2.6 – Ulysses

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Jamie

Three nights on the bunk beds. They still suck.

There isn’t much to do here. I suggest we take inventory of what we have and assess our needs – see if we should start planning ahead for trading meal-tickets or whatever, but I’m informed it’s already been done. While we were on the food run yesterday, the ones who stayed back took inventory of the stuff we’d managed to take with us when we escaped from Marty’s group in Portland. The verdict: not much. Especially for 24 people – we left a lot behind at the apartment, and then again when we ran out of the woods.

All our medical supplies: two boxes of bandaids, an expired bottle of cough syrup, an expired pack of pseudoephedrine, two tubes of off-brand neosporin, a bottle of benzoyl peroxide, two bottles of Metformin (a diabetes medication I’m hoping we can trade out since none of us need it), and an odd collection of antacids, antibiotics, and painkillers, some of which were just in labeled ziplocs (yikes).

The food: A dozen packets of ramen, three cans of refried beans, three cans of green beans, two cans of corn, several packets of “just add water” mashed potatoes, four cans of chili and four cans of italian wedding soup. Also three unopened, vacuum-sealed things of trail mix, and two of dried apricots. And our prized possession: six carrots. Must be a contribution from Anna’s group, because we hadn’t seen anything fresh in months.

The weapons: two revolvers, a Glock 17 and a Glock 19, several knives, miscellaneous ammo (much of which isn’t compatible with the weapons we have).

The other stuff: Two extra blankets, four sweatshirts, two flannels, four pairs of socks, a deck of cards, a box of condoms (which makes me laugh – keeping these around is just wishful thinking on everyone’s part) and a small library, courtesy of Anna.

And then whatever else people have on them and consider not communal – like my knife, or Anna’s iPod, a few other guns. In the event of another Marty’s group kind of situation we’d be pretty screwed. Most of us would be unarmed.

So what do we trade? Do we keep the useless ammo in case we get our hands on a gun that could use it – or trade it out for an extra meal ticket? Are we banking on staying at the camp forever, or should we focus on stocking up in case we leave? The other problem is that in the camp, the only way to obtain things is trading. Back at the apartment, Link and I or sometimes Kennedy would go out every so often and raid the pantries of abandoned homes and buildings to restock. Here, it’ll cost us.

So since the inventory-ing is done, I decide to go check on Catherine, Gus, and Link in the medic tent. I take one meal pack with me and James Joyce’s Ulysses, figuring since they don’t have much to do it’s the best bet. Do you know anyone who’s ever finished Ulysses? I don’t. Hopefully it’ll keep Catherine and Gus occupied for awhile. I make a mental note to ask Anna “WTF?” when she stops hating me.

I try to make my way there by memory, but it’s difficult – everything looks the same, and I’ve only been once, two days ago and in the dark. I’m about to ask for directions when I see a familiar face – the sick kid that was reading Emily Dickinson the night we arrived. He still looks sick, and he’s still reading Emily Dickinson, otherwise I probably wouldn’t have recognized him. I smile and wave at him but he just watches me, stone-faced, before looking back down at the book.

Eventually I catch sight of the medic tent, but I’m sure I took an unnecessarily circuitous route. I’m not eager to go back inside it, but I need to. I take a deep breath and make the plunge. Once I see them, I lock my eyes on the back of Gus’ head and make a beeline, trying not to let my gaze drift to the horrific sites I pass.

“Jamie!” Catherine exclaims when she sees me coming. She stands up and hugs me tightly. “It’s good to see you.”

“You too. How are you? How is Link?” He’s unconscious but I can’t tell if he’s just sleeping or in a coma, or…I don’t know, I’m not a doctor.

“Uh, well,” she sighs, looking down at her husband. “He’s alive. It looked like it might be infected but they cleaned him up and gave him a ton of antibiotics – and he seems to be doing better.”

“That’s good. Any idea when you guys might be able to come back?”

She shakes her head. “If he keeps doing better, maybe a few days, but they warned me things could turn on a dime. Any news back with the others?”

Ha. “Well, actually…uh, how do I say this…Georgia’s husband is here.”

They look confused.

“Yeah, my reaction exactly. We ran into him on the way back from the medic tent the other night, you guys just missed him.”

Catherine folds her arms and shifts her weight. “What’s his name?”

“Kevin.”

“What does he look like?”

“Tall, like Johnny. His hair is a lighter brown than Georgia and Johnny’s. I don’t know. He’s really friendly, but a little odd. Georgia never said anything to you guys about him, did she?”

“No. I mean, just that he was dead.” She raises her eyebrows. “And obviously…”

“Right, he’s not.”

We stand, brows furrowed, thinking but unsure what to say.

“Well,” I say, after a few moments of silence, “I’m sure we’ll find out more as time goes on. I’m happy for them.”

“Yeah, shit – four years. That’s insane. After that long even if you thought the other was alive I’m not sure how you could hold out much hope for finding each other.”

“Any other news?” Gus asks.

I fill them in on the events of the last two days – the results of our inventory, the meal ticket trading system, and our first food delivery. We talk for maybe two hours, reflecting on the turn of events – the path that led us here, whether “here” is a good place or not.

“Not a lot of supplies for 24 people,” Gus shakes his head.

“If we stay here, we won’t need much though. I mean, a few more blankets, pillows, and change of clothes would be nice, but we’re managing.”

“Yeah,” he exhales, “I guess.”

Catherine jumps in to redirect the conversation, “Other than that, how is everyone?”

I sigh. “We’re okay.”

“Kim and Melissa?”

