"I guess I'm not taking this very well," Kim said gamely to her image in the mirror. She had been
sick three or four days, possibly more. There was no one to tell her precisely, and of course the loss of
electricity had wiped out the clock radio in the guest room that used to show the date. Her watch was a
Cartier; it had hands. Her husband, David, had died before she even got the first symptoms. Carmen and
Tonio had left during the bombing, and she hadn't seen them since. She remembered moving her bedding
into the basement after David died, to be as far from his body as possible. She had just begun to cough
Her cough was gone, and it was her first day out of bed for more than a trip to the toilet or a drink of water. She had no idea how long she'd been delirious, through the middle of the flu; there were long periods of fitful sleep and cycles of the sun like dreams in the basement windows. David was in their bed, and even if she were strong enough, she couldn't touch him to move him. There was the guest room, where she had just showered, but it was too close to their room for her comfort.
She was brushing her hair. There was still running water, heated with gas. Clean, wrapped in a beach towel, she realized that if she wanted her things, she'd have to go to her room. Her clothes in the closet. Her makeup in their bathroom. Thinking of this, how unfair it was that she should have to go back there, she wept a little, the tears running down her face while she pulled at her hair. She went through their room, trying to keep the horror on the bed outside the periphery of her vision. She grabbed up an armload of things, including her jewelry box, and scuttled out again.
She was not adjusting. Coming down from the guest room, snapping the clasp of her pearls, she thought of turning on the radio. There's no electricity, dim bulb. All the bulbs are dim now, she thought. The electricity had gone off about a week before she got sick. David was just starting to cough. He helped her rig candles strategically through the house. Now she didn't dare open the refrigerator. She thought of the car. The battery. That radio would work. She went out to the car port, climbed in, and turned the ignition. She could take a cruise around Carmel, see who else had made it through. She hoped Estelle Meldrum was OK. Estelle hadn't been sick, nor had her husband Leo. The radio roared with static. She popped each of the presets. Static. She tried to figure out which button was the scanner. Why can't they put a tuning dial on these things, she thought, reading the glyphs on the buttons. At last, she found the right one. She sat patiently as the bands rolled by. Nothing. She tried the AM band. Nothing.
She glanced in the rear view mirror. A bunch of dogs had appeared from the hedge across the street. They were looking at her car. Probably hungry, she thought. Poor things. One, a German shepherd, trotted a few steps into the street, watching the car, then turned as if to speak to the others. They shifted a little, spreading into a wider fan and moving toward her. She put the car in gear and rolled slowly out of the enclosure. The dogs lost interest and drifted away.
Kim's house was on Lazarro, a few blocks above the Mission. She coasted down the hill, past the Edels and the Ferris house, without touching the gas pedal. She happened to glance at the fuel gauge. Nearly empty. She'd need to get gas. Rolling downhill, the Saab's engine rumbling, she watched the houses go by. At first, it was as if nothing had happened. There were cars in driveways and in front of houses. Some drapes were open; others were closed. A child's tricycle sat half on the curb. Then she realized that some doors were open. The Harringtons's front door was open. And the Bushmans'. She looked at some trash drifted under the Bushmans' car. Suddenly she realized the trash was a man's body, belly up, as if asleep. The stomach was distended, and the clothes looked like Mr. Bushman's, but he wasn't that fat. A looter?
She tried to put the dead body out of her mind. At Rio, she turned north, using the gas pedal now. There were a couple of cars on the road, abandoned. She had meant to turn on Eighth, into downtown. Then she remembered the gas station near Ocean and Junipero, and the gas gauge. She kept going north.
Glancing down Seventh, she saw smoke. She braked to look. It was a fire. Judging by the volume of smoke, it was a couple of buildings. It could be the Inn. The fire station was only a block away though. Then she remembered. She accelerated, crossing Seventh and refusing to look west again. Crossing Ocean, she couldn't help but see the pileup at Mission, just below the park. Three cars. She tried to look straight ahead.
People will come, she thought. People will come and clear out the cars, fix the electricity, put out the fires. She saw the Texaco gas station. What a relief! The drives were clear, one work bay was open, and there was a man sitting in a lawn chair at the door to the station. When he saw her, he stood up. He was holding a rifle across his lap, his left hand around the stock. Music was playing somewhere. Some rock group.
She was frightened by the ominous gun. How bad could it be, that people were carrying guns? Who were the looters? She slowed down as she approached the station, but the car was nearly empty. She pulled in. When the man saw she was alone, he put the rifle down and smiled. The station was self-service. The man made no motion to come and help. She got out.
"Where's Mr. Tryon?"
She thought, what a stupid question! She turned to the pumps. She usually got gas over at the Crossroads Shopping Center, at the Chevron, where they had full service. The pumps aren't all that complicated, of course. After a moment, she had it figured out. She turned to the car with the nozzle ready and the switch thrown, and realized she'd forgotten to open the gas cap. She put back the hose and opened the tank. She got the nozzle ready again. Then it hit her. It could be a long time before he gets a delivery of more gas. She might not get another chance to fill it for a while.
"Can I fill it? Do you mind?"
She glanced at the signs. They said three dollars for Unleaded, three-fifty for Premium. She thought for a moment, I can put it on a card. Then she thought, stupid. What good are credit cards? Who's going to deliver the bills, phone in the charges, until things get going again? She had forty or fifty dollars in cash in her purse, though. She decided to compromise. She'd just put in ten gallons. That would last her weeks, unless she set off somewhere.
"I'll just get ten gallons."
He smiled again.
She set the pump running. It had one of those mechanical gauges, like a slot machine. The ticking and clanking were hypnotic. The gas glugged in the hose rudely. She didn't set the automatic shutoff, a little hook at the back of the handle, because she wasn't sure how to unset it when the pump hit ten gallons. The spring on the trigger mechanism was tight and it hurt her hand. She glanced up and at the man and flashed a smile of embarrassment, then put a second hand on the handle. He didn't move.