“Shit”, he muttered.
The phone signal had been down for hours and internet connection even longer than that. Waking up was no easy task as days upon days of being marooned indoors from the government quarantine had begun to create a general malaise in his attitude. Blinking his eyes an extra amount did nothing to fix the phone or clear the dawn gloom that had continuously visited him these last few mornings. The days had been growing quieter and hanging out with neighbors and Skype sessions with friends and family had become a memory. He squeezed his phone tighter, embarrassed with himself thinking of the last time he spoke to his family… to her….
He scrambled out of bed, quickly putting on his jeans that slipped on impossibly fast despite him catching his pinky toe at the edge of his wall after a successful dressing session. He squeezed what was left of the toothpaste, reminding himself what a dumbass he was for having stocked piled on toilet paper and not actual essentials. As he checked his phone for the 87th time a sobering feeling of dread began to run down his spine. One thing was being stuck indoors with an overwhelming amount of time, whiskey bottles and porn but another thing was to feel trapped with no contact. The signal had been dying more and more and as the government began to quarantine Internet and the ever thinning WiFi space to designated areas and times, limitations had become normal but this was an entirely different level of isolation.
“Fuck it”, he thought vehemently, should he venture out? His truck needed to be turned on daily so she wouldn’t die out but this time he felt he should take his 32 gallon beast down the road.
He checked his phone again, nothing…
“Why am I so fucking nervous”, he said to himself as he turned on his dusty computer thinking maybe it was just his phone, just his imagination, just his nerves.
He stopped. It was a window breaking, no, smashing somewhere not too far. His body froze, rigid, not with fear but with a sense of reality. Things had been quiet, and in an entirely cliché fashion, too quiet. When was the last time he heard a neighbor, or a car, or one of those annoying neighborhood kids bouncing a basketball? Had he been this disconnected for this long? What the hell was going on? He snapped himself back into reality as he fumbled through empty Jameson bottles and dirt dishes to grab a can of Chef Boyardee silently proud of his food choice hoarding prior to the events.
He had watched enough YouTube videos prior to this bullshit to fancy himself a Bug Out bag with just enough to get by in case he had to get out. For times like... well… Now, he thought. He went through it one more time to check if he had packed everything just right. Flash light, knife, ammo, his gun witch he hadn’t shot in months he thought embarrassingly. Batteries, packed up blanket, plastic tarp, fire starter with some matches and three lighters. As he fumbled through the rest of the supplies he thought back how silly he thought these videos used to be but how real things got when the government had mandated a state of emergency, Martial law and people began to act… different.
He threw in a few extra cans for good measure and placed some bagged peanut butter in the side pocket. As he zipped up his bag, he headed back to his computer and refreshed his Safari. Nothing…
He checked his phone… Nothing.
He sent 4 different texts out, illegally he thought but who cares…
Brother and Sister… nothing
His cousin… nothing
He hesitated…. To her…. Nothing
That green return text with that annoying red exclamation on an iPhone was at once such a stupid thing to get anxious for but now seemed like the weight of the world as desperation crashed over his entire body. “FUCK!” he yelled. When was the last time he spoke to anyone? Had isolation completely taken him out of his own world? No sports, no new shows, same old negative over bearing news he refused to watch. Bills, rent, internet purchases, appointments, and work all had become so distant as even food was being picked up at delegated locations under extreme military defense and scheduling. He stopped himself. Frustration was not going to get him anywhere and before all this went down he was a leader and not so distant from the world.
He looked around his apartment. He was going to step out just for the day but it felt as though he was gazing one last time. His television had grown an impossible amount of dust that had edged its way over to his PS4 and collection of DVD’s. With the government mandating non married or non-parent household to be under single person quarantine, the board games he had stashed away were thrown in a corner as playing Battle Ship and Risk by yourself eventually became not only redundant but borderline crazy. Bottles of liquor that were once stashed as a trophies were now piled in the corner out of sheer laziness. Drinking alone had become empty and at times, especially at night, with a loaded gun around, very dangerous.
