10-03-09 – Paradise Lost

Dear Diary:

I don’t know why you insist on listing October before September. Clearly no one ever taught you the months of the year. My guess is that you’re listing them alphabetically. Unless I find a way to fix this, October will just have to come before September; it doesn’t bother me really. It’s an upside down world now.

Today we continued the task of organizing all of Ms. Weathers’ things and finding a place for them. She really has a lot of clutter. It takes up most of her closets and even part of the hallway. Most of the stuff she’s saved up and packed away is sentimental junk. Nothing is labeled so Holly volunteered to help me go through the boxes and sort out the ones with useful items and the ones that could be set aside for later.

It’s hard to focus. I’m picking up old watercolor paintings, no doubt by her grandchildren, and having a hard time remembering what box I pulled them out of. I haven’t told anyone about the radio yet. I know it seems selfish but there’s a reason for the omission.

Holly is cooing over something she’s found. It’s an old photograph, weathered and orange and covered in water spots. The frame is still in good condition and the photo is of Ms. Weathers and presumably her husband or an old boyfriend. He’s in a sailor’s uniform, dressed as a cliche, and they both look positively carefree. I take it away from Holly before she can get too attached.

“I know it’s hard to get rid of all this stuff,” I tell her, burying the photograph in the bottom of a box, “I know it feels wrong, like robbing her or something. I hope she would understand… We’re all still young, we don’t deserve to be struggling to live.”

“You’re right,” Holly says quietly. Her short, red hair sticks up in every direction. It’s really quite endearing.

“Here,” I tell her, pushing another box over, “Try this one. Let’s hope it’s not more expired coupons.”

I can’t guess if Holly can tell I’m distracted or if she’s distracted by something too. There’s a mean, aching trouble gnawing at my stomach and it’s not hunger. I open another box: Candles and air fresheners. Not bad. I keep meaning to investigate the maintenance room downstairs and a solid supply of candles is just another reminder. Maybe I could actually do something productive if the voice repeating in my head would shut up and go away.

You have somewhere to go, somewhere to seek…

I should just tell her. I should tell everyone. Something is standing in my way, a question, a hesitancy. It’s that one word, seek. What if I don’t want to seek? What if I’m done with seeking? Even if we made it to the university, then what? Would we stay there forever or would there be another destination after that, and then another, and another? We’ve found a good thing here. It’s not perfect, it’s not glamorous, but it feels manageable, sustainable. Phil, Janette and Matt have already slipped into the old pattern of life; they ignore us and we ignore them. Maybe that symptom alone is enough to convince me that we’ve discovered a semblance of normalcy – why risk it? Even if it’s only ten blocks away, why uproot again just to live in a crowded gymnasium with a new set of strangers? But if I don’t tell them it feels like lying, like just another betrayal…

“Allison?”

“Hm? Yes?”

“Are you okay? You’ve been staring at that Glade Plug-In for five minutes now.”

Fuck.

“Oh, oh yeah, I’m fine. Sorry, just had a thought, that’s all.”

“Want to share?”

Sure, I think, looking at Holly’s wide open face, why not? It’s not that she’s stupid, she’s just very, very trusting. I can’t imagine she’ll prod for my true motivations…

“Holly,” I begin, clearing my throat. “Do you like it here? I mean, if you had the choice, to stay here to go somewhere else, what would you do?”

She shifted from sitting cross-legged to sort of resting with both her legs crooked to the side. The miniature snow globe in her hands began to travel up and down, tossed from palm to palm as she stuck out her tongue a little and considered the question. At least, I thought, she didn’t have an immediate answer. Maybe my hesitations aren’t so strange after all.

“I guess it depends,” she said at last, shrugging.

“On what?”

“On where it is.”

“Yeah, that’s a good point.”

“Why do you ask?”

“I don’t know, just curious I guess. I mean, this place isn’t so bad, right? We’ve sort of carved out a bit of a niche, don’t you think?” She looks away as I ask the question, molding her palms around the curved dome of the snow globe, pressing it together until it looks ready to shatter in her hands. “Holly?”

“It is good here… I…. I like it.”

With that, she turns back to the boxes, conversation terminated. I watch her as she gets up on her knees to reach across for a big, heavy, unopened box. She grabs it by the flaps but it’s too heavy and the box tumbles out her arms, landing askew. A cascade of tinkling Christmas ornaments lands across our feet, red and green and gold, smelling like dust and pine. One of the green ball ornaments has broken, cracked open on its end like an egg.

