by Francine Witte

‘They’re coming,’ Jean-Louis says. ‘It’s louder than yesterday.’

His father is stirring their supper. Beans in a can he pounded open with a stone.

‘Maybe,’ Jean-Louis says, ‘we should go norther.’

‘There is no norther,’ his father says. He pours some of the beans into his shoe and gives the can to Jean-Louis.

‘I’m not even cold anymore,’ Jean-Louis says. ‘And look, the ice is turning back to water.’

‘Good,’ his father says. ‘We will need that to drink.’

‘I can smell the smoke from all the fires.’ Jean-Louis says. ‘I couldn’t smell them yesterday.’

‘That’s why we have to practice not breathing,’ his father says. ‘Soon all the air will be gone.’

He takes a deep breath, his chest rising up with it.

‘It’s good we got here first,’ Jean-Louis says, eating the last of the beans. ‘It’s good the others didn’t believe us.’

The air explodes out of his father’s mouth. His father squints, looking south and then souther. ‘They believe us now.’

‘There will be thousands of them,’ Jean-Louis says. ‘Millions. They will take all our water. Take all our air.’

‘Don’t be afraid,’ his father says. ‘The weaker ones will die off. Some won’t even make it.’

‘We’re gonna make it, right? Jean-Louis says.

‘Come on,’ his father says. ‘Practice with me. Try not to smell the smoke.’

The two of them standing straight as poles. Filling their chests with dimming air.

Near, then nearer, the sound of thudboots on the icecrack. The sound of backpack babies crying, then whimpering, then not.

Francine Witte’s poetry and fiction have appeared in Smokelong Quarterly, Wigleaf, Mid-American Review, Passages North, and many others. Her latest books are Dressed All Wrong for This (Blue Light Press), The Way of the Wind (AdHoc Fiction) and The Theory of Flesh. Her chapbook The Cake, The Smoke, The Moon (flash fiction) will be published by ELJ September, 2021. She lives in NYC.