Surreal. That’s the only way to describe this life I’m leading. It has taken me some time to … to grasp it all, to make sense of how I’ve gotten here. The fire is crackling in the grate, a welcome change from what … well, better to tell it from where I left off or I’m sure to leave something out and nothing will make sense and making sense is challenging enough for me even on my good days it seems.
I couldn’t get out of the cave. The rock slide had closed off the main entrance and the emergency exit was nothing more than a crevice. I chipped away the sharpest edges but eventually even that wasn’t enough to let me slide or wiggle through the narrow space. I guess I was some where around eight months along when I become sealed in. If not for the dogs I probably would have gone stark raving made. Even with them I was so close to the edge of true madness that hair’s width makes little difference. The only thing I get to do is say I know the difference and while I was slightly mad I wasn’t completely mad. Small comfort but I was left being grateful for small comforts.
It took a while to get used to the bunker after I first arrived but there was such a feeling of size to the place, not to mention all of the other people, that true claustrophobia was never a problem. It hadn’t really been a problem with the cave, at least not until that point. It was like a prison.
I knew that the world existed. Light told me when it was day and a lack of it told me when it was night … or that it was storming. But I could not see the outside; the bend in the crevice prevented me from seeing even the tiniest sliver of sky. I would get whiffs of what was out beyond my jail – the smell of fresh air, pine boughs and cedar that the dogs would sometimes drag in to play with, damp earth when it actually rained instead of snowing. And once, a frighteningly musky odor that frightened the dogs and raised all of our hackles.
Within a week I of being unable to get out I could already feel myself deteriorating and by two weeks I was well and truly experiencing moments of delusion. I don’t remember things too clearly. The firewood, even the scraps of barks buried under the dirt in the corners of the room, got used up. I tried to burn some of the broken furniture but the smoke was toxic and choked me. I did burn the table and chairs that Donovan had made from fresh wood but I despised every little spark of light and heat those fires gave off. I couldn’t bring myself to burn the bed itself nor could I burn the little curio cabinet he had built me to hold the few keepsakes that I still owned or had found here and there and claimed as my own but eventually even that source of wood ran out. That left me eating what little fresh food came out of the garden boxes but even that stopped when I couldn’t get the batteries to charge.
I figured out how to hood up the bicycle generator with surprisingly little trouble. The problem was that I expended more energy charging the batteries than I got benefit from whatever I used the batteries for. And when it started causing me cramps and … well … pain in private places … I was forced to stop whether I wanted to or not.
I did have water or I would have perished and the baby inside me too. I ate my meals raw. Before the wood ran out the dogs brought me the occasional meal but I couldn’t force myself to eat things raw. I couldn’t. Not that the animals looked too healthy, some taken from the dens where they must have been hibernating.
My meals were uncooked. The dried, smoked meat wasn’t bad but I had to ration myself to smaller and smaller portions. I eventually learned to survive on bean sprouts, jerky, and a little dried fruit ground up with a little cornmeal. Milk made from the little dried milk that was left was my one and only dairy product and was, unluckily for me, the only thing I seemed to truly crave towards the end. As for the rest of it, it was all I could do to choke down a meal.
I started to hallucinate. I talked to people who weren’t there. I saw things that never existed. Donovan and my parents played prominent roles in the wacked out stage productions my brain put on. It was easier for me to remember that it was impossible for my parents to be there than it was for me to bring myself back around when I was “talking to Donovan.” In fact, I even came around realizing I was talking to Donovan about my anxiety or hallucinating about my parents. That was a true Twilight Zone moment for me.
I was scared but eventually depression too over, eclipsing all but my most basic survival instincts. My due date – at least the one that I set as a goal after working the 40 week calendar out to the best of my ability – came and went. I had been looking forward to it, believing after the baby was born I’d be able to escape.
I wondered if the cave would be my mausoleum. I was sick; mentally and physically though I was not aware of exactly how ill I was. No light, no mirror, and no desire to see myself because that would only reinforce that I was the only human being around. I hated and loved my hallucinations for this very reason. I hated them because they showed me I was ill and I loved them because they helped me to escape that knowledge and the fear it engendered.
I think that day I finally had just had enough and gave up. The comfort of being able to read my Bible had long ago slipped from my mind. The thin light that came from the crevice wasn’t really enough to read by anyway. But on that day, something … something broke inside me.
Maybe it was something that had been worn away at for a long time and it finally just gave or maybe it was just the current situation that had caused the fragility. Maybe it was a forewarning of things that were coming or … or maybe it was my last shot at trying to protect myself. Did the wall collapse or did I put the last brick in place? I’m not sure which metaphor is more correct. Either way I sat beside the crevice watching the barely there light fade out of existence one more time.
I remember crying and then I must have fall asleep on the cave floor, exhausted beyond commonsense. I came to myself when an unignorable wave of nausea swept over me. I puked what little I had eaten all down my front. Disoriented and detached I stood to go change when I noticed my back hurt. What little I thought about it I put down to falling asleep against cold rock.
My consciousness was spotty for I don’t know how long. I would dress and undress, wrap myself in a blanket and sit down in front of what I knew was the dead fire grate though I could see it. I would get fully dressed as if I was going out until I remember I couldn’t. Sometimes my face was wet with tears and sometimes it was dry and feverish.
Through those times there were moments of near lucidity where I realized my back pain was growing worse, so bad in fact that the dogs were picking up on it and acting strange. They’d come to me and back and go outside and bark. Then a pain like no other I’d ever felt ripped into me leaving me gasping.
I could find no relief from the pain. I stood. I sat. I walked around bumping into things in the dark. I rocked on all fours, sometimes I could catch myself mumbling, begging for whatever it was to stop. Eventually I simply collapsed in the dark beside the bed, unable to even get off the rug that I knew was filthy because it smelled strongly of dirty boots and wet dogs.
