When You Come Back Again
(c) 2013 Sylvia Spruck Wrigley
I wake up alone, again. The bedroom curtains are wide-open. No need to block out the street lights. They’re gone.
I press my nose against the cold glass, squinting at the diamond lights of a million stars. They appeared after the city died, sparkling madly in the new dark. I don’t miss the city light but I do miss the noise: trucks winding their way up the hill, buses pulling into the station, drunken teenagers screaming at their friends. The silence is deafening.
A feral cat yowls as if to console me. I swipe the tears away and close the curtains. I’ve lost everything. I can’t have lost him too.
I think I’m the last one left here. It’s just me, now. Something small and furry skitters across the tiled floor. Me and the rats. I wrap the king-size quilt around myself and rock myself back to sleep.
I’m not the one that should be still here, alone in the new wilderness. John loves adventures. He’s seen every Steven Seagal film in existence. He watched On Deadly Ground thirteen times. He always wanted a chance to pit himself against the environment, to prove he’s a real man. Now the adventure has come to us and I don’t know where he’s gone.
The distant peach glow heralds the rising sun; I’ve made it through another night. I spend most days in the garden, although it is getting colder again. We’ll have snow, soon. My bare feet sink into the icy grass. Sparrows chatter warnings as I smash up the last dining room chair for fuel. I use up another match to light the bonfire. I have seven left, maybe eight. It’s better not to count.
I stay outside because the house is full of memories. Every day I find myself reaching for the phone, turning on the stove, flipping the light switch. Nothing works. I don’t mind living without electricity, except for these moments of confusion when I feel stupid for having forgotten. Every day.
Thank goodness I kept the old-fashioned can opener after John bought me the electric one for Christmas. I’ve got baked beans and rice and I’m saving up a can of corned beef for when John gets here.
Water’s a problem, though. It’s turning brackish. I’m drawing directly from the tank but I’m not sure how long it will remain drinkable. I guess it doesn’t matter, John will come home any day now and I’ll tell him I’m sorry for what I said. I don’t even remember why I was angry.
I boil the last potato in the green water on the open fire. I can almost pretend that I’m camping, except that I always hated to camp. John loves fishing trips and being one with the great outdoors. I love linen sheets and hot baths. I heat water in the saucepan for a bath every evening, rinse myself off and comb through my hair. It helps me feel civilized.
The droning throbs against my ribs before I hear it properly: a small engine buzzing from the east. I stare up at the sky like some primitive tribeswoman. A light aircraft skirts around the low clouds, searching for survivors. It’s the first time I’ve seen it in weeks; they must be conserving fuel now. I could wave it down, let someone know I’m here. I don’t think there’s anyone else left. I don’t think they’ll be back.
There are still good people out there. They’ve banded together, created some semblance of civilization. They are trying to rescue me. Maybe they have running water and matches. Maybe they have coffee.
But then John would never find me. I’m sure he’ll get here soon. He’ll walk in with a grin on his face, whistling the theme from The Great Escape and whisk me away. I can’t leave yet. I duck into the house and wait for the airplane to pass.
The end of the world always seemed so far away. John and I used to drink cheap red wine and imagine what it would be like. But when we talked about the apocalypse, we talked about zombies breaking down doors, nuclear holocaust, aliens zapping us into submission. Televangelists threatened hellfire and brimstone. Newscasters warned that the sun would fry the life right out of us.
No one ever predicted it would be like this, a total cessation of services. The city simply died like a starving rodent. John took off that first night, red tail-lights melting into the sudden darkness. He didn’t tell me where he was going.
I cut a notch into the kitchen counter. 47 days since I started counting. It’s Valentine’s Day, today. The flowers are all dead.
When it started, when everything stopped, I thought it was important to know why. We knew it was a computer attack. “The Muslims,” said Mrs Sandham next door, but she said that about everything. Her son told me that it was Chinese gold farmers. Whoever it was, they took out the emergency response services first. Then they hit the power companies and the media crashed along with them. And maybe someone took credit but we had no way to hear about it. It seemed like everything that mattered was computer-controlled. Somehow, with just a stream of bits and bytes, they threw us into the dark ages.
Our local supermarket was gutted in the initial panic. One by one, my neighbors left for the industrial estate, banding together where the warehouses are: promises of food and water for everyone. There’s nothing left now, nothing of value.
It’s not so bad. I’m sure we’ll join the others once John returns. That’s the plan. I’m sure he’s on his way back already. He’s got the car and the emergency fuel canister is missing from the garage.
I hum the theme from The Great Escape as I finish off the cold baked beans. Outside, the first flakes of snow begin to fall.
I’m pretty sure he’ll be home any day now.
Sylvia Spruck Wrigley was born in Germany and spent her childhood in Los Angeles. She now splits her time between southeast Wales and Andalucia, two coastal regions with almost nothing in common. Her short stories have been published in the US, the UK, France, Brazil and Argentina. You can find out more about her at http://www.intrigue.co.uk/