The shadows of the broken buildings grew long across Damascus, as all shadows do, but with shattered silhouettes of broken buildings that looked like the outlines of terra-cotta mountains if you tilted your head. Tira watched the stretching of the day’s end through the bars of her window, her toes just barely touching the dusty tiles, and listened to her mother moving behind her – the flick of the match, the quick inhale of the stove sucking in the flame, the opening of cans and the stirring of their contents. She heard the wooden spoon scrape across the crusted tin bottom as a man swept trash to the side of the street. She wondered where he was taking these leftovers, the bottles, cans, papers that were lost or had been left behind. She wondered if they would be repurposed, or thrown out.
She heard the door open, the umph of the crooked wooden slab pushing against the ground, hanging awkwardly off it’s hinges. She turned to see her father shut the door and press his back against it, hands behind his back, chin up, his eyes pouring his sight down his face. There was never much to say, as there once was, of the day and it’s doings; of people seen and words exchanged. It’s not that the day had been empty, but that it had been filled with the wrong things that kept them silent around the table. The weight of what could be said could damage the wood and break the table, so it was better to keep the lighter silence floating between them. It would be a shame to hurt such a beautiful thing, which had been made from a rich tree who had lived a strong life on some other continent. The only air of normalcy that now survived through the family was the weekly wood polishing, but the oil was now hard to find, and the damp rag that Tira’s mother had resorted to dried out the surface and almost took all the light from it. It had become rougher, as many things had, but stood with a strong will.
The few words that were spoken were nothing that wasn’t necessary; asking for the laundry, calls to come away from the window, the command to brush teeth. A good-night was not uttered, and as Tira lay awake in the thick silence, she thought of the strange dreams that had followed her over recent nights. Her eyelids glossed down the globes of her eyes as the sun raced swiftly across the Atlantic.
Emma awoke staring at her at her wooden nightstand. She had seen the stand every morning for all her life, recognizing its corners and how the sunlight from her window smiled over it’s dry edges. Today, its familiarity seemed to come from somewhere far away; a lost memory, or a dream, or something of the two and something else completely different.
She heard the door behind her open, the empty sound of the latch leaving the door way, the smooth sound of its glide over the floor.
“You up?” Her mother called into the room, leaning her head into the doorway, half expecting a response.
Emma turned through her pink comforter that huffed as she moved through it.
“Yup.” She said and smiled. “Barely.”
Her mother bit her lip and drummed her fingers on the door and then smacked her fingers around the edges.
“Well, I made pancakes,” she raised her eyebrows, as if offering up something she shouldn’t.
“So you should head downstairs before Dad and I eat them all.”
She pulled her head back to the world behind the door, disappearing into it. Emma didn’t think that this was as tempting as her mother thought it was, but swung her legs out of bed anyways, and dropped her feet to the carpet below. Carpet? It suddenly seemed strange. As if from a memory that had gone a long time un-remembered but had not yet been forgotten.
Emma walked out of her room and down into the hall, her bare feet aware of the cold change that occurred when the floor transitioned to hard wood. She reached the first cliff of the stair case, and with the careless steps of a path taken everyday, she pranced down the steps, each foot landing precisely where it had for years, her right hand half hovering over the banister, more of an old friend than a safety precaution. She reached the bottom and grasped the large swirled knot of wood that the railing coiled into at the foot of the staircase, which Emma held and swung around as if she were being pulled.
As she whirled around, her vision swished and the stopped in the kitchen, where she saw her father sitting with his light skin and graying brown hair and blue eyes scanning the news paper that his broad hands held open and suspended in front of him, as if to dry. Her mother, with her blonde hair and blue eyes, was just rounding the table, placing forks at each plate’s side. Emma, with her olive skin and brown-but-almost-black hair yawned and slid into the closest chair across from her father. As she heard the scrapping of spatula’s against pans, and the sizzling sound of wet food cooking, a word popped out from the news paper; “SYRIA” before her father folded up the news paper and placed it under his plate.
He took off his glasses and placed them to the side.
“Goodmorning, kiddo.” He said.
“Hey,” she smiled back.
“Hey?” he asked, leaning back in his chair and looking over at his wife.
“Where is my ‘goodmorning, Daddy’?”
“Dad, I’m 13,” Emma said before her mother could reply.
Suddenly Emma’s mother swooped upon the table, baring a tower of pancakes that she placed in the center of the table before scooting herself into her own chair. Emma was thankful for the distraction, and pushed her over towards the stack. Her father had done the same, and in mid air, they both performed a mock sword fight before he allowed her to grab the first pancake.
“At least we still get a smile out of her!” He said as he retreated.
Emma took her prize and set it down on her plate, which rested on the wooden table. She paused, looking at the gleaming wood, haunted by the same familiarity she had experience in her room.
A nearby explosion burst Tira’s eyes open. In the darkness, the flickering orange light of a fire created a hot rectangle on the wall, directly across from the window. Her father quickly rose and interrupted the light, projecting his shoulders onto the wall and fire onto his face. Even in his profile panic was visible on his face.
“Get up, get up!” he cried back into the house.
Tira sat up, and her mother shot across the room, grabbing her arm and pulling her up harshly.
“What is it?” her mother asked, towing Tira to the window to see whatever her father was seeing.
Tira looked out the window, and saw that in the building across the street there had been an explosion. Chunks of wall lay in the street, with their metal scaffolding bent and curved in odd directions, looking like pipe cleaners in the hands been pipe cleaners in the hands of the bomb. A pit opened up in her stomach, and out of it crawled an anxiety that took her guts and tied them in knots. She felt like throwing up.
“Let’s leave,” Said Tira’s mother, now dragging her towards the crooked door.
Her father’s hand shot out, restraining Tira’s forearm with a tight grip, creating a human chain of her family with her mother pulling one way, and her father the other, with Tira in the middle.
“No.” Her father’s voice was as stern as his hand. She could feel her own bones beneath his touch.
“We must leave!” Her mother pulled at one arm, and Tira felt her rib cage widen.
“We leave or we die! There could be another bomb in our walls!”
“It would have gone off already,” he replied in a tone meant to soothe his wife.
“They know the blasts will drive more people out than they can even hurt with the bombs. They want to drive us into the streets, smoke us out of our holes like foxes and shoot us.”
Tira felt her arm drop in her mother’s release. Tira knew that her mother could not argue with her father, that there was no winning any side other than his, but she made her discomfort known as she dropped to the floor, whispering prayers for protection.
The patter of gunshots were heard below, and Tira and her father moved away from the window quickly, still linked as two thirds of the chain.
“You see?” he said down at the crumpled body of cloth on the floor, rocking back and forth, chanting louder now.
He released Tira and walked over to the table, sitting in a chair that gave him an angle to see out the window without being seen from the street, but he mostly looked down at the table his hand lay on the wood.
Emma’s mother shook her shoulder.
“Sweety, it’s time to get up. It’s Monday, come on.”
Emma groaned and rolled over.
“Downstairs in 15,” her mother said.
Emma stared at the ceiling fan as her mother left the room. It circled around her like a vulture. How strange it had been, Emma thought, that she had slept dreamlessly last night. She should be happy, she thought, that her nightmares had finally gone away, but as she swung her feet out of her bed and over the carpet, she couldn’t help but feel a sense of loss open a dark hole in her chest.