Emily and I continued to push toward the border, and the whole while I chewed on this thought: It didn’t have to end this way.
Several days passed, and Emily and I knelt outside a one-horse town. There were five buildings in the entire ‘town’, two on the left side of the road, three on the other. The administration building or so the partially faded sign declared it as such, was the largest building. Emily and I walked there, taking care to not approach it from the front. I tried the back door, it opened.
We went room to room checking to make sure it was empty. It was. I walked back to the back door and jammed it shut and locked it. Emily laid out our blankets to the side of the front door. This allowed us to look out the dirty glass of the door, but also protected us from being spied on.
As far as I could tell, the only inhabitant of this town was a scabbed over dog that appeared to have had better days. I woke one morning to see Emily outside, in full view of the front door trying to convince the pup to come to her.
“Come here, boy. It’s okay, I’m not going to hurt you.”
The dog bared its teeth at her, its eyes fierce with the unwelcome intrusion. I walked up next to her, a piece of dried jerky in my hand.
“Don’t get to close to it, Emily. It’s sick most like, probably has rabies. It would be merciful to end its life here.”
“No, Jake. Don’t kill it. It’s done nothing to us.”
I sighed and tossed the jerky to the dog. It gobbled it down, and I led Emily back inside. She gave me this look, the most human look I reckon I’ve ever seen, and I shook my head. “Why couldn’t I have Ted’s mentality,” I wondered. “He’d have blasted that dog into smithereens and called it a day.”
We stayed in the town for a couple more days, and Emily went out every day and tossed jerky to the dog. It ate the food she gave to it but refused to come when beckoned. I watched her, the world had ended and here she was trying to be a good human in an unforgiving world. She came in and sat next to me.
“I think it’s hurt.”
“Yeah, probably. It’s a hard world out there. The dog isn’t any different from anything else out here, Emily. It’s doing what it can to survive until better times pop up on the horizon.”
Emily opened up two cans of sardines and handed one of them to me. I watched her eat from my peripheral vision, she was still beautiful. She glanced at me, and I glanced back.
“Um, this is the most we’ve said to each other since Ted died.”
I didn’t say anything. The loss of Ted still stung, as I was sure the loss of B.D. still ate at her. In response, I grunted and shoved another sardine into my mouth. She looked at the floor for a bit.
“You don’t have to talk about Ted if you don’t want to, Jake, but can’t we talk about something? It gets lonely trying to keep up with you and not having someone to talk to makes the trip that much longer.”
We sat in silence for a moment, and then I said, “you know what’s funny about tuna, salmon, king mackerel, any fish really?”
She smiled and shook her head. “No. What’s funny about that?”
“They’re loaded with mercury. You can poison someone just by feeding them too much of it.”
Emily smiled and scoffed and said, “I don’t know if that’s funny, but it’s good to talk.”
I grinned and drank some more water. Emily rubbed her hands together and took a deep breath. It made me yawn, and she yawned too.
“You know what I miss more than B.D.?”
“No idea. What do you miss?”
“I miss coffee.”
My stomach grumbled, so did Emily’s, as we considered all that we’d lost in the aftermath of a world gone silent.
“I’d kill for a piping hot cup of coffee right now. Heck, it wouldn’t even need to be good coffee.”
Sleep fell over us like a nice warm blanket that warms your ears, and we crawled onto our pallets to dream of a world where coffee was in great supply, and all the things we missed was brought to us on the wings of angels.
“Wake up, Jake,” Emily said tapping my foot. “Wake up. We’ve got company.”