Years mean nothing. Days are everything.
As always, I’m the first one up. My parents still snore on the other side of our tent, despite the sun shining on our faces. I touch the rough canvas tent next to me, warm from the sun. It’s springy when I drum my fingers on it. I get out of bed, and my fingers zip along the tent’s surface and slide over a slick metal support post, one of nine that hold our house secure in the desert.
Breakfast crosses my mind, but I’m content to wait. We have a chronic food shortage here, and water can be hard to come by, too, but what we do have are spices and solar power. We use spices in everything, not just cooking. Our cloths are dyed with rich spices that give them warm, subtle scents. Our blankets smell of turmeric, our clothes paprika and saffron. I make sure not to trip over the embroidered pillows scattered around our home, or the shaggy rugs on the floor. Tapestries of cloth decorate our tent walls and create cool patches where they shade from the sun.
I reach the door and pull back the tent flap. The sun, though not fully risen or set, immediately begins to sting my face, but I ignore it. I hadn’t bothered to put on shoes, so the dry sand that crunches under my feet stings, too. My weight partly buries my feet in the sand, and I feel the grit between my toes.
I take a deep breath of hot air as the wind begins to pick up and swirl through my hair and clothes. It could be a sandstorm brewing, but I’ll take my chances. I go as far as the rope fence that thread around posts stuck in the ground around our tent like spokes on a wheel, planted there because when sandstorms blow in with no warning like they do two or three times a week, everyone is blind, not just me.
“Yoben! What are you doing?” I hear the tent door snap as my mother whips it out of her way. “You cannot be out here alone! What if there were people passing through?”
“I would’ve heard them.”
“Maybe not, you cannot hear everything. And without your respirator!” She takes my arm and ushers me inside. “Your sisters are not even up yet.”
“I know, I definitely would’ve heard them.” My twin sisters are the noisiest things on the planet. Probably all the other planets, too.
“Sit down, I will make breakfast.” She practically throws me into a chair and bustles into the kitchen. “Do you even know what time it is?”
“Before five, Father’s alarm hasn’t—” The alarm in question—old technology, but it still works, so we use it—rings from my parents’ side of the tent, and Father stretches so far to turn it off that the bedframe creaks. It squeaks some more as he sits up and yawns.
“Morning Sibella, Yoben,” he says in his deep voice. In all my life I’ve never heard a voice deeper than his.
“Good morning, Father.”
“Good morning, Kalo,” says Mother.
The alarm was loud enough to wake Malina, one of my sisters, who bounces out of bed, but Freza, the other, would stay there all year if you let her.
“Is it festival day?” asks Malina.
“It is. Why, do you want to go?” Father teases. We’ve been looking forward to this festival for months. Father finally got a day off work.
Mother prepares breakfast fresh for us. Loudly. I think she does it to wake Freza up.
Blini—folded stuffed pancakes—same as always because they’re affordable, along with strong coffee. Our food would be bland if not for the spices we grow next to the stove. Mother looks down on the packaged stuff: “Our ‘fashionable’ city neighbors with their ‘fashionable’ synthetic spices that taste like the bottom of a shoe,” she would say, but it was mostly because of the prices.
We wash up for breakfast, eat quickly, wash up again afterwards, and get dressed for the festival.
I use an emery board on my nails. I keep them pretty short so I don’t accidently scratch people, and so it’s easier for me to read braille.
Water sloshes and dishes clink together as Mother sets them in their basins. Later she’ll do laundry, shirts in one basin and pants in another, and my sisters and I will help her. Clothes dry quickly on the line out here.
Mother picks out our clothes.
“I can dress myself,” I say.
“Not today. Today is special.”
I sigh. “What color is it?”
“Dark orange, like the lowest sunset.” To me, that means a little cooler temperature than usual. Between Mercury’s original rotation speed and the devices at the poles that increase gravity and slow our planet’s spin even more, our “days” last months and our “years” last days. We have to follow the sunrise/set band around, not just because that’s where the work is, but also because if we don’t, we’ll fry or freeze. That doesn’t stop the people in the cities from settling down, because they have more technology to survive the extreme temperatures.
“Give me that hairbrush.” Mother takes the brush from one of my sisters and sets about attacking my thick hair.
“Will we have to move again, soon?” asks Freza.
“Not for a while, yet. There is still work to be had here, and the sun is in the middle of its course.”
“Good. My classmates are nicer here.”
“Yes, and I don’t want to fight with another schoolteacher to let you in the regular classes where you belong. None of this lower-level nonsense, not for my girls. Only got the best scores on your exams last year, but does that matter to them?”
She tugs at my hair. “Ouch, Mother.”
“Sorry, Yoben. Ah, it is good enough. Put your shoes on, do you have your clicker?” She sets the hairbrush down on the little side table with a clatter.
“Kalo, your violin?”
“I have it, my love.”
“Are we ready?” Mother asks. “Respirators on? Let’s go.” She takes me by the elbow and Malina by the hand and leads us all out the door.
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