Due to a request, I've backdated a “Table of Contents” page and added links to it at the beginning of each episode (and conversation). I’ve been looking forward to posting this episode (and the next two or three). We’ll have a little chat with Sondra — come back Wednesday…
Late afternoon brought a cool breeze that put an end to standing around wet. Cody opened the grill, and those not in the bathroom or dressed stood around it for warmth until the charcoal burned out. Everyone had a pleasant glow from the drink and the opportunity to forget about the “Truckalypse” for a while. “You know what would make this day totally perfect?” Sondra asked Cody as they mounted their bikes.
“Pigging out on junk food and playing video games!”
Cody grinned. “I can make your day, then! We got most of the snacks that were left at the QuickFill, and half the haul is at my place. I have my PlayStation hooked up to the generator, too. What do you like to play?”
“Racing games, mostly. I’ll bet you like shooters.”
“Yeah, but I have a Grand Prix Racing game too. We can play that, no problem.”
“Well, which way to paradise, then?”
“It’s more like Crepe Myrtle Lane, but it’s this way. Follow me.” They pedaled off; only Kelly noticed.
The other six gathered at Tina’s house for canasta. About the time they began their first hand under the trouble light, Sondra and Cody rolled into his garage. He grabbed the wind-up flashlight from a hook next to the door and led Sondra to the back porch, where he kept the generator. He gassed it up and started it, then ducked back into the garage to flip the transfer switch on. The dining room light, and a light down the hall, came on as the refrigerator chugged to life.
“Wow, you guys have all sorts of backup stuff here,” Sondra said.
“Dad was like that. I guess I got it from him,” Cody said. “He liked to say if you’re not self-sufficient, you’re at their mercy. Or were — there’s no they to worry about now. We got one of those rain barrel things outside too, I was using the water to flush the toilet but it’s starting to back up. Tina says the sewer system has to pump, so I guess I’ll be putting up an outhouse pretty soon.”
“It’s nice to have some lights. It’s been dark since the power went out. I’m not used to how dark it gets now.”
“I know what you mean — those streetlamps out there kept things pretty well lit at night. I’d sneak out and skate or ride some nights.” He grabbed bags of chips and cans of mixed nuts from a stack on the kitchen counter, and a two-liter Coke from the refrigerator. “Good, it’s still cold. Time to pig out.”
“Hey, do you have a left-handed controller?”
“Sorry… can you manage the regular ones?”
“Sure. I just score a little better with a lefty. That’s okay, you’ll need the handicap.” She grinned as Cody led her down the hall.
“Them’s fightin’ words!” Cody laughed at his fake Southern accent. “If we’re gonna do the Grand Prix thing, you want a wheel? I got one from work, but never got the hang of it.”
“Sure… hey, nice setup,” Sondra said, looking at Cody’s room and hanging her holster on the doorknob. “Chair pillows for the bed, big-screen… sound too?”
“Sure, now that I don’t have to use headphones. I dragged the big-screen in here after everyone drove off, though. I only had a 17-inch before.” He scanned a rack of jewel cases, and brought out two. “Here’s Grand Prix, and the case for Obelisk. I learned a long time ago, leaving disks out is a good way to get them scratched up.”
“Smart. Where’s that steering wheel?”
“Down here. Open up the cheddar chips while I’m hooking it up, okay?”
Back at Tina’s, Charles and Max looked at each other. “Hey,” Max said. “Where’s Cody and Sondra?”
“They went to his place to play video games,” Kelly snarled. Her first hand was doing nothing to improve her mood. The grey kitten, whom she named Shady, was curled up asleep in her lap; he stirred then was still.
“What?” Max said. “Why didn’t you say anything before?”
“I don’t guess it was any of my business.”
“Kelly,” Tina said, “what’s going on with you anyway?”
Kelly dropped her cards on the table; Max did the same and stood. “I’m going to check on them,” he said.
“I don’t know, Mom,” Kelly sighed. “I guess I don’t think it’s right that Cody’s running around with an older girl.”
“Sondra can take care of herself,” Charles said. “She draws faster and shoots straighter than either of us. That’s why I didn’t protest too much when she wanted to come.” Max was already gone.
“It’s not her I’m worried about,” Kelly said, but soft — she might have been thinking out loud.
Sondra shook her right hand and swore; Cody paused the game. “What’s the matter?”
“It’s tingling. It usually feels numb. Now that we’re away from the pickups, I guess it’s waking up a little.”
“I was going to ask you about your arm, if you didn’t mind. What happened to it?”
“A pickup happened to it. It was parked in someone’s driveway — goodbye Saab, hello pickup. It didn’t bother me too much to be around them, so I figured I could put it in neutral and we could push it into the street. As soon as I reached in, it went numb and the truck tried to pull me in. I got away, but it’s been like this ever since.”
“Jesus,” Cody breathed. “I was gonna do that at Tina’s, but she’d flushed the key down the toilet. So I pushed the damn thing and rolled it down the driveway. It was gone the next morning.”
“Lucky you. And lucky me I’m left-handed. That’s why I don’t want to go back to Atlanta, even to get the one thing I want. I can get more crap if I want it, but even if I can’t it’s worth being away from those trucks. It feels almost normal now, except that it’s gone to sleep.”
“Can I do anything?”
“Yeah. Rub it. It’s easier if someone else does it, ’cause you can use both hands.” They put their controllers aside, and turned to face each other, knees touching. He took her arm in both hands as she braced her hand against his leg.
“Like this?” Cody asked, rubbing both hands up and down her arm.
“Yeah. It feels better already,” Sondra said. Cody looked up at her; their eyes locked. She started stroking his leg with her fingers as he continued to work.
“That’s… uh… distracting,” he said and smiled. “But you don’t have to stop.”
“Good. I wasn’t going to.” She hooked her other arm around his neck and kissed him.
Conversations: Sondra Lucado