I heard Jason calling, "Dad..." and ran into his bedroom. His face was red and his breathing was shallow. I sat down by his bedside and felt his forehead. It didn't seem that he had a fever. I opened the drawer under the nightstand and took his inhaler out. He took a deep breath through it and lied down slowly. His breath gradually became deeper and longer. He fell asleep again.
I looked at his thin body and tried to control my emotions. He was supposed to be in tenth grade now, but his illness forced him to stay home. His body is the equivalent of a twelve-year-old. We had to home-school him for his constant battle with asthma.
"Is Jason okay?" My wife Helen asked when I went back to the living room. Her rash was getting deeper in color. We had cut down our daily meals to once a day, and that didn't help with her condition. There was little selection of vegetables in the market, and meats were rare occurrences. Even if they had them once in a blue moon, we could only afford it twice a year - on Helen and Jason's birthdays. With the increase of prices on all foods, meats have become the untouchable for most people. It was almost impossible to raise livestock anywhere when the vegetation started to recede from the extended drought and long period of flood caused by twenty to thirty hurricanes a year.
Nevertheless, we were thankful to be alive. Millions died each year all over the world in those less advanced countries.
"Honey, we need to take you to the hospital." It was her monthly appointment. The medication was barely keeping her condition in check. Without proper nutrition there was little hope that she would ever be back to complete health. Still, we needed to make the trip.
"What about your lungs?" She looked at me worriedly. I put on a brave face, "Don't worry. We have the masks."
I had damaged lungs from working outdoors for the last twenty years in spite of the mandatory mask. I was forced to retire, and the insurance company refused to pay due to "condition caused by nature." We were barely getting by with the scanty pension I received from the company. I would have been able to sell our vacation home had it not been flushed away by the landslide caused by a category seven hurricane the year before I retired.
The doorbell rang. Helen opened the door. It was our neighbor, Alicia. Jason was old enough to stay home by himself, but I asked Alicia to stay with him just in case. She took her mask off and said, "Make sure you wear the masks. It’s a bad air day out there!" She appeared very pale, but at least she didn’t have depression from the long absence of sun exposure so far. The artificial sun lights did not work that well for some people. Although she was as thin as Helen, she did not have any obvious health problem. She was lucky so far.
"Thank you so much for the help. We won't be gone for long." There were so many people with air-related illnesses that the hospital had developed a system so that we didn't need to get out of our cars. We would drive up to a window and the technician would pull up our records in the computer, verify our IDs, ask a few questions regarding the illness, and dispense the pre-packed medications. Most of the time would be spent on driving to and from the hospital, and waiting in the queue of cars.
We put on the masks before leaving the house. It was only fifty feet away to our car, but the air was too dangerous for us to risk breathing it directly. Not with our conditions.
The sun was burning hot. The thick smog in the air made it look eerily pretty in the color of orange-red. Too bad nobody was outside to enjoy the view. Every window was tightly shut. The street was practically empty, and was a sea of grey to look at. No one was able to keep any plants or lawns alive, and I didn't remember when the last time I saw a real tree was. I missed our trip to the museum last year very much. There were so many plants and flowers it felt as if we had gone to a different planet - a planet that was lush, nurturing and life-sustaining.
I drove away in our electric car and couldn't help but wonder: I read in history books that our great grandfathers had predicted the outcome in numerous studies during the late twentieth century, but somehow they chose not to do anything about it. Instead they fought over political controls and ignored all the warnings from the scientists. Many believed all the doomsday predictions were just sci-fi fictions used to scare people. By mid twenty-first century the severe climate had reached the irreversible point. Last country to ban the use of fossil oil and coal was ten years ago, but nothing could make the earth go back to what it once was.
Whoever said human being was the most intelligent animal on earth was dead wrong. We had dug our own graves with the grand shovel of ignorance decades ago. Soon all of us will have to lie in them.