“They’re grieving, but they have each other. I guess they lost her husband, Melissa and Paul’s dad, right before they met us, and-”

“Right, they accused us of being in on that, remember?” Catherine bites. “As if we didn’t also have reason to be suspicious of them.”

“Come on, you saw how Aiden treated them when we met – he almost killed Paul himself that night! It wasn’t exactly the friendliest of greetings.”

“Best we move on, Caty,” Gus says.

“Anyway, it’s a lot to lose them both in the span of like, a week.”

“And Anna?”

I draw in a deep breathe. “Not as well.”

“No?”

“I mean, Paul’s mom and sister still have each other. But Anna…I don’t know, she’s gone. She’s been weird and reckless and checked out. The only person she’ll talk to is JJ.”

“I hate that kid,” Catherine interrupts. “I do. I’m sorry. Well, no I’m not. Anna blames you for Marty’s group finding us but I blame him – he’s the one that fueled the fight. Things could have stayed totally civil if it weren’t for him.”

“Best we move on,” Gus repeats, a little more slowly this time, enunciating his words with more authority. “We can’t blame anyone for what happened – it’s possible they could have been en route to stumble upon us eventually anyway. We just can’t know.”

“I mean, regardless, Catherine’s right – he is a dick. He just stirs up trouble. But anyway – that’s, uh, that situation. The new people – Nathan and Sonam. Nathan helped with the food yesterday, he seems nice too. They’ve been looking for their son and Nathan’s sister.”

“So they are together?”

“I mean, I assumed. That’s what it sounded like. Did you not think so?”

“Nah, I just couldn’t tell either way. Didn’t see much of them. But a man and woman traveling alone together these days, you kinda figure…either something was there, or something is now.”

I put my hands in my pockets and shrug my shoulders. We fall quiet again, and my eyes fall on the unconscious Link, and on the bandaging covering his wrist-stump. The image of Marty cutting his hand off flashes before me and I cringe.

“Well, I brought you guys some food and a book. Gus do you want me to take a turn here and you can go with the group?”

He smiles but shakes his head. “I’m okay here, bud, thanks. The others need you more than they need me.”

“Alright – if you’re okay and don’t need anything else I should head back. Catherine?”

“I’m good. Thanks Jamie,” she smiles and squeezes my hand.

So I head back to parking spots 89 and 90, thankful Gus didn’t take me up on the offer to switch out. It was an honest offer, I would have done it if he asked, but…I’m glad he didn’t. I need to be with the group, not sitting in the tent of death watching my friend die, and watching his wife watch him die.

As I near our bunk site, I hear a man, close to shouting. But then it stops, and I think nothing of it. I stop just outside the entrance and listen – quiet voices, hissing those whisper shouts at each other. They are nearby – I walk to the edge of the building and peer around the corner, and am surprised to see Kevin and Georgia in the alley. She is standing against the wall, and he sort of looms over her. Seconds after I spot them Georgia turns and sees me, and Kevin follows her gaze and they stop talking. We all stand frozen.

“Uh, hey,” I wave awkwardly. “Sorry. Just, heard voices and was curious. Everything good?”

Kevin puts his hands on his hips, glances down at his feet, then up at me. “Give us a minute, will you, brother?”

“It’s okay Jamie, we’ll be in in just a minute.”

I stand there another beat before turning and heading back inside. My body is crawling with discomfort from the awkward encounter – so much so that I can’t gather enough mental energy to analyze the bizarre situation. Had I heard any discernible words before they saw me? I can’t be sure. If I had known it was Georgia and Kevin maybe I would have given more it more attention, but as it was I just sort of…blindly followed my curiosity. I try not to jump to conclusions, or even speculate – but it’s difficult. I mean, it’s been four years, is it totally out of the question someone, unknowingly, cheated? Or maybe Georgia is trying to protect Johnny, who’s been fatherless for all his young adult life.

Inside again everything seems normal. “Where’s my mom?” Johnny asks the room.

“Oh I just saw her – she’s outside talking with your dad.”

His face changes. “She’s out there with him?”

“Yeah – is everything okay? Did you need something?”

Johnny’s gaze shifts from me to just over my shoulder, and I turn to see Kevin behind me. “We’re back now – just needed a minute alone.”

I look back at Johnny but he’s already walking away, back to his bed. Giving a half-hearted, tight grin, I quickly shuffle away and back to my own. I pass by Anna’s bunk and hear her humming. That’s good right?

I stop and peak into her top bunk. “Amazing Grace, huh?”

“No.” She doesn’t look at me.

“What then?”

She rolls over and stares me down, and I can tell she’s debating whether or not to tell me. When she turns again to laying on her back I almost walk away defeated, but then she starts singing, to the tune of Amazing Grace.

Because I could not stop for Death –

He kindly stopped for me –

The Carriage held but just Ourselves –

And Immortality.

“Emily Dickinson – that’s amazing.”

“She wrote a lot of her poems in hymn meter. You can sing it to a lot of tunes. Like the Amazing Grace one.”

I consider telling her about the Emily Dickinson book – she’d like to hear about the young kid reading it. I picture her smiling, for the first time in days, at the idea of such a young enthusiast. But she’s just staring at me with this scowl of distaste. She looks away, and I take my cue to leave her alone.

I head back to my bunk and start unlacing my boots, and above the other sounds of the room I hear her continue singing the poem, softly to herself.

We slowly drove – He knew no haste

And I had put away

My labor and my leisure too,

For His Civility –

Tomorrow I will find the kid and ask him for the book – I’ll offer him one of the books we have in trade, if he’s had the collection of poems for long maybe he’d be interested in some new material. Maybe the book would make Anna happy again, she’d understand I just want to be her friend.

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