Saturday, December 21, 2013

Our Empty Streets (pt. 3)

Yes, yes, we're all excited. Part 3 is here. This might be longer than I thought. You can find Part 2 here, and Part 1 from there.

           Erin and Marilyn were the first to show up, only about 90 minutes later. Of course, I was already there waiting for them, and they worriedly checked the time for fear they were much later than they thought. After the initial confusion, we introduced ourselves. We all shook hands. Erin removed hers from the hoodie’s sleeves long enough to limply grab my fingers and twitch her wrist, while Marilyn’s eyes never left mine and she gave a firm shake.
            “Paul Danny,” I said, well aware that I have two first names. I thought about changing my name to something cooler- more end-of-the-worldsy- after everyone I knew died, but you know how time gets away from you.
            Erin was skinny, awkward, and seemed to be pretty shy. Her stringy black hair was turning back to its natural brown at the roots, but like my embarrassingly scraggly face, she didn’t seem to worry too much about it. She had a couple zits on her face, and hips that hadn’t quite widened to her future potential, but she was dressed in a jean shorts and a clean, lightweight grey hoodie with the sleeves pulled up over her hands, even in the 80 degree weather. She rocked black All-Stars and my feet immediately became sore at the thought of walking any distance in their flat soles. In five years she would be very pretty, but it wasn’t quite her time yet.
            Marilyn, on the other hand, saw her time come and go. She wasn’t very old, only around 45, but she had developed a bit of a belly. It wasn’t anything too unhealthy, just the slowing metabolism that someone like Erin couldn’t understand. She was either up to date on her hair color or never bothered with it, and her uniformly chestnut hair didn’t reach her down to her shoulders. Her eyes betrayed the worries of maturity, and lines crisscrossed their corners. Marilyn stood protectively near to Erin, and eyed me suspiciously. With a rifle leaned up against the ticket booth wall and my sweaty hair out in all directions, I couldn’t blame her. She was dressed for the weather and the trip, in a white blouse with nice running shoes on her feet. A knapsack she had retrieved from the back of her white SUV looped around one shoulder.
            I smiled and began a conversation.
            “So how did your trip go? How long did it take ya’ll to get here?”
            “Oh I tell you, it’s not the heat, it’s this humidity!”
            “Lately, I’ve just not been sleeping. I don’t know what it is, but I’ll be darned if I can sleep the whole night through!”
            Civilization may have died, but small talk will live on forever.
            As we chatted, Marilyn visibly relaxed. She set the backpack down and sat on a bench, fanning herself. We talked about everything except the matter at hand. Marilyn had been an office worker in downtown for a law firm, although she wasn’t “one of those litigious assholes” as she put it, with a quick guilty look towards Erin. Erin had been in high school of course, child to a doctor mother and litigious asshole father. I didn’t ask what happened to them. We all knew. Marilyn still wore a wedding ring. In a drunken stupor, I threw the engagement ring I’d bought off of a balcony only a week after everything went to hell.
            I explained that I had been in mid-level management at a computer consulting firm. As I said it, I realized how empty it all sounded, but small talk was small talk. Our jobs and hometowns were the only “before” topics that we would talk about. It kept us from talking about our current situation, and Erin’s idea.
            After twenty minutes or so, Han Lo pedaled in on a bike, and went around the group shaking hands and bowing from the shoulders automatically. He said his hellos and quickly fell silent, leaving Marilyn and me as the only speaking pair in this group of four. Han was about as old as Marilyn, but was skinny as a whip, and dressed in a smart button down and dress pants. He wore frameless glasses under his tightly combed, black hair. His eyes darted back and forth, watching Marilyn and I talk as intensely as a spectator at a tennis match. Every time I would glance at him, he meekly smiled and gestured us to continue with a nod.
            Eventually, we got him to tell us what he could, struggling through the language barrier. Han had been in Chicago for a meeting in early May, and there was no one left to fly him home to China. He had been stuck here ever since, living out of his suitcase in the Hotel Burnham, not far from my appropriated penthouse.
            Marcus walked up about the same time that D.J. pulled in. Without a backwards glance towards the parking car, Marcus walked up to the group, greeted us casually, and leaned against the other ticket booth. He was older than Erin, but younger than me, around 19. His black hair was still cut close to his head; so close that he was obviously buzzing it in the mirror. A flatbilled Chicago Bulls hat rested on the top of his head, skewed to the side. Baggy Bulls basketball shorts and a solid color Bulls shirt made it clear Marcus picked out the clothes he wanted all of us to see. Erin’s ears pricked up at his arrival, but she pretended to be busy looking at her nails. Marcus gave me an upwards nod but said just as little as the last time we met.
