She stood away, shoulder and head against the wall, staring at nothing.
He sat alone at the other end of the room, fingers tapping against his knees.
They didn’t look at each other, couldn’t stand each other. But their company was better than being alone.
That’s what they were.
Time ticked by and nothing happened. The silence was too much.
“We can’t just stay here,” he croaked with his unused voice.
“There’s nowhere for us to go,” she replied.
“You haven’t even looked,” he sounded stronger this time. Anger already flecked his words.
“Neither have you,” she was despondent. Not really there.
There was the silence again. He moved his legs so they were out straight, in front of him. His right knee clicked. He drummed his fingers.
She finally removed her head from the wall and looked at him.
“You’re disturbing me.”
“From what?” He looked up at her, still defiantly drumming his fingers. She sighed and resumed her previous position.
“When do you think we can go home?” He asked.
“Never,” came her short response.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means we can’t.”
He huffed, it was the same old conversation. “Why?”
“It’s in quarantine mode. No one inside or out can open it for decades.”
“It’ll endanger the people outside.”
“You’re like a child!” She yelled. “Because it’s deadly. Because it’s contagious. Because they said so!”
“How do we know it’s deadly or contagious. We’re the only two people living with it and we’re still alive?”
“It could be slow acting.”
“We’ve been here months.”
“Are you sure?” He asked.
She nodded her head towards the wall behind her. A tally chart was scratched into it. It hadn’t even been a month.
“Oh,” was all he could muster.
Silence, their familiar friend, came back. The finger drumming punctuated it every now and then.
“Of all the people to be stuck with,” he said for the sake of saying something, “why did it have to be you?”
She walked out of the room.
“Walking away isn’t going to solve anything,” he muttered to himself, “after all, we’re stuck together.”
He stood up and walked around. The room was largish and dull. A plant stood proudly in the corner. It infuriated him. Most things did.
He paced, lost track of how long. She came back in much later.
“You’ll wear a hole in the floor,” she said.
“Yeah, well, at least one of us will be trying to get out of here.”
“You’re pointless,” he countered.
It was his turn to leave. She watched him go, eyes tracking him.
“Where are you going?”
“I need a piss. Do I need permission?”
She flipped him the finger and returned to her post at the wall. She liked to imagine a window there with the sights of the world just beyond. The Amazon rainforest, Niagara Falls, the glistening blue sea, the mountains of New Zealand. But it stayed a concrete wall. That was her world.
Time crept past, a silent thief. The only sign of it was the growing tally etched into the wall.
She was eating dried food from the kitchen. He’s nowhere around, walking through the other chambers.
“Peace,” she said to herself, “I’ve missed it. He just won’t shut up anymore, loves the sound of his voice. It’s nice to have this quiet.”
So why am I talking to myself! She thought.
She’s still eating when he came back in.
“Oh good,” he said, “you’re still here.”
He went and sat by a wall, pulled off his shoes and wiggled his toes. He heard her chewing, it was loud and obnoxious.
“Stop what?” She asked.
“Chewing, eating. Whatever.”
She took another mouthful, making an effort to annoy him. His teeth were on edge.
He drummed his fingers. Being petty. Both noises, drumming and chewing, annoyed both people. He snapped. Jumped up.
“Stop it. Just stop it!” He yelled.
“No.” Another bite.
“Bloody hell,” he growled.
It was too much. On top of everything it was too much.
“I’m warning you,” he hissed, backing her into a corner, “just stop it.”
His face was contorted into ugly anger. He knocked the food out of her hand. He drew himself up to full height to intimidate.
“Warning me? What are you going to do?”
He stuttered on his words. She pushed him back. He stumbled. He couldn’t stop himself, he punched the wall. A crack, it hurt, it throbbed but he didn’t cry out. He sat back by his wall, now smeared with blood.
She stayed by hers. Opposite sides of the room.
He was lying on the floor, sprawled out, looking at the ceiling. It was just as dull as the rest of the room.
She sat cross legged, for once not touching the wall.
“How long?” He asked.
“Six months and three days.”
“It feels like years.”
“Perhaps it is.”
There was still a dark stain on the wall since he lost his temper. She stared at it.
“Why do you hate me so much?”
He tilted his head to look at her. “The same reason you hate me.”
That’s all he knew. He was the only one there. He had himself for company and he didn’t like it.
Deep underground, no human contact, no voices, no conversations, no physical contact.
His was the only heartbeat.
Then she came back in.
“Aren’t you going to do anything today?”
There was comfort in his annoyance. It was familiar, it was known, it felt good.
“What’s the point.” He said.
She edged closer, but still kept her distance. It was the closest she’d been since he cornered her.
“Something to do. It’s good for the mind.”
Her hands were raw, she’d taken to cleaning from top to bottom.
