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John bolts the door shut. He pounds it with his palm a few times to make sure that it’s locked properly. He can hear the sound of him hitting the door reverberate in the empty hallway outside. With the door secure, he takes his coat off. He removes the knife and gun from his pockets and places them on the table by the door. Behind him, Jennifer looks around the room using the light from her phone.
‘You can charge it if you like,’ he says to her.
She turns around. ‘You have a charger?’
He nods, before realising that she might not see him doing so in the dark. ‘Yes, I’ve got a charger,’ he says.
‘I haven’t charged it for two weeks. It’s weird because I haven’t even needed to charge it since then. The only time I use my phone anymore is for the torch. Although sometimes I’ll look at old pictures or texts and stuff.’
‘Do you remember the adverts?’ he asks. ‘They used to say that it’d last a month without charging. I never knew what that meant.’
‘You’d just sort of think they were lying, wouldn’t you?’
‘Or just exaggerating or whatever. The sort of thing adverts do – not lies exactly, but not the truth either.’
‘Sometimes I have dreams where I’m sitting somewhere, and I’m using my phone like crazy. I’m just sitting there for hours, using it. I’m listening to a song on YouTube, and then I’m on Facebook, and suddenly I decide I want to read this poem that I like.’
‘What poem is it?’
‘I can never remember. When I wake up, I mean. In the dream, I can. It’s always the same one. I know that it rhymes and that there’s something dark about it. And then obviously I’m calling people. Someone calls me up and it’s the most natural thing in the world that someone would be calling me. It’s perfectly normal that I’d be having this phone conversation. It’s mundane. Because in the dream world, someone calling you up to have a chat is the sort of thing that happens.’
‘I’m lucky,’ he says, ‘I don’t really have dreams. And when I do, they’re sad, so when I wake up from them I’m glad to be away from them, you know?’
‘You don’t miss them.’
‘It’s better to have sad dreams. Good dreams only make you want to go to sleep again.’ For a few seconds, there’s silence. It’s not an awkward silence, but it’s not comfortable either. He trawls through his brain, trying to think of something to say when she says:
‘So where’s this charger, then?’
‘Here,’ he says, putting out his hand. ‘I’ll charge it for you.’ Even in the dark, the flicker of hesitation on her face is evident. For a second, it upsets him that she thinks him a potential thief. Then he imagines himself in her position and realises that he would probably be as cautious.
‘It’s over there,’ he says, pointing to a wall socket. ‘Can you see?’ She shines her light on the socket, nods, and thanks him.
‘I’ll go and light some candles,’ he says. Although he has electricity, the only light bulb has broken. One night he was sitting down reading, and then suddenly it went off. A quick, short, popping noise and the light bulb was dead. He has about fifteen candles left – fourteen and a half considering the state of the one he’s using now – and hopes that they’ll last until he can find another light bulb. (If he can find another light bulb, the patronising and ever-present voice of reason intones once more at him.) Last night, to conserve the candles, he spent the evening in the dark.
He lights each candle, worried the whole time that the match might go out and he’ll have to use another. Just like the light bulb, he has no idea when the next time he’ll be able to get his hands on a box of matches will be. He manages to light all three candles with one match. With the candles lit, he turns to look at Jennifer.
She really is beautiful and has the curvy figure that he likes in girls. As he watches her, he notices how she’s staring at the plug-socket. It’s not an amazed look. More a contemplative, nostalgic one. She’s staring at it, probably not even aware of what she’s doing. Of how she seems like someone in a movie holding a picture of a dead relative. A moment of realisation presumably hits her, as she quickly plugs her phone in and stands up.
John turns away, pretending to have just finished lighting the candles.
She comes up behind him and looks out of the window. In the distance, a stream of smoke rises into the air.
‘It looks a bit like a tornado,’ she says.
‘Sometimes,’ he says, ‘the fires get so bright it’s like it’s daytime.’
‘You get those places, don’t you, where it’s daytime all the time.’
‘In the Arctic?’
‘In Sweden as well. Or Norway. Places where people actually live. Imagine that. Imagine waking up in the middle of the night and it’s bright outside.’
‘Or the opposite,’ he says, ‘where it’s dark all the time. You go to school in the dark.’
They look at the smoke for a few more seconds and then turn to look at each other. They turn at exactly the same time, as if they had planned it; as if they both know what the other is thinking.
‘That’s why I liked you,’ he says. ‘Things like this.’
‘It’s like we’ve known each other for ages.’
‘That happens sometimes. You meet someone and you just sort of instantly – err.’
‘Connect with them, and that’s what happened with you. When I saw you – I’m not gonna lie – I liked you because you’re so gorgeous. But the moment I started talking to you, it didn’t really matter anymore.’
