I take a deep breath. “For six years I’ve refused to say it, but I was wrong. Your mother wanted to leave Amarillo when the twitch began. It was my fault she died. In my weakness…” I take my goggles off and press my puffy eyes with the heals of my hands. “I killed Katerina.”
Mykola tries to soften it, “she caught the twitch—”
“I killed her!” Swallowing my grief, I continue. “I should have taken you, all of you from this hell hole years ago. But I didn’t.” I shake my head.
“We know, Papa.” Leonid speaks, “you work for the plant. We know, all of us. In exchange for supplies, you tell them about the outside.”
I blink with shock, looking at each of them in turn. Only Leonid returns my gaze, cold and unforgiving. Maybe I’ve already lost him. Maybe not.
Bertha spits. “What he means is you spy on us for dem.”
I nod. “This only confirms my decision.” I see it clear as day, as obvious as the sun.
Bertha can’t keep quiet. “You’re still gonna’ help tose sons’ a bitches who done dis to us?”
“Maybe. But I don’t work for them anymore. From now on I work only for you.” I roll forward until each of my sons lifts their eyes to look at me. “Men, you’re not boys anymore.” I point to Bertie’s store, blood soaked and battered. “This! This is what we are now. I should have taken you far from this place years ago. There’s no undoing that. This. This is what we are now.”
I unsheathe my short stick and flick the blades open, still oozing with the cold, thickening blood of twitchers. “The dust zone is our home. When I cared only about myself, my life was empty. In my fear I’ve taught you to do the same.” I spin the lance over my head before stabbing it deep into the dirt. “It’s time we take our home back. We don’t need the plant. All we need is each other.”
Pyotr is first to follow suit. With a one-sided grin, he backs a few steps from the circle and spins his ax from hand to hand.
Mykola lifts his head. “I want to see the outside world.” His words freeze me. “But not until the twitchers are dead, all of them.” With frightening venom on his lips he steps back and slams the butt of his shotgun on the hard dirt crust.
Leonid shakes his head, staring me down. “After six years you want to fight?” He swallows back tears. “I remember the day you shot her. Do you even remember? Or were you too drunk? I loved her so much.” He removes his goggles to blot muddy tears from his eyes. “You didn’t even know she was turning!” He raises the back of his hand, stopping just short of striking my face. Without blinking I give him permission.
“Strike me, Leonid. God knows I deserve it.” He begins to shake. Even just the appearance of the twitch in my oldest son shatters the last of my pride. I shove my chair back and lurch forward. Draping my arms over his shoulders, I force him to either support his old man or drop him. His shock turns to strength as I feel his muscles tighten around me. I whisper into his ear, “I’m sorry, son. I’m so sorry.” And I hug my eldest for the first time in six years.
“Ach, cut all da kissy kissy, and let’s kill us some twitchers!” Bertha slaps us on the shoulders and Leonid helps me find my chair again.
I start to object, “Bertha, you can’t—”
“Oh can da crap, Georgy. Look what dem animals did to my store. Besides, I’m tired of living witout my Marty.” With a vicious yank she pumps her 12-gauge with one arm. “Payback, she’s a bitch, no?”