Night overcomes the day. I confront the TV, demanding entertainments. The DVDs I’ve placed in odd piles have gravitated together and are sorted into order. The largest stack are all XXX titles. Kristine chooses the one we watch. It isn’t porn.
I’m surprised when she sits near me, smelling attractively of herbal soap. I sling an arm over the back of the couch, feeling its leather skin and thinking of hers. Her hair is damp from bathing and, if my eyes don't deceive me, that bathrobe her only covering.
My machismo in the face of her compassion must have impressed her. I’m open to the possibility of sex, whether it is sympathy inspired or more deeply wanted doesn’t matter to me. The drought has been tiresome.
Kristine doesn’t drink as a rule but she rises several times over the evening to pour herself gin and tonics. I guzzle aged Scotch Whiskey straight from the bottle. Halfway through the movie she blows her nose and dabs tears.
I admit the film is pretty soppy. Some dumb dork loses a moronic tart. Everything will be resolved by the end. The usual formulaic rom-com crap churned out by the thousands when the world needed a reason to cry and be uplifted 20 minutes later. But I sense something else affects her.
I hit the pause button and see if I am able to emulate a genuine feeling of worry.
“There’s water on your face so either something’s wrong or your plumbing is shot. You’re the one who said not to hold stuff inside. Let it out.”
I stifle a yawn, hoping we can go back to watching the movie.
“I don’t want to dump on you.”
Nope, no such luck. I’m expected to drag it out of her.
“I can handle it. Consider me the rubbish bin and dump away.”
“You’re not a rubbish bin, Sam. Don't be so self-critical.”
“Don't psycho-analyse everything I say.”
There goes my sympathetic lead in. Feminine sniffles hack at my irritation until I try again.
“Just tell me! You know you want to.”
“It hurts too much.”
She got a point there. I’d rather be stabbed in the eye than go through that gut spilling routine again.
“You’re good at talking. Go for it. Tell me where you used to live.”
I gloss over the backhanded compliment.
“I...I lived on the other side of the river...before...before the Crawlies...with Shanna and George, near the stadium…”
Her voice cracks. There’s a logjam at that juncture.
She changes tack.
“I’d taken a trip to Dad and Mum’s farm; they lived about sixty kays south of the city. This was just before the blockades went up. I worried about them being alone, you know, with the riots and everything. The radio reports got pretty wild while I was there; telling us to leave but never saying where to go. We saw the traffic on the road out front. Both lanes jammed with people going nowhere. I couldn’t get back to Shanna.”
There’s another anxious moment while she regains control of herself. Maybe I should offer her a Xanax.
Nah. I might need them.
“The phones stopped working and the TV only has army bulletins. Nothing much is said about the infected people. A bunch of Creeps walked into the farm the same day we came under martial law. We know they aren’t right. We think they are sick or something...the way they move...all slow and stiff. Their awful, dead faces.
Dad told us to lock ourselves inside, then he went out to warn them off. He thought he’d be alright with his gun. They grabbed him. He shot one but the other Creeps pulled him down. They held him down for ages. He screamed at first but then he went quiet.
Mum and I were too scared to move. I was too scared to save my own father...I think that’s why I helped you. I couldn’t just wait and watch again.
The Creeps left. He was just lying there, on the ground. We went out about an hour later. He was bleeding from lots of scratches around his mouth, but still alive. We couldn’t wake him. We looked after him for the rest of the day… and then he did wake up...as something else. He wasn’t dad anymore.
He attacked mum. Knocked her out. Maybe he killed her. I don’t know. I’d never seen him raise a hand to her before. I hated him. I hated my dad. He tried to get me too. He’s slow, but so strong. I ran upstairs. He dragged Mum out the door. I watched from the window when he took her down the driveway. I guess maybe they’re still out there. Somewhere.”
Streams run down red cheeks. I nudge a packet of tissues over to her and she takes a handful to console herself. The tongue-tied lump I am shifts uneasily on the couch.
Steering her away from matters of the heart might help.
“Where’d you go then?”
“I found a pushbike; well, you saw the roads. It was probably abandoned. I wouldn’t have stolen it.”
I slap both hands to my cheeks in mock disbelief.
“Shut up. Not everyone’s so quick to go against their morals.”
“I was lucky. Never had any to begin with.”
“Anyway, I rode to a small town close to the farm. You wouldn’t have heard of it but the people there had fixed up the community hall for refugees like me. I followed the government bulletins for a while. Gathered food, stuck together with the others and waited for rescue. We used to talk about the infections at afternoon meetings...”
Probably over tea and biscuits. I could scoff but it sounds a bloody sight better than Hadley’s guns and steel-capped boots.
