THE OLD ROUTINE • by Jodie Keenan

You’re securing the doors and windows while I field-strip the Winchester. Live long enough after the world ends and survival becomes a tired old routine. You sleep while I keep watch, I vomit as quietly as I can while you stand guard, you forage canned goods, I cry while you pretend not to notice, I extend the same courtesy. You and I always got along great without wasting much time talking. That’s why we’d never have lasted in the real world. But the real world ended, so I guess we’re lasting it out.

In the real world you would have known by now. I’d have enough sisters and friends to convince me it would be the right and decent thing to tell you. You’d pay half, go to the clinic with me. We’d hold hands and read and reread the month-old magazines on the waiting room table and not talk to each other. Still, I’d be thankful you’d be there waiting for me, still reading that same magazine, when it was over. You’d drive me home, bring me takeout and painkillers, keep silent vigil from another room. I’d be thankful for you still, but somewhere deep down I’d know that if we were meant to be together “it isn’t the right time” wouldn’t be enough to justify it.

But the sisters and friends that were so encouraging and supportive one day were delirious with fever and gangrene the next, on death’s door the day after, dead the day after that, walking the day after that. You forget your differences when your only options are live or die. It’s as close to egalitarianism as humankind is likely to get. At least it should be.

See, you still just have to be the man, the protector, the one in harm’s way. So, I dismantle bolt and spring assembly, clean, adjust, reload, take stock of ammo, while you secure the windows and doors of the trashed and abandoned remnants of some dearly departed happy family’s suburban dream.

“Fuck!” you cry, grabbing the Peacemaker from your belt and firing one of the .45s we’re running low on into a face half-ground away to raw skull as it attempts to force itself through a doggie-door.

“You didn’t have to shoot it!” I want to snap. A two-hundred-pound corpse can’t crawl through a doggie door and we’re bound to need every bullet for the last stand. It’s only a matter of time. But when you look at me I only nod.

Zombies equate to little more than bad makeup in movies. We’ve come to discover the walking dead are a treat for all the senses. The ubiquitous dumpster outside the all-meat-and-no-salad steakhouse in the middle of July smell is as good an excuse as any for why I’m vomiting so much. You don’t ask questions, but you’re always there to hold back my hair.

In the real world, instead of holding back my hair you’d give me the space I ask for. I wouldn’t have to deal with cravings and morning sickness. I wouldn’t have to pretend I’m sleeping when you wake up from bad dreams and want me to tell you everything’s alright. You’d have been in sofa exile for weeks. You’d say you understand. I’d need time to heal. You’d still make me breakfast before I go to work and dinner when I come home. You were always the better cook. I’ll pay the bills, but you’ll nourish us. I’ll check the ammo, but you make sure the dead don’t get in.

In the real world we’d go for months without talking about it. We’d wait out the lease in the one bedroom then opt for a closet-sized studio each. We’d divvy up the vinyls and already hodge-podge dishes and silver. Instead of making breakfast like I know you want to, you’ll go to Starbucks every morning just so that you can eat with me. We’d still be eating at Starbucks when you casually mention your new girl. I’d fuck three strangers over the course of the next week, then I’d have congenial breakfast at Starbucks and nothing else for a while, but somehow it would be enough just to be with you, if only for a half hour or so every morning.

You hold the rifle with steady confidence and clear out the silhouettes casting long shadows against the rising sun on the horizon. The dead won’t ever stop coming, but you make the radius wider with each passing day. I don’t want to get out of bed, but it’s my turn to stand watch. If I can keep it together until you fall asleep, I’ll be able to puke without having to brush off your concern, but those minutes seem like forever. We’ve been living on canned food and pasta. I think I’d be able to hold it together if I could just eat something fresh. I want Starbucks so bad I cry about it when you finally fall asleep.

In the real world my new lover is angry again. She asks me why I still go to Starbucks every morning. I tell her it’s just an old routine, the kind of thing that helps me survive.

You need another magazine against the dead that keep swarming our suburban citadel and instinct has me tossing the ammo before you have to ask. If you comment later on how in sync we are I’ll simply reply, “It’s routine. It’s how we survive.”

Jodie Keenan is a New England based photographer, writer, and former roller derby skater with a lifelong obsession with the macabre and surreal. Her artwork has appeared in Passenger’s Journal, and her writing has been published in Hello Horror.

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