Outside was, like, soupy.
No. That’s not it. Not really.
Outside was like if you were in a cloud, but moving with it, right? ’Cause clouds usually blow with the wind. No, they scoot and scuttle. Clouds deserve cute words, don’t they? Hey, don’t clouds always seem to go one way? I mean I’m just thinking about that now. You watch those nature shows, ever? Maybe it isn’t even on those shows. Is it? But where you see those time-lapse—time lapsed?—images of the, like, the whole globe, and a the clouds all twist and swirl and mash together. Not like in a tornadoee way.
Oh my God, what am I even talking about?
It was foggy outside. That’s what it was. Had been for maybe a week already.
Wait, I know. Did you see those pictures from that warehouse in Maryland or whatever that had acres of spider webs? It was all over the Internet right before that—the Internet—all ended. At least it ended for most of us.
The fog was like those spiderwebs.
Or like the thickest fog you’ve ever seen.
Beautiful really. But really eerie.
We had a fire going, which meant we had to have a window or something open somewhere. That was Paula who thought of that. She was always really smart and careful about stuff like making sure we could always breathe. She opened one of the big, you know, garage doors that would have been for deliveries. If you went near it you could see the fog get sucked in and swirl around before it disappeared. It was weird to see it moving, because outside it was so immobile. Still, I hated that it was coming in and one night I dreamed that our warehouse had been overwhelmed by the fog, even though, well— I don’t know why fog doesn’t come inside. It must come inside sometimes in some places.
I was sitting on my wooden chair, which I could tell—I knew—that Aaron was, like, very eager to throw in the fire, but it was my favourite because it totally reminded me of one that my dad used to use, but I really didn’t feel like that was, you know, cool to say to these guys as far as giving a reason why I did not want it used as fuel.
Eric came back with some apples from our orchard. From the orchard. “Can’t see a fucking thing out there.”
“Wish I knew when it was going to stop— When the sun was coming back out,” Paula said. She had a collection of plants she’d stolen or she’d dug up and potted in stolen terracotta. Every day she fussed around them, watering them when they needed it, touching them, dusting them. She was standing beside them. “This could be very very— Could be trouble.”
The apples Eric had with him, the apples he’d brought back, were pretty good. Not eat them raw good, but still. I cut the bad bits out. The worms and stuff. Are they worms? We call them worms. They must be larva. Sometimes you wish you still had the Internet. Or knew someone you could ask.
Paula brought me a pot to put the good bits of apple in. She pulled out her knife too and we sliced the apples together, our thumbs the only cutting board we needed for our dulled pocket blades.
A few months ago, Aaron sharpened Paula’s while she slept and when she started slicing apples, the knife sliced through her easily. “We’re just lucky that didn’t— That could have been a lot worse, Aaron,” Paula said once the bleeding was under control.
Aaron was mad since they’d stopped sleeping together.
“You could at least be grateful. Like a thank you, maybe.”
“I don’t need it so sharp.”
“Not for apples, no, but what if some creep tries something?”
Paula shook her head. “I don’t need— I can take care of myself.”
That was a few months ago.
Back at the time I’m trying to tell you about, I was telling you about, back at that time a few months after the knife thing, Eric was sitting by the fire. The way he stared at it was like maybe he was trying to burn the fog from out of his mind. He shook his head before he came up to Paula and me chopping. “Is Aaron off fucking around with Joyce?” There was a small stone, or maybe a piece of floor loosened from one of its many cracks, lying at Eric’s feet. He kicked it and it bounced with a muted clacking off towards our beds—
The Nest is what Aaron called it, still called it even though he left it the first night he brought Joyce back here.
