It gets harder every day to remember a time of colors, with the ground green and the sky blue and the white-yellow of the sun; there’s no sun now, no sky, nothing living to be green. He remembers her hair, red-gold, the colors dancing in the light; everyone’s hair is the same muddy brown-gray now, covered in ash and dirt and cloth. He remembers her eyes, green-gold, glittering like jewels; everyone’s eyes are the same muddy brown-gray now, reflecting the flat angry sky and earth and the death and sadness, just bleak. He tries to look for that in her, the color, the meaning of life, he rubs his thumb along an eyebrow, trying to find one ruddy hair through the grime and she smiles at him, knowing what he’s searching for and hoping he finds it. She’s still very beautiful, even if only in his memory.
The Survivors, that’s what they call themselves, shuffle along in packs, clinging together for support to keep from falling over dead with hopelessness and hunger; they travel together yet they are each alone in their misery. He holds her hand in its fingerless wool glove too large and caresses her cold fingertips with his own and is grateful that they at least are not alone. To her only, he calls them Leftovers, like the scraps of a Thanksgiving meal; he says the war was the feast and we’re the Leftovers. He says you’re the gravy to my turkey and it makes her laugh, a welcome brittle sound. They have traveled together, these nine people and one dog, for a while now, many days and nights, how long he can never be sure. There were more of them once, moving from one night to the next, but they had died or wandered off, everyone always seeming to leave somehow. He likes hearing their voices, the sounds of them sleeping and coughing and eating, and laughing every now and then, and sometimes he can pretend they are just camping. Not that she isn’t enough, she is more than enough, just to have her alive and with him is enough, and their dog, but he likes the company too; it is easier to pretend.
Their dog barks at his side because it’s hungry or curious or just reminding him it’s there. There’s little left for a dog to scrounge, squirrels and pigeons charred and dust, all the other dogs seem to be long gone. He scratches behind its ears and it quivers in pleasure. He feels the hard bones of its skull and it makes his heart ache; there has always been more love for dogs in him than he could give to most people. He coughs, he hopes discreetly. She feels the tremors of his body and squeezes him, as if she could squeeze the coughs right out of him. Their dog whimpers, expressing the worry that sticks to them like the ash in the air, the worry that binds the Leftovers together with emaciated cords.
He knows there might be a time sooner than later when the food runs out and all the abandoned buildings have already been pillaged or the ash strangles them in their sleep — and he would have to bury their dog and hold her while she took her last wheezy breath shortly before God-willing he took his own last wheezy breath. He knows she knows this and has probably spent just as many hours thinking about it as he has; they stopped talking about it, the possibilities, and the certainties.
They just go day-by-day, not guessing at the future, not even questioning how the past led to this present, and they gradually stopped remembering their own little personal histories; the pain of memories was too much to bear.
He kisses her that day when they rest while their dog chews the dusty remains of a bird, sucking the petrified marrow. He kisses her with some of the old hunger and she leans into it and he feels so lucky; they will make love that night when the fire dies, seeking warmth from each other, and forgetting momentarily. They don’t do it often now, afraid of the great mistake that would be a baby. As much as they always wanted a child together, a child with his dark hair and her light eyes, his long straight nose and perfect ears and her pale freckled skin and wide flower-petal mouth, it wouldn’t be right.
She says when she was younger she read a story about Isis, does he know about her?
He says, an Egyptian goddess, right, the goddess of…
…life, she says, the goddess of life and magic and wisdom and her husband was the lord of the underworld. She tells him, Isis brought her husband back from the dead and pieced him back together just to have a child, for love.
He says, she sounds like a helluva woman.
She was the mother of the god of sun, of sky, of light, of the heavens, she says, tremulous. She was his mother; she brought her husband back so that she could be his mother. She says, it must have been something wonderful — motherhood.
He considers her words sadly and decides, fascinating and wonderful — and weird.
She giggles, a faraway girlish echoing from the past. Yeah, she agrees. They walk on.
Lia Molly Deromedi grew up in Chico, Northern California. She graduated with a degree in Literature/Writing from the University of California, San Diego. Lia is currently in the process of completing her Master’s in English from Brooklyn College. She lives and writes in New York.