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She kept the dagger under her pillow at night, and in the day she tied it with string around her neck, like a pendant, like an ornament, like a jewel. She could feel the dagger against her skin, beneath her vest. She liked that: the odd mix of security, knowing the knife was near, and dan¬ger, because one false move, one stumble, one fall, and the dagger would slit her skin.
These were dangerous times. Everybody knew that. America was gone, they said. No more cheesy American films. No more films at all. No tel¬evision. The lines crackled when you turned them on, just like the radio. DVDs wouldn’t play. She’d slashed through the phone line with her dagger because she couldn’t bear its silence when the silence was a hope. Before she had every moment been waiting for it to ring. Now its silence was permanent, certain. And so few things were certain now.[private]
No governments, no guns, no electricity. Once she’d ventured to walk to the harbour, and she’d seen a ship. A steam ship. She’d heard about them, about refugee ships that had supplies and would take you some¬where safe. It had surprised her, when Lewis had told her that. She hadn’t realised there was anywhere safe left.
After she saw the ship, she stopped going outside. She kept to her house and garden, where there were walls and fences and daggers to keep her safe. The dagger, her dagger, was old. So much the better. Only old things worked now. Everybody knew that. She’d stolen it from a museum in the days when Lewis was there and they’d been on raids. She’d liked that: hav¬ing some occupation, and having conversation, companionship—because now she got little of that. Everybody was moving. Everybody was running to safe places that did not exist. Everybody except her. They passed her by, and she stayed put.
There were no kitchen knives. All sharp objects, all potential weap¬ons, had been taken at the start, when the government had still existed, because they were afraid of people hurting each other. She had been afraid of that too, at first—and with reason. Everything would descend into anarchy, Lewis said. She had said, “yes, yes, it already has,” because it had, then. People fought each other for food, for resources. Groups and gangs attacked each other.
That had faded. Everything faded. The people that passed through her overgrown village did not try to steal her food. They stopped sometimes, to stare at her, to watch in amazement as she ate vegetables and plants that she had grown. “But how can you—? Because won’t they be—? Because isn’t the ground—?”
She thought, the world is a bad place when not even the ground can be trusted.
But no one interfered with her now. The dagger was for animals and, per¬haps, for her. Only accidentally, of course, or if there was no other choice. She refused to kill herself. It would be like admitting defeat, like admitting that Lewis had been right when he threw himself into the sea, like admit¬ting that there was no hope at all.
And perhaps there wasn’t, but it made sense to pretend there was. That, like the knife, was a method of survival. And that was the most important thing of all: to survive.
While the sun rose in the morning and set at night, she could live. And food and water—she needed them. Polluted or not, it made no difference. Nothing was safe anyway. She was only speeding up what had always been inevitable.
But not yet, not yet.
Sometimes, the passing groups heading for the sea would ask her to join them. She always refused. “No, no. Lewis died here; I will die here—but not yet, not until I can try no more.” They never persisted for long. Kind¬ness remained, but so did selfishness. She wondered if the people she had met were still alive. Perhaps they were, in some safe place.
She thought, here is safe enough, here is safe enough.
She grew plants. She ate them and fell ill. She went through fevers and her hair was falling out. But she lived. Or at least she was alive. That was something. She was proud of that. She woke, planted, ate, slept. She thought about Lewis, about her parents, about the friends whose name had slipped off the dying planet, about herself.
She slept with the dagger under her pillow and wondered which would kill her first: the radiation, or the polluted food—or the knife whose blade she kept too close to her skin.
There was no hope, but every morning when she tied the dagger back around her neck, she smiled. She thought, I am alive. For now, yes. Only for now. But for now I am alive.[/private]