‘Same’ she says. ‘I actually saw you earlier in the night. It’s weird because although you were hot and stuff, I didn’t really give you another thought. I was feeling a bit ill, and I wanted to go home, and if I’d done that I might not have seen you again.’
‘Do you go to the clubs a lot?’
‘I try to,’ she says. ‘Sometimes it gets too much just being inside. I live with seven other people, and if I’m going out, I usually try to go out with at least one of them. But tonight I came on my own. No one else was in the mood for going out, and I didn’t want to stay in. They’re great people, but I’m with them all the time, you know. I need to get out.’
‘My sort of…philosophy I guess you’d call it, is that what’s the point of making all this effort to survive if your life’s going to be miserable.’
‘It’s like just being alive for its own sake, isn’t it?’ she says. ‘That’s why I risk it. I’m guessing you risked it too?’
‘I don’t live here with anyone, but I do take precautions when I go out. Like today, when I was literally at the door of the club, I didn’t keep my guard down. There was this bit of me that was saying “you’re at the door now, you’ve been buzzed in, just walk in and you’ll be fine.” But I didn’t listen to it. I went inside, and stood at the door, with my gun out, until I knew for sure that it was closed. Just like when we came here, I hit it a few times just to make sure that it was closed, even though I knew it obviously was.’
He loves talking with her. It’s not what they’re saying, but the way the conversation is flowing. He doesn’t have to think about what to say next. Talking to her is effortless, and has none of the awkwardness he usually associates with meeting new people. He wants to ask her more things but decides against it. Things are going good between them, and he doesn’t want to risk asking anything that could upset her, or have her ask something that would upset him.
He puts his hand to her face, and they kiss. The smooth transition to each other’s lips, the way their bodies affix themselves to each other, reaffirms his sense that he has known her for a long time. As she pushes her body up against him, he feels a bulge that is either a knife or a gun. He wonders if she trusts him enough to remove her weapon. Or will she keep it by her all night like that girl a few weeks ago, who was holding her knife the entire time they had sex?
As they kiss more, he runs his hands down her body. Her hands, in turn, move down his back, stopping just above his backside. The fact that she stops there turns him on more than if she’d carried on, and he feels her lips twist into a smile as he groans in pleasure.
He removes his lips from hers and kisses her neck. This time she moans – or, rather, releases a small, barely audible, exhale.
He steps back and reaches into his pocket.
‘I found these,’ he says, taking out a box of condoms. ‘A store had been looted. The people who owned it had had their throats slit with pieces of glass from the window. The woman’s hand had been cut off; I think she must have had an expensive ring on or something because they didn’t cut off the other hand. Anyway, I saw these. They’d fallen to the ground, and whoever looted it had forgotten to take them or something.’
‘Oh, right,’ she says. Her voice is unsure, hesitant. ‘That’s good.’
‘We don’t have to us them. If you don’t want to.’
‘No, no,’ she says. ‘The last thing I need is to get pregnant. It’s just weird seeing them, that’s all. I can’t remember the last time I saw a box of condoms. Anyway,’ she smiles slyly, ‘I think we definitely need to use them. I don’t know where you’ve been.’
For the first time in a long time, he bursts out laughing. The laugh surprises him so much that he drops the condoms onto the floor. He looks at Jennifer, who smiles back at him.
‘What’s that supposed to mean?’ he says, picking up the condoms, and affecting mock-outrage.
‘Nothing. I didn’t mean anything by it,’ she says sarcastically.
‘No. It definitely meant something. I think that you’re implying that I’m some kind of slut or something.’
‘Well, am I wrong?’
‘I’m an honest gentleman.’ With that, she laughs. She’s really pretty when she laughs, but he can tell by the strained way that she does it that she also hasn’t laughed in a while. He noticed earlier, too, how pronounced the frown lines on her forehead and mouth are for someone her age.
Outside, they hear a loud bang. It’s either a bomb going off in the distance or a gunshot nearer. They’re not sure if this is the first bang, or if they’ve just been so preoccupied with each other that it’s the first one they’ve happened to hear.
The other day, John recorded a video on his phone, and when he played it back later he heard little clicks that could only have been gunshots in the background. When he heard this, he remembered not hearing the gunshots when he had been recording the video. By now, he imagines that pretty much everyone is accustomed to the sound. In the same way that people who live by the sea no longer hear the waves unless they listen out for them.
‘Come on’ he says, ‘I’ll show you where the bedroom is.’
‘Just one sec,’ she says. She takes off her coat and then reaches into her jeans’ pocket. She removes a large knife from it and places it in the coat pocket. ‘Can you put this away for me,’ she says, handing him the coat. He nods and walks over to the door to hang it up. Afterwards, he turns around and looks at her. She smiles at him. Outside, the smoke continues to rise.
He walks forward and puts his arm around her shoulder. She puts hers around his waist. They walk together into the bedroom.