By Overheard in PDX
I was so excited to do this Back Fence thing that guess I missed the part where Melissa said it was supposed to be a true story.
So I’m going to read my little soliloquy here anyway. But first I’m going to tell you the true part.
See, about six months ago, I had this dream where I died. No. It’s ok. It was in the dream, you know? But it was unlike those Freddie Krueger movies, you know, where if you die in the dream that means you Die. For. Real.
And I didn’t die for real. In fact the first thing I did was go take a leak. Because that’s what doctors always make you do after you have an operation. It’s what they call a sign of life.
Anyway, when I died in the dream, I got to find out what my last words will be. So I used that in the story. And that’s true part.
SEVEN MEALS FROM CHAOS
I am in the subway when the world burns. Some kind of cascading power failure sends my train crashing into another. I hear the crack of crumpling steel and the tubular thud of my head hitting the railing.
Now pain. Blackness. It seems like hours trying regain consciousness in the darkness.
Already in the tunnel I smell the smoke, sweet and acrid at the same time. There in the dark it all but chokes out the pale light from my cell phone that guides me to the surface.
And everything is burned: the trees, the buildings, the cars. Charred corpses everywhere. Black and steaming. Above, a sky of smoke blocks the sun.
I walk for a day and find no food or water. At the city center I come upon a wrecked city bus turned on its side.
Inside the bus, the bodies are fused, contorted, and burned, but I have to climb over them. Have to find food.
There. There behind the driver’s seat. A lunch box! Inside, a cheese sandwich in tin foil and a coke.
I down the coke in three or four swigs and sit on the empty curb to eat. One bite, something like Gruyere maybe. Still molten from the fire.
A kid watching, his eyes black vacant coal, his body badly burned. His hand is gone.
Here, kid. Take it.
The kid runs off without a word. How long can he last, I wonder?
Then I see the man watching me. He emerges from the shadows, black suit clean and free of soot and the foulness that surrounds us.
Forgive my English, he says. I am called Maecenas. I have water. Food. Shelter. Come. Please.
The bunker is many levels below the street. The elevator is stainless steel and smells of oil, like something new from the factory.
The dining room is simple, opulent, dark maple chairs and a white tablecloth. Inside, two men and two women stand to greet me in their formal clothes. They hand me a bottle of water. We do the introductions.
First there is salad. I go for the Blue Cheese, croutons, and bacon bits. So hungry! The baguettes are like heaven. I could swim in these greens and the joy of stuffing myself, I swear. The others continue on to the other courses, but sated now I can only think of sleep.
Breakfast is a veggie skillet. Eggs, Green peppers, onions, potatoes, all smothered in a cheese sauce. I notice Robyn then. Young, gorgeous, incredibly buff. I tell her about how I used to get the same skillet at the Uptown Bar. Turns out she’s from Minneapolis.
Cheeseburgers for Lunch. Grilled with all the fixings. Sesame buns. Incredible. Turns out Maecenus was a chef whose family came into big money. I ask him to tell me more about the bunker. Can’t place his accent. Serbian, maybe.
Maecenus emerges from the cooler with large cuts of prime rib. The cooler is cavernous, shelves of everything from canned goods to freeze-dried meals. For some reason, I notice that the door can be bolted from the inside.
The Prime Rib comes and is marvelous. No need for a knife.
One of the two men is Jackson. Some kind of athlete, I’m guessing. He tells me how Maecenus saved him when world burned. The other man, a professor, has a similar story. He keeps checking his watch.
If there’s any humanity still out there, it will soon be gone, he says. I read a paper at Cambridge that says that in a food shortage, society will totally break down after the inhabitants miss their seventh meal.
I look at my plate and try to imagine what is going on out there. Starvation. Disease. Anarchy.
Brunch is crepes. Coffee. Fruit. Toast. An array of dishes laid out in perfection. The other girl, Angela, starts to open up to us. She ran away from home. Her father beat her when he found out she was pregnant.
Her story is captivating. No one notices as I stuff my backpack with baguettes. When everyone sleeps I sneak out. Up the elevator and back to the place where I found the boy.
He is hiding under the hulk of a fire truck. He won’t come out. I leave the food and make my way back. Then something stirs behind me. Footsteps maybe? No. There is no one. The world is a graveyard in cinder.
We are having soup and sandwiches when something crashes outside. Maecenus runs over to bolt the door and we hear pounding and screaming.
They’re here! He yells. How could this be? How could they find us? I look at my backpack. I have brought our doom!
Maecenus looks down. We are not going to make it. I’m so sorry. All the makings to rebuild the world and now this tragic fate.
He goes to the cabinet and takes a pill. I catch him as he collapses. He looks up at me. Almost peaceful as the door begins to buckle.
I hold him. Please. I have to know. Why me?
A long breathe. Then he says, I wanted to compassion to die last.
The door crashes open. The mob is tattered, burned, wild-eyed. In their hands crude weapons, pipes, clubs.
They’re coming for us. I throw the tray of bread at the opposite wall and they go for it, scrambling. I grab Robyn’s arm and we run toward the cooler.
The iron pipe comes down on my forearm. Compound fracture. Blood everywhere.
They have her.
I crawl to the cooler and pull the door closed just as the smallest of them tries to come for me.
It was the boy.
Inside the cooler now. Cold. Terrible screams. Smoke smell. Pounding.
My arm is wrapped. Dead. Useless. It’s been days now and they keep trying the door. Now it sounds like a fire ax hacking at the hinges. They’ll be inside soon.
I scribble these words with my left hand and think of all the good fortune I’ve had in my life. My friends. My first Harley. The sun in Lisa’s hair on our Wedding Day. The birth of my son.
And then I think of Maecenus. So many questions. Was he right? Will compassion die here, now, with me? Or did it die long ago? And is that why the world burned?
No answers. Just swallow the pill now. But first, I have to figure out what I’m going to say when I go to meet God.
And then I know.
“I’m so grateful.”