The dogs in question kept whining and running around me and then out of the room. They were crashing around and I tried to tell them to stop but when I opened my mouth all that came out was a horrific shriek as a tearing burn tore through me.
That’s when I must have completely disconnected. Instinctively I knew something was wrong. Fury tore through me even more hotly than the pain. It wasn’t fair. I’d lost my parents. I’d lost my innocence and my future. I’d lost my belief in humanity. I’d lost Donovan. Was I to lose the baby now too? Was I to die here, alone, and in pain?
What had been the point of me ever drawing my first breath on this Earth? Why save me in the bunker, suffering that social degradation, only to leave me in the cave, in the dark, to shrivel like a mummy to be found by some future archaeologist? What purpose was there in that?! I demanded that God give me an answer but none came that I could decipher … at least not then, but I think I’m beginning to understand now.
Another pain ripped through me and another scream was ripped out of me. I thought I was dying. The dogs barked, ran out of the room only to run back in and then run back out yet again. The world was darkening beyond the dark that already pressed against my eyes.
And then there was a light. A harsh but beautiful glow that kept drawing closer, getting bigger. I heard voices, at first a welcomed distraction. I thought, “The pain is almost over. The loneliness is almost at an end. The dark is almost gone. I’ll be with my parents and Donovan for real and not in some dream world. They must be waiting for me on the other side. Is that them calling me?”
But then another pain overwhelmed me and so did confusion. The hum of voices turned into a cacophony that shattered my protective barriers against reality. I felt like I was being tugged between Heaven and Hell, a rag doll to be screamed at on one end and clawed at on the other. I was disoriented, but not so muddled that I knew it wasn’t supposed to be happening the way it was playing out. The Devil was out to do something that wasn’t supposed to be done. I wasn’t going to let him have my baby, but I thought the only way for me to win was to fight them all.
I screamed that no one was going to take my baby. I kicked, I bit, I slapped and swung my arms with strength I didn’t know I had left in me. But eventually there wasn’t strength enough for what I had to do. Cobwebs filled my ears. I couldn’t breathe. My heart felt like it was giving out.
“Emma! My God … Emma!”
Someone was calling my name … in the name of God no less. I looked up to see a thin, almost frail looking man with eyes that stayed just out of memory. I knew I should know those eyes but I couldn’t focus enough. Things kept sliding away.
“Get Bennington! Now!” A baritone voice ordered answered by a tenor “Sir, the walls are too thick the …”
“Then send a runner man! Move! Start using your head, we haven’t got time to wait around!”
I felt hands … strong and callused hands trying to be gentle … lifting me onto the bed, away from the smelly rug that I had only made worse with my sweat and who knows what else.
The pain continued and so did that first voice. “Emma! Emma! Stay with me. My God please! Where’s Bennington?! A baby?! She’s been … here … all this time … you bastards! If you had let me go like I …”
“Easy man. The storms were too bad. In the condition you were in you would have died less than a day out. I told you as soon as we could cobble one of the birds back to life we’d bring you back whether you were healthy enough for it or not. I kept my word.”
“Damn you all! Damn you all for this!!”
There was a scuffling and more barks.
“Dogs?! What the …” Then silence and the voice so flustered at first suddenly cracked with authority. “What are you all doing just standing there?! Get some light in here. Get a fire started. Move, let me … hold her or she’s going to flail off the bed.”
“Bennington! What’s …”
“Give me a chance to see old man. Is this your woman? The one you’ve been trying to sneak out after?”
“Rot in …”
“Shut up!!” the voice roared getting everyone’s attention immediately and calming the almost hysteric quality to all of the male voices surrounding me. “I can’t hear a blasted thing with everyone shouting in here! Try and get her to be still. I’ll have to examine … hey you idiots … move. It might have been a while since you saw a pregnant woman but you can manage to give her a little privacy right? Leave her some dignity? This isn’t a girly show you know. Hold her; this isn’t going to be pleasant. What I wouldn’t give for a nurse beside hairy old McDermott the Veternarian.”
More pain and I fought the best I could but I simply couldn’t escape. “Stop hurting her damnit!”
“If you think I want to I can assure you friend that I do not. First pregnant woman I’ve seen in years and …” the voice of authority suddenly had a voice that cracked. “I don’t have a choice. And it is going to get worse before it gets better. It looks like the baby is breach.”
I knew what that meant. It meant the end; at least for me. Breach births meant Caesarians and there was no way I would survive it. Not under the existing conditions.
“I can’t tell it if is a frank or complete breech, she’s fighting me too much during the exam.”
The words flowed over me. I couldn’t understand what they were saying any longer but I knew I had a choice to make. With what turned out to be my last lucid words for a long time I said, “Save … the … baby. I … I don’t … just … save the … baby. Do whatever … just … save …”
That was the clearest thing I remember for a long time. It isn’t that I wasn’t awake because they said I continued to make noises in my delirium, but what constitutes the real me took a much needed vacation. Oh, I think I sort of remember bits and pieces here and there but whether that is some trick my mind is playing on me after I heard the tale or if I truly am remembering I’ll probably never know for sure.
Hands doing painful things to my abdomen. “She only has a 50-50 chance … at best. I’ve never done an ECV at this late stage. You know I’ll do what I can … for both of them … but right now the baby stands a better chance than she does.”
A change in the pressure down there. It didn’t go away but it seemed to have more purpose to it. The eyes that never seemed to leave mine, begging both me and God to not to give up, to not let him have come this far, this close, only to lose everything that ever meant anything. He swore he’d take my place if God needed a sacrifice.
