International Writers Magazine: Planning for the future
was certain. We must.
No, lets not talk about it, said Jack. He put
a hand on his wifes wrist. Well find a better
Seriously, Alice said, slurring her words a little.
We ought to tell them. How can we not tell them? Wed
never forgive ourselves.
looked from her husband to her best friend, Cath. The dining table
was littered with wine glasses, used dessert bowls and the remains
of a half-eaten tarte Tatin. The air was thick and warm, a combination
of central heating and candle flames.
I just dont
think we should, Jack tried. We could leave it for the morning,
perhaps. Cath, can you and Bobby stay the night? Do say yes.
No, no, said Alice, and refilled her glass. She made a face
of appeal and misery combined, turning it first to her friend then to
her husband. Weve got to tell them, if we really are their
friends. She made the word really into an entreaty.
Bobby came back from the toilet. Whats this? What are we
Its nothing, darling, said Cath. Jack and Alice
have been planning something but they arent ready to tell us about
Youre not leaving the hospital, are you? asked Bobby.
Now that really wont do. You -
No, no, no, no, said Alice. Its not jobs. Its
much more important that that. She emptied her glass in one long
satisfied pull. Its going to be in all the papers. Then
everything will get much harder to find -
Please, Alice. Lets not talk about it this evening. Theres
plenty of time in the morning or the next day. This is supposed to be
a fun evening.
And heaven knows when well be able to do it again,
I dont understand, said Cath. You arent
ill, are you, both of you? Her face was a mask of concern. She
turned to her husband. Did you know about this and didnt
tell me, Bobby?
What would I know? Im a manager not a clinician. He
turned to Jack. Who have you seen, Bobby? Is it cancer?
Oh really, Bobby, said Cath.
For heavens sake, darling, theyre both doctors. We
neednt mince our words.
Look, said Jack decisively, we arent ill. Alice
is talking about something we agreed to leave until we were sure but
Jack looked at his wife and Alice seemed to come to herself and looked
Yes, Im sorry. I didnt mean to jump the gun.
I just thought -
But things are moving quite quickly now -
Dont, Jack, not if you think we shouldnt, said
Alice. She pushed her glass away from her across the mahogany dining
table. Leave it if you want to.
No, darling, I think youre right. I think we have a duty
to tell them.
Oh, do you really think so?
Jack and Alice exchanged a weak smile.
You dont have to, you know, Cath put in. Dont
feel under any pressure
I dont know about that! said Bobby. Seriously,
I would be grateful to know just what it is youve taken it upon
yourselves to tell us or not tell us. Once youve started I think
you have to finish, dont you?
Yes, we do, said Alice. Of course we do.
It was cold in the basement. There was a window at the level of the
pavement, fitted with obscured glass that only let through a portion
of the street lighting. It flickered on the corners of the steel shelving
that lined all four walls. In the centre of the space, a 2 metre tall
island of storage was formed from similar units, like stacks in a library.
Every inch of shelving was packed with produce, tins and bottles. The
four adults edged around the damp space.
How much have you spent? Bobby asked.
Not as much as youd think, said Jack. Most of
it is staples.
Like that? said Bobby, pointing to a row of bottles.
Olive oil 72 litre bottles. All I could get from the supermarket
in one go.
You went to France for all this? Alice picked up a tin of
Jack got 36 tins of confit. It keeps forever like the haricot
beans over there.
Yes, Jack interrupted, but thats emergency rations
really or if someone is ill and needs to be built up. The dried
foods are the whole of those three walls.
They shuffled round and the light from the pavement window caught the
creases in the cellophane wrappers packets of dried lentils,
peas, mushrooms, rice, pasta, semolina, couscous, noodles, seaweed,
herbs, salt, paper, fruit zests, raisins, sultanas.
Go on then, said Bobby. How much?
About 800 euros.
Cath reached out a hand to look more closely.
Oh, said Alice. Its a Bulgarian cheese that
apparently never goes off. I found it here, in the Polish delicatessen
round the corner of all places.
We got some sausages, too. Dried.
And you think youll need this I mean, well
all need this? Cath asked.
We wish we didnt, said Alice.
Look, said Bobby, this is all very interesting and
I do appreciate you are phenomenally well-prepared for something which,
I might argue, is never going to happen, but do you think we could turn
on the lights? He looked around and caught sight of the switch.
No, we cant Bobby - Jack began, but his friend slapped
the switch down.
The basement remained in darkness, softly broken by the shadowy orange
street light from the obscured glass window.
Dont tell me you havent hoarded a few light bulbs
to show us the way, Jack.
I dont want the lights on down here. I dont want to
bring this space to anyones attention. Im actually working
out a way of concealing the entrance from the kitchen. And Im
making spaces under the other floors.
Oh, no, Cath breathed.
Whose attention? Bobby asked.
From the street seeing the light. Ive got some black
paint to obscure the glass. I just havent got around to it.
You see, if it happens - Alice started.
When it happens, Jack interrupted.
Yes, said Alice. When it happens, places like this
where wellprepared people have taken precautions
they will become targets.
So its best no one knows, Jack added.
Thats why we went to France like a booze cruise,
you know. Like any number of people, said Alice. We dont
want to start a panic.
But when we got there, we realised we werent alone,
What do you mean? Cath asked.
I saw a woman I trained with. Shes at Bristol I think
obstetrics perhaps, Im not sure. Anyway, she was buying food,
too. Not wine. There were probably others. People in the know. Maybe
scientists, maybe politicians. We didnt really look.
Did you buy any wine? For Gods sake, if its that bad,
its wine well be needing isnt it? Bobby asked.
To drown our sorrows.
No, not wine. Water, Alice replied.
Thats a point, said Bobby. If you didnt
bring wine back and for heavens sake, while were
asking, why not? what about water?
Alice paid no attention to his bluster. Do you remember we put
that rainwater catchment reservoir in the garden?
About three years ago now, said Jack.
Yes, 2000 litres. You told me like it was a new Porsche,
said Bobby. Is that enough? How long will that last?
We put in three altogether 5000 litres each.
Thats why it took so long, said Alice. You kept
saying you would have had those builders on their way, that they were
taking us to the cleaners, but they were excavating almost the whole
garden. And they put skylights in the roof spaces. When you saw what
they were doing, Bobby, you said wed never get planning permission
for a conversion. But we never wanted to. You dont need planning
permission to grow crops in your attic.
Yes, but the water will run out in the end. Then what?
You know, it will rain from time to time.
Oh please, do stop arguing, Cath interrupted. Alice,
really, are you sure its going to happen? Can you be sure?
Alice looked at Jack and for the first time he looked uncomfortable
Shall I tell them, Jack?
He rubbed his hands across his face.
Its started. Alice and I are already seeing it. The children
havent been to school this week.
I thought they were ill, said Cath.
No, theyre quite well, said Alice. But we think
they are safer at home.
Listen, Jack insisted. Cath, Bobby, as our friends,
please dont say anything to anyone. Its easy to start a
panic. Time is short and the longer we have to prepare before the looting
starts the better. But if youre going to do what weve done,
you should do it now.
What do you mean, now? asked Bobby.
He means get in your car and drive, Bobby, said Alice, her
voice low and steady, all trace of alcohol disappeared. He means
go now. Tonight.
© Greg Mosse
gregmosse at hotmail.com
Greg Mosse is a writer and teacher currently studying on the University
of Portsmouth MA in Creative Writing.
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