It’s not been a good month and I’m not sure what to do. Ruth has taken a turn for the worse. She coughs all the time, her Alzheimer’s is worse than ever, and nothing we have helps. Half the time she doesn’t even recognize me or Claire. Sometimes she calls me by her son’s name, or askes for relatives she knew when she was young. Rusty is the only one she always remembers. The big dog spends every waking moment next to her. It’s become difficult to get either of them to eat.
Claire has already pulled me to the side and told me Ruth probably has pneumonia, and she may not make it through. Ruth’s shoulder has also been a problem as it never healed. I have poured over the pill book and every other medical book I can find. So little of it makes sense. We didn’t stock any antibiotics at the beginning and even if we had, everything I’ve read says they need to be kept dry and cool. Most of what I’ve found we’re afraid to use since it’s been neglected for over a year. Not that it would matter, most of the pharmacies were understocked and there was little to find.
I thought maybe I could make something, but I have no idea where to start. Some of the books give hints as to the process of making drugs that could help, but even if I could parse it out I know next to nothing about chemistry. It took me months to figure out how to power the house. The idea of building a lab feels hopelessly impossible. I though I might be able to find a pharmaceutical lab in the city, but I’ve found no leads in the phone books. Well, almost none. The hospital has a pharma lab, but that presents another group of problems. Out of curiosity I rode by downtown in hopes the cold and time would may have made the smell die down. I was wrong, it smells worse than ever and even from the end of the street I can see something growing on the windows inside. At first, I gave it up as a lost cause, but as Ruth has declined, I’ve been thinking about it more and more.
Near mid-December while visiting with Ruth, I couldn’t take it anymore. I stood up and proclaimed I was going to the hospital and using their lab. I didn’t care how long it took. Claire immediately bared the door. I was ready to push her out of the way when I felt a hand on my shoulder. For the first time in two weeks Ruth had stood up and placed her good hand on my shoulder. Her voice was so weak I almost couldn’t hear her when she said, “you promised, one time.” Her grip was so weak I knew I could break it, I could even get by Claire. Neither could physically stop me, but I couldn’t bring myself to break the promise. In the end all I ended up doing was leading her back to bed, swearing not to go to the hospital.
I have a new reason to hate the winter, there’s nothing to grow, little to prep, and everywhere I look I’m reminded of the inevitable. The only place I’ve found solace is working on the outer wall for the farm. When I started, I struggled to get ten feet built in a week. Now I have about a third of the property surrounded. The hard work helps distract me, but I already have doubts that it will for long.
My dinners with Claire had a strange shift. She’s now the one coaxing me to talk, while I sit in silence. At first, I thought she would give up after a while, but all it did was make her more insistent and a week before Christmas she had her breakthrough. She asked me what we did last year. I was hesitant to tell her. I’m not sure where my emotions are these days. I ended up telling her about the gifts and the short list she gave me the and how I had found her a box of chocolate mints she liked.
Claire put on her best forced smile and said, “Why don’t we at least try to give her a great Christmas. There must be some of that candy out their somewhere.” The words entered my mind slowly. My first thought was that all the grocery stores had been raided, mostly by me, then by animals. Then I had a thought. I had never checked the supplier. I resolved if I could do nothing else for Ruth, I would a least make sure she had her favorite Christmas treat.
The problem with suppliers is most people have no idea where they are. I was no different at first. I knew there was one in the city, but where? I looked through several notebooks but found nothing. It was finally Claire that gave me an idea. Before things collapsed places like the one I was looking for often had signs off the main road advertising for new workers and offering lucrative bonuses. I decided to head to the industrial parks.
We have precious little fuel left. All the gas is now gone, but we still have enough diesel to fill up the truck a few more times. I hate to use it but it’s getting close to the maximum the additives will extend it. Claire packed me a lunch, and I loaded Abby and the 12 gauge in the truck. If I was going to a place with old food, I felt I may need protection.
I did spend some small time early in my programing career in industrial parks. Often it was to pull information from an old machine that were made when they were starting to put computers in industrial equipment. The point was to update and reprogram the system so it was compatible with their current computers. These were not the easiest jobs but it gave me an excuse to learn old languages and up my profile. By the end of my career, I was knowledgeable enough that I only needed the manufacturer and model number, thankfully never having to go to those loud dirty places again.
