A Writer of Sorts
I went to bed and read for a while before drifting off to sleep. Four hours later, when the alarm rang, Mook was looking a lot better. I topped him up with some more drugs. It only took a couple of minutes. He looked peaceful and was sleeping easily. Looks like I might have got away with it.
Spiggy was still asleep on the sofa; he’d had a rough time and was understandably exhausted. I left him and went back to bed. The cats hadn’t wasted anytime in spreading out of the warm patch I left and they grumbled and spat when I moved them.
I was just drifting off again when Spiggy knocked on the door.
“Can I come in?” he asked.
“Sure. What’s up?”
“I need to talk, but I don’t know what I want to say.”
He sat on the end of my bed, further pissing the cats off, and began to cry again. He cries a lot. I don’t mean to be uncharitable, but I always thought I was over-emotional and even I don’t cry that much. I sat up and put my arm around and rocked him. He held on tight and cried himself to sleep. I wasn’t going to move from my bed, so I lowered him down slowly so as not to wake him, covered him up and we slept. When I woke, he was spooning me.
I wasn’t sure what to make of that. I don’t think it was sexual. I just think he needed comfort and warmth. I have to be honest and say that waking up next to someone for the first time in six years was really nice, if confusing. The weight of someone else’s arm over you as you wake is a sublime comfort.
I hopped out of bed to small protests from Spiggy and the cats, but they quieted down and went back to sleep. I popped into Mooks room to see how he was doing. The noise of the door opening woke him up and he opened his eyes.
“Hi Mook. How are you feeling?”
He looked at me, confused and tried to speak.
“It’s okay, you’re safe. Spiggy is here. I’ll get him and some water for you. I’ll be back in a moment.”
I think he tried to be excited, but the effort was to much. I ran back to my room, shouting for Spiggy to wake up. He looked grumpy and not happy about being woken. That changed when I told him Mook was awake. He bolted out of the door, skidding on the parquet flooring as he went. I left them alone and went to the kitchen to find water and fruit juice.
A few minutes later, after picking up some more phials of drugs, I went back to Mooks room. Spiggy was crying again, so was Mook. I just rolled my eyes. All this unbridled emotion does my head in. I asked if I could top his morphine up and got Spiggy to move to the chair. One dose of morphine and penicillin later, we were able to sit him up to give him some water and orange juice. He perked up a bit and managed to speak a few words. Just ‘thank you’ and ‘hungry’.
I asked Spiggy to go and get some soup. After asking Mook if he understood what I was saying and getting an affirmative nod, I told him what had happened to his leg and how we were trying to fix it. He was aware of what had happened to him and understood that we were in an unorthodox position. In a dry, rasping voice, he said that I should do what I needed to. He asked for more water and then asked what was going to happen?
Spiggy turned up with some hot soup and set it on the bedside table. I explained that we would have to change the dressing and clean the wound again, maybe draw any discharge out. If the worst come to the worst, we’d have to cut the stitches, clean up and restitch. If it was clean and dry, we might put a cast on it; if not, we’d keep cleaning it until it started to knit.
I told him that we’d wait until he had had something to eat and a bit of a snooze. Spiggy said he would help Mook to eat. I said I’d go and make some breakfast. Mook conveyed his thanks with a brief bow of his head.
I didn’t make breakfast straight away. I played a little Debussy first, made a fuss of the cats and then went to the kitchen.
Spiggy came to find me and told me Mook had fallen asleep again. He seemed to be a lot happier. I think that Spiggy felt responsible for Mook’s misfortune. All I can see is someone who looked out for his friend and did the best for him under insane conditions.
All I can see is a good friend.
All he feels is guilt.
We sat in silence and ate goat bacon, eggs and toast with black coffee. He cleared the table, again in silence, and made his way to one of the armchairs. I hoped to God he wasn’t going to cry again.
He called me over and I sat opposite him.
He stared into middle distance for some and I tried to catch his gaze. Eventually, he spoke.
It was a reasonable start.
“I don’t know how to thank you properly.”
“You just did.”
I smiled at him but he seemed, I don’t know . . . like he was unused to kindness, maybe? He continued,
“I’ve always looked out for him. We’ve always been friends. This is the first time I’ve not been able to help him.”
“But you did,” I countered, “You got him to safety and came to find help. You succeeded in finding help for your friend. That’s a pretty heroic thing, Stephen.”
I thought he was going to cry again; his eyes had begun to mist up and I felt my jaw tighten.
“No one calls me Stephen. Only my Mum and she’s . . .” He stopped speaking.
“Stephen,” I took his hand and spoke softly, “You did everything you could and it worked out. Mook needs time to recover and you’re both welcome to stay here for as long as you need to. Even after Mook has recovered. You’re safe.”
His bottom lip began to quiver so I stood up quickly and said “Come on! We have work to do,” hoping that the sudden activity would shock him out of tearing up. Thank God it worked!
As I dragged him to the greenhouse, I said with a cheery voice, “If you’re going to stay, we need to find things for you to do. I have limited supplies, so we need to start thinking about getting extra now there are two more mouths to feed. I expect you to do some jobs around the place, Mook too when he’s able. Gardening, looking after the animals, oddjobs, cooking, supply runs, that sort of thing.”
