I pause, my trembling hand upon the curtain, frozen in that last moment before drawing the day to a close and succumbing to the cicada applause of night, but already my thoughts are on the last of the flour and the tiny bag of dried lentils, of the salt, the butter--is there really any butter left?--the single potato sprouting roots, and the young men of the supply convoy, their faces strained and tired, due to arrive three days ago. Where are they? What could have happened?
You have to go…
That voice again, from long ago. A message? A warning? Strange how the night takes our thoughts, present and past, and sails away with them on the wine-dark sea. Strange how, at the cusp of sleep, all our concerns, real and imaginary, blend into the storm, filling the mind, until the brewing cyclone closes over us in one humongous ball of swirling nonsense.
You have to get out of there...
A shiver takes me then, an excited shiver, a young person’s shiver not at all fit for my old bones. It’s so close, even after so many years. It’s as if he’s here, in the room with me. It’s as if I can hear his breathing, waiting, as he used to, to step forward at the proper dramatic moment. To clear his throat and speak. To say...what? Something real? Or just more riddles in my head? More nonsensical voices.
The problem is, if you’ve heard voices in your head once, you’re never sure again if a random thought is just a thought or something more.
My hands hum with arthritis as I turn from the window and make my way toward bed. If the convoy comes tomorrow, we’ll be fine. I’ll slice the potato real thin and fry the pieces in butter with a little salt, or cook the lentils and mash them up with the last of the flour to make lentil pancakes. The kids will like that.
The arthritis moves from my hands to my wrists as I lie down. It’s getting worse. I can almost hear it, like those heat lamps that used to buzz in old bathrooms. I turn onto my back and stare at the ceiling, trying to ignore the pain that isn’t so bad, but never ends. A constant in my life. A constant background singing. A lonely dirge.
Of course, if it weren’t for the arthritis, it would be my stomach doing the singing.
And my thoughts, despite everything, turn to him. How many years has it been? How many decades? When I see his face, all I see, rising from the darkness, are his eyes, filled with expression. The kind of eyes that speak without speaking. What are they saying? Why do I have this feeling? It’s more than the usual worries over where the next meal is coming from, of the ache not only in my hands, but in my side--the old cancer waking up again?--of how my family will take it when I die; and the reports of active nuclear weapons in the hands of the Russian dictator; and the net--my only communication with my brother trapped halfway across the world--growing spottier every day; of people growing desperate, beginning to loot, turning to violence; of how the millions of men, women and children will get through the winter; and rumors of a strange fever spreading across Europe; and Kyle’s asthma; and Cecilia’s depression; and…
It’s the old dread returning. It’s that feeling I haven’t had in years. It’s being on the run again, of constantly looking over my shoulder, scrutinizing every strange face. But why? I’ve been safe for years. That was another time, another life. I’m an old woman now. They’re just night thoughts.
You have to go... He’s coming!
I turn onto my side and close my eyes. Sleep is what I need. I just need to sleep.