"Shoes next!" Cami yelled, and she ran out of the room.
Izabel wanted to scold Kaito for not backing her up better, for not laughing, for not telling Cami to trust what her mother says. But then he stood up and kissed Izabel on the forehead. He was sweet. He was kind. She didn't want to have a fight over a feeling she couldn't quite articulate.
At the front doors, Cami had put her shoes on the wrong feet. Izabel switched them. Next her coat went on. Then her backpack. Then her mask, down around her neck for now.
"Are we early?"
"A little," Izabel said. "Is it joke time?"
Izabel brought out her tablet and opened a kids' app that had a daily joke on its main page. "What color do cats like?"
Cami laughed. "I get it."
"Yeah, you do."
The doorbell went off. Izabel put Cami's mask up, around her ears, under her eyes, pinched it over the bridge of her nose. She checked it, following its black border over her cheekbones. The emerald green covered her cheeks and continued down below her jaw. A small black circle of plastic sat to the left side of her mouth. From her eyes, she could tell Cami was smiling. Izabel hugged her.
"Have a great day at school," Izabel said. And Kaito waved from the kitchen, where he was making coffee.
Izabel pressed a button on the wall and the first set of double doors opened. Cami went through them. As soon as they closed behind her, the second set of double doors opened, and she went out those and ran to the car. There was a burst of air in the small room, a quick blast to clean it out, a small safeguard, keeping one batch of air from another. It obscured Cami for a second, but Izabel was used to that. She watched her every morning like this. As tired as she
was of nearly every moment of her life, some parts still filled her with fear. Cami getting to a car was one of them.
Cami pressed a button on the car and the door opened for her. She got in, the door closed, and off the car went. Izabel would get an alert on her tablet when the school checked her in.
At this point, she would usually eat breakfast with Kaito before his workday started, but she didn't want to talk to him right now. She knew she'd start a fight. Neither of them needed that.
She went to the bathroom and sat on the toilet and peed and looked around on her tablet. She opened her favorite app. It ran news articles and newsletters and email blasts that went out years before the Turning. She could lose herself for hours in the news of the past. When humans thrived—too well. When we were drinking all the clean water. When we traveled so often we ripped holes in the ozone. When we couldn't see another way. When we melted the ice caps and
debated the commodification of natural resources and thought we would need seed stores.
She usually didn't remember which year was which. Little memories across her childhood of local and global traumas that she couldn't sort chronologically. Today, legs hard against the toilet seat, she tapped on 2020. The summary popped up. A bad year. A global pandemic. Everyone wearing masks then, too. She was eight years old. Her mother was alive. They were happy.
She tapped on Most Popular. An article came up about the garden eels in an aquarium in Tokyo. It was becoming hard to monitor their health. They hid from their keepers. They had grown fearful of humans as the aquariums sat empty during quarantine.
In an attempt to make them more comfortable, to make them betray their instincts, they were arranging a festival. For three days people could call in and video-chat with the eels. They were going to set up five screens in front of their tank. There were rules. You couldn't be loud or obnoxious. They wanted smiles and waves and soft conversation.
Izabel's tablet dinged that Cami was checked in at school. She sighed. She felt something in her chest drop, like a ball, a short but satisfying distance. She put the tablet on the floor, wiped herself, pulled up her pants, washed her hands, and picked up the tablet again. It wasn't even 9 a.m. Kaito would still be in the kitchen.