Living Alone

The torn steel bit into the flesh, no problem, and I shoved the pole behind it with all my strength. I jiggled the pole, waggled it back out, stabbed again. This, over and over until I could wedge my hands into the incisions, meeting at the apex of the wedge of meat I’d carved. Fluids ran up my arms and plastered my shirt to my chest. I planted my knees on either side of the gouge, flexed my shoulders, grit my teeth and put every tiny muscle my body to the task of dislodging the meat, representing all I’d need for the day.

My fingers sank into it. I growled, and my grip firmed. After much tearing and crackling, my prize snapped out and I tumbled to my back, buried in tall grass. This, yes, this was what life was all about! My arms, thighs, and back all burned pleasantly as I gasped the sweet air and the juices trickled over me in tribute.

That is how you eat an apple. It’s all in your attitude.

I sat in my neighbor’s lawn, entirely covered in blades of slender foliage because he’s a lazy ass who never mows, leisurely breaking off chunks of apple flesh and truly savoring its crispiness. This was not an awful summer, all things considered. All my old skills came rushing back to me: the camoflage, the snares, and I added to my toolbox with an incredibly useful Parkour regimen. And it seems awfully convenient to mention now, but my ex-girlfriend did have a membership to a self-tutelage online school, and one of the classes I took happened to be about foraging in neighborhoods. It was headed by a bearded ginger hipster in a stocking cap and a girl’s t-shirt, intended for less-than-ethical eatery chefs operating on the cheap, but the information was solid. For the past month I’ve been feasting on grasses, so-called weeds, a wild raspberry bush here and a hobby garden there. My needs are few and my thievery is negligible.

Have there been entanglements? Yes, there have. Gray squirrels will leave me alone, but there are these bastard black squirrels that can be vicious and territorial. It’s far easier to keep a constant eye and ear out for those assholes than to try and fend one off. I did, once, but it took all my wits, every last ounce of strength, more luck than I’m entitled to, and it cost me a finger. But I’m alive. I lost a shirt, converting it to bandages for this incident and in anticipation of others, but I’m alive. I had to wait for a homeless dude to pass out, then wade through his urine to gain access to his fifth of vodka and wash out the wound, but I’m alive.

I lean on that phrase a lot, quite heavily. I use it to justify nearly everything and motivate myself to do worse. This isn’t a world for tiny little guys like me. I think my stint in my ex-girlfriend’s house hammered that fact repeatedly home. So, to counterbalance this ubiquitous bias against my very existence, I have that three-word mantra.

Not that I really see the point to remaining alive. What have I got to live for? What do I hope to achieve? Yet here’s this goddamned biological imperative keeping me walking, keeping me fighting, keeping me scavenging for supplies for…

Ah, yes. There’s that. I had to construct a shelter. The first one, a nice little lean-to made of bark and leaves, that was laughingly kicked over by the first child who spotted it. And it didn’t matter if I built another one deeper into the grove of trees or under a bush: children are curious, self-unconscious little devils who notice way too much and have nearly no fear of wedging themselves into things, under things, if they think there’s something interesting to look at. So more than black squirrels or dogs, I have to make sure my shelter is childproof.

That’s when you go underground. Kids want to explore anything they can see, but they’re not very clever, so a piece of trash or a large leaf is enough to hide the entrance to your tunnel. Not that I dug a tunnel. No, I hauled some scrap metal down into a pocket gopher’s tunnel and blocked off as much as I felt I needed. You know, right at the branch, so they could still move around, just relying on an alternate route. I sealed my exit off with the pointy bits, reinforced it with mud and bark, then spent a couple days expanding my chamber.

Once I had a hidey-hole where I could take a breather, then time was on my side. My neighbor, the lazy-ass who doesn’t mow? I know I’ve mentioned his yappy dog before. Well, he likes to groom the mutt outside, which is reasonable, and it only took me an hour to sneak over, bundle up some tufts of discarded fur, sneak on back when the coast was clear, and fix this around the entrance to my tunnel as an olfactory deterrent to any other pocket gophers with any sense of entitlement.

The rest is trivial: large, flat materials to shore up the walls and ceiling; plastic bags for waterproofing anything that needs it; any discarded container or cap for food stores. After a solid week of hard labor, I was practically on vacation! All my needs met, a secure shelter, what else was there?

That is how you cope with abandonment and rejection by the one you loved, the goddess upon whom your entire world centered. It’s all in your attitude.

Mmm, delicious apple.

Speculative fiction author within size fantasy, artist, musician.

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