Real Bad Debt

The smell of rotten eggs was suddenly strong and inescapable. It made Florencia scrunch her nose, and her back teeth floated. She scooted off the hard and scratchy sofa, shifting her weight from one hip to the other until she was up. Her slippered feet shuffled over the engineered vinyl flooring to the sliding door, and sure enough it was open—just a crack, but enough. Abril was stooped over in the burnt crabgrass.

“Hey! I tolt ‘choo to play inside. Now c’mon back’in.”

The girl looked up from behind a mop of black curls with cold blue eyes—the only thing her daddy ever gave her—which were already starting to water from the sting of the air. “But Gramma, look! A lizard!” She stood and something orange wriggled out of her hands. She shrieked with delight.

“Leave it be. C’mon back now.”

“But Gramma—”

“No more buts. Look’it ‘choo; yer eyes are all wet a’ready. C’mon in.”

Abril put her head down but did as she was told, forgetting the episode almost at once and running for the playroom. Florencia sealed the door and flipped on the purifier. It was getting a lot of extra use this year now that she was looking after Abril. The poor girl didn’t yet understand the world she’d inherited.

Just then, a formation of blotters zipped across the upper stratosphere, pumping out sulfur dioxide by the ton. For forty-four years the damn things had been circling the globe, turning the rain into acid and the sweet spring air into stink, but their gassy cargo reflected a whole lot of sunlight, so they were at least doing their job.

Problem now was the termination shock—only thing on the damn news anymore. Keep the blotters flying and you deal with the stench and the droughts and the rising rates of blindness. But shut them down and you get decades’ worth of climate change all in one go. Lose-lose.

Florencia dabbed a tear from her own cataracted eye, but it wasn’t from the sulfur. Abril never got to taste the tartness of an apple, or play with a dog, or smell a freshly-cut lawn, and the thing of it was that she’d never know what she’d missed. Sorry kid; we rang up a real big debt, and now you’ve gotta pay it.

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