Encouraging words from the other voices and a few that, even in my state, almost made me laugh and cry at the same time. “You can do it girly. You … oh-oh, someone grab Darnall, he don’t look so good, you’d think he’s never seen a baby getting borned before. I thought his wife had four of ‘em.”
A quiet snicker said, “Them’s all step chilrun. He bain’t never had none of his own. Ooo, she’s gonna blow purt soon. Look it her face.”
“Her face? Look it her man’s. If she don’t blow soon he will.”
It did feel like I was about to blow. Pressure built and built and built and with a final shriek like a tea kettle or a steam engine the worst of it was over. But I was spent beyond all sensibility.
I remember a sensation of tugging and pulling and then after a while being moved again and wrapped in layer upon layer of blankets. I remember the sensation of lying on something impossibly stiff and the cold. I remember the cold seeping through to me despite all my layers. I couldn’t seem to stop shaking and then I did stop and that seemed to worry the voices even more.
But the first thing I can say that I really and truly remember was the blasted beeping. It was a constant annoyance that never seemed to end. I woke up just so I could tell someone to turn the awful noise off.
“If that thing beeps one more time,” I croaked. “If it beeps one more time I’m going to find it and stomp it into oblivion.”
There was a weird noise like someone had fallen out of a chair. I heard the dogs yelp as well. I found out I had startled him so bad he tipped the chair back too far and it had crashed backwards, taking him with it and nearly landing on the dogs who had been packed in a box and brought back along with me and the baby.
I was fighting to open my eyes and when I finally managed it I saw the eyes that I’d been struggling to remember since the first time I’d seen them.
I managed to say, my voice still a hoarse whisper, “Donovan? What are you doing in this part of hell? You shouldn’t be here.”
“Emma? Emma? Are you awake?”
“I hope not because I’m so totally not … not …” Then with almost audible clicks my memories were coming back. “My baby … my baby … my … !!!”
“Mr. Donovan!” a voice scolded from the doorway. “You were supposed to hit the call button as soon as she awoke!”
“Donovan?!” I whimpered. “Donovan?!! The baby!”
“Shhh! Shhh! Don’t move around so much, they think you can still …”
I was not listening. It was too much. Donovan. Here. Or me where ever Donovan was. Where ever here was. The baby. I was having a hard time stringing things together.
“Excuse me … Miss … you need to …” A woman in white that had been wash so many times it was a soft gray was trying to calm me down but I wasn’t the least in the mood.
Then I got a chance to put a face to another voice I remembered. “Emma! Listen to me. I’m Dr. Bennington. The baby … your baby … is in the next room in the incubation crib. She’s a little small, has a little jaundice, as soon as you calm down we’ll get the two of you together. Donovan, don’t just stand there looking helpless man. We need to calm her down before she starts bleeding again.”
Then, “Emma … Emma … listen to me. She’s perfect. Head full of impossibly black hair. Babies are supposed to be bald as cue balls but not our little girl. She has all her fingers and toes. And her mother’s moodiness. She’s particular about who handles her and isn’t afraid to say so. Emma … come on Sugar … you’re tearing my heart out … I promise … on my life … calm down and Bennington will roll the crib in here.”
I didn’t care if I was folding to blackmail, I would have done anything to see my baby breathing at that moment.
Dr. Bennington said, “Now I’m going to take a few vitals while Mrs. Hurley rolls the baby in here and …”
“Mrs. Hurley, I promised Emma that if she calmed down she could see the baby and that is exactly what is going to happen. Have I made myself clear?”
A disbelieving sniff from the old bat was the only response she gave before going out. I watched the door with a feverish focus, refusing to answer any questions. And then … then …
Even now I can’t help tearing up remembering the first time I saw her. I looked at Donovan. “You … you came back. I thought … thought …”
“Not soon enough Emma. I tried but … but …”
“You came when I needed you to. Is she really … really …”
“Yeah. Really noisy. Really fussy. Really smelly sometimes. And really the most beautiful …” he voice broke. “She’s really here. We’re really … I’m sorry Emma. I didn’t know … I didn’t know …” And he started to sob. Donovan. My Donovan. The man who was tough as stainless steel. The man who never got tired. The man who never gave up. That man laid his head down and sobbed like a baby, holding me.
I looked around and then startled as they started to roll the bassinet back out of the room. “Easy Emma. She’s full term but small. Her lungs are good but she still needs some extra special care. Maybe tonight, maybe tomorrow, we’ll bring the two of you together for a little more quality time. The sooner the better, but for now you are both too fragile.”
Donovan was still insensible so I was left asking this stranger what happened. “I … I’m still pretty … where are we?”
“Well, at least you started with an easy question and one I can answer without hesitation. You are in a bunker.”
My doubt and confusion must have showed on my face. “I know. Donovan has told me that the one that you two occupied originally was run more like a military base. Most of the military staff we were expected to get never showed before we were forced to close the doors. We do have some military in our population but mostly just veterans that had been living in the surrounding area.”
“We had a lot of empty space. A small town supplied a lot of the labor to build this place. We took in as many as could get here - lock, stock, and barrel – before the blast doors were closed. It was hard for a while, not everyone was happy that they made the decision to try and live once they saw the aftermath. We had a mutiny about six months after Impact Day; it changed things. The scientist bigwigs that originally made up the administrative personnel lost most of their clout. They’re still here but their wings are clipped and they stick to the work that got them here in the first place … atmospheric research, geomagnetic applications, and other next to useless rubbish like that.”
“Don’t sound like … sound like …” I stopped on a dry hack.
“Emma. Honey. Ben … can she have some ice chips?”
“Yeah, I don’t see what not. No fluids yet until we make sure we aren’t going to have to sedate her again.”
I stiffened at the perceived threat.
