In the 3000-mile journey cross country to find shelter with the remaining band of civilization left in this wretched wasteland, Johnny runs out of gas five times. Five times despite my reminders. Each time with a shrug of the shoulders and a foot heavy on the gas as we narrowly escape the Stragglers. And this is the exact type of behavior that ended our marriage in the first place.
Like how, before people got infected, he would always make me peanut butter jelly sandwiches for road trips which he thought was sweet except I’m allergic and have always been allergic and I would tell him that one day he would surely be the death of me. Back when there were careers to be had and we were both preoccupied with our nine-to-fives yet he still expected me to cook dinner so I did even though he would go on coffee runs and come back with one cup for himself that he never let me drink from because he hated the lipstick stains I’d leave behind. Back when I told him I wanted a divorce and he responded with just a deep sigh and a shrug and I remembered how his knees buckled when he saw me veiled and in white and how we once got into a screaming match over the saltshakers he bought from Dollar Tree and how all these moments, all the whispers over our pillows and slammed doors, got us here.
Now, with all the people we’ve ever known dead or worse and the strangers we come across more panic-inducing than the infected we run from, he loads his gun with ammo and forgets to load mine and I say he will kill me one day and I know I am not wrong. Now we are both devoted to addressing our hunger and although I’m still the one doing most of the cooking when we can risk the smoke he at least makes the fire and yet it’s only after he comes back for me, doesn’t leave when I’m surrounded by Stragglers, doesn’t leave when he should’ve, when even I would’ve that I finally stop spitting in his food. Now we sleep in each other’s arms most nights because they are the warmest and safest things we know even though there was a time mine were wrapped around someone else and unlike the nut allergy and the gas and the ammo he has not forgotten.
Even in this version of us I sometimes fantasize about taking the car and leaving him behind and watching him get smaller and smaller in my rearview mirror. Sometimes I see the same fantasy in the way his hand clutches the rifle as I scream at him about the directions he ignores, about the routes he chooses wrong, about the teenage girl he thought he could protect and trust and leave alone with our supplies, about the time wasted in the detour to his mother’s house when we already knew what we would find there, about this second, third, fourth, fifth blunder as our tank again hits empty on the long road ahead.
Rachael is a UX Researcher living in San Francisco and a recent graduate of the University of California, Berkeley. When she isn’t working or writing, she spends her free time looking up the astronomy picture of the day, drinking tea, volunteering as a creative writing tutor for children, and, with any luck, defeating friends at board games.
© 2021, Rachael E. Boyle