The sun rises over the Haurathon, the centerpiece of Kroa. Its spire shoots out 1000 feet above the neighboring buildings. The Haurathon is used as the symbol for Congress, who use it to decorate their lapel pins, our flag, our money. You are to never forget about the Haurathon or Congress— they own you.
Sunrises are my favorite part of the day. The way the sun peeks at Kroa, like it’s wincing, makes me feel seen. It looks at me directly, tinted in the haze of the green fog dissipating from the streets. I think the beauty may be in the way Congress’ night poison rises with the sun, like a final battle cry to the heavens.
“Aja. It’s time to wake up,” I say to my sister. She’s sleeping on the couch, as she does almost every night. Her feet stick out of a mound of blankets covering the couch cushions.
White stitches stretch out where we sit every night. Our family has had that couch since both our parents were alive; I guess that would be at least eight years or so. The dark green upholstery, the color I remember old fir trees having, has faded a lot since then, too.
Aja rolls around under the blankets, making tired groans. She says half words and flails her arms. Usually, it’s around this time that I pick up one of the blanket edges to help her out. This morning, I do not.
There’s a picture on the mantle in a simple black frame with four people in it. One was a woman with a black ponytail and wrinkles around her smile and small, green eyes that asked you how your day was, and was Mom. Another was a man with a thick beard and a lumberjack’s flannel shirt and thick arms that would hold you up to see over the crowd, and was Dad. The smallest was a girl with brown eyes and small hands that held an old 3DS and was Aja. The last one was a girl with dyed purple hair and a shirt from a cyborg-punk band no one listens to anymore, and was me. The corners are chipped and faded. Dust layers tint the grass’ green hue.
I sit cross-legged on the coffee table, facing the window, the couch on my right. The Haurathon dominating the view. I can feel steam from my coffee graze against my chin out of the mug I made Mom back in school. It’s wide, the sides thick and lopsided. The purple paint starting to peel around the edges. Coffee stains line the rim on the inside, no matter how much I scrub it.
“Boa, any help would be appreciated,” Aja grumbles.
“You’re 14. You can figure it out.”
“Not when the blankets travel between dimensions!” Two mountains erupt under the blankets.
“There are only three dimensions, dummy.”
“No lines think there are squares, Boa.”
I pause, sip my coffee, bask in the bitter grip in the back of my throat. “Still dumb.”
“Boa! Please! I’m dying!”
“No you aren’t.”
“I can feel Death’s cold hand on my neck. He’s dragging me into the abyss! Boa! Take care of Cat for me! Noooo!!!” Her plea fades.
“Super dumb. Cat doesn’t even need us.”
“Fine.” Aja sits up, blankets cocooned around her.
Cat sits in front of the window, staring at us. She gives me a disappointed meow, stretches her forelegs, saunters off, her chin up.
“Cat hates you,” I say, taking another sip. The sun starts to give definition to the clouds. I can see shapes forming, green and white clusters.
“Cat loves me,” the blanket pupa replies. “She could not live without seeing my beautiful face.” The blankets peel away, and Aja emerges. Her short, black hair sticks out in all directions. She reaches her thin arm out of the oversized shirt she wears to bed and grabs my mug. She takes a sip and recoils harshly. “Nope. No. Still no. Never. How!? Why!?”
She quickly puts the mug back in my hands. “Get up. You’re going to be late for class.”
She lets out a long, exasperated sigh. “But I’m sick!” she counters, giving two well-paced coughs into a blanket. “I think I should just stay home and rest,” she continues, putting one of the blankets back over her head.
“You literally said the same thing two days ago.”
She pauses. “But the blankets are warm, and comfy, and I named this one Gerard.” She pulls out a quilt Mom made. It has red and white squares alternating in rows.
“No you didn’t. I named them Margaret before you were even born.”
“You were three!”
“Shut up. Go get dressed.”
She gets up, walks away slowly, leaving a trail of blankets in her wake. “I’m doing this under protest.”
“You know not to tell those jokes. They’ll hear you.”
“Whatever you say, Boa. I don’t think Congress has enough interest to keep track of what every apartment is saying all the time.”
I look at my coffee; it’s almost gone. I feel a chill growing in my fingers. “That’s what everyone said when the night poison started.”
My eyes are fixed on the bottom of the mug.
Sunset. Orange cirrus clouds streaked the mauve sky. Tiny stars awaken, dance above the rooftops. You joked about curfew, and I laughed. I laughed. I laughed. Night. Green stratus clouds blanketed the roads. Echoes of doors and windows locking shut bounce off the walls and sidewalks and stoops, and I got inside. I got inside. You didn’t.
“I know, I know, I know. Roads dangerous after dark. Stay inside, Aja. You don’t need to remind me again. This isn’t The Hunger Games.” Aja’s annoyed voice and the sounds of brushes falling on the counter fly out of the bathroom, the door wide open. The light seems brighter than usual. I look away.
“You don’t need to do your passive-aggressive apologizing, Boa.”
The roar of her hair dryer punctuates the conversation.
I look at the dregs of my coffee. Stains like layers of earth spiral to the bottom. Droplets stuck in place like fossils. I tilt the mug, watch them collapse, fall into a puddle at the bottom. Persistent coffee grounds swim around.
I hear Aja walk out of the bathroom, the light out. Her bedroom door creaks and clacks shut.
She never understands. No one ever does. I’ve been told a thousand times that it wasn’t my fault. I’ve heard it from hundreds of faces; none of them have helped. My guilt is cold coffee I can’t swallow.
I was turning six, and she baked a chocolate cake, even with her two-year-old crying the whole time. I remember the chocolate frosting and them smiling at me. They sang to me. The cake was delicious.
“When do you get off tonight?” Aja asks. Her black boots announce her approach.
“I’m opening, so I should be off around four.” I get off the coffee table and walk to the kitchen to wash the mug.
“Great, so you’ll cook dinner. Awesome. Thanks!” Aja quickly grabs her backpack and moves toward the door.
“That would only be the case if you somehow clean the apartment before I got here.”
“Bring home some fries, and it’s a deal.” Aja sticks her hand out to shake. She smiles confidently.
“Deal,” I shake her hand. “Go learn things.”
“I always does. I learn real good.” Aja grabs her keyring from the basket by the door. She uses Dad’s old Super Mario keyring. It’s faded, the colors starting to become a uniform red.
“I swear, Aja. Another F and I’m calling Skynet,“ I say, pointing a soapy scrub brush at her.
“They’ll never find me. I’ll go off the grid. I’ll live off the land with my trusty bow, relying solely on my archery skills and stealth to stalk my prey.”
“This isn’t the Hunger Games, Boa.”
“Shut up. Bye.” She smiles, turns to the door. Her red coat swishing behind her.
It doesn’t take long for me to give up on scrubbing the stains out of the mug. I place it on the drying mat next to the sink and get ready for work.
It never takes much time. The beauty of working in the kitchen of a restaurant is that you don’t have to doll yourself up for the public if you don’t want to. Management likes it when you do, as they can force you to do more jobs that way, but it’s not a strict rule.
I put on some worn-in jeans and a red shirt with the restaurant’s logo on the left breast, “Rodwell’s” in some modernist font inside a neat, blue rectangle. It’s starting to fade, but they change designs every two years, so I think I’ll be fine.
I check the mirror before I leave. I try to make my hair go in one direction with a brush. It’s futile, so I put on a black beanie. Hat hair seems like a good enough excuse.