art by Shot Hot Design
by Beth Cato
We began to burn the books, and Dad tried to kill himself.
Almost all of the extra furniture had been burned over the previous month, leaving the upholstery and padding from sofas and chairs heaped on the big bed in what used to be just Mom's and Dad's room. Me and Taylor stayed in that room all day since heat rises, and we wore so many layers of clothes that it was hard to go up and down the stairs. Anyway, with so many of the walls and rooms empty, the whole house echoed so their voices really carried from the downstairs library.
"I can't do this, Vick, I can't. Burning books, like Nazis?"
"We are not burning books like Nazis. We're burning books to keep our kids warm and alive. I've torn apart everything else first. You know that. The books are last."
Dad made some sort of weird moan like a whale from an old nature show. "I know, I know. But if we make it out of here, what sort of world will it be without books? What sort of civilization--"
"Tom. Listen to yourself. We're one family. There are other survivors out there. You've said yourself that a nuclear winter isn't supposed to last long. It's a drop in temperature, nothing permanent."
"I thought it would be over by now. The smoke and debris should have cleared the atmosphere."
"That's what this is really about, isn't it? You were wrong, but it's okay to be wrong. We're still alive. We have rations for the next two months. It'll be June by then. We'll dig out of the snow and find other people. Whenever we leave the house, we'll have to leave the books behind, anyway. Just get down from the chair, please."
Something squealed against the floor.