Tuesday, September 27, 2011
Cody and Sondra were busy cuddling, giggling, stroking — starting another round of lovemaking to begin the day — when someone rapped at their door. They sat up, both looking annoyed; Cody slipped out of bed and grabbed the robe Sondra had been wearing the night before (one of his mom’s robes, and she’d had very little on underneath). “I got it.” He shrugged the robe on.
“Yeah,” she said. “I’ll get some clothes on, once you tear your eyes off my boobs.”
Cody blushed and ducked out the bedroom door, looking over his shoulder at Sondra then closing it behind him. Tim was waiting at the front door.
“Hey, you look good in pink,” Tim grinned. “You just getting up? We’re getting ready to loot the mall!”
“Aw crap, we… uh, overslept. You wanna come in?”
Tim stepped in and sniffed, which made Cody notice the musk of last night’s… housewarming party. He blushed again and ducked back into the bedroom, where Sondra was finishing dressing. “It’s Tim,” he said, grabbing some clothes. “I think we’re holding up the trip to the mall.”
“Dammit,” Sondra jumped up as Cody started dressing. “No time for coffee, then.”
“You want some coffee?” Tim asked as they emerged. He held a thermos. “I brought a little.”
“Oh God, Tim, you’re a lifesaver!” Sondra ducked into the kitchen, walking stiffly. “Let me grab a cup, and we can go.”
“You gonna be up to riding today?” Tim asked.
“What do you mean?” Sondra barked, stomping out of the kitchen, the coffee cup forgotten, glaring at Cody. Cody concentrated on his tennis shoes.
“Cody didn’t say anything,” Tim said, tapping his nose. “The nose knows.”
Sondra sniffed and blushed. “Jesus, it stinks. Why didn’t I notice it before?”
Now it was Tim’s turn to blush. “Don’t tell me I walked in on your first time!”
Sondra sighed. “First morning after, more like,” she said at last, dropping onto the love seat next to Cody and pulling on her socks and shoes, looking only at her feet. “Cody, can you go get my coffee cup? Now I really need it.”
Sally and the other older folks volunteered to “stay behind and hold down the fort.” They made up their shopping lists, and everyone else agreed to bring back what they needed. Sondra insisted on coming, but she kept as much weight as possible off her bike seat without making it obvious. To Cody’s surprise, he was a little sore himself. They opened the gate — and for the first time, a pickup waited in the dwindling shade of the oak trees lining the drive, whispering its invitation. Sondra shook her pale arm and cursed, everyone else ignored it as best as they could.
Nobody said anything, but they all rode past their turn and stopped on the I-85 overpass to watch the traffic. The parade of white pickups was now steady, almost regimented, on both sides of the freeway. “It doesn’t get any less weird, no matter how long you’ve seen it,” Johnny Latimer said.
“September 27th,” Ben Cho said for the benefit of his video camera, as he pointed it down the freeway. “Day 14, I guess, counting from Wednesday the 14th. We haven’t seen a motorized vehicle that wasn’t a white pickup since Day 4, the Saturday when we got attacked by the bashers, and those were motorcycles. You can see today that the trucks are getting more evenly spaced. Some get on and off the freeway, going who knows where, and that does throw off the pattern.” He panned to the off-ramp, following one of the pickups. It turned left and went by them on the overpass. “Thirty-two of us have gathered together in suburbia, in a gated community that the trucks have left behind. All of us, including three of the original residents and two other suburbanites, have moved into the townhouses. With shelter taken care of, our primary concerns are water, food, and fuel. But today, we’re going to Gwinnett Place to secure winter clothing and whatever else we can find that will help us get through the coming winter.” He pointed the camera down the line of bicycles, then turned it off. Tim signaled to get moving, and they turned around.
They took what Tina used to call “the back way” to the mall, south on Satellite Boulevard, approaching the mall from behind. It was a little longer than the direct route, but nobody wanted to ride the breakdown lane alongside the freeway. They crossed the parking lot, empty but for debris and a single pickup, to the Sears. The morning sun was on the other side of the mall, but it still lit up the first twenty feet or so past the entrance; except for the lack of lights, the store looked —
“Frozen in time,” Ben said, camcorder once again in hand. He turned on a light attached to the camera; it did a good job of lighting what he pointed the camera at. “There’s some merchandise on the floor, maybe from Friday evening ‘bargain hunters’ who probably drove off afterward, but nothing like what the surviving suburbanites said about some of the local grocery stores — perhaps because Sears doesn’t carry booze. We’re here for sweaters and jackets, and we hope to find some camp stoves and heaters.”
“Water filters, too,” Tim said.
“Rain barrels,” Cody said. “I’ll bet the one at my old place is full after all that rain. We could filter that water.”
“Or just use it for washing as-is,” Sondra said. “I’d like to heat it though… I could go for a hot shower.”
“Yeah,” Johnny said. “Couldn’t we all? But let’s go get us some warm stuff now. This place kind of creeps me out.”
They fanned out, skipping the end-of-summer sales racks for the fall fashions. There were a few heavier jackets on the racks, and everyone took turns trying out various sizes. There were more people than jackets in the end; they drew straws and both Sondra and Max lost.
Cody looked at his new jacket. “You know what?” he said. “I have a good winter jacket at the old house. Can I give this one to Sondra?”
“Sure,” said Max. “I doubt it would fit me, anyway.”
“Yeah — but I think Dad’s old coat will fit you. You want to try it when we get back?”
Max paused for a moment. “Sure. Thanks.”
“Suck-up,” Kelly said, but she was grinning. “I’ve got a winter coat, too. Who’s got the list for the stay-homes? Will this one fit Ms. Sally? It’s a medium.”
Charles consulted his list. “Women’s medium… yup, let’s take it along.”
“Sweaters are over this way,” Tim said. “Let’s go.”
The sweaters were on the other side of the mall entrance. As they crossed, they heard a clatter from down the mall and froze.
continued… (Episode 31)
Conversations: Cleve Isaacs