Tina stood before the entire group, gathering inside the clubhouse after lunch. In a distant past, little more than a week ago, the “Laurel Room” was available for events too large to host in a house. It was more than enough to accommodate everyone, overlooked the pool, and had its own pool access. There were plenty of chairs, but most of the newcomers stood to rest their sore saddle muscles.
“I’d like to welcome all of you to Laurel Hills,” Tina said. “Some of you may know, I’m Tina Ball — Charles’s ex-wife. We’re going to try to be civil to each other for the duration.” A few nervous laughs. “Actually, it’ll be me with the trying part — Charles has always been civil.” More laughs.
“There are nearly two hundred detached homes in this subdivision, and thirty-two townhouses. Although you’re welcome to pick out a house if you like, we think the townhouses might be your best choice, for several reasons — not the least of which is that all of them have fireplaces, they’re next to the clubhouse, and they’ll require much less fuel to keep warm this winter. Those of us who were already here will be moving into the townhouses ourselves in the next day or two.
“I understand that you left a lot of your belongings behind. We’ll be going out to, as Cody says, loot the mall. But I’d like everyone to see what’s in the townhouses first — you might find that the drive-offs left most of what you’ll need. Anything you can’t use, or don’t want, bring it here for anyone here who does need it… no sense taking a two-hour trip if you can just walk across the parking lot, right? Oh, and if you want a dog or cat, we’ve rescued most of them and you can adopt as many as you like.”
“’Scuse me,” Johnny Latimer said. “Where are y’all getting your gas? Any chance we can get our hands on some generators too?”
“We’re siphoning from the holding tanks at the QuickFill. My daughter Kelly worked there, so she knew where to find the keys. As for getting your own generator… you might find one, but bringing it home is the hard part. Besides, once the fuel’s gone, we won’t be getting any more.”
“You guys know gas goes bad, right?” someone called from one of the standing areas. “After a few months, it won’t be any good unless we dump preservative in it.” The group murmured for a few moments. “Besides, Tina’s right. It’s a temporary thing. We need to start thinking about what we’ll be doing when we don’t have gas anymore.”
“What about solar panels?” Cleve said. “Windmills, for that matter. We could hook something up, that should give us enough power to make ice or charge up batteries. Just Google for ‘Atlanta solar panels’ — oh.”
“Yeah,” Kelly said dryly. “Kind of hard to Google anything when the Internet’s gone.”
“Oh, for goodness sakes!” an older white woman snapped from the back. “Haven’t any of you heard of the Yellow Pages? There has to be a printed phonebook in this godforsaken suburb!”
“Should be one in the office, ma’am,” Tina said. “The door in back goes into the lobby, the office will be on your right.” She huffed and walked to the door. Tina continued, “I think electricity falls into the ‘nice to have but not essential’ bucket. What’s going to be more important, going forward, is securing a clean and reliable water source. Bottled water, like everything else we’ve scavenged from various convenience stores and supermarkets, won’t last forever. We can collect rainwater, but you’re all aware we can go six weeks or more without significant rain here, usually during the summer when we need it most. Surface water is suspect, but we can probably filter it with some effort. We can boil it, if we have a reliable fuel source, but that’s also going to be a critical issue going forward —”
“Sunlovers Solar!” the older woman said, bursting back in and waving a thick phone book. “60-something Buford Highway, Norcross! I can’t read that tiny print like I used to.” She handed the phone book to Tina, open to the right page.
“Thank you, Ms. —”
“Sally McMinn. If you want to be formal about it, Ms. Sally will do.”
“Okay, Sally. We’ll look into it. But as I was saying, our fuel and clean water supplies are what we should be focused on at the moment. Later, but not much later, we also need to start planning our crops for next year. Does anyone here have experience in gardening or farming?”
All the newcomers turned to Jason Graham, a tall thin black man. “Yeah,” he said, standing up, “I help with the Urban Gardens project. Or did. We gardened in vacant lots and people’s yards, taught low-income folk how to grow some of their own food. But we got — what, thirty, thirty-five people here? We’re gonna need a lot of land, especially if we’re gonna grow enough to live on. Guess we don’t got a choice, though.”
“Would you object to being in charge of the effort, then? It’s critical that we do this right.”
“Sure. But Ms. Sally there ain’t no slouch at the gardening, either. You’d be amazed at what she pulled out of her little postage stamp of a back yard this summer.” Sally smiled and folded her arms, nodding at Jason.
“We should also consider hunting and foraging,” another man said. “Not so much here in the subdivision, it’s too well-manicured — but I saw a stand of blackberry vines on the way, close to here, and there’s plenty of edible weeds around. But foraging, along with hunting and fishing, could see us through if we have crop trouble or just underestimate how much we need to plant.”
“Excellent,” Tina said. “Can you show us what to look for and so forth?”
“Sure. My name’s Ben Cho, by the way. I brought my field guide with me, and I’m sure we can find a few more when we go to the mall. We’ll swing by a bookstore or something.”
“Good idea,” Jason said. “We can grab some extra gardening books while we’re there. I brought a couple of mine with me, but we should make sure we have as many copies as we can lay hands on.”
“We could set up this room as a sort of common area,” Charles said. “Until we get some longer-term power sources, we’d only have to light up one place in the evenings instead of twenty or thirty, right?”
“I had the same thought,” Tina said. “It will give everyone a chance to get to know each other, and I really didn’t want this building to go to waste. In fact, I considered the possibility of having us all living in here, until Cody pointed out that the high ceiling and this glass wall facing the pool would make it difficult to heat in the winter. There’s a workout room and utility areas downstairs, which we can put to use during the winter, but this will be convenient until it gets cold.
“Well, I suppose we need to start getting people matched up with their new places. If nobody objects, we’ll let the biggest groups get first pick. Does that sound fair?” Nobody objected. “Great. If you haven’t done it already, you might want to talk among yourselves to form a larger group. There are three-bedroom townhouses at each end of the rows — four of them. Of course, being on the end and being as large as they are, they’ll be hardest to heat. Most of the others are two-bedroom, except for eight one-bedroom units in the middle of the building. Floor plans are here on this table.”
“We’re going to get one of these, right?” Sondra squeezed Cody’s hand.
“I guess so,” Cody said. “I keep thinking I — we — don’t need to move ’cause I already got my own place, but I guess a one-bedroom place would be easier to keep warm in the winter.”
“Good. Let’s sign the list. One-bedroom preference.” They walked to the table.