“...Ben; he was a science teacher; he says the same thing as you. About that new medical bug mutating. Then there’s the Alien Invasion rumour. Lots of people got caught up in that one. There’s even a mob that came through town trying to convert us to worship the Parasites. Father Johnson chased them off. Guess he didn't want the competition. Now that I’ve actually seen one I suppose it’s not surprising people think they’re aliens.”
“Who’s Shanna? Is that your sister?”
“She’s...my partner. I told you; we got separated when the Bugs found us.”
“Umm, partner? You were, like, together-together?”
She sighs in understanding where I’m going with this.
“Yes, Sam. We were a couple.”
Awww, shit. My infinitesimal chance of getting laid pops, and I nose-dive into despondency at the speed of sadness.
Crestfallen, I shift away, consoling myself that the latest information meant I could cancel the dreaded exercise program I’d been putting off. Maybe it’s for the best. I’d probably need two paddle pop sticks and a roll of duct tape to get an erection after all the drugs I’d taken anyway. Oh. Hang on; talk of the devil, someone who knows he’s being talked about stirs. Bad timing, as I was about to get up.
Kristine is examining my all too readable face as my mind slides about its self-interested thought. I am trapped and melt under those beautiful, green eyes. Intuition explains my change of mood to her. Instead of getting angry she takes my hand.
“Does my sexuality get in the way of us being friends?”
Friends! That kiss of death as well! Does the woman have no concept of the hope she has destroyed? Fantasies a lonely man has spent seasons perfecting and anticipating have come to naught. Come to think of it, being gay, she may not have a well rounded concept of how men think at all.
What a waste. At around twenty five she’s the same age as my dream girl. The one with the pert arse and big tits.
I’m gradually acclimatising to the shocking disappointment. Compassion and understanding would be the mature way to handle this, but I can’t help the way I’m wired.
My horniness holds onto one last hope. Maybe she’d be interested in a purely physical relationship with no love attached. I could cope with that. I’d even prefer it!
“You’re not Bi are you?”
Even as I speak I’m already hating myself. Even my own brain is against me. ‘She’s not into you fatty. Get over it.’
Fuck you, brain.
A gentle smile and short laugh from Kristine is confirmation enough. Her face resumes its sad countenance.
“I don't hate men, if that’s what you’re getting at. I’m in love with another girl. It feels good and right and I won’t apologise for it.”
Seething with resentment I restart the video to cover the embarrassing silence. Kristine scrubs colour into wet cheeks and pours herself a neat gin, downing it like medicine. Another shot sloshes into the glass. She also sinks that one so fast I have trouble keeping up. Was this a drinking race? I should warn her I’ve had plenty of practice lately.
No, not a race. Just bracing herself to continue the tale. She waves a tipsy hand at the TV when she’s ready.
Resigned to being her audience, I mute it.
“I shoodna gone back to the shitty straight off, but it’d been months and nobody saw a single Creep. Never even shaw one after the first few months. Anyway I wan’ned to find Shanna and bring her back wiv me. Everyone shed I shoud’n go but Ben came with me, to protect me, he sheys. He’s preddy cool for shomeone over sevenny. I could’n talk him out of it. He’s a very nish man old Benny was.
He had a four wheelie drive sho we got around the traffic jams. Boy thass was a lot a cars with no drivers. Shumetimes we had to tow stuff outathe way. We got to the housh without seeing any Creepsh. Not even an itty bitty one. Shanna named them Creepsh. You know why? Cos they creep around. And they’re creepy. Creepy Creepers.”
She laughs, and then hiccups. I raise an eyebrow but she too far gone to care.
“Shanna an George wassent there. We packed shome of my shtuff. Ben was funny. He carries my bags but they’ve got wheels hehehe the big silly. I liked him. Silly old Ben. I killed him you know? Did I tell you that already? I killed him. I brought the Creepsh when I called and called for Shanna but the Creepsh came instead. She was s’posed to come...not the Creeps...she shoulda come back to me. They must have...gotten...her too. I ran away and hid a lot. Then I met you, Shammy. I met you and here we are, sitten here.”
She slaps my shoulder a few times like an old pal. She’s very drunk.
Her contact startles me out of a semi-doze.
Kristine has locked her gaze on the TV again. I think she’s done. After a few minutes I turn up the sound. Her head nods and rolls loosely before the movie finishes. She’s out, curled against the arm of the couch like a child who’s stayed up past her bedtime. A full glass of gin falls from her hand and soaks into the carpet. A spill I’m likely to be blamed for tomorrow. I chuckle to myself at her alcohol tolerance.
I stop chuckling. Her robe has slipped down one shoulder, revealing more than cleavage. A delicate silver nipple ring shines in the light from the TV. The temptation is unbearable.