Jacob finds a bag of sugar and a couple of lemonade flavor bursts to mix in water. “No more tea!” he shouts. I shush him. He doesn’t understand how loud he is sometimes. His shoulders drop, and he’s quiet during the rest of the search. We find a metal Yeti tumbler and a new sponge to clean my bat with. The rest of the place has been gutted, so on to Unit 2.
Jacob slams his body against the door a few times. It’s locked from the inside, a good sign we should leave it alone. Jacob hits it one more time and I tell him to stop. Again … the loudness. Is he deaf?
The previous tenants doused the entire unit with bleach. We look through the cabinets for a few minutes and find nothing. I start to get a headache and suggest we leave. Jacob agrees.
I sit on the toilet and wipe my sweaty forehead with my headband. It’s incredibly hot today. My throat is dry. We should have packed more water to drink.
While Jacob’s busy looking in the kitchen, I get up and check out the smaller of the two bedrooms. It looks like a tornado’s swept through. Stuffed animals are everywhere. I bend down and pick up a brown moose, its horns bent to the side and its fur stained and worn. My heart begins to ache, wondering what happened to the child who used to sleep here.
I close the door behind me, leaving the stuffed animals in peace. As I walk into the master bedroom, I hold in a scream so great I nearly choke. A woman, a man, and a boy are on the floor. All three have bullet holes in their heads. A silver pistol rests in the man’s palm. Blood is stuck to his thick beard, hanging like stalactites in a cave. His dead eyes look back at me with a penitent stare. God, help him. God, help them all.
“Jacob,” I say and fall to my knees.
Jacob rushes into the room. “Oh, God,” he says, helping me up. “Let’s go.”
I push my face into his shirt. We’ve seen this before, the suicides. I don’t judge them for what they did, but I can’t help but feel angry. I wish I could go back and talk them into spending one more day with each other, one more prayer of hope to find the strength to fight until the end. But such ideas are foolish, for I can never go back.
Jacob finds more scrub pads. He also finds a lighter and some newspaper. “Maybe we can use this to cook?” he says. It’s possible, but I’m wary of starting fires. At the last house we were at, we made a small fire in the breezeway for cooking; mostly vegetables, but one night we made pancakes the size of a skillet. I must have eaten at least five. Afterward, I crawled onto Jacob’s lap, both hands resting on my bulging belly, and fell asleep. I remember dreaming about Jacob. He was hugging me and felt as warm as the sun. I woke up and realized we had never put out the fire. Half the room was burning. We frantically tried to put it out, but it had already spread into the kitchen and living room. I grabbed my backpack and bat; Jacob grabbed his guns, and we ran. At one point, I looked back and saw the whole house ablaze. Minutes later, the place was swarming with remnants. Ever since then, we’ve been extra careful. If a stove has gas and is functional, that’s fine, otherwise, we eat packaged food. But maybe we’ve been too careful. I don’t know how much longer we can eat cold food. If I heated the beans would Jacob like them more?
More sugar. I refuse to put it in my backpack. My shoulders are getting a work out as is. To be honest, I have no clue what we’re going to do with the other bag anyway.
Shrunken balloons and party streamers are everywhere. A pile of beer cans is stuck to an end table. A moldy cake sits on the counter with multi-colored candles sticking out of it. Written in crooked red frosting on the top is the colorful phrase: F THE APOCALYPSE! I guess this was one way to face the end of the world.
“Do you think that cake’s still good?” Jacob asks me. I gasp and point to the disgusting green splotch on the side.
“It’s got mold on it,” I say.
“That’s not frosting?”
I shake my head in disbelief. Oh, Jacob.
Nothing inside (well, technically not nothing because Jacob found this weird bird statue and insists it will look nice in front of our cabin, except [a] I’m not going to carry it and [b] it’s hideous).
On the kitchen counter are a loaf of moldy bread, a package of green-tinted beef, and a cup of yogurt with fuzzies on it, reminiscent of Chia pets. The awful stench kidnaps my senses and makes me gag.
Jacob walks up behind me. “You ok?” He puts his hand on my back.
“Take a gander,” I say.
“More rotten food? Geez!” He covers his nose and rushes into the living room. He pushes a pile of pillows off the couch and we sit down.
“I wanted to throw up, but there’s nothing inside me,” I say.
“Such a bummer all that food is ruined.”
“That word again. You can’t escape it.”
He chuckles. “This whole day feels like a waste. Maybe next time we should try to break into the locked units.”
“I guess we could do that, but what if there are remnants inside?”
“Then we kill them.”
I was afraid of this answer, but I nod and say, “Ok.”