At first the whole Aaron leaving the Nest thing was hard on Paula, who, like, really actually suffered a lot because of Aaron, which was, simply, because she loved him, but that didn’t really fully explain the suffering bit. For that you’d need to really get inside her head and maybe even his head, but I think it was like, that maybe Aaron was a little abusive the way he talked to her and withheld hugs and stuff. Or the way he loudly talked about how it was her, actually, who had stopped fucking him. We didn’t have the Internet, like I said already, and the library had been pillaged, most of its materials probably burned, so we didn’t even bother to go there to look for stuff anymore and so even if they still had resources about abuse in relationships, even if they hadn’t been stolen to be read or burned, I hadn’t gone to look for them because why bother anymore? We never went there.
But I was talking about Aaron and Joyce, whose name was Joyce even though she was from the local Reserve and even though Aaron kept pressing her for her real name, like how could that be her real name, shouldn’t her real name be, like, more nature based?
I was talking about Aaron and Joyce leaving the Nest and how it bugged Paula at first, but now it seemed to bother Eric the most because Eric seemed to be having feelings for Joyce, who seemed to be feeling things back. Good things. Because Joyce seemed also to be feeling things about Aaron, too, but they weren’t good. Like how she flinched around him. Like how she tensed right up when she was trying to talk to us and Aaron would inevitably interrupt.
Like how she had a fresh bruise, or one we could see anyway.
We went back to the fire and we hung the pot up over it for the apples to cook. Nobody talked but nobody left to look at the fog or to wait for Aaron and Joyce to drive back up in the car. In Aaron’s car.
“I don’t know what Aaron’s— I think Aaron expects too much of Joyce,” Paula said.
“Like she knows every fucking thing that Indians knew, or know, or whatever,” Eric said.
I know that not every reserve is even on or near where the people forced onto that reserve are even from originally. Still, I don’t know about whether that was true for Joyce’s Nation and I can’t look it up. I didn’t want to ask her where she’s from because, I mean, think how that would sound, think how that would have sounded before things started to break down, never mind after all the vigilante problems we had around here.
I also didn’t ask her because speaking isn’t my thing.
“She hasn’t given us one useful thing,” Aaron said to us the other night while Joyce peed outside. We had stopped using the toilet in the warehouse because even though the water ran the pressure was so bad it just wasn’t worth it, so Joyce was, like, far away.
“Isn’t she now— She’s our friend,” Paula said.
“You can’t eat friendship,” Aaron said.
“We ate my fucking dog,” Eric said.
Cannibalism had been practiced in the Americas, I think. I mean, that’s true isn’t it? And I don’t mean by Native people. I had an uncle who was in a band called The Donner Party. The changes because of the fog, to the light, I think, they had us all acting really nervous. Maybe something in our lizard brain? Isn’t that what it’s called?
“Doesn’t Joyce— Did you ask Joyce about the fish in the river?”
“We don’t even trust the water from that river,” Aaron said.
We collected rain in a rusting barrel that had held something industrial back before this was our home. Eric thinks maybe some sort of oil. Petroleum product was how he put it. I like the word petroleum. But any water that we had to get from the river, Aaron made us boil then we would put a piece of burnt wood in it. Burned wood. Aaron’s parents had been sorta rich and he remembered them buying charcoal twigs imported from Japan to purify their drinking water.
“Those fish are all falling apart, like the scales can’t wait until the fucking fish are dead to rot right off them,” Eric said.
“Aren’t they— I think they’re spawning,” Paula said.
“Kay, but does Joyce know about them?” Eric asked.
“Do I know about what?” Joyce asked as she walked back towards the fire.
“The fish in the river,” Eric said.
Aaron shot him a look.
“Those big old ones. They are so nasty,” Joyce said. “They’re like, I don’t know. My mom left a cucumber in the fridge too long once and I went to pick it up and it fell apart. The plastic around it held it together, but there was this milky juice all over the fridge shelf and the cucumber was moldy.”
“Don’t rotten— Cucumbers smell so . . . so unfortunate when they go off,” Paula said.
“They’re fucking nasty,” Eric said.
“You ready to go to bed?” Aaron asked Joyce.
“I guess so,” Joyce said. She smiled at us. “I just love talking to you guys.” Joyce smiled at me, then smiled at Paula and Eric in turn. “It reminds me of my friends on the Res. There’s still a few of them left, too. You should come visit us sometime.”