            Behind him, D.J. shut the door of his sedan and waved enthusiastically, bounding up the sidewalk towards us. Before he even reached the group, he began talking. “I can’t tell all ya’ll how excited I am to see you. Been too long since I set my eyes on anyone.” D.J. was about the same age as me, although his black face sprouted a much fuller beard and a shaved head. He was wearing the same style as Han’s collared button down, but his sleeves were rolled over his beefy forearms and a large silver watch sat on his wrist. It was obvious he was in the same level of business as Han, but lucky enough to be in his own city.
            In the coming minutes of getting to know each other, D.J. told us about being a high ranking architect for a prominent Chicago firm. He quickly related the story of the firm’s proliferation of the glass and steel skyscraper, proud of his place of work. Marcus quietly scoffed and shook his head. He’d already accepted what D.J. had yet to learn: that that life was gone, forever.
            Even though I was enjoying my break with society, even I admitted that it was great getting to see and talk to people in real life again, even if it was just to hear someone else laugh at my jokes. The conversation mainly bounced between D.J., Marilyn and me. I felt bad for Marcus and Erin. Even after the world ends, the adults are still blabbering on. To his credit, Marcus contributed intermittingly, cracking jokes and telling his story of the surprise phone call.
            After a lull in the conversation, I clapped my hands together. “So, Erin. What’s this idea you’ve had?”
            She visibly shrank into her sweatshirt, and glanced quickly at Marilyn, who said nothing. “It’s dumb,” Erin said. “I don’t know why I called you all.”
            “Oh come on,” D.J. said, excitedly, “I’m sure it’s a great idea. I’ve spent these months trying to figure out what to do now, and I’d love some pointers.” He winked.
            She seemed to believe him and take the wink as encouragement. “It’s just, I know we all just met, but I think six people in the entire Loop is a little lonely.” I had to admit, there was truth to what she said, as I scanned the faces of dozens of empty buildings behind her.
            “I think we should, for one, start living a little bit closer and interacting more, I mean, if, like, you all want.” Marcus rolled his eyes and I cocked my head to the side, but neither of us said anything. “Plus, I think we should take to the internet and tell everyone else to come here.”
            “Who else?” I asked. Marilyn crossed her arms and smiled in preparation of what Erin was about to say. She was obviously very proud.
            “Everyone else, like, everyone. Anyone that can make it. I know there aren’t that many people left, we should be able to fit them into Chicago, right?”
            “Hell, with the way the city look we can fit them into the Westin Hotel, if you know what I mean,” Marcus said. Erin blushed in embarrassment.
            D.J. clapped his hands, making Han start. “I think that’s a fantastic idea. I never even thought of it. We found each other, we can find others around the city!”
            “Or state,” Erin offered, unsure.
            “Or country,” Marilyn said, with her arms still crossed, standing behind Erin, who shrugged and nodded. Erin looked at the other faces in the group, looking for reactions.
            D.J. laughed loudly. “I said it already, I think it’s a fantastic idea.”
            I threw my arms up and shrugged. “If no one has done it yet, why can’t we be the first?”
            “Shit, if we’re gonna be collecting the country, we should be doin’ it somewhere less humid than Chicago,” Marcus said, taking off his hat and wiping his forehead of sweat. Erin looked hurt for a second, so Marcus added, “But if ya’ll in, I’m in too.”
            The group turned to Han, who glanced between us other five, and gave us a thumbs-up and a smile. “Let’s… do- it!” he said excitedly. Erin laughed and tucked hair behind her ear.
            “So if we’re going to be neighbors ‘nd all, where are we going to stay? I’ve been moving around a bit-” Marcus interrupted me in agreement, but I continued, “So I don’t have too strong of a connection to any place. But I’ve cleaned out most of the top levels in my building, and that’s something I don’t want to have to go through again, if you know what I mean. Ya’ll are more than welcome to stay at my place.”
            Marilyn spoke up, saying “You know we can’t resist that Southern charm, Erin and I will be over by tonight!”
            I nudged Marcus and explained that I already had the penthouse, he was going to have to settle for something lower. He shuddered. “Nah, man, I don’t do that kind of heights. I’m cool down wherever.”
            “Roomies!” Han excitedly shouted, and Erin let out a bark of a laugh before putting her hand over her mouth.
            Only months after the end of the world, and I had a neighborhood again.

No comments:

Post a Comment