“Easy. It isn’t the goal but you must have been in labor a long time. You lost a lot of blood. And you came in anemic. We’ve had a hard time getting it under control. So far so good. I didn’t want to have to do a hysterectomy, especially in your condition. Give us a bit of cooperation from here on out and you should do all right … in time.”
Donovan fed me ice chips while both the men continued the story. They finally reconnected with the other bunkers but didn’t want to have much to do with them, fearing a takeover and return to the old administration which had been inefficient and tyrannical.
“We kept to ourselves as much as possible but no man is an island and neither is a bunker. Eventually the supplies ran low or started to go bad. Eventually the doors had to open. Eventually you find you need those other people as much as you needed them to stay away before.”
Donovan said, “Our group thought this bunker had been lost or infiltrated somehow so never factored them into the plan to disperse our people once our bunker started flooding.” He couldn’t seem to stop touching me and frankly I didn’t mind at all. His hands, his eyes, where ever they touched it made me feel more and more alive and in the here and now.
Bennington continued. “Things changed once we got the birds flying. We felt we had edge enough that we could afford to make contact with the outside world again. Only by then … by then there wasn’t much outside world left to contact. The environmental changes had been rough, not only on Earth but on her inhabitants. Most of the food that would have been salvageable in the beginning was no longer so … the cold and time had done its work, as had the roving bands of humans that were trying to live despite the cold and harsh realities. Game had been all hunted out or starved out by the changes in the natural order of things.”
“Emma, there are still some secure communities outside of the bunkers but … but not all of them are … there are some sick people that survived the end of the world. Resources are scarce and salvagers have to go further and further afield from their home bases to find anything worth the trouble and danger of travelling. And even in some of the communities that didn’t start out with problems … a lot of civilization has been lost. Life is harsh. In some places it has devolved into … into …”
Bennington finished his sentence, “a combination of the Dark Ages and the Inquisition on steroids.”
Donovan grunted, making me smile.
“What?” he asked me, worried that I was losing my grip on reality again.
“You still sound like a caveman when you do that.” A tear slipped down my face as emotions threatened to overwhelm me.
“Donovan, she needs to rest. You can answer her other questions later. Just try and keep her calm and she’ll likely slip off into sleep without any drugs. I’d prefer her to get more natural rest than what she’s had.”
And I did. I didn’t appreciate having the man talk like I was a small child or absent from the room but he was right. I was in and out of it for the next few days. They brought the baby whenever I asked but didn’t always leave her as long as I wanted. But we did get to spend quality time together, all three of us. Contrary to everyone’s concerns, I was able to breastfeed and the sometimes less than gentle contractions it caused didn’t start me hemorrhaging again. In fact it actually helped and eventually I stopped bleeding all together and they let me sit up at first and then finally get out of the bed all together. It was only into a wheelchair for a short spin up and down the empty halls of the medical wing but I took it since it was all I was going to get.
“Where is everyone?”
“Hmm? Oh … Dr. Bennington has the ward on lock down.”
“Lock down! Why? Are we prisoners?!” I asked, immediately reminded of my old life in the other bunker.
“Whoa! Don’t get over excited or he’ll have my head. No, we aren’t prisoners. Too many people were coming and going, trying to find out what was going on.”
“You’re the first woman to give birth since the bomb doors were closed.”
“I’m the … they don’t have other women here? Or a … you know … the different … levels?” I asked still trying to stem my disbelief of what I’d just learned.
“No, that’s one of the things that was abolished during the mutiny. No, Bennington still isn’t sure … he’s just a country doctor thrown into the middle of all of this … he thinks … I’m not sure if I can explain it the way he does. He says people were never meant to be hobbits living under ground. Our bodies require certain amounts of sunlight, require the changing from day to night, need the changing of the seasons whether they are noticeable to the human eye or not. Take it away and … the natural cycles go haywire or something. Add the stress of the Impact and the heavy amount of work that everyone had to do to stay alive around here. Women stopped … you know … menstruating and Bennington said that some of the men’s sperm counts went way down when he realized enough to start asking questions and running tests. Plus, a lot of the adults in the crowd they wound up with were either out of what he called ‘optimal breeding age’ or had had their tubes tied or the men had had vasectomies. But from what they’ve heard and what they witnessed in the few ‘outside communities’ they’ve made contact with the same thing holds true. The birth rate has been severely suppressed.”
“Still? It’s been so long … years … and still?”
“Yeah. Either we got lucky … Emma, I’m … I’m sorry … I …”
“Not again Donovan, we’ve been through this. It had to have been one of the last couple of times we … you know … and it was a while before I realized what was happening. You did try and come back. And I still don’t know all the details, you won’t tell me.”
“I … I’m not ready to talk about it Emma. I … I just …”
“All right. Don’t flip a switch. Just stop coming apart every time it comes up. You taught me enough that I survived until you could get back. That is all I’m choosing to remember about it.”
“I mean it,” I said as I did something I never seemed to tire of doing. I ran my hand down his still too thin cheek, feeling the grooves of deep lines of suffering that spoke of his sincerity and depth of feeling on the subject.
Donovan was a changed man. He limped, sometimes badly. Sometimes he dragged his foot and pain would give his face a gray undertone. What little youth he had still claimed seemed to be completely gone. White liberally sprinkled his hair and his face when he left it grizzled.
I noted to myself even the hair on his chest was sprinkled with gray. I saw it when Bennington had made him take his shirt off for a checkup. I was shocked at how little meat was one his bones. His ribs showed and I could see his backbone nearly all the way down. Whatever had overtaken Donovan had left its mark … and apparently in more than just physical ways. For instance, as protective has he had been he’d never lied to me … if nothing, he’d always been brutally honest. No matter what it was he gave me credit for at least earning a chance to try and face it. I found out though he now feared I was too fragile and that he needed to bear the burden of it all … like it was some kind of ridiculous penance.
