“Please tell me you’re not vegetarian.”
“If you’ve got meat I will eat it.” Sally replies. She’s wearing the paint spattered one piece again, wiping her hands on a rag. She’s had to rush all the way down the stairs from the top room.
I brandish the bag of squirrel and rabbit and she smiles. “Bugs and Nutkin.” I announce, “I thought I might do a stew.” I wheel the bike into the back room and lean it next to hers. She follows me and picks up a bag from the mantelpiece.
“I’ve got something for you as well.” she holds out a pair of keys, “Front door and back door.”
“Cool.” We stand there for a few moments, searching for something to say. Eventually I hold up the bag, “I’ll get on this, then.”
“Cool. I’m going to make the most of the light before it goes completely. I’ll be back down in a while.”
None of Sally’s knives is sharp enough to fillet the carcasses, but a bit of searching finds a sharpening stone. I get distracted from cooking by putting an edge onto all the knives, to the extent that when Sally runs out of light and comes down I still haven’t started making the meal. I look around to see her leaning against the door frame watching me. “I’ve been meaning to do that for ages. Do you need any help?”
“Could you start on the veg.”
Sally eyes the knife I give her with some trepidation, as if the newly sharpened blade might twist around and slice her palm through the handle. She lays it carefully on the chopping board and goes to wash carrots and potatoes. My knife slides through the onion that I’ve picked and then makes filleting the rabbit and squirrel simple. They all go into the pot with a little oil to sizzle.
Sally slices her first potato at arm’s length, but quickly becomes confident with her chopping abilities. Within a few minutes she has a board full of vegetable chunks for the pot. I stir everything up and she goes under the sink to produce a bottle of cloudy cider. “What do you think? Will it work with rabbit?”
“There’s only one way to find out isn’t there.” We pour in equal amounts of water and cider, put the lid on and leave it to simmer. Sally pours the rest of the cider into glasses.
We take our booze through to the living room. There’s only the one seat, a large sofa across from the fireplace. We sit at either end, almost facing each other.
There’s a strange piece of furniture in the corner of the room. “You have a television?”
“Yeah. But there’s never anything on.”
“Literally? Or in the old way?”
By way of answer Sally gets up and tuns the television on. She hands me the remote. “Apart from the news, there’s not a lot of new stuff on. The BBC keeps promising new material, but I haven’t seen any yet. Since the internet’s been back I’ve been getting most of my news from there.”
She’s partly right. A lot of this stuff is old, but not all of it. And I’ve spent most of the last five years with little or no television, let alone English language television. So I could watch this stuff for a day or three. But there is an attractive woman on the sofa with me, and I’m conscious that she’s sitting closer to me since turning the television on.
The scrumpy is very strong and I’m soon feeling light headed. “Where did you get this stuff?”
“It’s from the tree in the garden. There’s a group that brings a press around and sets up in schools or halls and presses any apples or pears you take them. I set up demi johns in the basement and brewed this stuff. This is the last of last years. You don’t drink it often, so it lasts for a while.” She curls her feet under her and leans over to take the remote. “Actually, there should be some news on now. Let’s see what’s going on in the world.”
The first piece is about the first people to make it back from the continent in the last few years. They’ve been doing it for years, of course, people shuttling back and forth across the Channel for various reasons. I was tracked down a couple of times with messages and care packages. Of course, when you’re in a war zone and more involved than you ought to be, care packages don’t tend to contain cake and new socks.
Sally looks askance at me. “So how come you aren’t in this report?” she asks, with a smile.
“I bribed a few people.”
“No. I just managed to avoid the news crews.” And I called in a few favours and somebody else bribed a few people on my behalf. I’m not sure she believes me, but I’m also sure she doesn’t seem to care.
Next up is a piece on speculation over who has control of the former United States’ nuclear arsenal. There are subs still not accounted for, and no-one really knows what happened to the intercontinental ballistic missiles in their various bunkers. Thinking about what that means, my balls crawl up into my body and I’ve got that sick feeling in the pit of my stomach.
“Are you okay?”
I motion at the television, “All the time I was in Europe. Everything I saw. Everything I did. I never once thought about all the nukes that could have been dropped on us. It’s like it was all for nothing. Some fucking idiot could still wipe out most life on Earth. And we know there are people that stupid and dangerous out there.
“I never thought of it.”
Sally is looking at me, nodding. “I have been thinking about it too much. With everything that went on, and then Keith dying I sort of pulled back from people. It wasn’t Keith’s friends who stopped talking to me, it was me who stopped talking to them. When every day could be your last you don’t want to form any long term relationships.”
“That is so fucking dumb. I have wasted years.”
“You’re thinking you should treat each day as a blessing rather than a potential ending?”
“Something like that. It’s time to start thinking about the long term and start making relationships again. Did Keith ever tell you I wanted to fuck you?”
“That’s probably because I never told him.” With that she leans in and takes my glass. When it’s on the coffee table beside hers she kisses me. Just a gentle peck on the lips at first, but she likes the taste and dives straight back in. She’s keen, and I’m certainly willing, but she’s taken me by surprise and I freeze. She pulls back, “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have…”
Now it’s my turn to lean in and kiss her, “I just wasn’t expecting it.”
She has grabbed the front of my T-shirt and bunched it up. “I’ve got so many condoms and I thought I wasn’t going to use them before they went out of date.” She tugs the T-shirt over my head and then stops. “Oh.”
The scar is an upside down L. It runs from my right shoulder most of the way across to my left, and all the way down my ribcage on the right side. Sally runs a finger along the top scar. “I’d forgotten about this. I never saw it before.”
“Five years in a war zone and my only scar is the one I took with me.”
“I don’t have any interesting scars.” She’s fascinated by the scar, tracing it with a finger of each hand.
“I’ll have to check that.”
“Okay.” She stands up, unzips the one piece and shrugs out of it. “How long till the stew is done?”
“A half hour or so.”
“Time enough for a quickie Come on.” She offers me her hand and leads me upstairs.