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The International Writers Magazine: Planning for the future

Greg Mosse

Alice was certain. ‘We must.’
‘No, let’s not talk about it,’ said Jack. He put a hand on his wife’s wrist. ‘We’ll find a better time.’
‘Seriously,’ Alice said, slurring her words a little. ‘We ought to tell them. How can we not tell them? We’d never forgive ourselves.’

She 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 don’t 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. ‘We’ve got to tell them, if we really are their friends.’ She made the word ‘really’ into an entreaty.
Bobby came back from the toilet. ‘What’s this? What are we friends about?’
‘It’s nothing, darling,’ said Cath. ‘Jack and Alice have been planning something but they aren’t ready to tell us about it yet.’
‘You’re not leaving the hospital, are you?’ asked Bobby. ‘Now that really won’t do. You -’
‘No, no, no, no,’ said Alice. ‘It’s not jobs. It’s much more important that that.’ She emptied her glass in one long satisfied pull. ‘It’s going to be in all the papers. Then everything will get much harder to find -’
‘Please, Alice. Let’s not talk about it this evening. There’s plenty of time in the morning or the next day. This is supposed to be a fun evening.’
‘And heaven knows when we’ll be able to do it again,’ Alice replied.
‘I don’t understand,’ said Cath. ‘You aren’t ill, are you, both of you?’ Her face was a mask of concern. She turned to her husband. ‘Did you know about this and didn’t tell me, Bobby?’
‘What would I know? I’m a manager not a clinician.’ He turned to Jack. ‘Who have you seen, Bobby? Is it cancer?’
‘Oh really, Bobby,’ said Cath.
‘For heaven’s sake, darling, they’re both doctors. We needn’t mince our words.’
‘Look,’ said Jack decisively, ‘we aren’t 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 suddenly sheepish.
‘Yes,’ I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to jump the gun. I just thought -’
‘But things are moving quite quickly now -’
‘Don’t, Jack, not if you think we shouldn’t,’ said Alice. She pushed her glass away from her across the mahogany dining table. ‘Leave it if you want to.’
‘No, darling, I think you’re right. I think we have a duty to tell them.’
‘Oh, do you really think so?’
Jack and Alice exchanged a weak smile.
‘You don’t have to, you know,’ Cath put in. ‘Don’t feel under any pressure …’
‘I don’t know about that!’ said Bobby. ‘Seriously, I would be grateful to know just what it is you’ve taken it upon yourselves to tell us or not tell us. Once you’ve started I think you have to finish, don’t 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 you’d 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 preserved duck.
‘Jack got 36 tins of confit. It keeps forever – like the haricot beans over there.’
‘Yes,’ Jack interrupted, ‘but that’s 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.
‘What’s this?’
‘Oh,’ said Alice. ‘It’s 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 you’ll need this – I mean, we’ll all need this?’ Cath asked.
‘We wish we didn’t,’ 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 can’t 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.
‘Don’t tell me you haven’t hoarded a few light bulbs to show us the way, Jack.’
‘I don’t want the lights on down here. I don’t want to bring this space to anyone’s attention. I’m actually working out a way of concealing the entrance from the kitchen. And I’m making spaces under the other floors.’
‘Oh, no,’ Cath breathed.
‘Whose attention?’ Bobby asked.
‘From the street – seeing the light. I’ve got some black paint to obscure the glass. I just haven’t 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 well–prepared people have taken precautions – they will become targets.’
‘So it’s best no one knows,’ Jack added.
‘That’s why we went to France – like a booze cruise, you know. Like any number of people,’ said Alice. ‘We don’t want to start a panic.’
‘But when we got there, we realised we weren’t alone,’ said Jack.
‘What do you mean?’ Cath asked.
‘I saw a woman I trained with. She’s at Bristol I think – obstetrics perhaps, I’m not sure. Anyway, she was buying food, too. Not wine. There were probably others. People in the know. Maybe scientists, maybe politicians. We didn’t really look.’
‘Did you buy any wine? For God’s sake, if it’s that bad, it’s wine we’ll be needing isn’t it?’ Bobby asked. ‘To drown our sorrows.’
‘No, not wine. Water,’ Alice replied.
‘That’s a point,’ said Bobby. ‘If you didn’t bring wine back – and for heaven’s sake, while we’re 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.’
‘That’s 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 we’d never get planning permission for a conversion. But we never wanted to. You don’t 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 it’s going to happen? Can you be sure?’
Alice looked at Jack and for the first time he looked uncomfortable – weary even.
‘Shall I tell them, Jack?’
He rubbed his hands across his face.
‘It’s started. Alice and I are already seeing it. The children haven’t been to school this week.’
‘I thought they were ill,’ said Cath.
‘No, they’re quite well,’ said Alice. ‘But we think they are safer at home.’
‘Listen,’ Jack insisted. ‘Cath, Bobby, as our friends, please don’t say anything to anyone. It’s easy to start a panic. Time is short and the longer we have to prepare before the looting starts the better. But if you’re going to do what we’ve 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 November 2008
gregmosse at

Greg Mosse is a writer and teacher currently studying on the University of Portsmouth MA in Creative Writing.

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