“Where’d you get that dress?”
“From the truck.”
“You shouldn’t be going down there by yourself.”
“Why not? You did, didn't you? Anyway, I couldn’t resist taking a peek. Glad you moved the body away. I wouldn’t have been able to.”
“Sam! Please tell me you moved it! I’d hate to think that boy is crawling around down there, all squashed like he was.”
The mental picture she draws almost makes me shudder.
“Yeah, all right, I moved it.”
And I was afraid I’d missed something that needed to be hidden from her and only half listening while I racked my brains. No further detail from my blackout period comes to me. She’s still talking.
“You can’t expect me to wear rags when I’ve got a truck full of expensive clothes downstairs...Earth to Sam? What have you forgotten? I know that look.”
“For your information, I haven’t forgotten anything at all. I disposed of the body in a sanitary way. You needn’t hear all the gory details.”
“Ohhkayyyy. I suppose not, Mr Grumpy. I think you’re hiding something though.”
She’s not in a mood to get the truth out of me. Thankfully her mind is on matters of far more importance.
“It’s a real mess down there. Almost got buried when I opened the door. The load must have shifted with you driving like a maniac. You gonna help me clear it out? You don't have to, I can do it all by myself if I have to.”
And the trap is sprung.
The escape route she leaves is not the invitation to explore the sulky depths of self-pity I prefer, but a demand that most men can pick up on. I respond as trained, with slow reluctance and a hope the floor will cave in.
I am a sad sight to behold traipsing down to the loading dock in her wake.
She commandeers two large, wheeled laundry tubs. I support my gut on mine while scooting along until it crashes into a door jamb and I end up sprawled inside.
It isn’t as funny as Kristine thinks.
The dropped tailgate and resulting tidal wave of clothes and junk greet us at the dock. My drunken reversing has amalgamated the mess into an interlaced pile of cloth, metal and plastic.
I begin to pick up items, working systematically from the outer edge of the explosion. My method is quickly judged unacceptable.
“Not that! I want those vases, that dress, don't put those tins of oil in there. That stuff can come up later. That’s expensive, fold it, don’t crush...”
There’s a lot more ‘don’t’s’ and ‘be careful’s’.
I switch off and do as I’m told.
For me time passes very slowly.
I dump load after load in our lounge room until the pile gets out of hand. Kristine stays to sort while I continue the drudgery of further deliveries.
The next few days are like Christmas for Kristine. In a mad whirlwind she rediscovers things snatched in the heat of a shopping frenzy. For her, pains are forgotten in the excitement of rediscovery and the ownership of deeply desired items. For me, pains accumulate from the hard labour of shuffling the stacks of less interesting items to appropriate homes. Anything unusual or unidentifiable is left for Kristine to classify.
I switch off so deeply it takes two days before the browbeating I’m being subjected to penetrates. I’m searching for cosmetics when comprehension hits.
“Hey! What the hell am I doing? Why am I searching for a puce lipstick in a white gold holder? Men aren’t even supposed to know what puce is.”
“I showed you on the colour chart. Besides it’s part of a set.”
Only a woman could know a single lipstick is missing out of four cubic metres of hastily gathered goods.
“Sorry. This forklift has run out of gas, you’re on your own. I’m having a beer.”
I hide a few other items first. I’ll conveniently ‘find’ them later and get back in the good books.
One item is overlooked until the last. It remains alone on the coffee table.
A prisoner in the dock awaiting sentencing.
I’d almost thrown it away, concerned about the memories attached. Kristine picks it up, turning it in her hands.
“We can toss it.”
“Nah, I need a wok, and I’ve already tested this one.”
Kristine’s acquisitions include a load of toys and games from the malls toyshop. They are an excuse to be sociable when we grow bored in our newly redecorated palace. I tell her I like it but keep the reason to myself. The place looks like a French whorehouse with red satin and lace curtains.
She models clothes for me to judge, and chides my lack of fashion sense. Anything that covers more than three centimetres of skin is a waste of cloth in my opinion.
Kristine exercises the stiffness from her joints while I coddle mine. She limbers up quickly but I think I’d find jogging around the facility and up and down stairs a crappy recovery method.
A few days later a roof visit is forced on me. Kristine runs into the lounge room, flustered and scared. I am filled with foreboding as I follow her back up.
We use the telescopes to examine the activity outside our gates. A constant flow of Creeps pass in both directions. A silent demonstration, less placards and bullhorns. After a while we agree they aren’t attacking. They are searching. For us.
I can imagine their actions mimic a bashed in anthill. The soldiers have spilled out and are scouring the area for enemies.
I lay this analogy on Kristine.
“We went into their nest and came out again. I bet no-one else has ever done that. Must have made them mad.”
Over the next two weeks we keep a close watch on the numbers. Each day records less of them, though we remain very cautious and on edge.
The air hangs heavy with tension.