Apart from hunger, I have zip in common with Chizzy, but he’s ex-army and knows how to handle himself. It was my idea to pair. Chizzy’s a quiet one, keeps a low proaf. Literals: we’re elb-to-elb in cold grit and he’s silent as a panther. Got the same lean, muscular phys’ too. Mabes he’s stashed some weights some place and works out, sly-style. We have time apart daily so we don’t do each other’s heads in – not so long we morb-out though. There’s zip to be gained from that.
It’s Audrey on patrol tonight, pacing back-forth on the other side of the fence. She’s ‘resplendent in Halloween green’ through Chizzy’s mil’-grade binoculars.
People bitched when Audrey started handing round leaflets in Year 10, trying to teach us – warn us – about food. I told them to lay off because of Audrey’s eyes. She’s got the greenest eyes you’ve ever seen and this perfect olive skin – like a luxa-droid. One glance from Audrey made vegetable soup of my insides. I didn’t feel ‘pex-horny, like with the other girls, I just wanted to be near her. Seriously, those eyes. I let her drone on about food, climate and the rest – vibing off how sagey she was, how she didn’t give a slop about being airy – but none of it stuck.
Like most people I learnt all in real time – not as a poss’ but as an actch: food security, food scarcity, supply chain weakness, falling imports, droughts, soil loss and the basic truth that the country couldn’t feed itself. Not. Even. Close. I was thinking that a national fast might’ve got the message over – voluntary of course, just for those ‘pex-lucky enough not to be on banks. People wouldn’t have got it though, they would’ve had themselves a Happy Meal after. Apart from the vegans, but they’ve never been happy.
When it hit home – empty shelves, rationing, vicious looting – people showed their colours faster than Pot Luck Noods. My fam would’ve hearted that metaphor but Chiz said I was chatting slop before insisting that purple noods aced on green – wrong. Anyway, your two main tribes were the people who treated it like a last all-you-can-eat supper vs. your cagey hoarders. The only people making sense were the old school-strike-for-climate lot. When I decided their Co-op Coms were the way forward – saw how organised they were, how the government was losing its grip – it was too late. Same for Chiz, though he still thinks it’s all ‘spiracy. He’s gone so far down the Bugs hole, there’s no reaching him.
We were at primary together but met as adults scavenging at The Old Tip. That was ‘pex-dicey: Chizz with one hand in the pocket of his combats, and me deciding whether to go for his balls or parkour it over the sofa carcasses. Strange to think that adren’ was something I used to seek out for kicks. Anyway, Chizzy and I ‘nized each other and smiled in spite of ourselves, in spite of all. I hinted I’d got a stove and stuff, didn’t let on where, and said I might know a source. He played it airy but no one’s fooling no one. It’s funny because pre-famine I used to be a cock-slave and a horm-slave and now I’m a belly-slave. We had a laugh about that, once we’d aired, got trusty. A month on and we’re ‘pex-tight, it seems.
Audrey’s stopped: hoodie taut against her skull, frozen from the neck down. She could be a man, could be anyone. Her arms are folded high on her chest like she’s wearing a flak. The way she’s pixelated by the chicken wire makes her look like a character from first-wave gaming. Head going left-centre-right-centre, scouring the land behind us: a robo-guard. If she looked, really looked, she would take our green beanies for grass or rocks.
She turns to walk down the side of the barn and something metal at her side catches the moon. I try to swallow but my throat’s too dry. We’ve got thirteen mins, literals.
On my signal, Chizz starts cutting: blunt little clips that sound all English country garden – some old dear pruning a pear tree. When the hole is knee-sized, Chizzy pauses, like he’s remembered something, then he tackles the next section.
The way his lips are pressed together reminds me of Dad when he came back without the dogs. He had a pillowcase of swedes on his back, croaking out the words ‘impossible choices’, through tears and mucus. When your family’s starving – when you’re starving – you’ll do things you never imagined. You’ll eat things you never imagined too.
Chizzy turns his face to mine, his mouth still a tight line. Hunger’s not the only thing we share. Even with our eyes locked, I know where his hand’s headed – I’m a finger-length ahead of him. I’ve been watching him drill, training for this exact moment.
Lucy Goldring is a Northerner hiding in Bristol. She’s been shortlisted by the National Flash Fiction Day (NFFD) three times and won Lunate Fiction’s monthly flash competition in 2020. Lucy was nominated for Best Small Fictions 2020 by both NFFD and 100 Word Story. She writes a lot about climate angst whilst trying to manage her own. Tweets @livingallover