He looked a bit stunned.
“I used to help out on my Grandad’s allotment. Maybe I can do some gardening?”
I grinned at him.
“That would be an excellent start, but I am going to teach you both everything about this place. If the worst comes to the worst, you’ll need to know how to maintain it.”
He looked a little glum and said,
“You don’t think we’ll get home, do you?”
I stopped walking and stared intently at the floor or a moment, then straight in the eye.
“I don’t know. I live in hope that someday I’ll get home and see my friends and family, but it’s been nearly 10 years. I think this is it.”
He asked if I’d tried to get home and I told him about a couple of expeditions to get North again. They had been failures. Some of them catastrophic and we had lost good friends. We seem unable to get further than a day’s travel before night takes half of our people. Travelling two hundred miles shouldn’t have been a problem, but given the conditions, it would probably take three or four days.
All we ever saw was devastation and impassable roads, we decided that this can’t be just within a day’s travel. This had to be country wide. So few buildings were left standing. The school, miraculously untouched, seemed to be our best option. It had land, it was clean and uncontaminated.
It wasn’t home, but it was the best we could hope for. If a real opportunity presented itself and a way home could be found, we’d take it.
“The problem is,” I said, “I’ve become complacent. I’m comfortable here. I may be lonely but I have everything I need, more or less.”
He mulled that over for a while before asking,
“Are we really the first people you’ve seen in five years?”
He hugged me. I was taken aback and he could obviously feel that I was a little uncomfortable.
“Don’t worry,” he grinned, “You’ll get used to it.”
Well, he wasn’t wrong. He knows his way around a garden. He asked how I watered all the plants and I told him just used a hosepipe with a rose attached.
“It I had never occurred to me.”
He snorted, “I’m sure I can rig something up better than this”.
I felt a little bit insulted.
I explained that I did enough jobs to fill up the day and stave off the boredom. If it meant a little inefficiency, that was a couple of hours less boredom. He could see the reasoning and understood and said,
“But there’s three of us now. And there won’t be much more work to do, so you’re going to get a lot more free-time anyway.”
He had a point.
“Why not embrace efficiency and enjoy your free time? You have people to share it with now!”
“There’s still the animals to consider,”
It was a weak comeback and I wasn’t sure why I was trying to counter the argument. Things have changed. With two more people, the dynamic is going to be much different. Well, there’s going to be a dynamic. I might even enjoy their company and have fun! Well, as long as they stop crying.
“The animals are pretty self sufficient. They’ll get along with or with you. Let them out, feed them, put them away. Five minutes tops with three of us.”
I went to wash up and Spiggy went to the kitchen to get some soup and bread for us all. Mook was awake and beginning to feel the first pangs of pain. I suggested that we looked at his leg before eating incase he threw up. We all agreed.
We cut away the bandages and although raw and angry looking, there was none of the sweet rotting smell from yesterday. We took this as a good sign and cleaned the wound again. Mook winced but was otherwise fine. I still thought it too raw to cast, maybe I was being overly cautious, but the splints and morphine approach seemed to be working okay for the moment.
We ate and Spiggy filled Mook in on the events of the day and the lifestyle they could expect. Mook seemed not to mind and I was a bit puzzled. It wasn’t the drugs as he was near the end of the usefulness of his last dose and pretty lucid. He was clearly intelligent and possessed a withering, dry humour. I liked him. Spiggy, I think, was a more primal, reactive personality. Mook planned. Spiggy executed.
Once lunch was over with, Mook asked what we needed to do to stay here. He was an engineer and Spiggy was very practical. Between the three of us, we could make the place even more idyllic.
He said idyllic without even seeing it. This puzzled me. I wasn’t sure if he was being sarcastic or whether something deeper was at play. I said, I’d talk over some ideas with Spiggy and get back to him when we brought him some more substantial food this evening. But he needed to rest. He agreed and braced himself for more morphine. Once it had taken hold, we disinfected and wrapped the wound again. He looked tired and was grateful that we left him to sleep.
I walked Spiggy around the grounds pointing out the orchard, the graves, Rural Studies, the old Home Economics block, what had once been a swimming pool and a few other points of interest outside of the school grounds. The main shopping area still threw up the odd gem; the library was a source of much information and still had a couple of rooms I had been unable to excavate. Who knows what treasures they held.
I told him about the trips out to various garden centres, the occasional underground section of a shopping mall that we managed to open up for looting; the farms and so on and he took it all in. I expected him to tell me how we needed to move to the country and do this properly, but he didn’t. It must have been about 5:00pm when we arrived back. I made some tea and we sat down.
It had been a nice, relaxed afternoon. I’d enjoyed telling someone about the way I lived the problems it presents and the ways in which I had dealt with seemingly insurmountable problems. He asked what I’d like to do next.
I told him about my plans for a hydroponics room, solar panelling, a windmill. He commented that if we were the only people here, Global warming could probably stand to have a single generator going. I agreed but pointed out diesel, petrol and oil stocks were becoming more and more difficult to find. It wasn’t so much about clean energy as an essential alternative. I told him about my wish to have more movies and music. He’s seen the boxes of records and the record player and asked why I hadn’t used them.
