The narrow downtown streets were as crowded as they might be at a busy street fair. Except here; people were not politely brushing past each other murmuring, “Excuse me.”
Allie’s grip tightened on Kelsey’s hand as they made their way into the throng of people. Allie trailed close behind Kelsey who carved a path through the crowd. She knew she did not live far from downtown, just through Main Street, and further down the hill into her neighborhood.
Most of her attention was on the people around her. People were yelling and running to and fro. The gas station was not the only vandalized and ransacked location. She looked over her shoulder to see Allie hunched and moving along close behind her, her grip never faltering. They weaved through people and deserted cars that spotted the middle of the street, as well as the ones parked on the sides of the road.
Someone significantly larger that Kelsey shouldered into her and she was set stumbling against a car in the middle of the street. She braced her hand against the window and her Allie gasp. She looked at the car and noticed the front seat was empty; but the back seat had three little faces looking out with wide eyes. Locked in safe? Told to wait? Abandoned? She could not imagine any parent leaving a child behind let alone three; and so young.
She took a few deep breaths as the children stared back at her, frightened and uncomprehending. “Come on,” she said pulling on Allie’s hand again. They moved away from the car and further down the middle of the street. It was less crowded than the sidewalks, but not by much.
When they finally reached the crowded parking lot people were streaming in and out of the main doors. As they came up to the main doors Allie finally let go of Kelsey and silently straightened up a cart for them to use. Kelsey grabbed one as well stranded against the wall and the two women looked at each other a moment before pushing in through the main doors.
“No point in paying there’s no one to take it, we’re not really stealing Allie,” Kelsey suddenly felt strange that she was justifying to a child why they were about to steal.
“I get it.” Allie replied in an almost stoic tone as she moved quickly pass Kelsey pushing a cart.
“Water first,” Kelsey said as she turned down an aisle, Allie moving down to another on her own. She had to let go of her anxiety; Allie seemed functional, and they were so very short on time. The shelves were pulled apart, and several things were missing. She did not know what other people were grabbing, but there were still several cases of bottled water and some bottles lying on the floor among other things. She didn’t know if the faucets in her house would still work or not. Were they electronic? On some level they had to be. She grabbed three boxes stacking them on the bottom shelf of her cart. She wanted to grab more but knew she only had one cart to push and more things were needed.
She ran down more aisles lined with canned goods. She knew they needed nonperishable things, but she also didn’t have the time to figure out what was what on the shelves. She
scooped them off and into the cart by the armful, filling and weighting down the cart at a frightening speed. How much could she get? Would it be enough? There was no way of knowing.
Her racing mind tried to go through everything needed in a diet. Several cans had been knocking into the cart while others fell to the floor rolling away. She kept moving, picking up one or two as she continued around to another shelf.
She started at the bottom of the chain. Bread; how long would bread last before it molded. It didn’t matter, she was pretty sure not all mold was exactly bad for you, even if it tasted terrible. She started pushing the heavy cart around to the bakery. She moved pass people who moved around with their own carts. Some people carried baskets and some just had their arms full of what they could hold as they tried to hurry out.
She had trouble turning the cart around corners but was also less afraid of someone knocking the cart over because it was so heavy. She was moving to the bakery section and passed the standard lottery stand in every grocery store. She was moving past the video section and seeing people running with movies and expensive electronics only added to her awe. iPod accessories, movies and someone was carrying a box with a TV in it. She kept moving; trying to stay focused on the task before her.
She watched as a couple of men were working together to tip over an ATM. The bolted down vault was unrelenting as they assaulted it, trying to break in. Fools after money; what
was money right now but green paper? What would it be in a week if anything but lighting a fire?
She turned the corner to the bakery and saw Allie moving along the produce section. Kelsey nodded to herself and grabbed several loafs, not caring what kind as they stacked awkwardly on top of everything else. She looked back to Allie and saw her pushing some other woman away from her own cart and both were working themselves into a fight.
