He already had the gun. That's the thing I remember most. Mother had the thermometer, the ice packs, the antibiotics left over from three or four different expired prescriptions. Dad had the gun.
He'd spent the morning watching the news, in the front room. The news was where someone would appear on your television and tell you what was happening in the world that day. The television was… it was a magic box, all right?
The news was bad. The hospitals, first, mostly, and the streets around the hospitals as people tried to get help for themselves or their friends or their family members. Mother didn't want to take us in: the emergency rooms had closed early on, and she didn't want to risk the streets anyway. It only got worse into the afternoon. The news didn't ever come right out and say zombies.
Josephine was sicker than me. Josephine was my little sister. Your aunt. She lapsed into a coma; I thought she was just asleep. I was exhausted from crying so I closed my eyes and tried to sleep too, but there was too much pain. My stomach, my head, my joints.
They must have thought I was asleep, must have assumed because I was so still.
My mother's hand was on my forehead, testing my temperature. "Allie's getting better, I think."
"You can't be sure."
"I think she is."
"You know Jo isn't."
He didn't even come all the way into the room. I remember him craning his neck around to check all the windows. He'd scurry to the end of the hall to check the ones in the front room, and then scurry back to the bedroom door, like a frightened mouse. All with the gun in his hand.
I remember being reassured by the gun. I didn't really even understand what there was to be scared of outside, not really, not yet, but I knew that he would protect us. "There's a free clinic by the hardware store. We could…"
"They're telling people to stay indoors."
"We have to do something."
"The car is packed."
I remember thinking that was a good thing. My eyes were closed so I don't know how Mother looked at him. "We're not leaving."
He didn't try to convince her. I think he was waiting for her to change her mind of her own accord. Their relationship was like that a lot of the time. She was a strong personality; stronger than him, anyway. He listened to the news standing the hall, one eye on the television and one eye on us, and repeat anything it said that he felt she needed to know, anything he felt would tip the scales a little bit further.
"Reports of gunfire downtown. The reporter can't get close enough to see what's going on."
"We're a long way from downtown." She pointed to the bathroom. "Get me a clean wet washcloth."
A few minutes later: "They've closed off the highways and the bridges."
"It doesn't matter, we're not going anywhere." She listened at Jo's chest for a heartbeat. At the time, I thought it was a hug.
"The Governor's declared martial law statewide."
No response. She took out the thermometer and looked at it very carefully. She stroked the wet, matted hair from my face and gave me an attempt at a reassuring smile.
At some point I must have fallen asleep.
I don't know why Josephine, when she got up, when she went looking for something to eat, why she left me alone. I was right there, right next to her on the bed. All she would have had to do was roll over. Maybe it was because I was sick, and maybe going to turn myself. Maybe she wanted something fresher.
I remember the scream, which must have been when Mother saw her; I think it woke me up. I remember the shot, which must have been when Father saw her. I sat up in the bed, felt dizzy. I remember a long silence through which a beam of late afternoon sunlight cut through the dusty air of the bedroom, and sirens keened in the distance. I don't know what time it was, the clock on the nightstand was dead. The power must have gone out at some point.
She screamed again. There was crashing and swearing and wailing. She must have attacked him. I don't blame her, I understand. She screamed something about killing her baby and he yelled something about she's already dead. I don't know what she came at him with.
There was another shot.
When he came in, I was standing. I'd gotten out of bed still wrapped in a comforter and holding a teddy bear, too afraid to stay still, but too afraid to actually go to the door, go down the hall, go into the front room, find out. I just stared at him. He pointed the gun at my forehead. "Say something."
He scooped me up, blanket and teddy bear and all, and put me in the car still in my nightie. I don't suppose he would have known where in our room to look for a clean outfit. I don't remember seeing anything of the front room. I think I had my eyes closed.
I curled up on the back seat and pulled the comforter around me like a shield. His driving was stopping and starting and cursing. I don't know long we were in the car before we had to abandon it, but the sun was still up. I left my teddy bear on the back seat and he wouldn't go back for it.
I wore that nightie for three months after that, before he cared enough about anything around him to loot a store for clothes for me. After we found a group to put in with, it was as if I didn't even exist. I honestly don't know why he even took me out of the house.
Great story! It had me hooked right from the beginning. At first I couldn't see the 'bad dad' aspect of it, as he seemed to be trying to protect his family, but by the end he seemed to have become obsessed about his safety and quite negligent in his duties as a father.ReplyDelete
I get the feeling he started out with good impressions, but maybe that's just the 'sympathetic' slant you've subtly woven into it. Thanks for a great read!
Sorry, that should have read 'good intentions'.Delete
Thanks for reading and commenting! Yeah, it's a fine line to walk...Delete
I always enjoy my visits here, David. And I'm on a zombie kick myself. I just spent the time I should be writing on playing Last Of Us on the PS3. I won't say how many hours I've invested since Friday, but let's just say that I'm slightly embarrassed.ReplyDelete
What I like about this is that we know enough of Allie that she's speaking to her kids, meaning she's survived until adulthood with kidlets of her own. Meaning there's enduring hope here. Hope is something that most people hold on to until the bitter end, but it's a challenge to write about without sounding cliche. But you nailed it and made it look easy.
Thank you very much. :-)Delete
I hear from many quarters that Last Of Us is amazing... I have added it to my list of games to get once I'm liquid again.