Concrete Shelter - Fiction by Randall Brown
It’s got cases of water and Dinty Moore beef stew and Johnson & Johnson medical kits in each corner, one gas mask. A concrete square buried into the backyard tangle of weeds, a neglected garden, a clump of trees. Morris spends most evenings inside and pretends the world has ended. A poster thumbtacked to the back of the door. Shelter, water, fire and food are the essentials. Everything else is a yearning.
A book about plants. Another about dressing animals. Matchless fires. Finding safe water. Batteries. Whatever the internet listed. When everything’s been taken from him, the sites said to ask, what is it he’ll have, need, desire. And, what, it’s been months since the end of his world, and the place looks the same.
He opens a can; the top orange layer of beef stew lard glows like the aftermath of a chemical attack. Then a knock.
“It’s unlocked,” he calls out.
Helen descends into the bunker. So the world’s finally ended, frozen over perhaps.
“Don’t tell me,” he says. “You want to borrow a cup of sugar.”
She peers around the place. “I thought it would smell. Like rotting.” She looks at him, at the lawn chair. “One of everything, Morris. Not very friendly.”
“Sold?” he asks. The house looms over his shelter—a slant of angles, tilted as if sliding towards him. She said she’d go far away now, to Phoenix perhaps. She looked like a plastic bottle that someone kept sucking on long after the soda had been guzzled. And pale, almost translucent. Her shirt, jeans, hair clung to her.
“Yeah. Sold it just a few hours ago. So—” She walks to the wall, scratches at it with a fingernail. “You’re being expulsed. I wish, well, you know what I’ve always wished.”
She found him here that morning, after a night, day, another night of searching. She kicked him awake, and when he fell back to the white barren floor she picked up the bottle and threw it against the wall. The glass shards covered him like giant flakes of ice.
Morris stands up and Helen makes no awkward attempt at pulling at him or touching his shoulder. In sixteen hours, he’ll begin serving his three-month sentence. They found his car in the county pond with its ass in the air. The last straw. For the sheriff. The neighborhood. Helen.
And still, he knew in the way that the world knew summers should fall to autumn and then winter that he’ll glue the shattered bottle to make it whole again rather than to stop. Everyone waits, wondering what it is he’ll have to hold in his arms to discard his bottle.
In the shelter, these things he wanted to hold—but couldn’t—appeared on the white walls. He envisioned Amy next door running out chasing her dog and maybe he’d hit the dog and watch Amy crumble right there or maybe he’d miss the dog and then carry the broken body of Amy to her parents. Would that do it?—make him stop?
Why not me?—why not holding my body? Why can’t that be your answer? That’s what Helen’s look asks of him. Look what he’s done to her, transformed her into a ticking uncertainty, chock full now of questions about herself rather than about him.
Love, he wants to tell her, isn't the answer. It has nothing to do with that.
He walks out of the bunker and finds the world much as he left it. He looks back but Helen isn't following. He imagines her sitting in the chair, waiting for answers to take form to replace the concrete whiteness. He pictures her rising, finally, materializing in the dry Arizona desert and he back here, in need of a drink.
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