The morning brought much delight to the pair – for the first time in weeks, the sun shone brightly enough to warm them as they packed up their camp. Finding the door to the shed ajar, the man collected a tent and cords to tie the wagon more securely.
“Are you done packing up the wagon yet?” he asked, holding up the cords for the woman to see. She giggled, thinking that he seemed rather impressed with himself.
“Apparently not!” she called back from the porch. “Find anything else in there that we could use? Like another wagon, maybe?”
“Are you going to pull that one too, woman? We’d take forever.”
Her grin momentarily vanished, thinking that indeed forever was the more likely outcome of their journey. He noticed her crestfallen expression and smiled in a vain effort to compensate for it.
“I found a tent! It looks almost new – I’m surprised that they left it for us. We should set it up and see if it’s still good. Then we can tie up the stuff on the wagon and set off!”
“I’ll be right down.”
“For the record, I found a lawnmower and all kinds of interesting tools, but I don’t think we can carry them. Do you have room for a shovel?”
“I could manage a trowel or something – and another knife to go with mine wouldn’t be a bother. I might be able to tie it onto my belt.”
Taking a look into the shed, the woman found not only her trowel and knife, but a flashlight and a set of batteries as well. She had packed both such things, but they could always use another. More matches were also a welcome find. Having grown up surrounded by the reassuring glow of streetlights, she found it unnerving that the world was nearly always in total darkness. It would only be another seven weeks and the days would begin to shorten, and then soon enough winter would be upon them…
“Are you going to help me with this tent?” the man asked, looking back toward her from his pile of assembled tent-poles. “Do you need to read the entire matchbox?”
“Sorry – just lost my train of thought…I’ll go put these in the wagon and be right back.”
The tent was in perfect condition with no faded fabric or rips. It was built for seven or eight people and dwarfed the gazebo in size. Thankfully, it was a deep forest green colour – the bag had been red and the man had worried that such a large tent would be nothing but a target. It was dangerous enough that their wagon was red. He did not want them to be obvious. They had a long walk ahead of them and were at the mercy of those who had more to lose than them.
“Well, I suppose we’ll have something to sleep in now,” the woman remarked, kneeling in the middle of the tent. “It’s a tad warmer than the gazebo. Definitely a step up from sleeping bags under a blanket.”
“Kudos to you for bringing those deluxe sleeping bags, though!”
“I’m surprised that you didn’t bring one.”
“Wasn’t the most important thing for me – I brought a blanket!”
“Yeah, well, you’re a tough guy. Guess you can handle it. Not me! I’m cold already.”
“We’d better start walking. Do you fancy a cup of tea?”
He might have asked the woman to marry him, such was the joy in her eyes! Did she fancy a cup of tea? She lived and breathed tea! It had been days since she had drunk any, however, as it had been too wet in the mornings to make a fire. Today, as they had for the past five mornings, they had shared a breakfast food-bar (because the woman had thought to bring specific types of food-bar, and thought that such a distinction was necessary) and started to pack up their supplies.
“I really want to try out that barbecue before we go! Do you think we can boil water on it?”
“It’s got three different heating elements. One of them’s bound to work.”
“After that, I think I might head on down to Big Coffee!”
“What?” The woman paused partway up to the porch. “I thought you didn’t want to go there.”
The man shrugged and started to take down the tent.
“Not last night. This morning, we’ll have lots of time to move on if need be. Besides, I thought you might play your flute and it would sound less threatening.”
Her giggles were more hysterical now.
“Less threatening? Didn’t you hear me play it?”
“You play a festive tune. It will at least distract anyone for a moment. I’ll call out that we don’t mean any harm, but no one is friendly anymore.”
“You mean no one is here anymore, and anyone who is, can’t be trusted to be friendly anymore. There has to be someone who is still compassionate. I mean, you and I are left.”
The man grumbled, but she stopped him.
“Oh, don’t you go on about being uncompassionate when you are putting up with me! I may not have seen you in some time, but I know that you are a caring kind of guy. Tough, but caring.”
“That’s what you think.”
“That’s what everyone thinks.” She hesitated briefly. “Everyone at work, that is. I mean, at our old work. On the coast.”
“Yes, that old life. You talked about me?”
“Oh, man – did we! Always nice things, though.”
They sat beside the barbecue and drank their tea in silence, eyeing their surroundings in disbelief. The man turned himself away from the woman to ensure that she would not see his tears. All but a few of those that they knew in the world were more than half a continent away, and those nearby were out of reach and could care less for them. Their families had no way to reach them anymore. It pained him that he had not told his parents that he loved them when they had last called; he had never managed to contact his brother as he had said that he would, and his last words to his sister had been that he wished that they could talk more often. They might all be dead, but he might as well be dead to them.
The woman had at least managed to send a message to her parents to tell them that she was alive, safe, and going to try to make it back home if it took her the rest of her life. She also knew that at least her mother had still been alive to send a message to her. The man did not even have that assurance. Something deep in his heart was nagging at him, as though he somehow knew that he was entirely alone. Each time that a bird flew overhead, he wondered if spirits of relatives and friends were trying to communicate with him.
“I’m so glad to have a cup of tea again! Thank-you so much!”
The woman’s voice brought him out of his daze.
“You’re welcome,” he replied instinctively. “You brought the pot and tea, though.”
Realising how absurd that statement sounded, both of them began to laugh.
“I wish the door was unlocked so that we could use their bathroom,” the woman continued. “Seems so wrong that we should be less than ten feet from a real toilet and unable to reach it.”
“Why don’t we pack up and then try the next few doors? All of the houses are built alike. I could use a real bathroom.”
“We might be able to pick up more toilet paper!”