The day after my wheel chair excursion I was dozing after having fed the baby. We still hadn’t given her a name. She was just our baby and we hadn’t found a need to name her yet. “Baby” was still good enough.
I woke up thinking Donovan had come back and looked up, seeing a stranger … a stranger who wasn’t really a stranger … and I screamed. I don’t really know why. It was … I can’t describe it … part of me thought my hallucinations had returned … hallucinations that I hadn’t yet confessed to having.
I must have fainted. I came to in Donovan’s arms, “Emma! Emma, it’s all right. I’m right here.”
“Donovan … I saw … I … I mean I thought … I thought I saw …” I blubbered.
“It’s all right Sugar. Bennington threw him out. No one is going to let him hurt you.”
“Let him … ? Are … are you telling me … I wasn’t just … I wasn’t seeing things? Moshe was here? Here?!”
“Easy. Calm down.”
“Don’t you tell me to calm down you … you … you Neanderthal! You tell me what is going on and you tell me right now!!”
Bennington stuck his head around the door and grinned. “Whooey son … when my wife used to get like that I did exactly what she told me or I lit out for a while … a good long while … until she calmed down.”
Donovan replied something rude then walked over and shut the door in his face. I could hear the doctor laughing on the other side before walking away. I however wasn’t laughing.
“Donovan …” I didn’t know what I was going to say. I didn’t really know how I felt. Angry for sure but also hurt and something else too.
“I wanted you to be stronger before you had to deal with this.”
“Deal with what?”
“With … with that boy you used to like being here.”
“With what boy that I … you can’t be telling me after everything you’re actually acting … Donovan I swear I am going to clunk you over the head with this food tray!”
I was looking for a fight but I didn’t get one. Donovan just looked at me. And then what did that throwback do? He grinned and kissed me. Not the gentle and hesitant pecks on my head or cheek that he’d been giving me but a teeth rattling kiss the likes of which I hadn’t experienced with anyone else and not since he’d disappeared all those months ago.
I was left nearly breathless but I still managed to gasp, “Out with it. I feel like I’m living some ridiculous dream sequence in a story. And … and that terrifies me Donovan. If I’m hallucinating then you … and the baby …” I was scaring myself silly and couldn’t seem to stop it.
“Whoa. Hey now. Look at me Girl. I …” then he sighed and took another breath. “I don’t care how it sounds Emma but … your mine. He can’t have you. But … I’m not the man I was. I’m … I’m broken. My health. My body. Sometimes … Emma, for a while there even my mind was betraying me.”
I looked at him and saw how serious he was. Then I asked him quietly, “Do you think you’re alone?”
“Do you think you’re alone in being broken?”
Donovan just shook his head. “Emma … Emma … you don’t understand.”
But I did and I was determined to prove it. “Oh yes I do. I … I have a confession. The shape you … the shape you found me in? It … it wasn’t just because of the labor. I’d been … I’d been losing it for a while. Right after you first disappeared it was bad. Then I got better … or I think I did. But then when I got stuck … I couldn’t get out of the cave Donovan. I was too big. It felt like … like … I was trapped and buried by some mad man. I was … I was a prisoner again Donavon, just like back in the Bunker. There were places I couldn’t go, things that were out of my reach and being kept from me. Then the wood ran out and I couldn’t … there was no light except the little bit that came from the crevice … and then the food and … I lost it Donovan. I was talking to people that weren’t there. Seeing things that weren’t there. Impossible things that … I was three-quarters crazy. I don’t know how else to describe what it was.”
“Ben … he says your condition was due to was nutritional imbalances and stress.”
“He can call it that if he wants to but I have to be honest … at least with myself and with you … I was … I was more crazy than not and if you hadn’t come I would have been … all the way crazy or dead. That is a fact that there is no denying.”
I was shaking, wondering if he would turn away from me in disgust. Instead he wrapped me in his arms and made his own confession. “I … Emma, I killed a man trying to get out of here. They guy had been egging me on for about a week, tearing me up inside with his accusations and threats since I was an outsider, saying it was my fault they lost someone when their helicopter crash landed after being damaged in the storm they were trying to outrun after they picked me up. The guy they lost was his brother. I didn’t know it at the time or I might have ignored him more. He ‘let’ me escape and then took a shot at me. They didn’t know what my background was. I didn’t even hesitate. He was the enemy. Someone clocked me from behind and I woke up locked up in what they called a jail cell but that was closer to a hotel room. It was a long time before … before they’d even listen to me again. That … that was Moshe’s doing.”
“He got them to listen to you?”
“No, the opposite. I know he’s special to you and …”
“Say that one more time and I will clunk you. Moshe is … he’s part of my past … a dream that died at his own hands … and the only thing he has served in my present so far is as a nightmare. Now tell me and spill whatever the poison is that has been eating you up.”
That got me a look and then a sigh that was almost a groan. “I … I deserved some of what I got. I fought every attempt people made to befriend me. I refused to trust anyone. I was a wild man, still sick from nearly dying …”
“Shhhh. Ben will be in here again and you won’t get your answers … and you’ll wake the baby.” I calmed down but only on the outside. Finally he continued, “I lost a lot of blood Emma. It isn’t like it used to be where you could just call a blood bank and get what you needed. You lose blood, there are no transfusions, your body has to replace it on its own. On top of it, all the fighting I did re-opened the wound repeatedly. Ben threatened to shackle me to the bed if I didn’t knock it off. Eventually I got some kind of infection and it … it nearly killed me … quicker than the original wound had. I got so sick it wasn’t a matter of me deciding whether I was going to accept anyone’s help or not, I was just too weak to fight them off.”
I remember how hard it had been for him to accept even my limited assistance when he’d been shot in the bunker. It must have come close to destroying him to be so sick he couldn’t even fend off the good intensions of the staff that had been trying to take care of him.
