I depressurise rapidly as the pills dissolve. Standing upright will soon require a concerted effort. At this opportune moment the microwave dings and I take the popcorn into the lounge room. I pour myself onto the couch and prepare to be defiled.
Kristine washes the dishes.
The elevator to Smashed Town is a free-fall express trip dooowwwnnn. I zone out, blissfully sinking into the remote control's tiny red light.
My new roommate has finished her cleaning and decides to interrupts my deep contemplation. Inexplicably she has brought out two glasses of water. She carefully places them on the coffee table, on coasters, and then sits on the edge of the lounge, as far from me as possible.
I guess this is her precursor to making conversation. Something I haven’t experienced for a while. I peruse the spotless room blearily for a novel subject to break the ice. Obviously she likes cleaning, I’ll start with that.
“You’ve been busy while I was sleeping. Cleaned this place up real nice. How long was I out?”
“Let’s see...what time is it?”
She looks up at the ticking clock that had died some months ago. She’s even changed the clock battery!
“I’ve been changing your nappies for about 34 hours. That’s after I dragged you out of the shower and spent ten minutes resuscitating you while you vomited into my mouth.”
She crosses her arms and slumps back, waiting for a reaction. I can’t think of anything to say. The aggressiveness of her tone takes me by surprise. Gratitude seems in order.
“Um...really? That can’t have been pleasant.”
She doesn’t accept my unspoken thanks gracefully. I continue on quickly to smooth over the awkward silence.
“I don't remember too much. That bug fanged me a heap of times. Must have a toxin, an immobilising agent or something. Helps the Crawlies get inside us.”
I form the theory as I speak so I run with it.
“You know, so they don't have to worry about our sharp teeth and gag reflex.”
“Oh, really…nothing to do with you overdosing then? You chucked so many pills down your neck all the way back here, I thought you’d die for sure,” she says this so bitterly, as if I’d done it deliberately to hurt her.
“Don’t even try to imagine how scared I was, or how ‘unpleasant’ things got. You’d miss the mark by a mile.”
“Hey, wow man, I appreciate everything you did but I wouldn’t have made it without those drugs. That thing fucked me up, and then there was some weird “mind shit” going on out there. Those fuckers where trying to get into my head. Didn’t you have any reaction to your bites?”
A noticeable shiver runs through her.
“It got me a few times. Guess it used most of its venom on you. The places I got bit were numb for about eight hours or so. I dozed for most of yesterday but I got up to mop up your ‘accidents’. You were screaming so much. And everything was just running out of you.”
She’s less angry now, getting used to the fact she’d been wrong about the reason for my reactions. She even seems amused at my scrunched up face as I imagine her cleaning me like a baby.
The veil that hangs between us parts with this shared experience. The salesman in me sees her forgiveness and a part of me that still lives in the old world takes advantage of her softness.
“I really appreciate you looking after me.”
She blushes and changes the subject.
“It’s so great having a running shower and toilet again. You do that too?”
I nod and smile; pleased she isn’t taking these simple conveniences like plumbing for granted, and grateful that her wiping of my arse duties is being allowed to pass.
I ramble on, detailing the difficult job of installing a pressure pump on the rainwater tanks until our talk inevitably heads towards the dreaded ‘How I Survived the Final Days’ account that we all feel we must share with other survivors.
I’ve collected several of these depressing stories in my travels, and it looks like I’ll be adding Kristine’s to the pile. In my mind these stories have become a montage of misery, death and regret. Unfortunately there are no hard facts. It’s all suppositions, unbelievably biased viewpoints, Government-issued lies and made up media reports that have been constructed from rumour and guesses. Depending on location everyone had a different version.
Well this is how I remember it, and I dump it in Kristine’s lap like an aborted foetus.