“My mind is fine doing nothing,” he snapped.
She shrugged her shoulders and left the room again.
The same faces. The same voices. The same arguments.
What was the point in continuing? And yet they clung on.
They sat in the middle of the room. Both in the same position; arms out behind them with hands flat on the floor, legs pointed straight in front.
“Why do you hate me so much?” He asked.
“The same reason you hate me.”
It was automatic.
They were jogging. The pounding of their feet fell flat on their ears. The corridors were dirty again. Her hands were still cracked from the last time she’d cleaned.
The quarantine was pointless. There was nothing down here besides two listless people. Surely the outside had already figured that out. Why was there no override?
Despair overwhelmed her and weakened her legs.
He caught her. Arms wrapped round her abdomen, pulled her back to her feet. He lingered longer than he should have.
They continued jogging.
It was the first time they’d touched someone in more than three years.
A week later the listlessness was too much. They spent the entire day sat on the floor, shifting positions.
The silence was deafening, yet palpable.
“Why do you hate me?” She asked just to break the silence.
“I don’t hate you,” he said.
They locked eyes. Finally, in a world that never changed, something new.
For the first time they took notice of how close they were to each other. Knees almost touching, but not quite. Hands splayed so close but not meeting.
He could see the flecks in her eyes and vice versa.
He shifted his knee and she moved her hand.
Contact. And it was bliss.
“How long?” He asked. He always left it to her.
“Four years and four months,” she said wistfully.
“Doesn’t it terrify you?”
“Spending forever here.”
“Forever is subjective,” she said. An attempt to lighten the conversation.
“Spending our forevers here, then.” She didn’t make him angry anymore.
They were sat together, legs resting against each other, arms entwined. Her head leant on his shoulder. The tally stretched out behind them.
He didn’t make her angry either. Time was more bearable now.
“What would you be doing now?” It was a game they played. A way of going back home.
“Let’s say it’s Sunday,” she started. “The sun is out and the barbecue is on in the back garden. Friends are round.”
He traced a pattern on the back of her hand with his finger. Friends. Family. Neighbours.
Where were they?
“What about you?”
“I’d be eating a questionably cooked burger under the sun.”
They both smiled.
“What are we going to do?”
“We’re going to live until we can’t anymore,” he replied.
“Exist. We’re going to exist.”
“Better than not existing,” he shrugged.
“Down here?” She laughed, “I’m not so sure.”
He stopped tracing her hand and just held it. All the support he could offer.
“I don’t want to be alone,” she said.
“I might be,” she paused, “So might you.”
“We shouldn’t think about it.”
“It’s the only thing to think about.”
“I don’t want to,” he pulled his hand away and stood up. Ran that same hand through his hair.
“You can’t avoid it for long.”
She drew her knees up to her chest. There were bags under her eyes.
“Can you blame me? I don’t want to talk about death, no one does. I don’t want to go into it. I don’t want to admit how much the thought of being alone terrifies me. That I hate it when we’re not in the same room because it’s too easy to believe I’m the only one left. That I thought you up. That I’m insane.”
“Hey -” she tried to cut in.
“I’m scared that I won’t go first. I’m scared to be left here, remembered by no one. Abandoned. But if I do then it’s you here. It’ll be you with no one, just memories to keep you company. Memories that might not even be real. How is that fair?
“We’re surviving together, but inside I’m quivering. Inside I’m struggling to stay sane. I’m fighting and the only way I know how to not lose is by avoiding it. I’m fighting and it’s getting harder.”
“I’m fighting too,” she was up now, a hand on his shoulder, “and it’s difficult. It’s so difficult.”
Tears were falling, breath was taken sharply.
“I don’t want to be alone,” she continued, “of course I don’t. Thinking that one day it might just be me; it’s the scariest thing in the world. It’s not worth thinking about because how can that be a place worth inhabiting.”
“So what do we do,” he was desperate for an answer, a third option.
“We carry on,” she breathed. “We just carry on. And we hope,” echoing his earlier sentiment.
He turned and hugged her. They clung to one another. Whispering.
“I don’t want to be here anymore.”
“I want to go home.”
“There has to be something better.”
“How long can we go on for.”
“Giving up sounds good.”
“I don’t want to be alone.”
“I don’t want to be alone.”
“I don’t want to be alone.”
When she said it his heart broke. She spoke and it was painful to hear. She wasn’t asking for anything but he decided to give anyway.
He would hold on. For her, he would hold on.
The tally was over more than one wall now. It’d gone through the dark stain of his blood and beyond. He was stood in the doorway. She was on the floor in the middle of the room.
Her hair was silver, it pooled around her head like a puddle. It shone in the light.
He looked at her. But she wasn’t there.
He held on.
And she was gone.