“It looks like the neighbor has a pool. Do you think we can use it?” asked the woman.
“There is no neighbor. There isn’t anybody. You don’t have to ask,” the man replied.
“There were those old people living in that house a few cities back.”
The man shrugged. “If you clean that pool out, of course we can use it. But I’m not doing it.”
“Party-pooper,” the woman said. She rested her backpack down on the kitchen table and looked around at the inside of the house. “So, how much time do you think we have?”
The man started ransacking the cupboards, pulling out cans of food, checking their expiration dates. “Here?”
“No. I mean, overall.”
“I told you. You’re the one who wants to settle down in one house and live a normal life. I don’t know what you think ‘normal’ is, though.”
The woman stood at the sliding door which led out onto the deck, and looked out at the backyard and neighboring houses. “A baby.”
“You asked what I think normal is. A baby. Watch him grow up, play in the backyard.” She looked back outside again.
The man laughed. “And go to school, too?”
She didn’t respond.
He put a can of soup down. “Look. You know that I’ve decided to do whatever you want.”
“I’m tired of going from place to place, of walking, sleeping in different beds. I’m tired of the sun and roads.”
“We can stay here. I told you, if that’s what you want. I just want you to decide.”
“We can’t,” she said. “I want to, but how would we? What happens after we eat all the food here?”
“That’s right,” the man said with a smile. “And what happens if we get bored of swimming in the neighbor’s pool?”
“I’m joking. But…do you want to stay?”
“Yeah, forever. However long that takes.”
She smiled, nodded in agreement.
He wrapped his arms around her from behind and they looked at the backyard together. “How about I get a fire goin’ for this soup, and you go and clean our pool next door?” He kissed the back of her neck.
She smiled. “You mean the neighbors’ pool.”
“Yes, the neighbors’ pool.”
The woman knocked on the door to see if anyone was home. She knew no one would be there. 99% of all the houses they ever checked for food or supplies or companions were uninhabited. But she always knocked anyways, because she liked to pretend that they might be home. Most of the houses were tidy, as though the people were just out on vacation.
But nobody was on vacation. Always there was the dust and cobwebs. She would sweep and clean and make everything perfect, even if they were staying for only a few days.
No one answered the door. She went to open it but it was locked, so she went around the side of the house, hopped the fence and looked at the pool.
They ate steak and potato canned soup, nice and hot. Firelight danced on their faces in the evening twilight. Crickets had already filled the backyards with song and the mosquitoes were out and bothersome.
“So how long do you think we have?” the woman asked. “…Since we’re staying?”
The man enjoyed his food. He looked around at the surrounding houses. “We could have a couple of months.”
“You don’t seem worried about that.”
“I worry more about having to go more distance to get us something to eat and drink, once we empty out these places.”
“So you want to settle down and relax?” she said, smiling.
“I want to stay here, or maybe at the pool next door, and you run out to the store and bring groceries back to me and the kids.”
She smiled again. But her smile faded and she looked down at her food–although she wasn’t seeing the food at all. “It would be nice to have kids. Or one, even.”
They were both quiet.
“There are a lot of things that would be nice,” he said.
Morning came. They ate dry cereal from one of the cupboards and had hot coffee from water boiled over a new fire. They sat in lawn chairs in the backyard and watched the sun coming up over distant trees. Birds were just starting to chirp.
“Isn’t it great that we’ll make a fire just to have hot coffee in the morning?” she asked him.
“Anything for a good cup of coffee,” he said and sipped at his drink.
They drank quietly.
“After it’s over,” she said, “I mean–after a couple of months, or whatever…what do you think will happen next?”
“What do you mean? Where do we go?”
“Yes. And who will we have to talk to?”
He frowned and took a sip of his coffee. “I don’t know. Either there will be lots of people to talk to, like all the people who aren’t here now. Or…”
“No one to talk to,” he finished.
She didn’t reply at first.
“Do you think there will be nobody to talk to?” she asked him.
“Well, there’s no one to talk to now.”
“But I mean, after a couple of months—whatever time we have left. After that.”
“I don’t know,” he replied.
In the following days and weeks, he would gather food and water from the nearby houses and organize it all in the kitchen cupboards of their own house, and make calculations of how much they had against the number of days in a week and the number of weeks in a month. She would keep the place clean, even scrub down the windows so the sun would shine nicely through them into the kitchen and living room. They played with their set of cards and read books which had been in the house. He had found a dartboard and darts in a house a few streets over, and he set that up and they sometimes played together and would laugh. Of course, they also swam in the pool on the hotter days and would relax under the umbrella together some afternoons.
After a couple of months passed, their store of food had greatly dwindled and they knew it. He had to travel farther and farther, to neighborhoods further and further away, to find cans or boxes of food or bottles of water. Carrying the weight of it back to their house was more difficult than the journey out in search of it; and he would become exhausted more often than not. She would relax his muscles and massage him, and they would bathe together in water sometimes warmed from the fire outside.
They grew tired, and were eating less.
But they still talked.
A night came when they lay together in bed.
“I want to have you to talk to after tonight,” she said to him. “You’re always good to talk to.”
“After tonight, I wanna have you to talk to,” he replied. “I’m gonna miss talking with you.”
She sat up and looked at him. “But we’re still going to have each other to talk to, after tonight.”
“I’m sorry.” He stared up at the ceiling, then smiled. “I look forward to talking with you, after tonight.”
She laid back down and put her arm over him. “I’m glad we get to go together. In this house. Our house.”
“It’s better than any other way it could have happened.”
“Where are we going, after tonight?” she asked.
“Funny you ask that,” he said with a smile.
“What do you mean?”
“You used to ask me that a lot when we were on the road, traveling place to place,” the man said. “You’d ask me where we’d be going. I guess I was the navigator. I never really had a clue.”
“Do you have a clue now?” she asked him. “Where we’re going after tonight?”
He didn’t reply at first. But he had to say something soon, for her comfort. “It doesn’t matter where we go, as long as you’re there to talk to.”
“You’re the best,” she said, smiling.
“I hope there are other people to talk to, after tonight.”
“I hope there are, too,” he said.
They both lay quiet, her arm over his chest.