Jackson’s daughter loved Frozen and at age 4, could recite every single word to that stupid movie about an enchanted whiner who couldn’t deal with her shit and froze everything’s script including the snowman. He liked Olaf in spite of himself. The reindeer too. The fact that Opal knew every single wasn’t the worst of it. No. the worst of it is that he did too. He could her in there now, singing away like a sweet, sad little bird in a cage.
With the world gone to hell, there was no choice but to keep her here, for her own safety. He’d die if anything happened to her, and fights to be there for her, but it’s difficult. He’d made himself bad again, when he’d already done so 3 times today. She’s been sick over the past few days, and running a low-grade but persistent fever.
He slips outside onto the balcony and reaches down into the box to retrieve the bottle gin he kept there. Just like every time before, he muttered a little prayer that Opal would never find out, while twisting the lid to open it. Hearing her trill made him smile slightly, suddenly feeling the effects of the last three swallows less than an hour ago, Jackson Kettle upended the bottle to drink.
It burns, and his eyes water when that dragon’s fire begins to sear in his chest. It burns away some of the guilt, but Jackson knows that like a bad lover, it would be back again. He sinks to his knees and clumsily twists the top back on before putting the bottle back into its hiding spot. Opal has started the movie over again, and Jackson flops on the couch beside her, and falls to sleep.
He dreams of fire and water, and a beautiful brunette that dances on the rooftops at sunset every night. He remembers the touch of her hand and the warmth of her body laying spooned against him as they slept every night. It hurts to remember her perfume or the smell of her freshly washed hair, but nothing hurt more than having to watch her die at the hands – minds – whatever had turned loose the virus in everyone’s head. . He was sure that those dreams were the worst thing ever, and then he would often wake with a banging headache and sandpaper tongue. The kind of blinder headaches that made him want to die but he’d remember that his girl needed him and he wasn’t allowed to leave her alone.
There were times he thought that waking after a sodden bender and woke up to the sound of his little girl in the kitchen making herself breakfast while the world around her was ending were as close to hell as he wanted to be. He suffered dreams so real that he would find himself standing nude in the kitchen without a light on and speaking the same words aloud to an empty room.
Today was starting off as one of those. On days like today, he missed the burn and he wanted a drink worse than anything in the world. The idea of food nauseated him but Opal had made them breakfast ( or sometimes lunch), and he couldn’t bear tell her that it would make him puke. On those days he ate the toast and he drank the milk and he talked to his child before excusing himself to pee, then puke.
Jackson Kettle pushed himself to get out of bed and work his way down the small corridor to the kitchen, where 8-year-old Opal was standing on a chair smearing peanut butter over her barely toasted bread. Her aqua eyes sparkled with delight when she saw him and though it hurt his head to hear her chirp, he never, ever told her to hush.
“Daddy! You’re finally awake! I made us breakfast!” she squealed and hopped down from the chair to give him a one-armed hug and his plate. “I poured the milk too Daddy and your headache pills are on the counter with some water if you want.”
“Thanks Punkin. I love you the mostest. Wanna watch a movie with me? You can pick anything you want as long as you keep it low. Wait, any movie but that one. Don’t make me say it…”
Opal’s mouth is open and down-turned, but twitching at the corners. Jackson knows that he had dodged a bullet this time, and sighed inwardly. She giggles then runs into the great room to power up the small generator that he kept charged for this purpose. He could be awake and not have too much noise other than the breathy whispers as she mouthed the words. She had almost every film in his collection memorized.
“I’ll be right in sweetie! Just want to peek outside.” She turns and smiles at him with a sad turn to her eyes. It broke his heart a little but it doesn’t stop him from opening the heavy glass doors in their 13th floor apartment and breathing in the crisp early autumn air. A slim bottle of whiskey waits in the planter. He had barely nipped into it last night, and he pulled the cork with a too loud pop. Guiltily, he turns his head to make sure he is unobserved and takes a quick two swallows before gasping and replacing his stash. He has to quiet the barking dogs in his head if he was to have any luck being sociable with Opal.
She is sitting primly on a large pillow before the television with a photo album in her lap, pointing and smiling at the people frozen in the frames. She knows them all by sight and lingers longest over the ones of her mother. Captured on their honeymoon in Mexico, she was tanned, and smiled like the sun in the desert. Opal looks up and blinks, then asked in a shaky voice, “Daddy. Do you remember the last time we saw Mommy? Why did that happen to her? How come it didn’t happen to us.”
Jackson shudders then sits beside her and pulls her tiny frame into his lap. With a finger he brushes the hair from her forehead and smiles but doesn’t answer. He doesn’t know how.
“Daddy, can I whisper a secret in your ear?”
Jackson smiles and leans down so that his daughter needn’t stretch, and watches her eyes light up like Christmas. He can hear her breath, then her teeth in his neck, and shoves her away. He can hear his skin tear when she comes away and lands on the coffee table, breaking her neck. He gurgles and falls dead beside her.