In the aftermath of the economic crash a community struggle to recover after they have lost their jobs and homes.
‘Your feet are cold.’
‘Go to sleep Charlie,’ said Katy and pulled the sheet up under her chin. ‘I’m not in the mood.’ She grabbed the edge of the ragged blanket and rolled it tight around her body.
‘Aw Katy, you know you should wear socks,’ he said.
‘Yea! Maybe you should get some gas for the heater.’ She turned her back on him, pulled her legs up and hugged her knees.
He reached across and stroked her neck. ‘Let me warm you up.’
‘Go to sleep will you,’ she shouted. She gritted her teeth, perhaps she shouldn’t shout at him. ‘Look, I’m worn out and in any case you’ve got to be first on the line tomorrow.’ She adjusted the rolled towel beneath her head. ‘You’ll be okay, now sleep or at least … please let me sleep.’
‘Did you hear that?’ he whispered.
She reached under the side of the air mattress and said, ‘It’s just the wind, now shut up.’ She touched the shaft of her baseball bat and felt its hard reassurance; you never know, you just never know.
When they lived in their home on Sycamore Avenue, once a cat had come in through an open kitchen window and knocked over the pans at the sink. Charlie had found it hiding behind the cereal boxes and fed it a plate of milk before he released it out onto the driveway. Sorry he had told her in the morning as he poured black coffee into her cup. No milk left.
She pulled her arm back under the covers. Perhaps life would be easier with no Charlie left, and maybe she should put on some socks after all, it’s freezing.
Charlie sat up. ‘Listen.’
‘It’s just the leaves sliding off,’ she said and pulled the blanket over her head.
Charlie rolled off the mattress and stood up, he started to undo the hoops on the tent flap.
‘No.’ she shouted at him then lowered her voice. ‘Don’t go out there, it’s only raccoons. Leave it.’
A few nights ago, he had got into an argument about the woodpiles, knives were pulled and people threatened, until someone saw sense.
‘Where’s the food?’ said Charlie.
‘It’s in the cool box in the corner,’ she said and sat up. ‘Please Charlie, come back to bed.’
He stood still for a moment. ‘They’ve gone,’ he said and tied up the loose hoops on the flap. He crawled back onto the mattress. ‘Here put these on.’
She took the damp socks from him and stretched up to reach a string where she hung them. She’ll dry them by the fire in the morning.
He crawled up next to her under the blanket. ‘I don’t know how to prune,’ he mumbled.
‘Pruning apple trees, that’s the work tomorrow.’ He slipped his arm around her waist.
‘Just watch and learn.’ She took hold of his hand to discourage him. ‘No Charlie, just go to sleep.’ She smelled the wood smoke in his hair as he snuggled into the back of her shoulder. It’s strange how you get used to your own smells, and after a while you don’t notice them so much since they become familiar, homely and comfortable.
But still. She had abandoned her salts and blossom shampoos back home in the bathroom next to the copper tub. Where she had lingered on Sunday evenings feeling relaxed in the warm water with the luxury of smooth oily soaps. When this is over the first thing she is going to do is have a bath, she hated the cold washes in the river. She felt tears rise and she quietly sniffled.
Charlie patted her shoulder and said, ‘Don’t.’
‘Don’t cry, it’s going to be alright.’
‘I miss our Caroline and little Jeff.’
‘They’re fine, your sister’s good with them.’
Katy ground her teeth together to hold back the tears as she recalled the smug expression on her sister’s face.
It was snowing that morning and they had nowhere else to go, having already spent three nights in the car. They had reluctantly arrived on her doorstep begging for somewhere to stay.
‘Of course, of course you are always welcome.’ Her sister had beamed with an enormous grin across her face. ‘It’s a real shame. Your house was lovely and Sycamore was such a beautiful neighbourhood. Oh dear I expect you’ll miss it.’ Her sister had said, and just as she does with her soup, had added too much salt with her sympathy. Next day they sold the car at a give away price.
Sycamore was no longer a beautiful place, now that the empty buildings were deteriorating towards dereliction. Behind the iron fences the Bank’s security company patrolled to keep scavengers out. The guards walked between the trees on the same paths that Jeff had once cycled on his morning paper round and along the roads by the Mall, its roof had collapsed from the protestors’ fire. It just didn’t make sense. It happened so quickly, the machines were cleared out of the factories and the buildings left as abandoned shells. Everything and everyone had been forced out. Lives were ruined. The government intervention promised compensation, and kept saying it’ll be paid soon, still they promised, they promised and they promised.
The tent panel flapped in the wind and woke Katy. Charlie had gone early to be in line and was careless as usual, leaving the tent open. She got up and pulled on her clothes and boots, she took her socks outside with her. The frost glittered in the dull light and the low grey haze that hung over the campsite obscured the sky.
‘G’d morn’n Katy, did you have nice sleep?’ A woman huddled in a blanket, sitting by a flaming wood fire, called across to her.
‘Morn’n Charlene,’ Katy replied, and then noticed the woodpile by her tent had depleted. She stamped her foot. Why can’t they respect other people’s property? ‘Where y’d get that wood?’ She pointed at Charlene’s fire.
‘Coffee’s fresh.’ Charlene held up a mug. ‘You’ve got to share.’
‘Charlene! You can’t just go taking my stuff.’
‘Got some hot grits and syrup there’s plenty, you can have some?’
Katy took a canvas chair across to Charlene’s area and positioned herself to avoid the drifting smoke. ‘Did our men get away okay?’ She balanced her damp socks on a stick at the fire.
‘Here take the coffee,’ Charlene said, then added some sugar and passed her the tin mug. ‘Yea Mackenzie took everyone. They were kinda fighting mad to get on the truck.’
‘That’s good,’ said Katy. She took a sip of the sweet coffee and felt the warmth slip into her grateful stomach.
‘Naw, it’s not good. Mackenzie’s dropped it to four dollars an hour,’ said Charlene. She tugged the blanket up over her head and spat into the fire. ‘I’m goin’ down for some coupons, are ye comin’.’
Katy stood up and looked down the valley. ‘Not yet, I’ll watch our stuff and go later.’ The fog had lifted above the trees. ‘Charlene have you seen! There must be at least another twenty tents, look at all the poor bastards.’
Charlene shook her head, ‘Yea, when you’ve got nought everybody wants some.’
Katy sat down again and pointed at the pot warming next to the fire. ‘Go on, Charlene, I’ll share your grits.’