Living alone for the better part of two decades, Collins had no idea how to prepare her home. She feared not only basic readiness, but her studio apartment was something most college Freshmen would shrug off as being little more than a walk-in closet. Where were all five of them going to sleep? How could they each live in such close quarters?
She started with the easy work of putting away the meat she purchased. Struggling to find room for every package, Collins resigned herself to finally throwing away things in her refrigerator that, provided she remained in her current state of slowed animation and carnivorous urges, she no longer needed. It is much easier to play ostrich pretending nothing is wrong, that you are completely normal living like others who are also completely normal, by holding onto relics of what you used to be than having to face truths you are unprepared for.
But what if this all blows over next week. I might want this ketchup. Now I cannot throw away this frozen veggie lasagna. It cost a fortune to make. And it tasted so good, too. Pickles? Okay, I can do without these. Mayo. Expired. Six months ago? I’m pretty sure I used it after March. That explains a lot.
Dozens of excuses rambled through her head. Each time she convinced her emotional side to part with the relics of her former self, portions of her new self occupied its space; each time something new entered her space, another relic previously justified was reevaluated and discarded.
When all was said and done, she was exhausted, but the refrigerator was stuffed full of proper rations. All useless provisions littered the linoleum floor and easily bled into what would be considered her living room and bedroom. Of course, the only separator between kitchen and her hybrid living room/bedroom was the linoleum transition to cheap carpet.
She filled her collapsible cart with her discarded former life and dragged it to a dumpster in back. There she found two Wretches digging through a nearby dumpster probably in search of pieces of flesh, human or otherwise.
Economy is hard on everybody, she first thought before she realized her blight, as tough as it was, was not caused by the economy.
Collins wanted to invite the poor Wretches into her home, care for them.
No one should feel the need to resort to such degradation.
She could not take them in, however. She already had plans for four others. She was but one person, and a Wretch at that. Seeing Collins had what looked like a fresh collection of possibly edible treats, the two dirty Wretches stumbled toward her but stopped when Collins froze and stared back at them. There was nothing in her pile they wanted. Yet, wearing her concealer makeup, gloves, and anti-bacterial mask she forgot she was wearing led the two Wretches to believe she was a Normal. There was likely meat, if only table scraps, among her garbage. Given the look of pure starvation in their blue mapped faces, they were considering Collins as a possible alternative should her cart not have what they yearned for.
They inched forward. How does one explain to a dog that cowers into a corner that you are neither foe nor food without becoming one or the other?
Not thinking of consequences, she tore off her anti-bacterial mask. She rubbed her gloved hands all over her cheeks and mouth steering clear of her wounds still too fresh and tender to scrub. She threw her concealer caked gloves into the dumpster. All she could do now was stop and stare. Unable to speak, her eyes said it all.
I’m just like you. I have nothing to offer but sympathy, but sympathy has never filled stomachs, I know. I’m so sorry for your position right now.
She could not hold it in any longer. Tears streamed down her pale blue face smudged with half wiped away patches of concealer. She cupped her face in her hands, her neck unable to hold up her head any longer. Without noticing, the two scavenging Wretches encircled her. It happened before she knew it.
They hugged her. Tears and drool from the two scavenging Wretches made their way down her neck and blouse.
Collins did not know how much time passed. A minute? A few minutes? An hour? At some point the two scavenging Wretches pulled away slowly, even for Wretches. They looked at Collins, she looked back at both of them. Their mouths agape, their faces wet with sadness. Though nobody spoke, they understood each other.
We know, all three seemed to say to the other two, We know.
The Wretch to Collins’ right nudged the other and nodded toward another set of dumpsters in back of the next apartment complex. The other nodded in agreement. They gave Collins one last look that seemed to say: So it goes.
She watched as they shuffled away, hand in hand, to the next dumpster. The world suddenly felt a little smaller to Collins. The cold-hearted creature inside her was growing but maturing.
I’m not hiding anymore. We’re not the Wretches. We have nothing to be ashamed of.
Back inside her tiny apartment, empty cart in tow, she started on her cupboards. Cereals, pasta, rices, beans, canned fruit were all pulled from their dusty spaces and tossed in the collapsible cart. She pulled a bag of old butter rum candies, thought briefly of what she was missing, shook her head and added the hard candies to the pile. When finished, she left all five cupboard doors ajar to admire her handiwork. There was now room for canned meats.
Moving to the only unopen drawer and small cupboard door, she opened both simultaneously.
One fork, one knife, one spoon, one plate, one bowl, three pots, two sauce pans. She sighed. This is not going to do. Well, at least I don’t need these pans anymore, as she heaved the four pans and their respective lids into her cart. The smaller sauce pan bounced, clanging on the linoleum before rolling to a stop on the carpet.