February 14, 2020 –12:00 AM
I’m hunkered down in a narrow, dusty, windowless room of my modest house. I’ve been down here for a couple of months…Happy Valentine’s Day! Love is in the air. I know the date because I’ve been marking the days on the wall calendar with an X — it’s the only way to keep track of time now that the power’s out.
My name is Placido Sanchez, and I am sitting hunched over a rickety card table, scribbling this in a tattered notebook with a pencil, squinting as I write by the dim glow of a kerosene lantern, purchased from the mall. I haven’t dared to set foot outside, not since the Cubans dropped the bomb and the lethal fallout levels forced me to take cover and stay put in this cool, concrete cocoon.
Ravenous, I surrender to a voracious hunger, a need to feel full, under a guise of normality. There’s comfort in routine, no matter how mundane; at first, I devoured perishable food — milk, ice cream, cold cuts, cheese, fruit, and vegetables at first — stored in the freezer, running on a propane-powered backup generator that lasted a mere 72 hours, before switching to canned and freeze-dried provisions, my last resort after the bombing that obliterated my family and everything else. I’d been reduced to eating metallic, tasteless, canned food that had been sitting untouched for months, on the verge of rotting, scarcely fit for human consumption, but a source of sustenance, nonetheless.
I can’t bear another can of bland, baked beans; my stomach growls loudly in protest. I yearn to taste fresh meat. I lick my lips in anticipation and sigh. I kick the last unopened can of baked beans across the floor. It lands with a loud, hollow clang against the massive pile of empty cans, bottles, and boxes that are strewn in the corner.
Julia’s remains are a perfect distraction from the incessant boredom that plagues me, a bountiful feast to engage my senses. I had been consumed by her passion long ago. Now, my beloved Julia would be consumed by my insatiable hunger. She would have wanted it that way; it would bring us together again, body and soul…
With a heavy heart, I slice pale, pink meat into thin, translucent strips with a knife, also from the mall.
My tears run down Julia’s cheeks as I set them down on a dish of fine Bone China. I chew each morsel slowly, relishing the poignant flavor of my meal — fresh off the bone. My wife’s thighs contain the sweetest meat I’ve ever tasted.
I shove the delicate dish that Julia never got to see aside and wipe my mouth with the back of my hand. I already devoured the succulent meat on her rump, arms, breasts, lower legs, toes, and fingers; I now have a newfound respect for finger food. I remove the diamond ring from the ring finger on Julia’s left hand, kept as a memento out of respect, and I slip it on my pinkie. The precious gem sparkled in the dim light. A reminder of the decade of bliss we shared, So fleeting…
My iPhone battery wavers; it stubbornly refuses to hold a charge for more than a few hours. I keep my phone charged out of force of habit, but it hardly mattered now. There was no one left to call, and the cell signal has become very weak. I don’t remember the last time I’ve seen the sun, but I have the lantern, a poor substitute. There isn’t any running water. Though I still have several gallon jugs to tide me over.
But none of the comforts of home.
The morning of the bombing, I drove to a nearby mall to pick out birthday presents for Julia: a set of Chicago Cutlery and the Bone China she had always wanted. I picked up the lantern on a whim.
I remember when the Cubans dropped the bomb — six o’clock on a Sunday night — a direct result of mounting tension between Cuba and the United States regarding their right to occupy our airspace. In retaliation, they unleashed their nuclear arsenal.
The night of the bombing, I grilled hot dogs and hamburgers in our backyard in New Mexico — next door to the Air Force Base, a prime target — while Julia kept Juan and Maria company at the picnic table nearby. They were playing cards — Gin Rummy — and Juan’s eyes lit up when he won for the first time. He grinned while his feet dangled in the air. Not used to losing, his little sister pouted and knocked the entire deck of cards to the ground.
We remembered to get buns and rolls out of the basement pantry just before the hamburgers and hot dogs burned, and Julia and I rushed into the house. She ran down the stairs too fast. The heel of her shoe got caught, and she tumbled — head first — to the concrete floor below. By the time I reached my love, her neck was already broken.
At that moment, I heard the explosion outside. I screamed and clutched my lifeless wife in my arms, unable to accept the cruel blow that fate had dealt me.
I wanted to give Julia a proper burial in the backyard, but radiation prevailed, so that wasn’t possible. Instead, preserved her body in the walk-in freezer, her final resting-place until I needed her to keep me going.
I close my eyes and picture the gigantic mushroom cloud, an immense, fiery burst of lethal nuclear energy, instantly annihilating everything in its path, including my beloved children.
I envision the hot dogs and hamburgers, along with everything else, burnt to a crisp. The baked beans and the macaroni salad Julia made, being devoured by ants, bit by bit, until there is nothing left.