I feel out of place at the dumpster fires, eating another meal of boiled raccoon meat and expired ketchup packets, wearing the last coat I own: a Marc Jacobs parka from my capsule wardrobe.
We have to take advantage of the communal fires, fed by decades of Reader’s Digest and high school yearbooks. All of the paper in our household (save for passports, diplomas, one issue of Kinfolk, magazine, my bullet journal, and six books) went to the recycling center days before it became a coyote-infested burial ground. My hard copy of The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up went quickly. Once we finished papering the windows with it, we alternated using the rest as kindling and toilet paper, until we gave up on the concept of toilet paper.
The worst part of the communal fires is Patty and Bill.
They stashed up on Spaghetti-Os, duct tape, and Zephyrhills for Y2K and never looked back. From their thrones of Beanie Babies and undeveloped disposable cameras, they joke that “the bottled water may taste like plastic, but at least it doesn’t taste like shit,” knowing full well that the rainwater we tried to gather in our decorative barrel just leaked out between the lazily-cooped oak slats.
They’re less smug now that Patty’s brother Bert has passed. Bloated cans don’t discriminate.
I guess Patty’s okay. She gave me a blanket made of mismatched socks and old sorority T-shirts. In return, I sharpened Bill’s pharmaceutical promotional pens into weapons using my Japanese whetstone. At Bert’s funeral, we threw the rest of their “Try AOL Free” CDs into the fire and watched the sparks. It was kind of a nice moment.
We depend on the kindness of our neighbors for most of our food. Things were fine in the beginning, before we finished off the O’Briens’ saltwater aquarium, before Marissa’s hens succumbed to the gangrene. I wish that my purge in pursuit of a “joyful” kitchen pantry had stopped at the expired and truly dangerous. I threw out a cereal that was just kind of “meh,” and now it features in most of my dreams and hallucinations. Sometimes I wonder whether to eat those whimsical air plants that refuse to die. My husband ate three or four moth balls before realizing they weren’t macadamia nuts.
We tend to go home at sunrise, since it’s easiest for us to sleep and keep watch during daylight. In the dark, I can’t tell whether that hissing sound is our pug, Merkel, or the legless, undead crossing guard that keeps trying to crawl in through Merkel’s pet door.
I can’t admit this out loud — the “I told you sos” would never end — but I’m glad I lost the battle on my husband’s golf clubs. They’ve never seen a green, but a putter to the eye socket will stop a zombie right in its tracks. We’ve been lucky; our neighbors are armed to the teeth, so relatively few have gotten into the house. I garroted one with a MacBook charger once. That felt good. Dragging it outside on my Pendleton blanket, less so.
Without running water, a bathroom is just a tiny fucking room.
I remember standing in there, wondering whether to empty out all of the joyless, cheap little hotel soaps, or just dump the plastic containers into the recycling bin as-is.
I covered the mirror with Washi tape so that I don’t have to look at or confront myself.
“You used to work in marketing,” I would say, tugging gray hairs from the ever-lengthening roots of my platinum bob. “Now you have to shit into Tupperware.”
Sometimes, when I’m on watch, I can’t take it anymore. These Lululemon yoga tights are great at wicking sweat, but boy do they press the scabies right in there. Nestled up against the barricade that was once antique side tables and my foot spa from The Sharper Image, I wonder where we stashed the rest of the moth balls. But then, listening to my husband’s snoring, the wheeze of a mournful harmonica, and the distant crackle of the evening’s first dumpster fire, I choose to hold on. There is one thing that still brings me joy.
I don’t have to do my taxes.