It snowed when Amelia was younger. Once, just once. It wasn’t the snow she heard about from the legends. Like powdered sugar, they told her. Like shredded coconut. It was greasy and smelled wrong, left stains where it landed. Came down in oily clumps. It could not be made into snowballs or snowmen, like the kind she saw in old pictures. It didn’t stay long, either. Couldn’t. Not under their sun, blue and blistering and belligerent. But for the time that it was there—hours, she thinks, or maybe just thirty minutes—she and the other children took advantage of it, thousands of footprints circling the streets, five-year-olds who forgot what “cooties” meant, who held each others’ hands as they skipped and sang and drew pictures in the snow.
Mothers were crying, taking pictures, recording the moment (as if any footage would outsurvive them) but the dream was there, alive for the first time in years. “—Just so glad they’re alive to have this,” Amelia heard a mom say. And later, “You know this is the last one we’ll ever see.”
Now, seven-year-old Amelia is reminded on a regular basis that they are fortunate enough to be alive. “I didn’t think we’d last this long,” a mom tells her. And a chorus of them, all asking, “Isn’t it beautiful, baby?”
She assumes they mean their survival, their breathing in sacks of heat, their lungs blackened and charred like the burnt ends of some long ago beast. She doesn’t feel beautiful though. She feels tired. And hot. And exactly like everyone else. All of them wearing white, always. Cotton so thin you can see each other’s bellies, sweaty and slick from the sun.
You will all likely die in the next five years, maybe sooner. We don’t tell you this to scare you, we tell you this because we don’t want to give you false hope. This is the world you were born into, before we knew what was happening. We’re sorry. But if it helps, you won’t die alone. We’re all going to die with you, right by your sides.
Their version of school. That and storytelling. Lots and lots of storytelling. Stories from old planets, breeds that had died from extinction long before Amelia was even conceived. Stories from the older generations, stories that they promised were true but sounded like fairytales.
Until the snow. Amelia would have sworn it was a myth until it happened. It was like nothing the adults described, but real all the same. Snow. Her favorite memory.
And then, just like that, on the cusp of her eighth birthday, the sun gave out a great yawn, as if he, too, was tired of waiting. The constant lookout for that inevitable great burst of fire.
But it wasn’t great. It wasn’t all at once. It started with the trees, the slow becoming of ash. Small sporadic bursts of fire, flames that licked the dust beneath their feet until they had no choice but to run and hide . . . where? Nowhere, nowhere to go. Lakes were evaporating. Oceans were a myth. Trees were burning torches, impossible to climb. So to the houses they went, to the tops of roofs, the “nonflammable” constructions.
But nothing was immune to their sun, not really. Their homes were built to give them time, if only a minute or two. Just long enough for a few last words, some tearful embraces. Just long enough to pay witness.
From her perch on the roof, Amelia watched. Waited. Moms cried in the background, a collective. There were children by their sides, curled up like tortoise shells. Some took pills, a softer death. Some sang. But Amelia stood at the edge until her face got hot, until everything turned to ash, and as the sun got bigger and closer and the world flared up and out, Amelia watched the white hot specks of burnt things fall around her. Like snow, she thought. Like the snow they first told us about. She could feel it, the tips of her fingers turning, and suddenly she was ready. Ready for the fire, for the white-hot act of a final breath. Ready to become her favorite memory.