Fitting the steel door took the last of the daylight. Afterwards, sitting on the floor of the hallway, swigging from a beer, feeling the ache radiate from my shoulders, my mind wandered. These things would have been quicker with two people, but who had that luxury anymore?
The bars were fitted. They did those yesterday, once the protective film was over the windows and the cement had dried. Now, with the doors fitted, a man could shut the world out with confidence it couldn’t get in to hurt me.
The slow riot of peach and purple meant it was time to get moving. Closing a steel door was a moment of comfort, the first in a while, and my key turned with a crisp, metallic click. Even the shadows of the bars were a comfort. Dark pillars stood outside, keeping people away from me.
Days were easier. Sure, people moved around, who hadn’t the sense to take basic precautions. By the following day, broken windows, blood on the walls and someone else would move in and repeat the pattern all over again. We pretended not to hear the screams because it was easier. Small towns prepared you to mind your own business, cities encouraged it and those who embraced it, got to live another night or two.
Not too many, if you were realistic about it.
Statistics wise, suicide had been the largest killer in my age group. We realise how disposable we are, how most romantic notions are lies, like favours tied to the wrists of jousting knights, and if we have got no closer to our dreams, we know we never will. If we even had dreams.
Now, suicide is like polio, or malaria. Wiped out by a single injection of horror into the world.
So many took the knee in the first wave, most by design, but later, well without the anaesthesia of Netflix and legal weed, some people just gave up. Took the quickest route out of the situation. It wasn’t my choice, although a large part of my mental real estate was a passionate advocate for putting my entire head in front of the shotgun. Everything was dead, or meat between someone’s teeth, but hadn’t it always? Locked up in my house, the last tangible proof of my worth as a productive member of society, debating suicide became a performance as the world collapsed around me.
Monsters on Main Street, and most people died without ever seeing one of them. Not me, though, not me.
The primal voltage of my survival instinct did more than any amount of free pussy, legal weed or SSRIs ever did. It wasn’t an enjoyable realisation, but it was a humbling one. The will to live was my therapist, and it did more for my self-esteem than many affirmations ever could.
It wasn’t a new idea. There were entire sections in bookstores devoted to the idea that a man could achieve his true potential if not for all the rules. It was bullshit, because the rules defined greatness, as my single year of sociology informed me, but wanting to survive and knowing the alternative was going to be awkward if not agonising
There may have been people who my determination to outlive involved, but nobility of spirit by degrees, yeah?
So, with my upgrades achieved, it was time to settle in for the evening. Lock everything up. Check twice.
Screaming from up the street adds haste to my routine, but not carelessness.
With the apocalypse self-improvement books, there was always the sense of frustration involved, a soft pair of hands typing out their neuroses. But for me, life was simpler this way. My life had been hustling for gigs delivering when my depression and anxiety were not crippling, holding off debtors with vague promises of never and looking as everyone else in my life reached their limit for empathy and spun out of my world like planets knocked off their axes.
Now, all those people were dead. Which is where a lot of my frankness comes from right now.
My therapy had the same faint embarrassment as someone walking their dog when it stopped and took a shit. The bag held in their hands, already revolted by the impending soft warmth, felt even through the prophylactic of the plastic. No wonder so many left the mess for someone else to tread in, which was my feeling about my mental health for a long time. The faint screams of my neighbours, the tearful confessions of colleagues, and once upon a time, friends were the soundtrack of my life.
Silence, now. Screams from strangers, which is easy enough to tune out with a locked door and bars on my windows, set in concrete. The weight of a loaded gun and knowing how simple it could all be.
We hadn’t spoken for a few weeks. She was more capable than most, handbooks full of lists, plans, but no time to achieve them. My name wasn’t on any of them, because her silence drove me crazy enough to check sometimes. (inciting incident, memories of her)
She had kids and animals, which weren’t my problem.
All the literature tells you how to deal with being without her, but not when there were kids involved. Even animals.
Because you loved too much, you’re alone now, which became my mantra in the fat chick weeks after we were over.
Everything is over, now.
What a fucking world.
More of my routine, finish locking up then its food, some light entertainment, books are excellent for me, before a last check of the doors and windows and then sleep. There are egg cartons all over the walls, some of them got damp so there is the low, mingling smell of cardboard in here. Homeless in my home, it came to me once, as no one had chased up the rent in months.
Disaster capitalism had me owning property for the first time since my divorce.
Food was a matter of what you could take, carry back and prepare. Storage was an issue, but it encouraged me to garden. So during the days, I picked the rubbish up, disposed of over the back fence and grew food. Fate wilted them from the start, but soon there were decent plants available. Even the cannabis plant, which took up a lot of power to keep alive, looked florid enough to be antebellum.
Smoking myself to sleep is an important part of the system here. Without the internet, there was no way to check up on anyone, or how wonderful their lives were. They were dead, or surviving.
They started late. Howls of insane hilarity, smashed windows and testing, always testing to see if anyone was home. Even through the cartons, they reached me. As much memory as within audible range, but now it’s just something else which happened to me. A test passed more than once, not even loud enough to drown out the memories.
She was smart. Intimidating sometimes, when my libido wasn’t pumping steroidal confidence to bolster my frame. Over time, and with the bones of my sins cutting through the meat of my excuses, it became an issue. My intellectual capacity, my open displays of affection didn’t matter as much as being handy with a screwdriver.
The things it attracted her, became reasons to resent me. Plus ça change.
Smoking less was becoming necessary. It lent itself to refinements of self-flagellation, but what else was there to do?
Torturing myself was better than nothing. It wasn’t good for me, but even afterwards, the slow, poignant agony of it was better than the raw fear of death. My romance survived, even though the reality was as indifferent as she had been.
Just breathe, it’s potent stuff. Once it passes, then there’s sleep to look forward to.
She doesn’t visit me in dreams, before the pills took her away but afterwards, once the adrenaline left, exhaustion was a great way to keep her away. Sleeping in fits, like a baby, and crying about as much.
Now she’s there every night. Fucking bitch. The kids and animals, too.
They’re outside, making noise.
Why are there lights flashing? There haven’t been police aside from strays in uniform, appropriating authority which they squandered on immediate gratification.
This was a gross development. Pretending to be police.
Who were they trying to fool?
When it had been screams and broken windows, it was easier to defend against.
There’s no sense in trying to sleep. Not anymore.
The squall of the megaphone hurt my ears.
How do they know my name?
Somehow, they can mimic her voice.
She’s crying, telling me it’s all ok. That’s evil. The level of detail is debilitating, because her daughter is crying, just within range. You recognise the rhythm of someone’s sorrow. For me, the melody of my grief is as distinctive as a blues in C.
The gun felt good in my hands. It was direct. There were no lies in my hands. All outside.
Someone is screaming.
She’s a liar and using her voice made it even more sickening. When they take the megaphone from her, the screamer is obvious.
It’s me. Her daughter is still sobbing in the background, and it reaches inside my chest and squeezed my heart.
Fuck it, the keys are in one hand, the gun in the other. Let’s see if they convince me it’s her.
They shout for me to drop the gun, and they’re there. She’s had her hair cut, but it’s still a tangled knot on top of her head.
She’s looking at me, and god, they got her face just perfect. Survival was ok, but the sight of her reminded me what living had been like. Frightening and beautiful, and ever since she had gone, just survival. All lost when the key turned in the door and there she was, behind of a cordon of them, dressed just like police.
So, just like everyone else, my status became a known, if different quantity.
Not even living.