I love coffee
The morning brings with it a sense of solemness. I must have cried myself to sleep; just like I did when I was a child. On a positive note, I now feel numb which is better than feeling the ache of loss and clarity. I don’t know if I can face going downstairs, seeing the kids. Seeing Rita and John. Seeing Roman.
I finally gain the strength to get up. I look in the cracked mirror that hangs crookedly in the corner of the room.
I look like crap. My eyes are puffy and my face is smeared with blood; I must have rubbed my face during the night. I look like hell. My hair is sticking up in many different directions. My eyes. Even though my eyes make me look like a pig, my eyes are still piercing. Everyone used to comment on my eyes; my eyes are bright green with flecks of grey around the pupil. My best attribute according to Roman; they suit my ice queen persona.
I enter the bathroom and fill up the sink; it can’t be later than 6 am, meaning I have time before the kids wake up. My appearance is like a deranged savage. The cold water cleanses my skin; I haven’t realised how warm I am and the freshness of the water feels like being reborn. I can be pedantic too.
After scraping the last of the blood off of my face with a rough flannel, I head downstairs. My god, I am hungry and I ache; the bed did always used to kill my back. I try to make my footsteps as soft as possible, trying not to wake anyone but it was useless. John was waiting at the bottom of the stairs.
I move slowly, his eyes following me, studying me. I am anxious to approach him but then again, I shouldn’t be. His grey eyes seem to stare into my soul. Finally, his gravelly undertones begin to make their appearance.
“Now, what the hell do you think you’re doing, madam?”
I run down the stairs at him; my chest aches with longing. I have missed him so much. He is the closest thing I have ever had to a proper father, well at least, the only father I have really ever known. He takes me in his arms and embraces me. I have missed his musk and his strong grip. He was the reason it was a little harder to leave the camp, he didn’t want me to leave but he wanted me to be safe and protected. I think he understood that the safest thing for me is to be by myself. But I have still missed him the most out of anyone.
“You know the usual, getting into as much trouble as possible. Would you expect anything else from me, you old git?”
“Walk with me, Lecci. I’ll get you caught up on everything you’ve missed. You’ve lost weight and have you got taller or have I shrunk? Come along goose.”
“No, you’ve shrunk. What have I missed?”
We walk through and sit on the chairs that lay in the kitchen. Cobwebs still cling to the ceiling and there are still numerous cracks in the marble counter tops.
“I could kill for it, thanks.”
John gets up and turns the tap on. It takes a while before the water flows through the pipes.
The pipes always make a weird gurgling sound when water flows. I always used to think that was the sound of a monster that was coming to get me, to kill me. Those were the days when I was still so naïve. Monsters do exist but not in the conventional form. They exist in all of us. Sometimes they lie dormant for years and other times, they appear from birth. We’re all monsters.
“Roman bring you here? Sometimes I think that boy just looks for an excuse to be with you. I know he does, you shouldn’t tease him.”
He breaks into a real belly laugh, from the gut. He knows that it embarrasses us both, he was the one who thought we’d be shagging by the time I was 17. How bloody wrong he was.
“Yeah, Annie got hurt. He needed help applying the tourniquet. And I know he does; I am just that desirable ,right?”
“Well, the boy seems to think so. I’ve always thought he wants to bang you like a drum...”
“Could we please change the subject? I do believe I am blushing. You know what a massive prude I am...that’s why you’re doing this, you bastard. Anyway, how’s Annie? She was out last I saw of her, Rita was working her magic.”
“It’s difficult, she’s still asleep. The break was pretty bad, not as bad as yours was but pretty close. We’ve been running low on food recently so we are all pretty weak, it’s difficult to know if she is strong enough. She’ll probably be fine but there is still that chance.”
“Oh, I see. At least you’re honest. Why didn’t you tell me? I could have gone on a run for you, make sure there were enough supplies. Why didn’t you tell me?”
“There was no point, goose. Runs are becoming more dangerous and I thought we had enough to keep us going if I missed meals and I mean...Rita had her cigarettes so she wasn’t eating. I’m sorry, it’s my fault if something happens to her...if she’s not strong enough...like Isla...”
Silence reigns. I don’t know what to say to John; he’s a proud man who doesn’t ask for help. I have always looked up to him; admired his strength but this reminds me how vulnerable he is. He’s not as young as he used to be; he’s turning 60 soon. He’s no longer the youthful man of action who didn’t need guidance or pity.
The whistling of the kettle is the only thing that breaks the silence.
“What happened to Isla, John?”
“She got sick. Came into contact with the infected somehow. Rita had to put her down, put her out of her misery. Maybe if she’d have been stronger, she might have fought it off...”
“No, don’t you dare say that! Nobody fights the virus off John. No one ever survives, they just become weaker and sicker and sicker. There was nothing that could have been done and there is no point in blaming yourself for something that is that far out of your control.”
It’s pathetic reassurance but it’s all I can muster. Isla was his niece. His own daughter had died early in the days of darkness. She was one of the first John knew who perished due to the virus, the first being his wife. Isla was a year younger than me. She was only a baby when her parents were murdered for a small quantity of tinned fruit and powdered milk. John raised her as his own, trying to protect her from the inevitable. He has lost more than any of us. Now that Isla’s gone, I don’t know how he will cope and that frightens me.