“It’s silly,” I said, “but I’m almost scared of it not working. There are so many good records here, so many I really want to listen to. If the stereo doesn’t work, it’ll be a terrible disappointment.”
“If it doesn’t work, Mook could fix it for you. He can fix anything.”
There was no doubt in his mind. It was a statement of fact. Mook could fix it and if he could fix that, the chance are he could fix or build any number of things. Mercenary as it sounds, the imperative to make sure he survived quadrupled.
We really might be able to build all those things I wanted. I noted how quickly ‘we’ had come to mean ‘Me, Spiggy and Mook’ rather than ‘Me and the cats’. I felt bad for the cats.
We checked Mook’s leg and found it to be healing well. The redness was visibly retreating. More drugs. We had some food. I had some fish in the freezer from a trip out to the river a couple of months back. Simply fried with some cobnuts left over from last autumn. Spiggy looked a little intimidated but he followed Mook’s lead, as I suspect he does most of the time.
After eating, I left them to talk. I put the animals away and fired up the UV’s. The cats were a little skittish and I hoped it was just that they were a bit put out by the sudden influx of people and not that they were expecting another storm. I fed them, played some more Debussy for them and sat down to read for a while.
Spiggy came through a couple of hours later and sat with me. Mook had drifted off to sleep mid-conversation so Spiggy left him alone. I think the enormity of what had happened was beginning to sink in. He was quiet and pensive. I asked him if he wanted a book to read, but he said no. He hadn’t read since finishing his degree. It had put him off.
He asked if I could play the piano for him.
“I’ve never heard music like that before. I didn’t know it could sound like that.”
I smiled at him and asked what sort of thing he’d like to hear. He didn’t understand.
“Happy? Sad? Slow? Sprightly? Majestic?”
“Can you do all that?”
I smiled again.
“Sometimes, but not always in the same piece.”
He asked what I was playing last night when he fell asleep.
“Trois Gymnopedies. Erik Satie. Did you like it?”
“Yes, but I don’t want to fall asleep yet. Can you do something that won’t make me fall asleep?”
I laughed and said “Well, if you like Erik Satie, I can always play some more of his more lively stuff,” and launched into ‘Descriptions Automatiques’
He fell asleep.
Again, I covered him with a blanket and left him too it. I cleared the plates and cups up, washed what needed washing and looked in on Mook. He was awake.
He asked if we could talk a while and to be honest, I had been wanting to speak to him on his own. Not for any sinister reasons, but with Spiggy constantly wailing and gnashing, I had never really got to grips with who ‘Mook’ was as opposed to “Spiggy and Mook”.
Turns out he’s a very warm and friendly, full of love for Spiggy, intelligent, analytical, funny . . . they seemed to be a pretty mismatched couple.
Mook roared with laughter at the thought of them being a couple but conceded that it could look like that to the untrained eye.
“We go back a long way,” he said.
“We met in a children’s home. I’d been there since I was two and was too speccy and weird to be fostered out or adopted. I didn’t mind,” he said.
He told me that he had been pretty much left alone until he was nine and spent all of that time teaching himself . . . everything really. His and a couple of the other smaller homes in the area, were merged and put into a new building. It sounded horrible. I imagined that despite being new, it would smell of disinfectant and over boiled cabbage; more like a hospital like a home.
His nose wrinkled at the recollection and he continued.
“I was put into a double room. For the first time ever, I had to share. I was determined to be as horrible as I could to whoever it was that moved in. Purely so they asked to moved out.”
I laughed at the thought of a nine year old speccy weirdo plotting against someone he hadn’t met, but got the impression that he would have succeeded. I asked what went wrong with “The Great Plan”.
He softened and shrugged.
“Spiggy was ten when he was moved in with me. It was his first home. His family had been killed in a car accident. His mum and dad were wasters, druggies. They were off their faces when they crashed. No one from his family, no uncles or aunts or grandparents wanted the disruption of an ‘obviously damaged child’ added to their happy little lives.”
Mook held a lot of bitterness for the situation, almost like he had been part of the family. The fraternal feelings here were much more real than they should be. It was – I wish I could find a better phrase – incredibly sweet.
“When he arrived,” he continued, “he was small, frightened, violent, always lashing out and why not? He’d been treated like shit and had the only thing he knew taken away from him. My plans for breaking him were irrelevant. He was already broken. So I set out to fix him instead. He needed love and family. I was going to be that for him.”
I got an inkling of understanding from that. It put Spiggy’s anguish at Mooks accident into context. They supported each other through school, college and university with Mook tutoring Spiggy throughout. And then . . .
He began to talk about the projects I’d mentioned to Spiggy and became excited at the prospect of building a hydroponics unit, solar and wind-powered generators, anything, really. All he ever wanted was to build stuff and make it work with as little interference from other people as possible.
He’s in the right place.
Mook was obviously tiring; the exertion of conversation. So I gave him a top up, said goodnight and went to bed, setting the alarm again for 3:00am for checking in on him.