He continued, “I was completely broken. I had nothing left. I knew I couldn’t get to you but that didn’t stop me from wanting to. I practically howled at the moon when I had the energy. And then when everything was gone, nearly my life, I started praying. I’d beg God every waking moment that you’d hold on until I could get back to you. I’d beg him to protect you until I could. Ben says that I even prayed in my sleep sometimes. The nights I didn’t fall into an exhausted sleep after praying were racked by nightmares of what could be happening to you. I was a basket case and most everyone avoided me unless forced to take their turn being my watcher or caregiver. I’m better now but … but you see what I’ve been reduced to.”
“But where does Moshe fit into this? And … and … what about the rest of the family?” I asked, almost afraid to hear the answer.
“They’re parents … they … they died … right after the mutiny. Some kind of fever went through the entire bunker. Ben thinks it was released by those in the administrative wing … like biological warfare … only it got out of hand when it got into the ventilation system. Sarah used to visit me until Moshe found out how often she was doing it. We used to talk about you a lot.”
“Sarah … Sarah is here?” I couldn’t believe it. “Has … has she tried to see me? Why haven’t I seen her?”
“I don’t know Honey. Ben has kept everyone away. There is bad blood between the old administrators and the rest of the population. I think Ben would be OK with it … his son and Sarah … well, I think there is some kind of stupid Romeo and Juliet thing going on. If Moshe wasn’t such a … well, if Moshe would stay out of things, but he keeps the old feud alive every chance he gets.”
“Moshe? That just … doesn’t compute. He was so laid back. But … but it turns out I didn’t know him as well as I thought. He …”
I stopped talking, trying to reconcile yet again the boy that I had known with the man that had betrayed me. Then I heard, “Emma! Emma! Are you all right? Are they treating you all right? I’m trying to get help to you! Don’t give up!!” The voice bellowed down the hallway, echoing through the empty hospital offices and exam rooms.
“What on Earth?” I asked of no one and expecting no answer. “Donovan, help me out of this bed. This is just too … too ridiculous. It is like one of those impossibly long and convoluted Russian novels they used to make us read in European Lit. I hated those stupid melodramas.”
“Emma, be reasonable.” As soon as he said it Donovan knew he’d said the only thing guaranteed to make me be the exact opposite. “Oh for Pete’s Sake. Here, sit in the wheelchair. But if he looks at you too hard I refuse to promise not to do my best to deck him.”
This time I was the one to grunt. Donovan rolled me out to where Dr. Bennington was quickly running out of patience.
“Moshe! That … is … enough.” If I was going to face him I was going to be the one on the offensive and try and keep the upper hand.
“Emma! Oh Emma! I’ve been so worried. I …”
“Moshe,” I said in a deadly calm voice that startled the man he’d become into silence. “Please do not try your old tricks with me. I’m not your mother or any of the teachers in highschool. I’m not even your sister even though I used to pretend I was. I was just the little friend … little expendable friend … of your real sister. The little orphan your parents took in.”
“Emma, don’t … you don’t understand … I … I …”
“No Moshe, I don’t understand. I don’t understand how you could do that to me, condemn me to a life that was meant to leave me living little better than a harlot … a “comfort girl” like in World War 2. You know what I’m talking about so don’t deny it.”
“It was … it was … it didn’t wind up how I’d meant it to Emma. You … I paid someone to … you were supposed to come here. You … you were supposed to be mine.”
My eyebrows disappeared into my hairline. “I was supposed to be what?” I could feel my anger boiling over and I could feel Donovan’s anger rolling on my behalf as well. I put my hand over his where it rested on my shoulder, trying to calm us both.
“Look, things just … they just fell apart. And these local yokels still don’t understand the magnitude …”
At that I could see a pulse start up in Dr. Bennington’s temple. “Moshe, take responsibility for your own actions. You all but sold me into slavery. Your rationalization is immaterial. And for your information I would never have been yours. You were my friend Moshe and when you did what you did you destroyed any chance you had of ever making it more than that. You destroyed our friendship period. My trust in anything you say has been permanently compromised.”
Shocked that he was unable to manipulate me, Moshe got nasty. “Oh, and you picked this broken down has been.”
“Actually Moshe, the relationship I have with this man is none of your business and will never be any of your business. Suffice it to say he is the father of my child and I am more than content to spend whatever time we have left on this Earth with him and only with him.”
“And you think he feels the same way? Let me tell you something …”
“That’s enough,” Donovan growled.
“No, it’s not. She has the right to know. I’m ashamed that it brings my own sister’s behavior into question …”
Donovan repeated, “I said that’s enough!”
“Oh yeah? And what are you going to do about it? You’re no better than an old man. Look at you. You’re pathetic. How are you supposed to protect, much less provide, for Emma and her child? I’m forced to assume it is your child I suppose. And what do you think she is going to say when she finds out …”
Donovan tried to step around me and take a swing at Moshe as he had promised he would but Moshe was right in one respect, Donovan wasn’t the man he used to be. His leg gave out and he half fell before catching himself nearly turning the wheelchair over.
I saw the shame on Donovan’s face, in his eyes, nearly radiating from his soul and something clicked. “Moshe, I hope you are hearing me right now because I am about to tell you a deep truth you should have had the sense to realize long ago. Yes, Donovan isn’t as strong as he was … not physically. But he never stopped trying to come back to me. Never. No matter what fate threw at him he never stopped trying. It nearly killed him … and he did have to kill another man in the pursuit of his return to me. He promised me that I could always trust him and he has never … never let me down. He’s never lied to me. He’s never betrayed me. He protected me. And when he thought his protection was actually handicapping me he taught me to fend for myself. He may be rough. He may be crude at times. But he has always been honest. And he never gave up on me. Never. No matter what it cost him … and it nearly cost him his life.”
