It should be beautiful, to lie beneath the stars on a warm spring night, stretched out in the bed of the beat-up red truck, his arms around her, a pile of blankets on top of them. But they aren’t camping and this isn’t some grand adventure, it’s a Tuesday night and the blankets are damp and need washing and a cop might notice them, lying in the bed of the truck, and if he does, he’ll make them move, make them move even though there’s nothing wrong with where they parked the truck, even though it could sit there empty for days and no one would mind, soon’s they stretch out inside it, though, it’s a problem.
This wasn’t the plan. Probably, it’s never the plan. But things happened, he lost his job, she ruptured her appendix and it cost a helluva lot to get it taken out- a price that seemed a bit unfair for surgery on a part of the body that doesn’t actually “do” anything, it seemed there ought to be a discount for vestigial organs-, and the landlord wanted them out, wanted to fix up their crappy old apartment and double the rent, seemed positively glad when they couldn’t pay him, so then they were out on the street and they hadn’t the money for a downpayment, hadn’t the paystubs or proof of income to make them look like model tenants, either, so here they were, sleeping in the bed of the pickup. But they’d found work. She was serving at a diner where the floor was always sticky and the coffee always weak and he was crawling beneath cars and trucks and changing oil and, when his boss was around, tryin’ to convince the drivers that they also needed complete overhauls of their engines. And Summer was on its way and, finally, they didn’t shake with cold all night long. Things were looking up. They were saving up, had their eyes on a nice little studio near the diner, well, nice wasn’t right, exactly, it was run down and a bit decrepit, but it was cheap and, when they walked by the building they saw kids playing on the stoop and, out the front window there was a box for planting flowers. So they’d make it nice just as they’d bring life to that flower box. But first they had to get together the down payment and the first month’s rent. They were almost there, though, were so close.
And then the city shut down. The restaurant went to carry-out only and couldn’t keep all the staff on. She was the newest waitress, so the first to go. The mechanic’s stayed open, but less and less people came in for oil changes. His boss told him it was nothing personal, said he’d have a place when things went back to normal, but he was the newest guy and the first to go.
The streets grew ghostly empty, boards appeared in the windows of shuttered bars, the people they did see walked quickly, were eager to put six feet between themselves and these strangers.
Still, it wasn’t so bad. They told each other it wasn’t so bad. They had a little money, they’d have enough to eat, even if it was mostly cold cans of stew washed down by bottled water- they couldn’t find any water fountains to use, restaurants, even when they bought something to go, wouldn’t let them use their bathrooms. The YMCA closed and they couldn’t shower and this bothered them, alot. They bought some soap and went skinny-dipping in the river, tried to make it seem fun, like a real adventure, but then a cop got on his bullhorn and scolded them like two kids caught with their hands in the sugar bowl, warned them that this was no time to be congregating in public areas, that they had better get home straight away. They listened to the news on the truck radio and tried to understand what was going on, how long it would last, but even the experts didn’t seem to know.
She turns over on the inflatable mattress and shakes him awake. “Baby,” she says, “I’m scared. What if we get sick, what if this lasts a real long time, what if we run outta money?”
He pulls himself up, gives her a groggy smile, “don’t worry, baby. It’s all gonna be okay. We just gotta remember how lucky we are. We’ve got the truck, don’t we? We can go anywhere we want.”
“Where do we go from here?”
Megan Neary is a first grade teacher’s aide in Columbus, Ohio, and this is her first fiction publication (except for something in a small zine). Follow hoer on Twitter @meganneary2.
image: Lindsay Hargrave