Perishables – Amy Grech

        February 14, 2024 – 12:00 AM
        Here in my cool, concrete cocoon, marking the days on the wall with pink chalk is the only way to keep time now that the power’s out — Happy Valentine’s Day!
        My name is Placido Sanchez, and I’m sitting hunched over a rickety card table in the basement of my modest house, scribbling this in a dog-eared notebook with a pencil, squinting as I write by the dim glow of a kerosene lantern, purchased from the mall.
        Ravenous, I surrender to a voracious hunger, a need to feel full, under a guise of normalcy. There’s comfort in routine, no matter how mundane; at first, I devoured perishable food — milk, ice cream, cold cuts, cheese, fruit, and vegetables — stored in the freezer, running on a propane-powered backup generator that lasted a mere 72 hours, before switching to canned and freeze-dried provisions, my last resort after the bombing that obliterated my family and everything else. I’d been reduced to eating tasteless, canned food that had been sitting untouched for months, on the verge of rotting, scarcely fit for human consumption, but a source of sustenance, nonetheless.
        I can’t bear another can of bland, baked beans, my stomach growls loudly in protest. I yearn to taste fresh meat. I lick my lips in anticipation and sigh. I kick the last unopened can across the floor. It lands with a loud, metallic clang against the massive pile of empty cans, bottles, and boxes strewn in the corner.
        Julia’s remains are a perfect distraction from the incessant boredom that plagues me, a bountiful feast to engage my senses. I had been consumed by her passion long ago. Now, my beloved Julia would be consumed by my insatiable hunger. She would have wanted it that way; it would bring us together again, body and soul.
        With a heavy heart, I slice pale, pink meat into thin, translucent strips with a chef’s knife, also from the mall.
        My tears run down Julia’s cheeks as I set them down on a dish of fine bone china. I chew each morsel slowly, relishing the poignant flavor of my meal — fresh off the bone. My wife’s thighs contain the sweetest meat I’ve ever tasted.
        I shove the dish that Julia never got to see aside and wipe my sweaty hands on my tattered jeans. I already devoured the succulent meat on her rump, arms, breasts, lower legs, toes, and fingers; now I have a newfound respect for finger-food. I remove the diamond ring from Julia’s left hand, kept as a memento out of respect, and I slip it onto my pinkie. The precious gem sparkles in the dim light. A reminder of the decade of bliss we shared, so fleeting…
        My iPhone battery wavers; it stubbornly refuses to hold a charge for more than a few hours. I keep my phone charged out of force of habit, but it hardly matters now. There’s no one left to call, and the cell signal has become very weak. I don’t remember the last time I’ve seen the sun, but I have the lantern, a poor substitute. There isn’t any running water. Though I still have several gallon jugs to sustain me.
        But none of the comforts of home.
        The morning of the bombing, I drove to a nearby mall to buy birthday presents for Julia: a set of Chicago Cutlery and the bone china she had always wanted. I picked up the lantern on a whim.
        I remember when the bomb dropped — six o’clock on a Sunday night — a direct result of mounting tension between Cuba and the United States regarding their right to occupy our airspace. In retaliation, they unleashed their nuclear arsenal.
        I was grilling hot dogs and hamburgers in our New Mexico backyard — next door to the Air Force Base, a prime target — while Julia kept Juan and Maria company at the picnic table nearby. They were playing cards — Gin Rummy — and Juan’s eyes lit up when he won for the first time. He grinned while his feet dangled in the air. Not used to losing, his little sister pouted and knocked the entire deck to the ground.
        We’d remembered to get buns and rolls out of the basement pantry just before the hamburgers and hot dogs burned, and Julia and I rushed into the house. She ran down the stairs too fast. The heel of her shoe got caught, and she tumbled — headfirst — to the concrete floor below. By the time I reached my love, her neck was already broken.
        At that moment, I heard the explosion outside. I screamed and clutched my lifeless wife in my arms, unable to accept the cruel blow that fate had dealt me.
        I wanted to give Julia a proper burial in the backyard, but radiation prevailed, so that wasn’t possible. Instead, I preserved her body in the walk-in freezer, her final resting-place until I needed her to keep me going.
        I close my eyes and picture the gigantic mushroom cloud, an immense, fiery burst of lethal nuclear energy, instantly annihilating everything in its path, including my beloved children.
        I envision the hot dogs, the hamburgers, the baked beans, and the macaroni salad Julia made burnt to a crisp, being devoured by ants, bit by bit.