Moshe tried to open his mouth and I said, “Shut … up. I’m not finished. Here’s the part you need to understand … need to take inside yourself so that perhaps you can save yourself from yourself. Even broken Donovan is more of a man than you have ever been, more of a man than you are ever likely to be. And while he may be broken right now, one day he’ll be stronger and when that day comes if you so much as look at me cross ways it better be from a long distance away because I can guarantee he’ll rip your spine out of your back. And what’s more … I’ll stand there and let him.”
Moshe looked at me with disgust, like I was a slug that he’d stepped on. “You’re no longer the girl you used to be Emma. I can’t believe you would ever sink as far as you’ve sunk. You once had standards and common sense. But of course this … this broken loser … he manipulated Sarah as well. She saw through him in time though, thank God. She …”
“I can talk for myself Brother.”
I turned my head. Sarah was no longer a girl anymore than I was but time had been kinder to her. I could still see the innocence in her eyes that my own would be forever void of.
“Emma … please … I didn’t know … I’m … I’m so sorry.”
And it was just like when we were kids and one of us had wronged the other by some stupid act. We always made up. Sometimes it was harder than others but eventually we always made up. And this time it was my choice and I opened my arms and we fell together laughing and crying like we always had, relieved to have the past behind us.
“Emma … nothing happened. I swear it.”
“Oh. Is that what Moshe was trying to say? Well, of course nothing happened … at least not like Moshe is trying to say. You’d drive Donovan nuts and he’d positively horrify you.” When I said it and then got a look on their faces I couldn’t help but start laughing.
“Emma!” Moshe exclaimed, giving it one last try. “Don’t let them fool you.”
“Fool me? You are the fool Moshe. I don’t know what has happened to you. I don’t even know when it happened. But until you cut out whatever cancer is eating at your soul you are never going to find the peace to make something of this new life because you’ve got to realize the old one is never coming back. “ I turned in the wheelchair and looked up at Donovan who had regained his footing. “Take me back to my room Donovan. I’ve had enough of this. Please.”
I grabbed Sarah’s hand and all three of us went back down the corridor to my room. The baby was just beginning to get fussy and while I fed her the three of us talked. The dogs finding a soft touch in Sarah who’d never been able to resist puppy dog eyes or itchy bellies. Soon however both Donovan and I needed to rest so Sarah left, promising to come back another time. And she did, many more times.
As the days went by both Donovan and I came to feel claustrophobic. We felt the cold stares of most of the population in this bunker, of the people who feared we’d bring unwanted change into their lives. We just wanted to go home. The home we had made for ourselves. Dr. Bennington tried to talk us out of it. “People will warm up to you, just give it more time. Neither of you are up for surviving out there. You know more than most just how tough things can be outside of the bunkers. And what will you do for supplies?”
Donovan answered, “Ben, we appreciate all you’ve done for us but even our two mouths are a strain on the resources of your bunker. You’ve heard the grumbling. People want us on the work teams or gone. Charity is dead.”
“Donovan,” I said reprovingly after his harsh words. “Look Dr. Bennington, like he said, we appreciate all you’ve done but … but it is time. Our life isn’t here. We escaped this life once only because we had no choice. This time we want to leave of our own accord, before things get any more … difficult.”
“Well … well, maybe I can’t requisition some supplies, even a couple of days worth would …”
“No,” Donovan said adamant. “It will cause you too much trouble and things feel like a powder keg as it is.”
A sharp expletive left the good doctor’s lips. “I won’t deny it. Another season of change is coming. Some folks … well, they’ve had enough of bunker life and seeing that you made it … maybe it is for the best but it isn’t going to be an easy transition for our population. And some of the people that want to go are just not going to survive and …” He finally shook his head in resignation. “I know they plan another flight. I’ll see what I can do.”
The hardest part was saying good bye to Sarah. “Do you have to go? It seems that we’ve only just …” She was crying and couldn’t finish.
“Sarah, you have a life here. My life is out there. Remember how it was in college?”
“In college we could pick up a phone. Or text. Or email. Now, you’ll go back to being as dead to me as Mom and Dad are.”
“Not dead … just separated … for a time. Haven’t you said even Moshe admits that the atmosphere looks like it is finally beginning to clear up? Then we can all pull out the radios and communication will be easier. Or maybe something else will come up. Have faith.”
“Don’t try and pacify me Emma. I’m not … not stupid. I may not have had the hard life you’ve led but I’m certainly not stupid.”
“I never said you were and that isn’t what I’m thinking either. I’ve just learned we can’t always have what we want. And as much as I love you Sarah, my life is with Donovan. He is being stifled here. We both are. We need to go back to where we belong.”
Eventually she conceded the point if not the necessity or the timing of it. And eventually Doctor Bennington convinced the community that it was a good thing for them to return us where they took us from. “Think of it like returning a wild animal to its habitat.” I wasn’t real thrilled with the comparison but since that is what it took for us to get our way I never said anything.
Goodbyes were swift but not painless. Two months had healed me, allowed Donovan to heal more, and given the baby a fighting chance to survive. She now weighed ten pounds, more than twice what she came into the world weighing. On the day we were to leave he said as he examined her one last time, “I can admit something to you now. I didn’t think this little peanut was going to make it. She was a classic case of failure to thrive in the womb. There were days I didn’t expect you to survive Emma. But look at you both now. And Donovan looks healthier than I’ve seen him in months, almost from the first time I met him. The three of you together, you’re good for each other. But if you expect me to keep calling this baby “Girly” you are crazy. It is time that you gave this child a name.”
Donovan and I looked at each other. We’d been trying to think of a name for weeks. But every name we came up with had too many memories attached to it or was just too corny. “Well, then, since you two can’t seem to settle on anything would you perhaps listen to a suggestion?”
