I tried the tap water with some trepidation, but it still flowed. We washed off the whining dog as best we could. I felt the tag around its neck and checked it.
“Welcome to our humble abode, Aragorn,” I said to it, who with the name became a ‘he.’ The dog wagged his tail at the sound of his name.
We fed him a can of stew, the best we could do, being a non-pet household. Aragorn went to the corner of the living room carpet -- about as far from the four walls of the house as it could get -- and went to sleep.
“Where is the help?” Jenny asked, which was the same thing I was thinking. “Police, firemen? Shit, where’s the army?”
“Watch your mouth, woman,” I growled, and then smiled.
She didn’t return the smile. “No, really. What the hell. A few machine guns and they could take care of this problem.”
“Unless we’ve been cut off,” I said. “Cellphone towers, cables, everything.”
“Well…” I raised my hands in mock surrender. “But think about our little neck of the woods. We’re completely isolated. No phone, no Internet. They’ve got us trapped. Maybe it’s more widespread than we’ve been thinking.”
“Thinking? I wasn’t thinking anything. I just thought our neighborhood javelinas got out of control. Until…until I saw that beast.” She shuddered.
“Yeah, old Razorback is a sight to behold. He’s a mutant, or something. But…he still has hoofs, not opposable thumbs. I don’t think he’s anything but a very, very…very smart pig.”
“Smarter than us, apparently,” she said.
I started laughing, and she looked sheepish at first and then joined me. Gallows humor, maybe, but it felt good.
“What do we do now?” she asked.
“Stay put, like the man said. Though…”
“Well, I heard somewhere that in times of disaster the best thing to do is move around. Get out of the trouble area…”
“You think its that bad?”
“Nah,” I said, sounding more cheerful than I felt. “How could it be? They’re just pigs…”
We didn’t really need the candles. We went to bed almost immediately after dark. We were only under the covers for a few moments before we heard whining and scratching at the door. We let Aragorn in, and he jumped up onto the foot of the bed and lay down between our feet.
Neither of us objected. It felt comforting to have the animal there. Besides, I thought, it’s the best early warning system we could have.
Strangely, nothing happened. Not even a grunt or a snort. The javelinas left us alone that night. But when we woke up in the morning, the cloud was full of smoke. It was coming from every direction, as if every other house in the subdivision was on fire.
I’d loved the isolation when we first got here. Now I was regretting it.
We made a cold breakfast, deciding to eat as much of the perishables as quickly as we could. Aragorn whined and wound around our feet, nearly tripping us more than once, before Jenny suddenly cried out, with a slap to the head.
“He needs to go potty!”
We looked around us, helplessly. I took him to the garage. The dog looked at me doubtfully, but eventually found a spot in the corner and did his business. After that he was friskier and friendlier than ever. As if he’d forgotten there was ever a danger.
“You know what?” Jenny said, after giving the dog a hug. “After this, I’d like to get a dog. I know you’re worried about your garden…”
I pointed out the back window. “You mean that garden? I agree, Jenny, let’s get a dog. And a cat, too, dammit.”
“Maybe we can keep…” she suddenly stopped, as if realizing by saying it out loud she was admitting the Underwood’s were dead.
“Yeah, maybe,” I answered.
Once or twice during the morning, Aragorn growled, and we’d stiffen and get up and look out the window fearfully. But each time it was a single javelina, or a small pack.
It all seemed very strange. We were now in the second day, without hearing from the outside. By now, the whole world should have been alerted that something was happening in our little corner of Arizona.
Maybe they had, I thought with sudden chill. Maybe everyone else has already been saved. Maybe they’ve just forgotten about us.
Hamilton wouldn’t let that happen.
With that thought, I froze.
No…he wouldn’t let that happen. So that meant that something has happened to Hamilton, and if it could happen to the Animal Control officer, it could happen to anyone. It could happen to us.
I knew at that moment that it was a mistake to stay another day.
“I need a broom handle,” I said.
Jenny didn’t question my request. She went to the pantry and returned with a broom. My last birthday present to her had been hiring a local maid service. Too late, I’d discovered that just made Jenny madly clean the house the day before the cleaners showed up. No amount of pleading would keep her from doing it. “Just a little touch up,” she’d say. “I don’t want to be embarrassed.”
I broke off the broom end, hobbled to the kitchen, and tried several knives on the wood before finding one sharp enough to do the job. I whittled the end to a sharp point in short order, the panic in my arms and fingers carving long slivers out of the wood.
Jenny and Aragorn watched me for a while.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
“Making a spear,” I said.
“I can see that,” she said, when I didn’t look up. “Why are you making a spear?”
“Just extra protection,” I said.
“Dear husband of mine,” she said, and I finally looked up. “When you won’t look me in the eye, I know you’re lying. That’s always been your tell. I’m telling you this so that you’ll realize how serious I am, giving up the little advantage I’ve had over you all these years, knowing when you’re lying. I will ask again, why are you making a spear?”
“I need to get help,” I said. “Razorback is just toying with us. He can get in any time. All he has to do is send one of his minions headfirst into the glass, and he’s in. How long will our bedroom door hold up? How are we going to defend ourselves with knives and a hammer?”
“I agree,” she said, completely surprising me. “But…”
I looked up from my whittling again.
“Why does it have to be you? I can drive a car just as fast as you can…faster, frankly.”
“Nope,” I said. “That’s not the way it’s going to be?”
“Why not? Why should you do the dangerous thing? Because you’re a man?”
“No!” I shouted, and I could see she was taken aback. I’d rarely yelled at her during our marriage. Moreover, I usually acceded to her demands.
“It isn’t about being a man or a woman. It’s about being you…and me…”
She didn’t say anything, just waited for me to continue.
“Because without me…you’ll still be all right.” She started to object, and I held up my hand. “Oh, you’d be sad, I know that. You might be devastated, but you know what? You’d get on with life. You’re tough, sensible. It will hurt, but there is still life in you.”
“What about you? You’ve got as much…”
“No,” I said, firmly. “Without you, I’m lost. I’ve always known it. I’ve dreaded it. Every day of my life with you I’ve been thankful you plucked me out of my hermitage…” Again she opened her mouth to object, and I put my hands on her lips to shush her. “It’s true. You may not believe it, but I’ve always known. I don’t want to be alone, Jenny. And that’s what would happen.”
“You don’t know that,” she finally said.
She didn’t say anything more, because we both knew, as fucked up as it may seem, I was right.