If Only She Could


1.

“Her finger’s not getting any better.”

Tom looked up from his workbench and pushed his glasses up onto his forehead. He looked at her standing there, outlined by sunlight streaming in through the back door. Lucy was standing in her shadow, the strong, older hands resting gently on Lucy’s shoulders.

“It looks like it’s spreading. Could it be this thing that’s going around?” She was just starting to get a little of that wild animal look. The look that developed when society started falling apart. When the grocery stores closed down and the police stopped patrolling and folks starting seeing one another less and less.

And where was everyone going, anyway? Did they just disappear or did they know something she didn’t? Was there something better someplace else? She didn’t have an answer. And neither did Tom.

And Howie was missing going on three months now. Not much hope there anymore. But Lucy was still here, though she seemed sick somehow. And that damn finger that wouldn’t heal. To hell with Beth Gurgens and her biting! Jesus, they weren’t three years old anymore! And where was Beth now anyway? Gone. Just like the rest of her family. Just like the others.

She sighed.

Maybe they shouldn’t have moved so far outside of town. Tom and his damn fool ideas about living off the grid! What she wouldn’t do for a little taste of the grid right about now.

2.

It seemed like they came from every direction at once. Everywhere she looked the shambling bodies closed in, slow, emotionless, merciless. Too many of them.

“Do something, Tom!” she screamed. She was angry, not really at him, but at everything all at once. And she was scared. She’d never been so scared in her whole life.

“Like what?” he bellowed back at her. The noise around them was a deafening cacophony of moans and grunts. A hand smacked against the glass of the window behind her. The glass cracked, a long crooked line shooting up toward the top edge, the sound like breaking ice.

“I don’t know! You’re a fucking marine!” she screamed.

He shoved her up into the attic opening, tearing her jeans along the left leg. And then he jumped up and grabbed the wooden framing and started to haul his body upward and the glass window shattered and the sound filled everything and Tom screamed and then he was up there with her and they breathed heavily for a bit.

“We can’t stay up here forever,” she said.

“Oh, I don’t know,” he said. “I wouldn’t mind.” Tom smiled. He held her hand and squeezed. And she loved him for that. And then she noticed all the blood on his legs.

“Hungry bastards,” he said, wincing, as she gently touched his torn jeans. “All right, let’s get moving.”

3.

The dying takes a while. Then the burying. Then the waiting and sorrow. Then the banditry. Then surviving.

4.

He set aside a trunk just for her. Hiking boots. Clothes. Rucksack. He had a sword. The only doomsday “prepper” who didn’t own a gun.

“We’d eventually run out of bullets anyway. Besides, guns are heavy and loud.” He smiled when he said that.

He’d studied martial arts his whole life. He’d promised to teach her some day. But the kids had come pretty quickly and then, well, where did the time go?

The ache in her heart for him was indescribable. She knew that empty space would never — could never — be filled.

5.

It started to snow.

The snow drifts were now up to her hips. She kept pushing forward, trudging against the weight of the rucksack on her back and the snow pressing on her legs. It was slow going, agonizing, torturing. Her legs started to burn and her breathing became ragged.

Eventually she just gave up. What was the point anymore anyway? Tom was gone. So were little Lucy and Howie. The only things she’d ever really cared about.

Her legs hurt. She was so hungry she didn’t even feel it anymore. And it was cold. So bitter cold and why did it have to be so fucking cold! She just needed a moment.

Just a short rest.

She set down the frayed rucksack and walked a few more steps. She thought it might be easier without the weight of the rucksack on her shoulders, but it didn’t seem to make any difference. The snow was getting really deep and the sky showed no signs of stopping now. It seemed it would snow for days.

She was so tired.

And it was so cold.

She just needed a few minutes. Then maybe she would get up and get moving again. Maybe she would figure out what to do next. How to find something to eat. How to survive.

But for right now she just needed to close her eyes for a moment. Just…

Coda.

The sunlight danced through the high windows set into the gabled bedroom wall. Her hair was still wet from the shower and she lay naked on the bed, the rays of sunlight warm against her skin. She could feel Tom’s fingers brushing lightly over her shoulder and down her back. She luxuriated in the moment, taking it all in with her entire being. She could hear Lucy and Howie playing in the other room, their peals of laughter tinkling like wind chimes from somewhere far off.

She was happy here.

This was the place she always loved the most. It must be Saturday. Tom would make blueberry buttermilk pancakes in a little bit. But for now, lying next to him, she could imagine staying like this forever. Inside this moment.

If only she could.

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