The woman was trying to grab what looked like the last bag of onions Allie had gotten her hands on. She did not recognize the middle aged woman fighting Allie but they seemed to only be snarling at each other in a tug-of-war.
Kelsey started pushing her cart hard towards them. She did not have time to fight, and certainly could not risk her or Allie getting hurt. She held her breath and fought back the regret she already felt as her heavy cart slammed into the woman. She was vaulted against the produce wall, knocking several vegetables to the ground. The cart tilted dangerously to the side, pinning the woman’s thighs. A couple loaves of bread fell off but the cart quickly rocked back onto all fours and Kelsey pulled it back from the woman wailing in pain as she fell to the ground.
“Allie!” Kelsey shouted as the girl grabbed the fought over bag of onions from the ground.
“Just help me and let’s go!” She shouted back.
Kelsey paused, looked at the women on the floor cursing and rolling onto her side. ‘The intelligent people are showing up.’ she thought to herself. They’re coming for food, not to loot.
She grabbed one of the loaves of bread that had fallen off and pushed it into her cart. Allie grabbed more handfuls of vegetables and dumped them into her cart. Kelsey moved along the open crates of fruits and began to add them. These wouldn’t be lasting long either before they got overripe and moldy, but she was sure they needed them. She didn’t know how much of what kind of canned good she had grabbed. The women grabbed fruit at a ruthless pace, ignoring bruises and blemishes. She did make a point of staying away from everything in the organic section, it did not have preservatives and would mold quickly.
She looked over her shoulder to Allie again, her own cart at the spilling point. Allie was grabbing at a pole holding the long thin plastic bags. She removed the large roll and tossed it into her cart. Kelsey followed her idea and grabbed two more near her. These bags could do a lot more than just store things.
They swerved wide of the checkout stands that stood vacant and out the main doors. She had not in fact seen a single employee their whole time here. Again her mind wandered and she wondered if the employees had been the first to take their pick of everything in the store.
They ran their carts through the sliding doors and into the car speckled parking lot. The sky was much darker then it had been before, it was if night had fallen hours early.
From the open parking lot she looked up and to the west and her legs began to fumble. The cart pulled her along at a sort of dumb drag from its own momentum. She got her feet moving again before the heavy cart lost too much speed and set her eyes back in front of her, catching up with Allie. The mushroom cloud couldn’t be seen any more from all the dark gray clouds. It was as if a gray wall was moving their way. The wind was also much stronger, blowing her hair back in an unending gust. Then it would change directions and pull her hair to the side. Garbage tumbled through the street and her eyes were stinging from what smelled like smoke and ash and dust.
She could not understand all of the wind. She was no explosives expert, but she could not understand the violent changes in wind speed and direction.
“We need to go!” she shouted to Allie. Now they were shouting so that they could hear each other over the wind whipping at their ears. Kelsey’s fear grew as she thought about what might be happen when everything was completely dark. The wall of ash was close and they still had to get Dwayne. She had hoped to make good on her promise to Kevin; but she could not see them making it to the Meridian in time.
She heaved against the cart and began to push it along faster, Allie close beside her. Once in the street she had to slow down and run along the side of the cart pushing and pulling to keep it from toppling over on the uneven asphalt. Allie was doing something similar and together they moved down the neighborhood streets where it was less crowded.
She found herself suddenly grateful they lived at the base of a hill, because there was no way they could have pushed these carts up any kind incline. While she was counting her
blessings she included one that no one had attacked them with their loaded carts of food after the incident in Albertsons.
Allie let go of her cart and let it role in front of Kelsey and Dwayne’s home into the curb. They both ran for the front door. It was locked. Kelsey pushed her hands into her pockets but there were no keys, she’d left them in her purse at the Meridian. She banged her open hands against the door screaming her sons’ name. Was he even here? Allie had turned back towards their carts that were teetering in the wind.
Kelsey moved away from the door to the large front window and began to slap the window loudly. She yelled Dwayn’s name several times before she finally noticed the woman
lying motionless on the couch in her living room.