I wake up to a loud pounding on my front door and an even louder pounding in my head. I look at the clock. It's early but that's no consolation. It was 7pm when I got back to town, probably close to 8 when I hit the bar. It's now 6 in the morning. I've successfully wasted ten hours by getting wasted. The way the room is spinning suggests I spent more time drinking than sleeping and how I even got home and into my own bed is a mystery. But I’m fully clothed and I’m alone and even if I wasn’t, who really gives a fuck now? One hundred and fifty five to go.
I get up quicker than my head would have liked and, in the ten seconds it takes me to remember which way is up, the hammering on the door stops and the yelling starts. It’s faint and I can’t tell what my visitor is saying but I can sense enough to know that if this was the old days, someone would be complaining to the super about this. I catch sight of the revolver, sitting on my beside table, and I use it as a focus point until the room stops shaking enough for me to walk from my room to the front door.
My apartment with its well appointed rooms, minimalist furniture and crisp white walls. Open plan living and dining. Once upon a time, a realtor's dream. What’s going to happen to all my stuff when I’m gone? I have to remind myself that it’s not really mine, that I merely found it all when I moved in, but there’s always going to be a part of me that places some sort of value on stupid things like a full bookshelf or a big TV, and, even if I don’t use them, even if I have to use a camping stove to make a hot drink, instead of the fancy coffee machine gathering dust in the kitchen, I like having them around. Maybe someone would like the books. I add sorting through them to my-to do list for the week. Not exactly making for an exciting bucket list, but skydiving isn’t really an option and, besides, it’s my fucking list.
I reach the front door and the shouts from outside start to make sense.
“I swear to God, Mimi, you better open this fucking door!”
I don’t bother peering through the spyhole. I already know who it is. When I said before that I was alone, that’s not exactly true. I live alone, as much as anyone can call what we do ‘living’, and my family are long gone, but there are still people who would miss me. And as I open the front door and Beth flings herself into my arms, all anger at being kept waiting forgotten the moment she sees my face, I remember that. And suddenly this whole infected thing becomes a lot harder to deal with.
Finally breaking the embrace, she grabs my face, turning it this way and that, looking for signs of how far the infection has spread. She presses a palm to my forehead and her face drops when she feels how high my temperature is. I push her away.
“How long has it been?”
“About ten... no, eleven hours,” God, that's half a day.
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
I grab a bottle of water from the breakfast bar and shrug. “I didn’t see the point,” The cracking of the bottle’s cap as it separates from the plastic ring seems to echo around the room as she processes what I said. I sit down on the sofa, already knowing what her response will be.
“You didn’t see the point?” She almost shrieks the words. It’s lucky we’re within the safe zone, otherwise we’d be crawling with infected in no time. “You have a week to live. Did you think I wouldn’t want to say goodbye?” If I was expecting her to get choked up at the thought of that, I’d have been disappointed. But that’s not Beth and so I wasn’t expecting that at all.
“I went to The Last Drop,” It didn’t answer the question. It didn’t answer anything. But it silenced her and that was all I wanted. “That little table by the door. Top drawer. I think there’s some aspirin,”
I hear her pulling open the drawer and rummaging inside. The keys the previous owners left behind, keys to cars we crashed or ran dry, spare keys to the flat that I never let Beth keep, despite her constant hints, they rattle around as Beth hunts for the pack of out of date painkillers. She finds them and comes to sit beside me, dropping them in my lap as she passes.
“You should have passed those onto Gene. He could have used them,”
“He can have them in...” I check my watch. “One hundred and fifty four hours and forty three... forty two minutes,” I pop two tablets from the foil packet and swallow them down with a gulp of water.
“They’re not going to help, you know,”
“They’re not for this,” I jerk my bandaged arm to draw her attention to the bite. “They’re for the hangover,” I lean back against the sofa and stare up at the ceiling. I realise I’ve never once used the light that hangs above our heads. I’ve never even really looked at it before. The power was out when we got here. Shaped like a crystal chandelier, it must have looked really fancy when someone switched it on. I wonder if it shook when doors slammed or when furniture moved or when Beth hammered on the door. I suppose I could add finding out to my list.
Beth has taken the box of aspirin off me and put it in her pocket. A subtle way of telling me that next time I decide to get inebriated, I’ll have to deal with it myself. As if a couple of old painkillers are going to make a difference anyway. She curls up on the sofa, drawing her legs up to her chest, and watches me. The distance between us is small, barely a cushion’s worth, but I know that, to her, it feels much larger. I’ve been a lot of things since she’s known me. Reckless, ruthless, forgetful, ignorant, downright cruel. But I’ve never been resigned to my fate. I’ve never given up. And yet here I am. Defeated, dying and hungover as hell.
“I can’t believe you went out there alone. You know the rules,”
I sigh. “I thought you wanted to say goodbye,”
“Then why are you so desperate to start a fight?”
If we had power, I could turn on the TV or the radio. Crank up the volume and drown her out. There’s a laptop in the corner. I could open it and pretend to check some emails or update our relationship status to ‘It’s complicated’. If we had power, we could avoid all this. I envy Tom his generator. I envy all those drunken bastards with their jukebox and their alcohol and their lights and their ability to forget and ignore. I hate whoever it was that brought me home and told Beth where I was and what had happened and I hate Beth for coming round and yelling at me and I hate myself for letting her in and, most of all, for getting bitten in the first place. I am a massive fucking idiot and, she’s right, I shouldn’t have gone out alone.
I reach my hand out to her. She stares at it, hovering in the air, waiting for her grab hold. If she doesn’t take my hand, I don’t know what I’ll do. I’m going to lose everything in six days. I’m sorry that I was arrogant enough to go out alone. I’m sorry that I didn’t tell her myself. I’m sorry that my first thought was to go to the bar instead of to her. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.
Her fingers touch mine, our hands curling around each other. I stop staring at the ceiling to look at her. Tanned, freckled skin and red hair. Tired eyes and dirty clothes. It’s the end of the world and she looks beautiful.
“Don’t be, Mimi. Please, don’t be,”
One hundred and fifty four hours and thirty eight minutes to go.