I reach to start cleaning it up and without warning, Holly is in tears. She covers her face with both hands and sobs, hard, her whole body shaking with the effort to stop, to recompose. I gently touch her knee, wondering if my question was too much, went too far.

“Hey, it’s okay. Only one broke, we’ll just clean it up, no worries.”

“It’s not… I-It’s not that!” she says, forcing out the shuddering words between sobs.

“Jesus, hey, don’t worry. What’s going on?”

I brush the broken glass to the side and move closer to her, hoping a human presence and a shoulder to cry on is what she’s looking for. Holly stays still, hiding her face for a moment before her fingers slowly wipe down her cheeks.

“It’s Ted,” she says, stumbling over his name. My first thought is that he’s broken up with her and my second is that I’ll have to break his face. “He’s… He’s proposed. He asked me to marry him.”

“That’s great!” I shout, maybe a little too enthusiastic. Holly stares back at me, mystified.

“It is?”

“I mean… Yeah – isn’t it? I thought you two were… ya know, in it for the long haul.”

“It’s not that. Oh Allie, I love him, I really do, but I just don’t like it… It feels like he’s only doing it because of this, you k now, because of everything that’s happened,” she says. The tears have stopped, coming to a slow rest on the curve of her cheekbone. She sniffles, wiping her nose with the back of her pale hand. “So I asked him: Would you be asking me this if we weren’t stuck here together? And he said no!”

I knew Ted was no Casanova, but that’s just pathetic.

“Well, I’m sure he means that… That the circumstances being the way they are, well, things are uncertain. I’m sure he would have proposed eventually, so what’s the difference if he does it now?”

“I don’t know… See? I just don’t know! I should be happy, part of me is. I thought he would never get up the courage. He was so shy when we met and I know his parents would never ever approve of us… But that’s just it! It means he doesn’t think we’ll ever see his parents again. I think he’s given up.”

“No,” I tell her firmly, squeezing her knee. I mean it. “That’s not true. He wouldn’t have asked you to marry him if he’d given up hope. He has hope for the two of you, for a life together. That’s not an insult, Holly. I just wish you knew how lucky you are.”

Holly is gaping at me like she’s never seen me before, live I’ve just turned into a ghost and floated through a wall. She rests her warm hand over mine and nods, a smile tugging at her lips even as the tears finish sliding off her chin. Carefully, she picks up a jagged piece of the broken ornament and turns it, letting it catch the light, crackle to life and sparkle.

“You won’t tell him, will you? That I was mad?” she asks, dropping the piece of glass. I can’t stop looking at it.

“No, of course not,” I say, laughing, “It’s our secret.”

I had a visitor just before getting into bed tonight. Zack came to chat. I hadn’t seen much of him or Ted today; while Holly and I worked on sorting Ms. Weathers’ belongings, Zack and Ted volunteered to sweep the other apartments more thoroughly to check for useful items and to check and double check hiding places. The cold has seeped in through the windows; Zack shuffled in draped in a chunky afghan.

“Busy?” he asked, nodding toward the laptop perched on my knees. Dapper rolled over a few feet, anticipating that he would be asked to move.

“Not really,” I replied, shutting the monitor. “What’s up?”

“Is everything okay with Ted? He seemed weird today.”

“Weird how?”

“I don’t know… Jumpy… Irritable,” he said, sitting down at the food of the bed. “I know he’s not my biggest fan, but it was strange.”

“I’m sure he likes you just fine,” I said, “It’s just stress. I think he and Holly are having issues. Best just to leave it alone.”

“Ah,” he says, “I see… Trouble in paradise.”

“So you would call this paradise?”

He looks over at me, squinting like I’m miles away. I try desperately to keep my face neutral, to stop my cheeks from turning a bright, burning red. Getting a sneaky question past him will be hard, much harder than with Holly.

“What are you up to?” he asks, scooting closer.

Well, here goes.

“I heard someone on the radio last night,” I tell him. His eyes double in size. “It was a man at the university. They’ve set up some kind of relief effort there, also he read me to sleep.”

“Really?” Zack replied, arching an eyebrow with a smirk.

“Not like that… It was… Nice, but odd, ya know? To hear someone out there, someone with some kind of authority. He said they had food and shelter.”

“He a cop?”

“I don’t think so, he didn’t say anything like that,” I reply. He looks away, down at his fingernails. “So?”

“So what?”

“So do you think we should go?” I press.

“It’s not so bad here.”

“That’s what I was thinking too. The last thing I want is to be milling around with a hundred sweaty college kids, or my own god damn professors,” I say, shaking my head. “But we might run out of food here, or the cold… I just think it’s worth discussing.”

