Neither of us was watching the tv, though it sat on and the news anchor was talking. It didn’t matter, it was inconsequential compared to the small war happening in our apartment. Tensions had been rising, and the week of Cold War had finally gone hot. Maria flung her hairbrush at me and it smacked the wall resoundingly. For my part, my hands were up defensively and there were tears running down my cheeks. But I had no words to defend myself. I had done what she’d accused me of. It hadn’t just been a one-time indiscretion either. I hung my head in shame, trying to find words, to find promises that would make her stay. Her slap stung my cheek, but I didn’t try to stop her, not even when she turned to stride into our bedroom yelling about how she couldn’t believe I’d abused her trust like this. I wanted to chase after her, tell her she was right and I was worthless. Instead, I sunk to the floor and cried.
I must have fallen asleep like that because I woke up on the floor the next morning when my cat unceremoniously sat on my chest and started meowing in my face.
My voice was rough, even a bit hoarse. I with a sigh, I pulled myself to my feet to get a start on my morning routine, knowing that I at least had to feed the cat before I let my world come crashing down.
“-advised to avoid public places and reminded to wash their hands thoroughly after any contact with others.”
I nearly jumped out of my own skin at the sudden voice. The tv was still on. So, she hadn’t turned it off before she left. I felt the first pangs of pain and squashed them down.
“Feed Chubs now, be a fuck up later.”
He rubbed against my ankles and I smiled weakly. A few minutes later, I left Chubs happily eating and went to go find clean clothes and my shower. Our- My room was absolutely ransacked. I just sighed, shoulders drooped, and picked a clean pair of boxers from the floor. I’d clean it up after work. Adding a bra, a shirt and a pair of jeans to my armload, I trudge into the bathroom.
I couldn’t possibly have heard right.
“I said, don’t bother coming in. We’re closed. The Governor issued a state of emergency, right after the CDC said we’re dealing with an epidemic. Have you been under a rock or something, Jess?”
For a moment, my mind was swamped with images of Maria screaming at me the night before.
“Something like that…”
“Well, pull yourself together and watch the news. You can’t miss it.”
“Thanks, Boss. I will.”
With that, I hung up the phone and plopped myself down in front of the tv. There was a different news anchor now, a blond woman in an uncomfortable looking plaid pantsuit. She had a map behind her and was talking about disease spread and the vectors of transfer. A list of symptoms scrolled across the screen as she talked about home treatments.
“-should be on the lookout for fever, rashes, extreme fatigue, soreness in the joints and periods of dizziness…”
I waited for them to say something about a cure, anything. Nothing. It never came. I fiddled with my phone, trying to decide what to do. I needed food and maybe bottled water. But my eyes kept being drawn to the door. Where was Maria now? Was she safe? Who was she with? Chubs climbed up into my lap and purred, rubbing against my hand.
“Don’t worry, buddy. I’ll make sure to pick up crunchies for you too.”
Hours turned to days and soon, it had been just over two full weeks. I’d started pacing a furrow in my carpet with all my worrying. Chubs and I were running out of food and I’d spent the better part of the morning online learning how to boil the impurities out of water correctly. The whole time, though, all I could think of was Maria. Flopping back into my chair, I looked again at my phone. Then a new resolve overtook me. I unlocked my phone and sent her a text.
“Are you okay?”
That was it. Safe enough. She might even respond. Setting the phone back down, I went to the window to look out at the city I called home. There was smoke coming from somewhere near the harbor and I silently prayed that the city wasn’t burning. It was strange seeing the place like this, no cars on the roads and hardly anyone out. Mostly it was just officials in hazmat suits. The place had turned into a wasteland. Turning away, I went back to the tv. Reports were still coming in, but the hosts seemed stricken now. And they didn’t leave their station anymore. My phone sitting beside me buzzed and I nearly threw it in the excited scramble to scoop it up.
It wasn’t much of a message, but those bare few words held me. They were a promise and they were my only hope of salvation.
“Not sick. Me and Chubs are alright.” I hesitated for a moment and then added two more words. “Miss you.”
I hit send before I could change my mind and put the phone in my pocket as I went into the small kitchen to scrounge up something to eat.