“I want to bake a chocolate cake with you and nanna,” she had told me—doe-eyed, earnest.
"We can’t, silly. Flour and eggs have all been shipped off to Mars. Asteroid Doomsday, remember?"
The Martian colony would keep things going, not that it mattered. No one cared about the future if they weren’t going to be a part of it. Even the news networks had gone silent three days ago—Earth was a ghost town that hadn’t yet been evacuated.
She'd nodded then, not meeting my eyes as she continued to set the table. It was a daily ritual. Nanna prepared the cutlery, I loaded the plates, and Piya served them, even though we substituted maple-glazed salmon with those meal-replacement crackers provisioned to the remaining households.
Now, I scrubbed the meal’s remnants away into the sink, the airborne dust particles around my head soaking in the last rays of sunlight.
I didn’t hear the end of her sentence as I tore out of the house, making a mental list of the places she could have gone.
There was nowhere to go. Society was in anarchy, yet Earth had never been so peaceful.
I spotted her as I rounded the corner of the block in my minivan, unmistakable light-up Skechers beneath a huge red worker’s toolbox that covered her face. I slammed the brakes. The toolbox clattered as she hopped into the van.
“What’s in there?” Words were too precious to waste on admonitions.
“You’ll see,” Piya said, bouncing in her booster seat.
When we got home, she beelined to the kitchen, depositing the toolbox on the counter with a clang. I peered inside, my glasses instantly fogging up with cocoa powder.
Nanna peeked too. She started laughing, an cacophonous, unbridled sound I hadn’t heard in weeks. The kitchen felt a little less empty.
“Where’d you get this?” Nanna managed between heaves.
Piya shrugged. “Must’ve gone to Mars.”
We spent the afternoon baking, coating the countertops and each other with flour, filling our hearts with the same liquid euphoria as our cake tins. There weren’t any frosting ingredients in the box so we went without, Nanna teaching us hand games from her childhood as decadent aromas flooded every crevice of the house.
The oven beeped. Nanna prepared the cutlery, I loaded the plates, and Piya served them.
My eyes glistened as I flicked a lighter, watching my daughter’s eager face through the shimmering candle flame. Behind her, something else shimmered in the sky.
“Make a wish,” I said, the irony not lost on me. Piya didn’t close her eyes. Instead, she stared into mine, imprinting them—deep hazel like chocolate cake—into my memory. As the world erupted in light and heat, that memory was all I had.
I found that it was enough.
i didn't win the competition so i'm re-uploading on here for a shred of external validation