The window stayed closed all spring, and he didn’t notice it open anytime in the summer either. He had been watching the house for quite a long time now, a year anyway, and he was wondering if maybe the residents had moved without his knowing.
Closing the drapes he returned to his breakfast. Toast, dark, with jam. Black tea to drink. He had made himself that same breakfast for probably twenty years, and it never occurred to him to try something else.
When he finished his toast he leaned back and savoured the flavour of his tea. He made it as dark as he could, because he liked the caffeine kick. He used to take his tea with sugar and cream, but as he got older he found himself wanting the heaviness of the two extra ingredients less and less.
The windows in his kitchen faced east, so the morning sun always shined in while he ate. Some days he found the light to be too much, but today it wasn’t bothering him, so he sipped his tea while he thought about the world.
We need more people who care was what he thought today.
People who were not simply in it for the money, but who genuinely cared about the common people.
It was the kind of generalised feel good idea he liked, because it allowed him to feel he had a good take on the world. One that allowed him to feel like he was doing his part by having that opinion.
To be that person who cared about the common man was not something he ever thought to try taking on himself though. That was the job of people who had more experience, more authority.
He examined his dishes and decided that he would wash them today. The pile next to the sink was small, but it had grown over three days now, so it would begin to cause trouble if he didn’t get on it soon.
He walked slowly over and examined the sink. Soap, wash cloth, scrub brush. An old hand reached out and turned the faucet, a comfortable motion that didn’t take thought. The taps ran until the hot water came, and then the steam began to rise as he let the sink fill. The window over the sink became opaque from the vapour, and for a few minutes he could hardly make out the fields beyond the low hedge, glowing golden in the morning light.
“Photographer light this morning” he stated plainly. The grasses were growing taller than normal this year he thought, probably because of the rains this spring. They were heavy, and that would account for the extra height.
The sink full, he started the job of turning the dishes into the drying rack. One after another he washed and rinsed, placing each one in its accustomed place in the rack. He never let the dishes get so many that he couldn’t place them all in the rack to dry. With no dish towel it made it difficult having to wait to do the second round.
He made a note to look for dish towels in town next month, and then forgot all about it.
He could feel the age in his hands. They were tight, like leather gone old. They felt better after washing the dishes, but then they felt worse as his hands dried. The warm water made them loose, but the cold air made them tight again. It always felt a little worse after he did the dishes. Nudging the foot stool with his toe he climbed up the step and got the pain pills. Two pills now, and he placed two pills in a small dish on the counter for if he needed them later.
As usual the house was quiet, who but he would be making any sound, so to bring a bit of life into the house he went to the living room and turned on the radio. It was on instantly, but only made the angry crackle of no signal.
He had forgotten that the radio hadn’t worked now for quite a while, at least a few months. Cursing himself for his forgetfulness he went to the cupboard next to the stereo and chose a disk to play instead. Living on a farm his whole life he valued independence a great deal. If the radio wasn’t working he would play his own music till it was fixed.
Music playing, he walked to the back door and checked the gauge for the diesel tank outside. It looked good, just over half full, so even if the tanker missed the next two deliveries it would be enough to get him through the winter.
It wasn’t something he would normally worry about, but the tanker arrived every year at the start of each quarter to top him up, and this year it had missed two deliveries. Missing one delivery happened once in a while, but two? After the second delivery was two weeks late he tried calling, but found the phone lines where not working. He tried for two weeks, but no luck. He was guessing that his name was accidentally removed from the delivery roster, and by coincidence his phone line was damaged somewhere between his home and the city. It would get fixed eventually, but until then he was ready to hang tight and wait it out.
What else was there to do?
He walked into his basement and did a quick check of his food stores. He kept a lot of food on hand in cans, and even though he had been eating a lot of canned food these last few months, he was fine. Buying from the wholesale stores saved him a lot of money, and he could get a way with shopping only once a year that way. Alone in the house meant he didn’t need to worry about keeping a lot of room.
Walking the steps slowly he went back to the living room to sit down. He pulled out one of his favourite books, turned down the volume of his stereo, and read a few chapters. It was warm in the house today, leftover heat from yesterday probably, and he ended up having a nap.
What was that?
He woke up suddenly, in the middle of a dream.
In his dream his house had been knocked down, and he was trapped inside. He shouted for help, but everyone else was inside their own houses, and they had all been knocked down as well. He wasn’t sure how he knew this, but in his dream he realised he would have to live in the small space he had made for himself inside the destroyed remains of his house. He wondered if he could do it without going insane, and realised that he still had his disks to listen to, as the player and the shelf with all of his disks has been trapped alongside him. In his dream he devised a plan to grow all the food he needed in the small space he was in, and that made sense to him. When he awoke he had thought he had heard someone trying to get into his shattered home to get at the food he had grown.
The disk he had put in the player this morning was on its fourth or fifth play, and he decided he would like to wake up to a different disk.
From the back of the house came a loud bang, and for a brief moment the stereo stopped playing. The lights flashed briefly, and he heard the sound of an engine starting. Once the hiccup in the power was done the player restarted at the last spot, so he didn’t miss anything. Maybe that’s what woke him up
He thought that if the generator goes then he would need to figure out a way to keep his frozen stores safe and cold. They were well insulated, but that would only last for a day or two. The compressor would need electricity to keep the freezer cold, so he would probably need to find a way to re-connect to either the windmill, or the old gas generator. The gas generator would only last for a day with the gasoline he had on hand, so the windmill would need to be fixed and brought back online.
Suddenly his thoughts turned to his friends.
Long gone friends, they had all died.
“We all commit suicide in our own way” he muttered.
He thought about his wife, who habitually drove too quickly, or his army buddies who either drank or smoked or did drugs. They all chose to die by how they chose to live, and when it happened he refused to imagine any of them were surprised.
He wondered to himself if he was hungry for lunch, and decided that he would have grilled cheese on toast. The dishes were dry, so he pulled the cookie tray from the rack and put two slices of bread on it. The bread was hard, as if it had been toasted, and he didn’t notice at all. A slice of cheese on each piece, and then into the oven. His old hand reached out again and turned on the broiler, and then it turned the timer to 5 minutes.
He sat down on his chair in the kitchen and waited for the cheese to melt, and he wondered if he had already commited suicide, as his friends did.
“Have I already chosen the means of my demise?” he spoke out loud to himself.
He couldn’t imagine he had, and continued waiting for the cheese to melt.
Looking out the window he saw the house again. It was alone in the grand expanse of the Canadian prairie. There was a broken windmill just outside it’s front door, and an old truck stood at an odd angle out front. The tires were sagging from lack of attention.
A shed stood to one side with a small wisp of smoke coming out every so often, and if you listened closely you could hear the engine inside. It was probably a large diesel engine, a generator, creating power for the lone occupant.
The lines to the house were all cut, and inside he waited for his cheese to melt.