I don’t know what to say. Most people would say ‘I’m sorry for your loss’ or some other cliché as if it’s their fault. My relationship with John has never permitted that; he doesn’t want sympathy or any bull.
“One sugar, you still like it like that, don’t you? I forget these things. God, I miss having milk in coffee; I’ve been thinking maybe trying to find a cow or something. We’ve got enough room in the back garden. What do you think?”
“Yeah, yeah good idea. John, you don’t have to pretend you’re okay. I know you better than that; Isla meant the world to you, she meant a lot to all of us. Why didn’t Roman tell me about it?” His hand is shaking.
“I am okay, as I’ve always said, everyone dies and we have to be prepared for that. I don’t think he wants to accept it. They were close in her last few weeks and I think they genuinely connected in some way. He pretends he’s okay but everything is starting to get to him. He wasn’t born for this world but then again no one is.”
Roman and Isla had always been close. Isla was a conventional beauty with wavy blonde hair and pale blue eyes while Roman was the tall, dark and handsome stereotype. I’m not denying the fact he is attractive; he has dark brown shoulder length hair and honey coloured eyes. It was almost like they were perfect for each other and they seemed to compliment each other, personality wise. She was naïve and stubborn while he was open minded and courageous, a real hero to her. When he wasn’t chasing me like a little-lost puppy, he would spend most of his time talking to her and to be honest, I think getting his leg over on her but that was never confirmed. Isla’s death should devastate him to the core but why wouldn’t he say anything to me; she was like, I use the term loosely, a friend to me.
John and I sit, just drinking our coffee in silence. It’s true what he says, that everyone dies and we have to be prepared. I mean I live by it but I know he doesn’t believe it really, which makes it even more painful.
A pair of footsteps and a tuneless whistle break the silence. Trust Roman to be the one to break a dramatic pause. On the upside, he’s perked up since last night, probably trying to forget everything that has happened. However, his eyes are still puffy like mine. There’s no way to hide his little masculine breakdown last night.
“Ah John, Ellie and how are we this fine morning?”
“...Alright. Since when are you this chirpy at 7 am, boy? I usually have to use the ice bucket method to drag you from your bed. Is it because of our little visitor?”
“I’m getting taller than you, old man. I’m sure it’s nothing to do with me, right Roman?”
“Of course it is, I’m always chirpy when surrounded by my ladies. Ah, you brewed coffee, this is why you are my favourite person Johnny.”
“Call me Johnny again, I’ll beat your arse you idjit. Get a cup and sit yourself down...and put your tongue back in your mouth, you’ll attract flies.”
I do love the way John doesn’t take any crap from Roman; I’m starting to see where I get it from. Ha, I got it from life, I don’t need to blame my glorified mentor.
It is amazing how he can pretend like nothing has ever happened; I envy that. I catch Roman staring at me with an unfamiliar expression. Oh dear god, I think it’s pity. Oh that is sickening, the only thing stopping me punching him is the fact that Isla is dead; she was always a pacifist. That’s the reason she’s dead. She resigned herself to just letting things happen which is suicide, signing over any power you have over your own life.
I cannot stand people pitying me like I’m pathetic or weak. I’m not and I hate people treating me like I am. Maybe I should be less defensive about things but I cannot stand the silent shout of ‘you deserve my pity and sympathy’. I hate it, I hate it, I hate it.
John senses something. I know he does; he is a good judge of people and interaction. It’s not possible to be warring and for John not to have the intuition to figure it out. He winks at me as if to say he knows what is going on.
“Alright, ’fess up. What’s going on? I may not be the brains of Britain but you kids aren’t discreet. Come on, I do love a bit of gossip.”
“Nothing Johnny, I’m just gazing upon the face of an angel. Nothing more, doesn’t she look radiant today?”
“Flattery never gets you anywhere, boy. Now, what’s really going on and cut the crap.”
“It doesn’t matter; we just had a conflict of opinions, last night. Nothing important, right Ellie?”
“Yeah, nothing important. Water under the bridge.”
“Alright, I’ll get it out of you at some point. Now, you going to stay here and scrounge food or are you going to earn your keep?”
I can’t help smiling.
“Right you are sir, what do you need me to do? I don’t need an excuse to get away from the flat.”
“Ah goose, you could move back here; I mean, we have the room and your room is intact and I’m sure the lads could use a role model to teach them how to get things done...”
“No, the flat is mine. Might as well make good use out of it; I’m sure Roman is teaching them sufficiently. When he’s not trying to get off with the teens.”
“What are you talking about Ellie? I feel like an army general and...hey I do not try to get off with teenagers, they just admire me...”
“Yeah, right. The girls’ ovaries practically explode when you enter the room. You say you haven’t noticed but I think you get off on the attention.”
“Oh piss off, just because you’re jealous.”
“In your dreams, douchebag.”
“If you two are done flirting, it’s time to go to work.”
Time to go to work; oh it’s going to be a long day...