Now I was actively seeking them out. The city streets are almost completely buried in leaves, sticks, and garbage. It makes travel much more dangerous as the city streets now feel like an old country road. There’s also the problem of animals. Many have lost the fear they once had of vehicles and simply stare at the truck till I blow the horn at them. On the first day of searching, I found a place that makes picker trucks, a place I’m pretty sure makes car parts, a place that makes plastic cups, and a place that makes electric engines.
I decided I was approaching this wrong. To this point I was simply entering every industrial building I found. Obviously, I needed to narrow the search. After thinking about it the most logical course of action was to look for a building with a lot of bay doors. A warehouse would have to have them for all the inbound and outbound trucks. On the second day I found a furniture warehouse, an un identified Amazon warehouse I never knew was there, an ups center which looked like the inside had been filthy for longer than the year of inaction, I though about searching the UPS center since it was still full of packages. I decided against it since the odds were small they would have what I needed.
I was about to give up when I saw a downed banner on the side of the road. Taking Abby and my gun I tied the banner back up in it’s original place. It was faded and moldy but I could still read it. US Freezer Works, now hiring, $5,000 sign on bonus. This had possibilities. As we drove down the road next to the sign a yard full of trucking trailers appeared on my right with the name of one of the supermarkets in the city on it’s side. My hopes were momentarily damped by a security gate. At least until I realized I could just drive through it. There was no one left to stop me.
The warehouse was huge. Along the side with the parking lot were bays as far as you could see in either direction. I thought I had seen some large buildings before but this one felt almost unnatural in it’s size. Getting in wasn’t hard, with no electricity the magnetic locks didn’t work and any battery backup was long since depleted. A smell hit me as I walked in. It was similar to the stink of the hospital but had more rot to it. The smell was strongest when we entered the warehouse floor. To my right was a giant sliding door that separated the dry side from the cold storage. The smell was strong, but I knew it would be so much worse if I opened that door. I was there for candy, and I knew if it was here it would be on the dry side. Aside from the smell everything looked intact, with the only exception being a few pallets of sugar which something had dug into.
Then I came upon the cereal aisle. Abby stopped as well. You could hear them. Thousands maybe more little squeaks coming from large piles that were once neatly stacked pallets of cereal. Abby seemed torn. She had proven herself an able mouser but this seemed too much even for her usual savage treatment of rodents. The further into the warehouse we traveled the less we could smell the other section. About thirty aisles in and we found the candy. It was obvious that animals had been here too, but it took little searching before you found an undamaged box or two.
It took the best part of an hour to locate the chocolate mints. Then another hour of digging through chewed cellophane and carboard. I found three small undamaged boxes of mints and stowed them in my bag. I made sure to check around me for danger but nothing larger than a few rats appeared. I decided we needed to check the remaining aisle for anything else we could use. By far the best thing we found were the pallets of toilet paper and cleaning supplies, mercifully unmolested by the rodents. There were also pallets of canned food which I made a mental note of. I also found several pallets of oil and lard.
I was in much higher spirits now that I had found what I had come for. I took the time to load the truck with things we were low on. Ruth would have be mad if I wasted the fuel to get just a few boxes of mints, even if they were for her. It was getting dark by the time we left, but I was convinced that if nothing else we could make Ruth Christmas and birthday as good as it can be. Maybe if we can keep her spirits up she can find the strength to fight off the sickness.
When I got home I saw that Claire had done her best to make the house look festive. She wasn’t as good at it as Ruth but I couldn’t bring myself to tell her that. She gave me one of her fake smiles when I told her what I had found. I could tell by her eyes she was happy even if her smile was fake.
Ruth is unchanged. All my hopelessness returned as I sat next to her bed. The present I’d gotten for her was a small bead of hope in an ocean of misery. I’ve known for a long time that Ruth was sick. That sometime in the future she would die. It always seemed so far off, despite my knowledge to the contrary. Now it’s staring me in the face, and I can barely stand it.
December 23 2022