I rest my head on his shoulder and look around the room. Nails stick out above empty spaces on the walls where pictures used to be. An old vase with dead flowers has dissolved into the carpet. A wide-open fridge bares empty shelves. The air smells like sewage and is full of thick dust. It feels heavy, like I can cut it with a knife. This place is slowly evaporating into nothing. So is the world. So are we.
“Do you remember the saying we came up with when all this started?” Jacob says.
I stop scanning the room and look into his eyes, a deep blue sea I want to jump in to and never leave.
“Forget yesterday, maybe die tomorrow, but definitely live now,” I say.
“That’s it! Props to you for coming up with it.”
“Props to you for adding the word definitely; although, I’m not a fan of overused adverbs.”
“You had to ruin the moment.”
We laugh. We’re acting like two giggly teens right now and I’m loving it.
Jacob’s quiet for a minute before he says, “I think the quote could use some editing.”
“How do you figure?” I say.
“First off … forget yesterday? I don’t want to. There are too many good things that happened yesterday, and the day before, and the day before. Forget about the bad, sure, but yesterday? No way!” He leans forward, determined to find the right words. “Then there’s maybe die tomorrow. Is it possible? Yes. But who cares? We shouldn’t worry about death. Death deserves none of our time.”
“What does that leave us with then?” I ask.
He rubs his chin. “Definitely Live Now.”
“How about Live Now?”
I like it. I don’t love it (a little cheesy for my liking), but it’s a nice reminder for when things get bad. Yesterday’s gone. Tomorrow may never come. We can’t control it; we’re simply a part of it. Live Now. A round of applause for Jacob’s stellar editing.
Jacob rests his elbows on his thighs, examining an old bookshelf with introspective eyes. He leans his body to the side, trying to get a better look.
“See that shelf?” he says, pointing. “I think there’s something behind it.”
Two long grooves in the carpet extend from underneath the shelf, some kind of drag marks.
“I think you’re right,” I say.
We walk over to the shelf and try to pull it toward our bodies, but it doesn’t move. Jacob starts removing the books and making a pile on the carpet. A few romance novels catch my eye. Each cover has a scantily dressed female absurdly positioned next to a tan male. The men are chiseled and strong while the women look feeble and worthless. Garbage literature, but curiosity gets the best of me and I slip a couple in my backpack when Jacob’s not looking. Nice job, publishers; you’ve persuaded me to indulge in your filth.
After the shelf is empty (due to Jacob’s steadfast work while I was off hiding raunchy novels) we try moving it again. It slides with ease.
Behind the shelf, a section of the wall has been cut out. Three rows of shelves are set within the drywall. On them are canned fruit, vegetables, granola bars, chips, bottled water, juice, protein shake mix, ammunition, and a box of fruit snacks.
A sweeping sense of joy overtakes me and I sit down. I feel like a parched plant drinking its first rain after a drought. Jacob sits down next to me. He doesn’t say anything; his smile says enough. It’s the same look from a man who has learned his cancer is no more, a boy who’s discovered a secret stash of gumballs, or a mother holding her newborn for the first time: a look of satisfaction.
“Do you think we can fit it all in your backpack?” Jacob says. I don’t know, but the heavy bag of sugar is going to be left behind.
My backpack is bursting at the seams. The lizard chain keeps bouncing up and down when I walk. Only one more unit to go.
I find two cans of chicken noodle soup and put them in a brown paper bag with the other items that didn’t fit in my backpack. Jacob shakes his finger at me and begins making strange noises. Oh dear, I don’t have time for this right now.
Jacob has a habitual activity (the word habitual perfectly illustrates the frequency of his absurd act) he does whenever he wants something from me. Instead of asking me like a mature adult, he reverts to an infantile state of pointing and making baby noises. ‘Dir’ is one of his favorite baby words, followed by ‘jah,’ and the combination, ‘jir’. I shouldn’t laugh, but it’s hilarious. I always end up giving him what he wants, even if it annoys me.
“Dir, dir,” Jacob says and points at my backpack.
“What do you want?” I say.
“Stop acting like a baby.”
We’re terrible at being quiet today. Jacob reaches into my backpack and pulls out the box of fruit snacks.
“I wanted fruit snacks, silly,” he says and hands me a pack.
“How was I supposed to know when all you did was say dir and gah at me like a weirdo?”
“Not my problem.”
I roll my eyes, open the bag of fruit snacks, and dump the entire thing into my mouth. A flavor battle erupts on my tongue. Strawberry’s winning, for now.
“Let’s go home, Baby Jacob,” I say with a mouthful.
“Dir,” he says.
We leave the unit.