Month: Late frost.
Year: 10, apocalypse era.
Sheila luxuriates in the warmth of the bed, and stretches over to John, looking for the green numbers on the alarm, screwing up her eyes to focus. There are no green lights, no John. She exhales, saving the weeping for later, and drags her feet onto the hardwood floor, its bitter cold surface a penance for forgetting.
She tramps out of her back door. Her fellow gardeners wave as they take their places in the communal space. It is time to prepare the soil, to wait for the month of the May flower. The growing season is shorter every year, the rains heavier, the snow deeper. For now, the thought of spring is singing in Sheila’s heart; it vibrates in her muscles, grown lean and strong with physical labour.
The ploughed field was once full of the noise of children’s play, BBQs, and lawn mowing unseen behind wooden fences. All the trees have gone except for her apple tree and next door’s pear tree. Michael at number 5’s raspberries remained for a few years, but their tasty nutritional value was deemed insufficient, a frivolous indulgence, compared to the root vegetables and legumes they toiled to raise in this limited area behind their homes.
Sheila amasses scraps for the compost heap, filling the dilapidated wheelbarrow. It has seen better days, it had been John’s, and like him, it was rickety long before its expected demise. She trundles to the front garden, a narrow strip once devoted to John’s hybrid tea roses, now a line of pallet-made compost bins, sleeping like hibernating bears.
A whistle blasts--Marge at number 12 is calling the children to breakfast. Sheila thought they were lucky to have them alive, but others complain that they eat too much. Her stomach rumbles in time to the squeak of the wheelbarrow; her breakfast whistle will not sound for a good while yet. Third-days are her turn for an egg, but sometimes there is not enough for everyone. Shelia day-dreams of Eggs Benedict, running golden yolks merging with hollandaise sauce as she heaves the muck into the compost heap. It’ll be porridge instead, watery and mixed with anything scavenged. Last year, someone found a bottle of maple syrup. Sheila could still taste the caramel on her tongue, the deliciousness of what was before an ache in her solar plexus.
Sheila pauses at the largest compost heap, blanketed in old Astro turf and carpet. She nods to John; he’d always wanted to be useful when he died. Life-giving yet foul-smelling liquid seeps into old plastic drums below the heap. Shelia collects a filled one on her way back to the vegetable beds; it slops about in the wheelbarrow adding its pungency to the sharp morning air.
When the lawns were dug up and decorative shingles and gnomes resigned to waste, the ground was scratchy and full of debris, clay pipes, Victorian glass bottles, and the fragile bones of pets, still wearing their collars. They’d struggled to get anything to grow but now they were seeing success, all down to John and the others who didn’t make those first years or the next ones.
Michael at number 5 has a working solar panel, and his promises of light and music are tempting. But he is not John, however much she needs another’s body heat at night. She’d miss forgetting the green numbers and the dent in the mattress where John once lay.