The windows had been boarded up as quarantined quietly creeped into hurricane season and boarding up against the winds and possible looters had become an amazing two birds with one stone. Night after night of isolation makes your eyes and ears play games on the mind and he had thrown a lot of non-essentials away. The apartment looked like someone was moving in or moving out with boxes of books piled neatly by the couch with the occasional junk drawer filled with receipts and old phone cases. He looked down to his left, that damn junk drawer. He opened it slowly as pens and lost pennies fumbled around. Publix receipts crumbled out tangled with iPhone chords and bobby pins. The forced separation and distance hadn’t been easy on them, on anyone. Being forced to be stripped apart proved to be the hardest thing in the world. Days passed like knives sliding down his flesh. As the weeks and months passed the tension had grown as he winced thinking back of the drunken calls he had made to her, the texts and the yelling. The confidence they had gone in with had been crushed under the impossible
circumstances that had developed. No one was ready for this and his evolving distance and self-destructive attitude had pushed her away. She hung on every word he had ever said and the last ones they spoke had been dripping with venom. When did it get this way? When was the last time we spoke? He thought, for the thousandth time…
He grabbed a brown phone case with a cartoon smug bear grin on the face of it. It had bear ears of course and he cracked sad grin remembering the shit he gave her for having kept so many of these. He closed the drawer for what felt to be the last time and headed to his computer desk. He bypassed the screen already knowing the outcome of the continuously revolving rainbow circle and empty internet screen as his hand traveled to the right corner of his desk. There he kept a small heart framed pic of his parents, black and white, with them young in in their 30’s. Very much in love and full of life and his eyes welled. With isolation and military mandate being so extreme he hadn’t seen them in what felt like decades but knew all too well was only the better part of a year. He had checked on them weeks ago during his allotted weekly call to friends and family and things did not sound strong on their end. His mother’s shaky voice and his father’s ever growing concern did nothing to quell his comfort. He sighed heavily as it had been far too long… too many days… weeks…?
He opened his phone… again… Nothing.
He grabbed the frame just a little harder and threw it in his bag. How quickly non-essentials became essentials he thought . He rushed back into the kitchen as his shoulder brushed up against the wall and he heard the ring. The soft yet echoing ring of small a metal hitting another. The rope fell to the floor catching the corner of his eye as the leash seemed to crash into the floor with an viscerally loud “ching” as the tile was unforgiving reminder of what just hit the ground.
The dog toys, bowls, pictures, cards and treats had long been thrown away. He couldn’t , he just couldn’t keep staring at them over and over. The quarantined had proven to be an extremely stressful times on others and when the looting began to happen he remembered just how fast she ran when she heard nearby gun shots. He had always been so confident in walking her without a leash but this particular time had proven to be his second biggest mistake. She ran like the wind and that spotted little body with a pink snout and floppy ears disappeared from his life. He ran for miles and miles after her, sobbing uncontrollably and uncharacteristically for days. He broke curfew and quarantine day after day, week after week searching bushes, and trash cans and other peoples yards. He had placed food and treats and called to her night after night but to no avail. He had never given up hope but he had given up trying. Maybe that was the last time he went out of his doors for anything other than food... Maybe that is why kept the leash as stiff reminder of how he had failed her... maybe everyone? …maybe that was the last time his heart broke he thought. He bent down, his body creaked as he kneeled and delicately picked up the pink leash.
“You’re still with me girl…”, he said out loud ignoring how dramatic it sounded to say it to himself, with no one around, but he didn’t care what it sounded like or the tears that hit the tile with soft splashes.
His bag was packed with just enough to get the day going. He was no fool before this all went down and his ammo, knife and wits were on red alert as he laced his boots up re-strapped his belt. Something had clicked inside his mind, something deep and carnal. As he stood there in his kitchen going over his mental check list there was a feeling of his old self rushing through his veins. Maybe it was memory lane, or the pics or the leash… maybe it was the fear and the panic of not having contact with his loved ones. Whatever it was there was a very real desperation inside his body that surged him to the door. He grabbed the door knob harder than ever before, remembering the not too far window crash he had heard earlier, and opened the door softly…
Sunlight creeped in, it was time go…