“Look,” he says, taking my hand. “Food can be found. What we have here… It’s like a home, a place of our own. If we go to the university who knows what we’ll find. It might sound good now, but it will be harder to leave once we’re there.”

“I know,” I say, “But I’m not good at keeping secrets. I think I should tell the others.”

“Do it,” he says, nodding vigorously, his curls bouncing. “But I guarantee you they’ll say the same thing.”

“Thanks,” I tell him, “for listening.”

“Mind if stay? I could use a bed time story.”

We turn on the radio and blow out the candle. The voice is there, the stranger. We lie perfectly still in the dark, both of us on our backs, listening to Dapper breathing and to the low, rhythmic voice coming to us over the radio. I can’t help but wonder at the miracle of such things, of technologies I’ve never cared about or considered before. It’s as if an entirely new person is there with us, a man I’ve never met but that I know will be come familiar with time. He’s there, reading, his voice separating into a million pinpoints of light, carrying a story, words, warmth. I feel Zack’s hand on mine, pressing down, but we lay quiet and still and I feel my breath going out of my lungs, lifting out and over to the radio, traveling through the speaker, across the invisible, vibrating airwaves to visit the stranger with the strange voice.

“The water of the Gulf stretched out before her, gleaming with the million lights of the sun,” he reads, “The voice of the sea is seductive, never ceasing, whispering, clamoring, murmuring, inviting the soul to wander an abysses of solitude. All along the white beach, up and down, there was no living thing in sight. A bird with a broken wing was beating the air above, reeling, fluttering, circling disabled down, down to the water.”

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5 Responses to “10-03-09 – Paradise Lost”

  1. A. Friend Says:

    Allison, a suggestion for fixing your page listing order…

    Switch the titling from spelled out dates (September 18, October 3) to numerical dating (9-18-09, 10-03-09). I am confident that if you make this switch, your pages will begin posting in proper chronological order.

    As to us…we have decided to make a run to the north, in hopes that the colder, icier climates will prove unsuitable for the infected. Keep us in your thoughts.

    • allisonhewitt Says:

      You know, it did work until I tried to switch October to numbers. Then, apparently because 1 comes before 9, the blog decided to put October in front again. So for now it will look weird and confusing with September done in numbers and October in words. Thank you for the suggestion, friend, and safe travels on your way north.

      • A. Friend Says:

        2009-10-14

        We have made good progress today, reaching an area just outside, and slightly northwest, of Yuba City from our origin just east of Woodland (one of the small advantages of our rural origin point being that the number of infected we had to deal with was much lower as the majority of them seem to have migrated to either Sacramento or possibly the Bay area, not sure which). Thankfully everyone made it with little to no injury. It’s amazing how many wireless networks still remain. Heh…Romero came to life on us…perhaps Skynet has, as well (maybe on our side this time?).
        We have found that many of the more rural homes have not been so devoid of supplies as those of you in the cities seem to have found. Perhaps we are one of the few groups actually traveling, rather than holing up, and therefor one of the few groups to even breech anything out this far from urban centers. Whatever the case may be, for tonight we feel secure in the farmhouse that we’ve managed to sweep for the last few hours, and may continue to look for like accommodations as we continue north.
        Taking heed of your problems with page-dating, Allison, I have decided that I will be best served keeping my own chronicles in proper date order by adopting a slight adaptation of a dating system I learned in the Army (the dating style I’ve used above). I don’t see any confusion with 1 suddenly coming before 0, nor do I imagine in the future having an issue with 2010 suddenly preceding 2009.
        As ever, please keep us travelers in your thoughts, as we will keep those of you within whatever fortifications you may have created in ours.
        A. Friend

  2. allison, in addition to the dating of the entries you are posting, try putting a zero in front of the 9 like this: “09-30-09”
    in some file structures this might work to place them in correct order.

    we’re here in south west florida and are surviving at my workplace in the industrial portion of fort myers. it all went down early morning here. (my shift starts at 5:00am). we were a large roofing company so we have plenty of tools (weapons). Barbwire fencing helps quite a bit fending off the hordes of undead, however we are trapped since we were so close to a once heavly “populated” city. we actually have our own gas/diesel pumps and generators running with internet still available, however phone lines are useless contacting outside sources, always a dead signal or recorded messages saying “we’re sorry…etc.”.

    we are days away from completing our “plowers”. we have welded steel cages on 4 of our larger crew trucks. we will be making an escape towards the shore in efforts to go out to sea.

    God save us all.

    • allisonhewitt Says:

      Thanks to your suggestion, everything is in proper order now. I like the sound of your invention; maybe I can rig up something similar here.

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