Word came down from the northern camp that someone wanted to speak with Morgan. Someone who knew him.
To Morgan the notion was as alien as the concept of a hot shower or suddenly bursting into song. His days had long since encompassed the sun, the sea, his little flotsam shack, and not much else.
Deandra asked him how he felt about it. Morgan liked to play with her little daughter Lucy as she walked in the shallows gathering periwinkles. The tide made a seething sound as it lapped the shore, due to the many bits of glass that washed in on it. Deandra wore leg protectors.
“I don’t know,” Morgan admitted. Lucy was climbing up a jagged bit of rock, he held his hand up as if cushioning her with air.
“Must be nice, having someone know you,” Deandra said wistfully. The periwinkle in her hand extended eyestalks; she sucked it right out of the shell without looking away from Morgan.
“Depends. My pop was out on the east coast, he’s gone. I can’t think of anyone who might have a burning need to see me.”
“If it is someone you’ve missed, will you leave?” she ducked her head. In many ways, Deandra was like a child. It protected her, as Morgan’s own coping mechanisms protected him.
“Don’t see why.” Morgan hupped to the girl on the rock. “Come on, Lucy goosey.”
Lucy giggled and jumped, landing squarely in his grip. She had never seen a goose. Like most children born after the cataclysm, her corneas were clouded and her skin had a texture like sharkskin. Lucy rode on his shoulder as Deandra carried her harvest bucket back to camp. They stepped around other shanties, other shells constructed of bits of debris. A woman lugging a tub asked if anyone wanted her wash-water. Another woman with hair the color and consistency of steel wire raised her hand. Morgan guessed she would use it to wash but no, the second woman drank it in great, gasping draughts. Morgan didn’t blame her. They were all thirsty. Above them the sky, even in the day, was studded with a thousand pinprickles many times more sharp and beautiful and terrible than the glass in the sea.
“Lucy’s birthday is today.” Deandra fidgeted with her bucket. “I…have some things. Pretty shells. Smooth glass. James said he found some wire, he could do something with it.”
Morgan could sense the unspoken question in her words. “Well, it’s no birthday without a candle, right?”
Deandra smiled, dimpling one cheek.
The visitor was waiting at his shack, dressed in a rough collection of scraps of fancy cloth. It was Christine, his late wife’s sister. Morgan spared a moment of thought for Kelly and the shape she had taken in his life, another life. He felt a pang in a place he had thought totally atrophied.
Christine was one of those performance criers. She demonstrated now, getting up a good head of steam before Morgan had set one foot in his hut.
“Morgan, I…” She made a series of wails. Morgan encompassed her in a hug he didn’t really want to give until her sobbing subsided. Strong emotion made him uncomfortable now. It seemed like frivolous excess. There was no audience for tears, not anymore.
He was allowed egress from the hug.
“You look well,” he said because he had been told that was what people said in these situations.
Christine sucked in a sob. She had found eyeliner somewhere. It wasn’t waterproof.
“Becky heard you were living here. We thought you were dead.”
“Likewise. How…how is everyone?” He didn’t mean for conversation to be so stilted, it was just conducted in a language that had nearly gone extinct in him.
“Mom’s dead. Aunt Midge. Jerry, you remember Jerry? The rest are okay.” Christine gave a gasping breath. “Oh god, it’s so good to know you’re alive.”
Was it? To Morgan, it was a fact as unremarkable as the wetness of water or the red tinge to the sky. “You too. I’m glad that…I’m glad you’re glad.”
Christine grabbed his hand in an iron grip. “You have to come back with me, we have to let the family know you’re alright.”
Morgan felt the strongest emotion he’d felt in a long time. It was discomfort. His conscious mind had dulled to a gray sleepwalk, and now his former sister-in-law threatened to drag him into new, painful colors. He retrieved his hand. “It’s really okay, Christine.”
But she was shaking her head. “You don’t understand, it’s better in our camp. We have nice things.” She produced a serving spoon, silvery with a scalloped handle. It looked like the ones at the hotel where he’d married Kelly. Christine deposited it in his hand and closed his fingers over it, as if bestowing some great secret. “We’re working on rebuilding. We could have power any year now.”
Morgan looked at her bright cloth coat. She had rouged her lips as well, he could see where she had bitten it away.
“While I appreciate what you say,” he said slowly, “I really can’t come with you. I live here now. You live there. That’s how it is.”
Christine stammered, mouth flapping open in a bloom of sickly pinks and reds. There were sores on her tongue. “How can you say that? How can you live without family?”
Morgan had no words for that, so he shrugged. “I’d like you to leave.”
“What if I don’t?” Once upon a time, in a different world, Christine had been a lawyer. You could see it now in the squaring of her posture and the set of her mouth.
Morgan shrugged. “I’ll leave then.”
He turned around. Something caught ineffectually at his coat, but it could just as easily have been the mutant seabirds for all he knew.
Lucy’s birthday party was down in the dell. Just beyond the bright circle of faces was the sea. A few bodies turned on the tide. Morgan looked at the glass that filled the water. In a few decades the glass would be worn smooth and the beach would be pleasant to walk. Perhaps he would live long enough to see it. That was hope enough for him.
“You’re here!” Deandra’s grin showed her underbite, which she was shy of. Morgan kissed the side of her head. For the birthday girl, he produced a scrap of Christine’s monstrous coat. James had twisted the wire into a daisy. The old woman who lived in a cottage made from broken slate had braided Lucy’s hair.
“Didja meet up with your folks?” Deandra asked.
“Sure. Had a nice time.” Morgan bent low and picked Lucy up to toss her in the air.
There was no cake mix, so they mounded sand. Lucy’s candle was a scallop-handled spoon that winked the light of the sun. Instead of Happy Birthday, Morgan sang Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. Lucy laughed and clapped and looked as happy as any child had ever been. Morgan bent low and whispered in her ear, just as the red sun slipped behind the horizon and the thousand seething points of the sky throbbed in celestial radiation.
“Make a wish,” he said, “blow it out.”