“Let’s go,” Aaron said.
“Are you going back to the Reserve? I mean eventually?” Eric asked.
Aaron said, “Come on,” so fast that we could hear Joyce say, “Sure. Eventually,” even though they both started at the same time and Aaron made himself much louder.
That was from a night a few days before. Joyce and Aaron went to bed after that.
Aaron’s engine interrupted the sounds of the fire and the bubbling of our applesauce. The murk outside burned eerily from Aaron’s headlights, which he insisted on using even though Eric and Paula both told him that they didn’t think you were supposed to have them on in fog.
He came in alone. “Fuck your applesauce,” he said. “I don’t want applesauce for the rest of my fucking life.” He smiled like he was hurting somewhere. “Come here.”
Nobody asked where Joyce was until we were out by the car. Then it was Eric who said something.
“She’s not coming back,” Aaron said. He opened the trunk and it was filled with meat all wrapped in plastic. Dried meat. We hadn’t seen meat, hadn’t seen much food other than apples, in a long time. We’d talked about how if we were still alive that maybe some other large mammals were still out there, too. Like deer or moose. Maybe bears and wolves and coyotes. Some people still had dogs.
“Where’s this from?” Eric asked.
Paula and I looked at each other and I knew that Paula was thinking the same thing as me, that maybe this was Joyce in the trunk. The edible parts.
“Joyce’s aunty gave it to me.”
“Why would she do that?” Eric asked.
“If you had food, you wouldn’t— I can’t— Would we really share food if we had it?” Paula asked.
“Some people believe in generosity,” Aaron said. “Like it’s some higher principle.”
I was staring at the meat and feeling a little sick, actually.
Paula had one of those burps that you hold in because you think there might be something solid along with it, but then you let out when you are sure that it’s just air.
“Here,” Aaron said, putting a piece of dried meat, neatly shrink-wrapped, into Eric’s arms.
We ate so well that night. Despite our fear and revulsion. Only Aaron didn’t have his meat with applesauce too. Still, we ended up leaving most of the mush we’d made earlier.
Eric was totally energized after. Like the meat gave him super powers. He started talking really quickly about Repo Man, some old L.A. punk rock movie. “Remember,” he said, even though none of us had seen it, “Remember the alien in the trunk and how when they see it that one fucking guy is like, ‘Let’s go do some crimes.’”
“That doesn’t even make sense,” Aaron said. “As a sentence I mean.”
“That’s what’s so funny,” Eric said.
“I guess it isn’t a realist— I mean, why’s there an alien in the trunk?” Paula asked.
“’Cause it’s a movie,” Eric said.
“I’m still stuck on that stupid sentence,” Aaron said.
The boys ended up play fighting. Or maybe it was real fighting.
Paula and I cleaned up. At one point, Paula, who was normally super hard working and efficient, she stopped in the middle of throwing some garbage into the fire. She was holding a sticker that had been placed on the meat. I came up beside her. The boys were over in the Nest. Eric had thrown a blanket over Aaron and was straddling it to keep Aaron pinned and Aaron was thrashing to get free. Paula pointed to an address on the package. “I think that’s on the Reserve,” she said.
“Don’t you think— I mean, maybe we could go,” Paula said.
I knew Aaron wouldn’t like it. And I knew we’d need Aaron’s car. Plus the map Aaron kept under his pillow when he slept. “We have to bring Eric,” I said.
“I wouldn’t— We will,” Paula said.
My heart was beating quickly. I wanted to ask when we were going to go, I wanted to ask which one of us would drive, I wanted to ask Paula if she knew that, ‘If we go we won’t be able to come back here,’ at least I didn’t think so. I asked, “Do you think we’ll see Joyce?”
“I— We’ll see.”
Toronto, March 2016
Emoji sequence: visual artist, Katie Bond Pretti
Story: Lee Sheppard