It is raining when I wake up. I dive deeper under the covers and their comforting, familiar smell, snuggling my face into the softness of my pillow as I listen to the wonderful sounds of the weather outside. It thunders, and I curl my toes.
I fumble around the bedside table for my iPod, and when I find it I manage, in my half-asleep state, to get some classical music playing. I sigh a little deeper into my bed. Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 in G minor.
Mornings like these make me forget, even for a little while, all that has happened over the past couple months. But after a few minutes of bliss I remember, as I always do, that there is more outside my window than the rain. If it rains long enough, I wonder, maybe it will wash some of the blood in the street away.
“Anna?” my mother calls. “Are you up, sweetheart?”
“No,” I shout and pull the covers over my head. I want to stay right here, right in the crook of these pillows listening to Mozart and the pitter-patter of rain on the windowsill and the occasional rumble of thunder.
“Dad is supposed to be coming back today,” she reminds me, poking her head through my bedroom door as she opens it.
I sigh. “My hopes aren’t up.”
“Well, I had to try something to get you out of bed.”
“Congratulations, you tried. Duty fulfilled,” I grumble, but get out of bed after she shuts the door anyway. My boyfriend, Paul, went with my father on this latest outing, and I couldn’t have them come home to find me bemoaning my existence and hiding in bed. Not when they had risked their lives by leaving the house.
“Keep yourself busy,” Paul instructed me. “Time goes faster that way. And before you know it I’ll be back, alright Mozart?”
And I did keep busy, for a while. But they’ve been gone for over a week now. How exactly anyone was supposed to believe they could predict to the day when they would be back, I don’t know. Yes, today is the day my dad thought they’d return. But it could just as easily be tomorrow, or the next day…or next week. Or never. It just depends what they saw out there, or who saw them.
Everything collapsed when the war came to America. My house became one of the meeting places for a group of survivors. Right now a few of them – including my dad and Paul – are out trying to find another group we think might be trying to radio us from a few towns over. They are also supposed to try to bring back some food or supplies or whatever they can round up. Store shelves were emptied first, early on when the fighting began, and then homes were looted. I have little hope that they will find much of anything to bring back.
No one sane goes outside anymore. The only people who do are soldiers, rebel insurgents, the occasional gang, or just wandering crazy people. And the occasional small band of survivors, like us, moving from camp to camp, making supply trips; but we try to stay put once we found a good, safe spot.
There haven’t been soldiers in my neighborhood for a week or so now, but a group appeared a few days after Paul and dad and the others left, and so we worried – maybe they ran into each other.
I go into the bathroom to brush my teeth. It’s odd, the things we still do, the things that carried over. Of course we don’t have running water anymore, that’s been shut off for a long time. When we realized things were turning south, and that we weren’t going to be able to leave the country, we made preparations, like filling the bathtub and buckets with water. We didn’t know how long to prepare for – how long “it” would last, how long until the war ended, until we were rescued.
The days turned to weeks, and the weeks to months, and we ran out of water. Fortunately here in Oregon, rain is easy to come by, so we refill the tub and the buckets whenever we can. This allows me to brush my teeth most days, to quench my thirst, and to boil water for cooking. We are very lucky.
I walk into what used to be our living room and see that everyone else is already up. Our house is one of the few safe places in our neighborhood, and so my family grew by fifteen when the war started. We had ample space, and my dad was a cop, so people felt safe here. The living room is now scattered with a few extra mattresses that we dragged over months ago, and is littered with blankets and yellowed pillows.
My mother is leaning against the kitchen island, talking to some of the others in hushed voices. She hasn’t noticed me yet. Kara stands beside her. Kara used to live a few doors down. Divorced, no kids. Her ex-husband, Dylan, showed up at our house looking for refuge not long after Kara did. It turned out not to be as awkward having them both around as you might think. Middle-aged Sophia stands with them – her husband, Ken, was out in the group with Paul and my dad.
“The gunfire sounded like it was just a few blocks east of here,” Dylan reports.
I strain my ears as I walk by to listen to what they’re saying. I’m old enough to walk over there; at 20 years old I’m not a kid anymore. I’ve earned my seat at the table. But my mother sees it differently; she’s still trying to protect me. So I slink by quietly.
“I didn’t hear anything,” Sophia says. “When was it?”
Dylan shakes his head. “Late last night, early this morning, I can’t be sure – it was when I was on my watch.”
“Do you think we should do something?” Sophia folds her arms, her brows knit with concern.
“I don’t think we can do anything, just stay here, stay inside, stay quiet,” my mother says.
“What about the group your husband led, Jen?” Kara asks.
Mom swallows. “What about them?”
“They won’t know anyone else is passing through. They could be in danger,” Kara says. Dylan locks eyes with her and shakes his head. He knows, as I do, that this is just going to upset her.
“I won’t let you send anyone else out looking for them, that’s just stupid. We have enough people out of the house as it is right now,” my mom replies. Her eyes shift past Kara and connect with my own.
I’m caught. “Just going outside to clean off,” I say in a forcedly carefree voice and pick up my pace.
“Be quick, okay, honey?” Her voice is full of worry. I know what she’s thinking: that whoever Dylan heard last night will get me. But they won’t – the likelihood of them wandering through our secluded backyard during the brief window of time I’m out there is slim to none. The front yard might be different, but why would soldiers travel through backyards when they run the streets? There’s nothing to be afraid of.
I slip through the heavy curtains we put up and unlock the backdoor. I head outside and stand under our covered deck and undress. I step out into the rain and close my eyes, letting it wash over me. It feels wonderful. I run my fingers through my hair and pick up the plastic comb that sits on the deck next to some homemade soap and run it through my knotted hair. I should just cut it, really – that would be the most practical thing to do. Maybe I’ll do that later today, surprise Paul with a spunky new ‘do.
I run the bar of soap over my body, which isn’t too dirty since I’ve mostly been inside, but it still feels good to be slippery and sudsy. Maybe it’s wasteful of me, but hey – I take the few luxuries I can manage. It’s the apocalypse.
I open my eyes and there is another person in the backyard. His eyes are the first thing I see – as soon as I open them our eyes are locked. I stop moving and say nothing, I do not cry out. He is frozen too. I see a gun tucked into his pants, but he is not dressed like a soldier.
We look at each other for what feels like a long time. I don’t even care that I am naked, that fact seems irrelevant – shame and modesty are pre-war concepts. I study him. His hair is blonde, and in the rain it is sticking to his forehead. His thin shirt has become translucent and it clings to him. He is maybe only twenty feet from me.
I can’t tell how long it’s been, maybe 30 seconds, maybe an hour – but I move for the first time since seeing him, tilting my head to the side, quizzically, and squinting my eyes at him. Who are you, I think. Who are you – I think it hard, hoping he can read my mind.
But as soon as I do this, he moves. Jumping over the back fence, he disappears. His fleeing footsteps fade into the distance, covered by the sound of the rain.
He didn’t hurt me – he had a gun, but he didn’t shoot. I didn’t feel threatened, not even for a moment. But as soon as he is gone I wonder if I should have. Where is he running to? Who will he tell? What has kept us safe in this house has been that no one knows we are here – no one, that is, until now.
I rub the soap off my body in a hurry and dry off under the overhang. I throw my clothes back on haphazardly and go back inside, breathless, locking the door behind me.