down Syndrome, doesn’t she?” I murmured a yes, as the woman added, her tone still calm, “I can hear you going for your bag—you don’t have to kill me, dear,” she said, sounding unlike any granny I’ve ever met as she added, “I can see why you tell everyone she’s deaf—just another victim of the war—but I’m not going to tell anyone any different.” Altering her tone a little, making it a bit softer, she said, “Danna, honey, how old are you really?”
At my nod, Danna said, in her low, slightly muffled-sounding voice, “15.”
“And she’s healthy, her heart and other organs are fine?” The genuine concern in the woman’s voice was breaking my heart. I answered her, glad to be able to tell someone that Danna was surprisingly healthy, showed no effects of radiation, didn’t even have any of the congenital issues that are so common to children like her; all the while, she smiled, and nodded, and when I digressed into how hard it had been, how I could see the hatred in people’s eyes when they met Danna, a True Survivor, and how some had even told me how unfair it was, that their brother/sister/son/daughter had died, been maimed forever, etc, while Danna was uninjured, she tsked and shook her head and frowned.
For the first time in a decade, I cried in front of another human being, while she told me lies about what the world was like (people are starting to have compassion again, the world will be a better place again, soon there will be room for children like Danna, again).
Before we left, she made me promise to bring Danna back sometime; but I don’t know if I’ll be able to. In this brave new world, where the ugliest thing is the hearts of its inhabitants, and not the burnt ochre of the land itself, I don’t know if I can trust her.
I may go back tonight, and kill her anyway, just to be safe.