We nodded. “Jubilee. My wife’s name. She was a good woman, a fine woman. As finer woman than I deserved. It means a special time for remissions of sin and universal pardon. We never had children, were never blessed that way. I always imagined we’d name a daughter after her, continue on the name … and what it meant.”
Donovan quirked an eye at me and I looked at the baby. “How about it baby? What do you think of the name? Jubilee Donovan? I think it sounds nice.”
Donovan added, “Jubilee Emmaline Donovan. I like it.”
And so that is what we finally named her. It had taken two months and endless discussions and in the end it was someone else’s choice but … it fit. And that was the last thing we did before we walked out to the landing pad, climbed aboard the helicopter, and left.
It was cold, much colder than was comfortable, and Jubilee was fussy but somehow Donovan and I were still warm. The breeze smelled of freedom and promise. They sat down in a clearing not too far from the cave and the dogs were coming unglued to be let out of their cage. They smelled home and freedom as well.
The pilot said, “Don’t know when we’ll be this way again. Not enough salvage to be worth the trip. Only reason we are coming this way this time was to check out Ft. Campbell one last time.”
Donovan nodded, “We understand. Go with a clear conscience and tell everyone thank you one more time for us.” Then they were gone and we were walking back up the path, no longer well worn but still well remembered.
We’ve been home a month and it has been as hard as we knew it would be. Donovan tried for a time to move the debris from the entrance but all it did was cause another slide. Instead he now devotes his energy to widening the entrance that once held me captive. It is still narrow, and there is work left to do, but I never have to fear being a prisoner in my own home ever again … at least not for the reason I was before.
We’ve expanded the garden and in about two weeks we should have our first greens be ready to eat. Donovan also managed to get an elk our second week back home and we spent two days processing it and smoking the meat so that it would keep. We’ve spent a great deal of time gathering wood but in another sense we don’t need it nearly as bad.
It’s warmer. Bare patches of ground show through in places … they aren’t even muddy any more. It is still cold but there are days when it is above freezing even after the sun has gone down. I showed Donovan the ridge road and we found another house way back in there to salvage from. There wasn’t much left that nature hadn’t tried to reclaim but a gardening shed gave us some extra tools and some jars of seeds neatly labeled with what they contained. Some of the seeds have even germinated, no small miracle after all this time.
Donovan and I aren’t as reckless as we used to be. We have Jubilee to think of. Donovan resisted me coming on his treks away from home until I said either Jubilee and I came with him being willing or we followed him without his willingness … but either way we were coming. He gave me his typical caveman arguments but eventually he realized that he needed me and I needed him to need me.
There is another way that Donovan and I are more careful. Dr. Bennington told me that it could be dangerous if I got pregnant again too soon. So now we count the days and try our best to not let our desires outweigh our common sense. It isn’t always easy. There is still so much lost time to try and make up for. But we do our best.
And now the baby has finally calmed down. I don’t think she appreciated the onions that I added to the dried corn and beans to make them taste less like they’d been sitting in a can for who knows how many years. Poor little peanut had colic so bad she could have caused another rock slide with the volume of her cries. I’ll know better next time. Donovan said, “Trust me, if you forget, I’ll be sure and remind you. Our kid was born with an oversized set of lungs.”
The truth is he hates for her to cry and him not be able to help her. She’ll have him wrapped around her finger before she is even walking.
But now I’m tired. I have a lot to do tomorrow. This life isn’t easy but it is my life and I wouldn’t trade it for all the comforts any bunker could offer. I wouldn’t care if Donovan and I never left this place again.
The only problem though is that we may not have to leave to have problems with people. Donovan was down by the river, trying his hand at fishing now that the shore is free of ice, when he saw a sign … a footprint. It wasn’t mine and it wasn’t his. The shoe made a funny pattern … it looked like a tire tread. Someone from the bunker would have known to contact us. If not from the bunker then who could it be? And where could they have come from? I have no idea when or if we’ll even find answers to those questions.
One question I’ve almost found the answer to is why. Why did I go through all of this? What was the point? I guess I’ve learned things along the way but I’m fairly certain that God could have pointed me in the right direction without nearly killing me to enforce the lesson. No, I’m beginning to think it really may not have had anything to do with me. I was the instrument rather than the victim.
Donovan. Or rather Donovan’s salvation. I wrote he was a changed man in more ways than one. One of the first things he did when we got back to our cave was to find my Bible and wrote Jubilee’s name and date of birth in the front. And now he is the one that reads Jubilee a “bed time story” from some place in the Bible, the same way my dad used to read them to me. I see an awareness that wasn’t in him before, a depth that I had never uncovered.
He still isn’t overly spiritual, no ostentatious displays for him. And yet … there is a quiet stillness in him that is more powerful than his anger and arrogance ever was. I felt connected to him before our time apart but now I feel … feel … bound to him. Bound to him on a level that I never knew existed. Like we’ve consummated something even greater than what existed between us before. We pull together instead of at cross purposes. Is this what being “equally yoked” means? I don’t know but I appreciate it, whatever it is. And I am still learning … and so is Donovan. I don’t think we’ll ever have a completely calm relationship; one or the other of us will pop off, releasing pent up emotions.
And now it is time for me to lay down beside this man I’ve claimed as my own. If I look closely, it appears that the gray is disappearing. Certainly his ribs do not stand out the way they did and when I run my hand up his back, his spine doesn’t feel like a broken railroad track.
I told Moshe that I was content to spend the remainder of my time here on Earth with Donovan. It was … and is … the truth. And now I’m also beginning to ask God to make that time here on Earth measure in decades and not just the few years we’ve had. Will He answer me in the affirmative? I guess I won’t know that until after it has already happened or not.